Diversity is an American strength (a reprise)

The following post was written almost ten years ago. It remains true, although there are fervent groups that want to tell people that they have superior rights and claim on this country. We would be a very boring and less talented place if we did not let our entire citizenry have opportunity.

Having lived more than half a century, (plus ten) it never ceases to amaze me how varied we are as a people in our great country. America is truly a melting pot and our diversity is at the heart of our greatness. Quoting the line of Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Stripes,”our forefathers have been kicked out of every country.

I mention this now as we have a wave of intolerance that permeates our public debate that is unhealthy. The marketers learned back in the late 1980’s (and leveraged further with the advent of social media) to segment the audiences. Unfortunately, we have taken this segmentation to a fervent level in political debate. People get their so-called news from biased sources which perpetuate generalizations and stereotypes. People walk around with their own set of facts. Stephen Colbert termed this “truthiness” and he was on point in his observations. So, some folks have been led to believe that most people on food stamps are African-Americans. That is not true.

In the book “That Used to be Us” that I have cited numerous times and encourage all to read, there is a highly pertinent and very illuminating anecdote about our armed service, in particular people staffing a naval vessel. The allied and opposing forces were amazed by the diversity of our navy and military. The book references a ship of women, which was a misnomer, as the leadership of the ship included several women. The allied and captured opposing military initially only wanted to deal with men, but when they witnessed that the leadership were women and competent officers, they were impressed. What also impressed them was Caucasian, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans working side by side. The opposition had presumed all Americans were white. These diverse teams of people working well together were clear messages that people with perceived differences can not only coexist but function as a unit.

This was not always so in our country, but it is amazing what can happen over time. We still struggle with civil rights issues, but we are in a much better place than we were back in the 1960’s, although we seem to have backtracked some. The oppression of lesbians and gays is slowly dissolving, but it is the 2000 version of the Civil Rights movement.

I think most Americans are tired of the evangelical right legislating their version of morality on the rest of the country. I go back to “what would Jesus do?” He hung out with the disenfranchised more than the church leadership of the day. He would speak of the Golden Rule, which is as good today as it was then. So, as a self-professed “old fart,” I would say we should call out intolerance when we see it and defend those who are being put down. LGBTQ+ people deserve every right and opportunity that other citizens have in this country.

Yet, it goes beyond that. The Middle East will not be as successful as possible as a region until women have the same rights as men. Using an example from Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers,” if you limit your talent pool to only half of the potential candidates, you are competing with your arm tied behind your back. His specific point was Canadian hockey identified at early ages what they believed were precocious kids. What turned out to be the truth, the precocious kids were merely older than their competition based on age cut offs, so were more skilled because of their maturity not talent.

If a society puts down its women, they are dismissing the opportunities for success as a people by 1/2. It is not lost on me that over 50% and closer to 60% of college students in the United States are women. And, I was not surprised when the two top winners of the Intel Science prize for high school science students were girls. One of these young ladies may have come up with a cure of cancer. Her thesis is being tested as we speak. The second place winner is not only female, she is also homeless. So, she had more working against than anyone could imagine. She is very much involved in marine biology.

So, taking just this first example and placing her in Iran or Afghanistan, this young lady, who may have discovered a cure or, at least, a significant treatment of cancer, would likely have been suppressed or even killed for going to school. It does not get any clearer than that. This is why the separation of church and state is critical. Misguided religious zeal is not a good thing as it holds back the opportunities for all.

Yet, we have some of the same intolerance in America. We have a misguided focus on things that may be very important to the religious body of people, but infringe upon the rights of others. Most people who are overtly religious understand this, yet we have a zeal that causes people to say and support positions that run counter to why we are a great country. I do not know the original author of this quote I believe it may have been Upton Sinclair back in the 1950’s, but when I first heard it was back in the early 1990’s, It was used to reference the Republican Party’s catering more to the evangelical right. A Republican leader at the time felt this was a slippery slope and said “When terrorism comes to America, it will be carrying a cross draped in the American flag.” This was before the ostracizing and assaulting of gay people, the emergence of extreme White nationals, the killing of Black people by law enforcement officers or vigilantes, the Koran burning minister in Florida, the military funeral picketers from the small mid-western church, the foiled plot by a Christian terrorist group to kill Detroit police and other examples.

We cannot and must not support intolerance. When we hear it and see it, we must call it out for what it is. Being tolerant and inclusive of others is not only the right thing to do per the Golden Rule, our constitution and our ideals, it means we as a country can be more successful. We are embracing the rights for all of our citizens to contribute to our society and make us greater than we can be as individuals.

Only women bleed – an unlikely source for powerful words

Whether his name rings a bell for a younger generation, there is an old rocker named Alice Cooper, who beneath his “Kiss” like make-up, sang some great rock-n-roll songs. But, he co-wrote and recorded one of the most powerful ballads, with domestic violence and maltreatment of women as a back drop. The song was aptly entitled “Only women bleed.”

Here is sample of the lyrics from the middle of the song.

“Man makes your hair gray
He’s your life’s mistake
All you’re really lookin’ fors an even break
He lies right at you
You know you hate this game
Slaps you once in a while
And you live and love in pain

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at al
l

Only women bleed”

Domestic violence remains a hidden trauma for women. I use the word “hidden” as many victims try to hide their pain and bruises. They have been told it is their fault by their abusers. They are shamed as well as beaten. And, the abusers are quite adroit at masking their violent and controlling tendencies from their co-workers, friend and relatives.

In an agency to help working homeless families that I volunteered with, about 1/3 of the families in need were domestic violence survivors. In addition to losing their home, the spouse and family had to also experience the trauma of domestic violence. PTSD in these families had two causes.

If you are in a domestic violence situation or know someone who is, here are two loudspeaker bulletins.

  • He will not change. Full stop.
  • Find a way to get out before it is too late.

Let me close with the painful story of a man who started a local group called “Men for Change.” His sister hid from him and her other siblings that her husband was beating her. She would avoid family gatherings when bruises were apparent. She also hid the fact her husband was beating her two boys, on occasion ramming their heads into the ceiling.

She hid this from her siblings until they found out. How did they? He killed their sister Only women bleed. The abusers will not change. Get out.

A Path appears – Women and Children need our help (a reprise for Women’s History Month)

The following post was written almost six years ago, but still holds relevance. On the good news side, more women are running for office and winning elections. And, the US just voted in its first female Vice-President. Yet, these three powerful books remain tough, but essential reads.

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.

This is a big effing deal

The swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th president is a huge deal. We can return to more normalcy in governance as he tries to unite us. But, let me set that aside and say the inauguration of Kamala Harris as vice-president is a big effing deal.

Seeing a woman sworn in as vice president is a long time over due for a country that touts democracy. Other democracies have preceded us with a woman being president, prime minister or chancellor. Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May all come to mind.

Harris is not just breaking the ceiling as a woman, which is a big effing deal by itself. She is the first African-American, the first Asian-American, and part of the first multiracial couple and family to occupy the home of the vice-president. She is uniquely American, as representative of our melting pot as one can get.

But, as a man, let me attempt to address this walk-in-the-shoes moment and what it means. My wife wore pearl earrings to honor Harris’ alma mater as she watched. And, she was crying after Harris was sworn in. A man does not realize how a woman feels to be treated in an overbearing way. Or, to be condescended to. Or to be belittled. Or, to be sexually harassed or even assaulted.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote the excellent book “Lean in,” which tells women to lean into opportunity or push back. It was and is a great title in that men are very skilled at leaning in. There is a line, I think from this book, that says a man with lesser skill sets will often feel more qualified for a job than a woman with more skill sets.

Then, we must layer into Harris’ make-up the fact she is a multiracial woman of color. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, she noted she has been told “no” at every step of the ladder. Then, she smiled and said “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.” That embodies Sandberg’s theme. Just think of all of the young women and young women of color she will influence going forward. Be a leader, be a scientist, be an engineer, be a doctor….don’t accept no as a reason you cannot.

This is a big effing deal. I wish her, Joe Biden and their families and staffs the greatest of success. We need them to succeed in uniting us.

On the basis of sex

My wife, sister and I got a chance to watch the movie “On the basis of sex” about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is well worth the watch and has several poignant scenes that paint a beautiful portrait of the Justice.

Trying not to spoil the movie, it focuses on her law school experiences through her tenure at Rutgers University as a law professor. Yet, the movie culminates in a tax court case against a male caregiver who is denied a deduction for helping his mother. Ginsburg’s husband Martin is a tax attorney who saw this case as an ideal way to break through the bias in the law toward women using discrimination against a man as the foundation. In fact, in 1970 there were 178 instances in the law that codified discrimination against women. This is amazing in and of itself.

Ginsburg is the ideal person to try this case in appeal, even though she had not practiced law as a professor. Her nervousness showed, but I will stop there and encourage you to go see how she overcame that inexperience. I will also mention the current environment of the burgeoning women’s rights movement which her teen daughter has embraced. Ginsburg tells her we must change the law to make a bigger difference.

A favorite actress of mine, Felicity Jones, plays Ginsburg. Armie Hammer plays her husband Martin and Cailee Spaeny plays her daughter who eventually becomes a law professor at Columbia University. Kathy Bates is excellent as the civil rights attorney Dorothy Kenyon and Justin Theroux plays a supportive and antagonistic role as the head of the New York based ACLU.

The movie is directed by Mimi Feder and the screenplay was written by Daniel Stephenson. Other key roles are played by Chris Mulky as the caregiver and Sam Waterston as the dean at Harvard Law and later a senior US Department of Justice figure.

I encourage you to go see it and/ or let me know what you think. Later in a comment, I will touch on the two scenes that touched me most.

Let’s rise up

A terrific singer named Andra Day provided an anthem for women, but also forward thinking men as well. It is called “I’ll rise up.” Here is the final chorus which says let’s all rise up.

“Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up.”

There has been a building crescendo worldwide, but especially here in the US, to say women matter. Women are tired of being taken advantage of by sexual predators, violent and controlling partners and men in power telling them what they can do with their bodies. Women are tired of people ignoring or demeaning them when they complain or accuse a violator. Women are tired of kitchen table issues like equal pay and healthcare gettimg ignored. Women are tired of nothing being done about gun governance which takes to many of their children and themselves.

Women are tired of being kidnapped and trafficked as sex slaves or servants. And, more globally, women need to be supported for saying we are not a possession to be sold, beaten or killed and we need not go through genital mutilation to satisfy an archaic religious practice written by a men.

Now, is the time to rise up. Women are running for political office in tremendous numbers in the US. They are reacting to a misogynist bully who shows what leadership does not look like. Their global sisters are using the opportunity to make a stand.

Rise up and vote. Rise up and take a friend to vote with you. Rise up and make sure your family votes. Rise up and vote for equal rights for all, for our environment which is being destroyed and for our future which is threatened by existential crises like climate change, poverty and inequality. Rise up. It is time to make a huge statement. I am with you.

I believe the women

There is nothing more that can be done about Brett Kavanaugh. He will be sworn in as an Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court. I think it is a sad day in America, especially for women.

We now have two out of nine Supreme Court justices that have been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. Many may not know that Anita Hill was one of two accusers of Clarence Thomas. The second woman waited in a hotel room to testify, but never was called.

Kavanaugh will join the court with three accusers, but only one was asked to testify with the second being interviewed by the FBI. But, not finding corroborating witnesses should not be construed that Kavanaugh is innocent. I believe the women, especially Dr. Ford. He was less than credible as he attacked. She was calm and pained. She also passed a lie detector test.

Yet, we should not forget the man who nominated Kavanaugh has a roster of twenty accusers of sexual assault or harassment. The accusations range from inappropriate groping of private parts in public to be being pinned against a wall in his daughter’s bedroom to walking in on unclothed teenage beauty pageant contestants. The girls knew they had to tolerate the creepy old man. This does not consider his two accusers of marital infidelity whom he paid off. Those were consensual, but his denials are telling.

The President’s strong denials now don’t hold water as he has admitted to doing the sexual misconduct in three separate interviews, two with Howard Stern and one the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Like with the above, I believe the women, some of whom accused him before the interviews were made public. That is more than interesting – it is indicting.

The only remaining actions should be of concern to the GOP leaders. First, a Judge has permitted a case to move forward accusing Trump of defamation as he lied about his sexual misconduct with her. The other will be more problematic as news reporters continue to do the job the FBI was prevented from doing. As I asked Senators Collins and Flake, are you sure this is the horse you want to ride? More will come out, but it is too late.

With all due respect to a large bunch of white men who do not care to know the truth, I believe the women. I have listened to Messers. Trump, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Cosby, Weinstein, Clinton – I believe the women. One final thought to those who have rationalized all of this with a tribal mindset. If Dr. Ford was your daughter, you would want Kavanaugh’s head.

Senators – give Dr. Ford a fair hearing

FYI. Below is a sample note I posted in six Senators websites. Please feel free to adapt and use.

As an independent and former Republican voter, I believe we need to take the time to review the accusation by Dr. Ford. Sexual assault is a heinous act and traumatizes the victim. It is not uncommon for a victim to not press charges fearing the kind of backlash Dr. Ford is getting now.

Judge Kavanaugh is being nominated for one of the nine highest judicial seats in our country. We need to get this right. Because Clarence Thomas’ hearing was handled so poorly, foregoing testimony of a second accuser and treating Anita Hill with disdain, we may have a sexual harasser on the Court.

Ford is a learned women who passed a lie detector test. If her claims lacked credibility, why is she asking for a FBI investigation? We must get to the bottom of this, and if Kavanaugh is lying, then that would be a major concern. He was a teen when this heinous act may have been done, but he is an adult now who may not be telling the truth.

To be frank, we already have a man in the White House who has admitted in three separate interviews to sexual assault and harassment of which he has been accused. We do not need this in a Supreme Court justice.

Tuesday afternoon

As I think of the fabulous Moody Blues’ song, let me share a few random musings on this cloudy Tuesday. Technically, it is morning here, but since Greenwich time is five hours ahead, the title has merit.

If we look at the US presidential election, what are the signals telling us? The Democrat candidate is being supported by major party leadership, some of whom are on the campaign trail. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who scares Republicans because of her history of fighting for those who have been screwed over, has joined with Hillary Clinton to advocate the message of helping the middle class and those in need with actual programs. There is no better advocate for the disenfranchised than Warren.

On the flip side, the Republican candidate has leaders bailing on him and hiding when he says his latest inane thing. Conservative columnist Michael Gerson has been against Donald Trump and what he represents from the outset and George Will just left the party because of Trump’s presumptive nomination. And, no living president supports his candidacy with the only foreign leaders who have advocated for him are Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

In Scotland, Trump noted what a good thing Brexit is, yet the financial markets, debt downgrading, and the lowest pound in over 30 years are giving many pause. Plus, he said this in Scotland who voted to remain and have started plans for another referendum to leave the UK and stay in the EU. This is supposed to be the candidate with the best business acumen, but yet again he shows little grasp of the issues, even financial ones. What the Remain camp failed to explain is the number of jobs created in the UK by being in the EU, with companies who have placed their European headquarters and plants there to have duty-free access to Europe.

The US Supreme Court handed down several important verdicts this week. The first one was a tie, but left standing a lower court ruling that President Obama went a bridge too far on his immigration executive orders after Congress failed to act for so long. Next, Affirmative Action was upheld in a Texas lawsuit that argued college admissions could no longer use race to determine acceptances of applicants. The Supreme Court said the colleges could continue to use race as a factor. A lesser publicized ruling noted that people who had been convicted of domestic violence crimes could be denied access to gun purchases in a state that said it was illegal. The court upheld Maine’s right to deny gun access.

But, the biggest ruling was against Texas 5 to 3 that overturned a lower court ruling on abortion clinic access. The Supreme Court ruled that what Texas did, which was use arguments for women’s health as a ruse to close down too many clinics. The data and examples of other less safe procedures that were allowed to go on in clinics revealed a purposeful attempt to severely limit women access. This was a huge win for women’s rights on allowing what to do with her body. Experts have noted this is the most important ruling on women’s right to abortion since 1992.

That is all for now. Have a great Tuesday.

 

 

Imperfections

I think one of the reasons I treasure the eclectic and eccentric, is I appreciate imperfection. Let’s face it, we are an imperfect lot with a wide of array of likes and dislikes. But, we should be less concerned with perfection.

Without getting too risqué, I love imperfections in women. I prefer women to be more true to their look and less inclined to modify their imperfections. I also recognize fully there is psychic value in looking one’s best, but I am speaking to major changes to fix a perceived or actual flaw.

To me, these imperfections add character and beauty. We need not have identically looking women to find beauty. A crooked nose, a beauty mark, differently shaped eyebrows, curly hair, straight hair, full lips, thin lips, small breasts, large breasts, too thin, too heavy, lithe legs, athletic legs, rounded bottom , flat bottom, etc. makes the female varied and beautiful to me.

Yet, women are bombarded by magazines and ads to look a certain way. It adds to a neurosis of appearance that need not exist as much as it does. Of course, we prefer a healthy version of ourselves and would like to remain as youthful as possible, yet these efforts need not be over-engineered. Granted, we men contribute to this with our wandering eyes and sometimes wandering hands. And, I know we men are no day at the beach with our imperfections.

But, the beauty I find most appealing is the ability to laugh, to feel, to converse, to love. There is an old saying that is true to me – the woman picks the man. He just better be aware that she is picking him. What I did not understand until I watched the documentary called “I Am,” is the heart gives off a magnetic signal that can be sensed many feet away. If that heart is a flutter, it can be sensed by the person who made it flutter. There is nothing more attractive to a man than a woman interested in him.

So, if your imperfect self makes an equally imperfect man’s heart flutter, it could be as close as we get to nirvana. Being an imperfect man, we appreciate your imperfections. We certainly have our share. And, together, we can be more perfect than separately.