Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gender

I am not quite through the January issue of National Geographic, but it is already one of the most remarkable issues I have ever read.  The issue is called Gender Revolution, and the cover picture is of a young girl (under 10 years old) who was born a boy but has identified as a girl for most of her life. Under her picture is a quote.  As part of the issue, Nat Geo asked 80 nine year old kids from countries all over the world, questions about gender identity, one of which was, what is the best thing about being a _____, where the blank is filled in by the gender of the young person being asked.  In the case of the girl on the cover, her answer is "The best thing about being a girl is, now I don't have to pretend to be a boy".  Awesome!!

As is many of the other quotes, most from cisgender children, that is children whose gender identity matched the biological sex they were assigned at birth.  Their candor, their truthfulness, their perceptions, which sometimes take exception, sometimes concur with societal norms, are a bright, clear window into how we treat our children, how they perceive the labels that adults love to use, and how different cultures and environments shape gender identity.

For most of us, gender is male or female.  One or the other.  I think it safe to say that the generations before the baby boomer generation, traditional gender identities and the corresponding traits, not to mention careers, of those identities were the perceived norm.  Anyone outside those strict definitions were treated poorly, if not outright cruelly.  But during the baby boomer generation (my generation), norms began to expand.  While men and women were still identified in the traditional sense, masculine and feminine traits were accepted as part of each person.  Men were permitted to become more in touch with their feelings, women were permitted to be aggressive, ambitious, physical. While it was clearly still not easy to be a homosexual man, at least men were allowed to cry, seek therapy for their mental difficulties, and become more involved with parenting, while women were encouraged to seek professional careers, join the military, and learn to make a cabinet or fix the plumbing.

Now, there are no less than 15 gender identities that are actively used by young people to describe themselves.  The definitions of each of them is found in the Nat Geo issue, along with pictures of young people who identify themselves as such.  It is an incredible array of feelings and perceptions.
For me, a gender conforming male, it allows me the latitude to accept a feeling or perception that perhaps I had been suppressing for fear of straying outside the boundaries of my conforming gender identity, while also accepting the myriad range of perceptions that other people might feel, without judging them based on the societal norms that can be so restrictive and damaging.

To be honest, I still find myself wondering if this explosion of gender identities is part and parcel to a normal pendulum swing, in that, as we finally come to view men and women as more than just male and female, we overreach to try to account for every little variation, and then label it.  Whether the pendulum is still on the upswing, and we see 15 more gender identities in the near future, or whether the pendulum has reached its apex and the list begins to shrink as gender identities are combined, I am still elated that the process is well underway because like all societal shifts in reference to what is normal (accepted), and what is not (rejected), the more inclusive our definitions, the more accepting we can be of each others' differences will result in a population, especially among our young people, that can worry less about how they fit in, and more about being the best human they can be.

Of course, the troubling side of this discussion, is the reaction it will generate by those with a more   fundamental outlook on gender, especially as to how it defines sexual orientation.  Particularly, the reaction by those with strong religious viewpoints.  While I would ask that they "judge not, lest ye be judged", I know that many who perceive themselves as holding strong religious views, quote other words from their holy books to justify their condemnation, both in this life and the next, of those they believe that God has condemned.  

While I would ask them to look at the science of gender, I know that many of them deny science when it contradicts with their religious views.  Evolution being the prime example.  Yet this science has proof that some people are born with the physical attributes of one gender and the sex organs of a different one, or who never get the testosterone burst to "make" them fully male despite having the genitals of a male.
 
While I would ask them to look at the existence of cultures that have existed for multiple generations with different perceptions of male and female, I know that many might consider them barbarians, and pray that they might be converted to a more Christian viewpoint.

While I would ask them to look at nature, and the fact that there are all kinds of plants and animals that are androgynous, that demonstrate the ability to change genders when necessary, that have existed for thousands of years with nontraditional gender roles for the male and female of their species, I know that while many might acknowledge the diversity of God's creation, they would still consider them abnormal.

While I would ask them to read and understand the article which includes information about the life of a person named Ioelu who is an anatomical female but lives as a man, and is called a fa'afafine in his culture which has consistently included a small percentage of fa'afafines despite the fact that these "men" cannot have children, a person who has found his love, another man as is the usual for fa'afafine men, I would then ask them to think about the last phrase of that article in which, after Ioelu tells the author that he hopes to someday marry his boyfriend and live in Canada, the author realizes that just by crossing a border, Ioelu's gender classification would change from fa'afafine to gay man.
Unfortunately, I know that many who have already made their judgement on the LGBT community would ignore the plight of this fellow human and all those who cannot just move to a place that is more accepting of their differences.

So, I guess what is left is to wish that all who adamantly judge the gender identities and sexual orientation of others, have a child who stretches the boundary of what is considered normal.  Perhaps then, those who are so quick to condemn will find that their parental love overcomes the fear and hatred that previously colored their judgment.  And, perhaps someday, we all will be able to empathize with those who live outside what is considered normal, without having to experience it first.    
         

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2001: A Reflection

I was scanning through the channels this afternoon, and found 2001: A Space Odyssey, about 20 minutes into the movie.  I first saw this movie as a birthday present, either 11th or 12th I am not sure. Of course, I did not understand it then, and in fact still find some of Kubrick's scenes difficult to fathom.

On this occasion, I was struck by the optimism of the future of space travel.  To think that in 1968 when the film was made, America was on the cusp of landing the first man on the moon, an accomplishment all the more amazing considering the state of our knowledge of travelling in space and our ability to do so just a decade before that when we were shocked by the news of the Sputnik program.   I have no doubt that Kubrick, Arthur C. Clark, people involved in the film, as well as the men and women actively working in the space program, both public and private, were 100% confident that humanity would not only have a base on the moon by 2001, but would accomplish a myriad of unimaginable feats in the next 30+ years.  I would guess that a vast majority of them were greatly disappointed when the new century began and our actual ventures into space paled considerably with their expectations.  Perhaps it is natural for a pause to occur after such a momentous burst of progress.  If so, we can only hope that the visionaries among us who are working towards a space colony on Mars will be able to match the achievements of those who preceded them 50 years ago.

I was also struck by the cooperation that seemed to exist in the world among nations.  Perhaps it is my bias at work, but the idea that Earth's inhabitants might begin to view themselves as Earthlings, rather than Americans, Russians, British, etc, seemed to permeate science fiction at the time. The future, and man's relationships with each other, was presented in a positive way, a time to be looked forward to, and even as a legacy for our children and grandchildren who would benefit from the mistakes made by previous generations who preferred aggression and war as opposed to cooperation.

Did our expectations surpass our ability to be humane?  Did we forget the horrific lessons of the two World Wars which were founded in discrimination, distrust, and tribalism?  Or did we just get lazy and forgot that we needed to continue to work and strive for a future world where peace among its peoples was preferable to conflict?

It can be difficult to see one's own life outside the highs and lows of its actual experiences.  Similarly, it is hard to view the state of our country, or even the state of our planet without focusing on the details.  We are swayed by those who tell us things are worse than ever, and then offer solutions based on prayers to a deity that will vanquish our enemies despite the obviousness that an actual deity created those very same people we seek to vanquish and who themselves pray to their deity for our subsequent destruction as well.  Or we are impressed by the latest populist who knows the only certain path to correcting all problems.  Or worse, we stop seeking answers to why, in a nation able to spend almost $60 billion on its pets, we still have millions of children who go to bed hungry, have substandard schools, and lack access to health care.

Taking a bigger view means recognizing that we are on a path, both individually and communally, that has its origins in small bands of nomads living in caves.  A path that has passed by the days when thunder and lightning were feared and misunderstood.  A path that wound through centuries of leaders who claimed their rule by divine right.  A path that took humanity to a place where children were treasured as links to immortality, rather than farm or industrial labor, or property to be used for trade as if they were cattle or stock.  A path that only recently featured the right for one half of those born to be able to choose those who made the laws.

But, like all long paths, it is a path that occasionally meanders backwards.  A path that sometimes includes a wrong fork in which humanity is lost for a bit.

It is hard enough to know when one has chosen the wrong path, let alone understanding when a nation or a planet has chosen in error.  And there have been more than a few times when humanity has done just so.  But each time, we have collectively righted the ship.  And so, from the days when brute force ruled the day, and when every other human was an enemy, we have followed a path which has brought us to a time when laws temper the ability of the strong to take advantage of the weak, and diversity in race, culture, ethnicity, and perspective is valued.

Perhaps. like the fate of the space program after the heyday of the Apollo missions, we have meandered a bit off the path that I describe above.  But that is OK, as long as we recognize our misstep, and as long as we stop, look around, and evaluate the direction we are taking.  And then, like those who dream of a future that includes a rebirth in space travel, we will be hailed for our presence of mind by those who benefited when we turned back to the path that leads humanity to shed its cloak of nationalism in favor of a robe of unity.  

 



    


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year

I sent the following Christmas Wish to my friends and family.  While it was meant to convey a hopeful holiday message to those that are important to me, I thought it important to share it with
those who read my blog, and are, of course, important to me, but whom I do not know personally.
It is easy to be friends and friendly with those who share your life, those who resemble you in perception and experience, but not so easy when you encounter people who look, act, or worship in a different way.  I guess it is our tribal nature that creates such a strong us versus them reaction.  What is sad is that we have such a divide here in the United States between the tribes known as liberal and conservative, despite the fact that we share affinities in our tribe called America.  My hope is that our tribal nature will continue to expand to the point where it encompasses all the peoples of planet Earth.

To all my readers, those similar and those with differing perceptions, I offer this Christmas and New Year wish.

Christmas Is

It is not the presents we get
although it is nice to feel the love
that inspires our family.
It is not the gifts we give
although the delighted faces of
our loved ones warms the heart.
It is not even the time we spend
with our family and friends in
celebration of the holiday season.

Christmas is more than the wonderful
memories we accumulate over the years
in ornaments, pictures, and holiday meals.

Christmas is hope.
Hope that the New Year will bring happiness
and good health to our friends and families.
Hope that our country will focus on our similarities
and finding common ground, rather than elevating
our differences and points of debate.
Hope that humanity, all races, creeds, and nationalities
will continue to evolve towards a spiritual enlightenment

which results in tolerance, acceptance, and Love.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Seeking the Silver Lining 2

My first post called Seeking the Silver Lining touched on the possible psychological benefits that a Trump presidency might have on America.  The point, in a nutshell, was that Trump is a master of the art of presenting his opinions and policies in the best possible light, and that this positive spin, enhanced by the media outlets that favor him, will create a positive national feeling, regardless of whether Trump's policies produced the results or not.  He will take credit for all that seems an improvement,, and, since the reality is that America is in a far better place than it was at the end of the 2nd Bush Administration, Americans will begin to believe that we are on the right track.  To me, this is an area where the Obama Administration fell short; not touting all the positive aspects of life in America in 2016 as compared to 2008, and correspondingly, a failure of the Clinton campaign to take advantage of all the good that has occurred in America in the last 8 years.

My goal in this post is to remind everyone of the amazing and fantastic efforts being made by Americans, people of all races, gender and ethnic origins, who for the most part toil behind the scenes in our laboratories, universities and boardrooms to develop ideas and processes that help other people, regardless of whether those innovations generate vast wealth for the creator.  The goals almost always seem to focus on improving the human condition first, attaining wealth and fame second.

Fortunately, I have easy access to such people and such stories via the monthly Smithsonian and National Geographic magazines that I read.

The December Smithsonian features their yearly American Ingenuity Awards.  Among the recipients this year are men and women who among other things, created the first ever rocket that can return to Earth and be reused for another launch, a printer that may one day be able to "print" human organs, an app that helps college bound seniors research and apply for scholarships that they would never have heard of or been able to take advantage of, research that helped bring to light the connection between the degradation of the water pipes in Flint, Michigan and lead poisoning among its children, and a program which uses meditation to help reduce stress in school children, especially those who live in neighborhoods where poverty and violence are at high levels.

The December National Geographic details a dozen Rolex Awards for Enterprise winners whose work ranges from a Kenyan woman who escaped the traditional cycle that dictated the genital mutilation of young women, in addition to removing them from school into arranged marriages, only to return to her home country to start a school for other young women to help them break the cycle as well, to conservationists who seek to protect ancient ruins in places all over the world so as to learn and better understand our shared origins, to researchers seeking to discover and make real an energy source for the future that is not a fossil fuel, to the countless scientists who study animals of all shapes and sizes to learn how climate change is effecting them (and so will effect us).

But to me, and even more critical aspect to seeking the silver lining, has to do with the person we see each day in the mirror.  How is that reflection going to address the possible limitations of a Trump presidency?

Certainly, we all can't stop our lives and run for office.  But if we choose to do so, groups like Emerge which I mentioned in a previous post, are there to train, support and connect you with other like minded citizens.  We can continue to vote in all levels of elections, making sure that our future is not controlled by a small but vocal minority.   And, we can civilly point out discrepancies between fact and fiction when presented by those who seek to distract and misinform rather than educate.

Also, and I like to remind those in mourning about this when I can, a mere 8 years ago those conservatives who disagreed with what they perceived would be the agenda of the Obama years, were as dismal in their perception of what was to come, as we are today.  Yet here we are, feeling as hopeless as they did, while they are riding high on the winds of their electoral victory.  While we may disagree with their approach, especially the just say NO to everything Obama tried to do, they eventually won the hearts and minds of the voters.  We must take a page from their playbook, stand up to the policies and decisions that the 65+ million Hillary Clinton voters disagree with, and use facts and truth to convince those that do not share our current perspective that they may have been fooled.

But more than anything, we need to maintain the high road.  Agree when a GOP idea is productive, praise our future president when he hits the mark, but continue to press for support of the progress made these past years in the areas of access to medical insurance, marriage equality, tolerance of those with gender identification issues, recognition that the Muslim religion includes advocates that seek wisdom, and that seek violence, just like the advocates of all major religions, and acknowledgment that our judicial and penal systems are not quite as blind to color and poverty as we would like them to be.

It's funny, because many of those who voted for Trump believe that America is the greatest country on Earth, perhaps in history, and bristle when presented with facts that present America in a bad light, facts such as our treatment of the American Indian, or our extended experiment with slavery, and its resulting laws that legitimized the second class treatment of people of color.  It is almost as if we could go back to the golden years following WW2 when America was the savior of the world, if only those who have found holes in that illusion would just shut up.  They believe in the greatness of America to such an extent, that any mention of a flaw or mistake, sets their jaws tight.

Well, I believe that America is great.  Articles like those I mentioned about people who are working anonymously to prove that point are inspiring.  But true greatness lies in seeking to root out even the smallest of problems, and then solving them, not pretending they never existed.  And true greatness acknowledges that all of the great accomplishments made in America, happened as a result of cooperation and compromise, not ridicule and one mindedness.

Working together is easy when everyone thinks the same.  A truly great country works together even when there is disagreement, because despite any disagreement, a great country can work out differences and find common ground.  But more so, this common ground must include policies that enable all Americans to provide for their families, create a hopeful environment for their children, and ensure a safety net which provides financial and health security as we age.

Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from the thousands who remain unknown yet whose contributions are invaluable, is that the most rewarding work results in the reduction of pain and poverty, and the enhancement of opportunity and hopefulness.  Personal wealth, fame and fortune pale in comparison.  When America and Americans fully integrate that belief into our institutions, private and public, only then will we guarantee our legacy of greatness.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Exploration, here and beyond

Interesting items in the November National Geographic.  One about the renewed interest in travelling to, landing on, and colonizing Mars, the other concerning the ever relaxing restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba.

In the items about Cuba, the Nat Geo writer dispensed with the standard political discourse as to whom to blame, the recently deceased Castro or the over 50 year response by our government to his rule, and focused on the people and how American tourism might help or hurt.  We often forget that the rest of the world has not banned its citizens from visiting Cuba, tourists from Canada and Europe have been travelling to and from Cuba for decades.  But America, a mere 90 miles away at its closest point, has been for decades as unreachable as many think Mars is today.

Now, Cuba will receive American tourists by the boatload, and not those boats often found swamped in the ocean between Cuba and Florida, but huge cruise ships with thousands of tourists eager to spend their vacation money on a Cuban experience.  Will that influx of money help improve the infrastructure of Cuba which has deteriorated during the embargo?  Will it improve the life and living standards of the everyday Cuban who has been virtually exempt from the amazing changes that have occurred since the 1960's?  Will it alter our perception of the people of Cuba, remind us that they seek the same things we seek, and enable us to consider them without the filter of politics?  Will we aid them in their transition, extending an open hand as opposed to the closed fist which we have long shown to them?  And, in discovering the strength of the Cuban people, and the beauty of their land, especially the Gardens of the Queen, the pristine marine preserve that lies untrammeled on Cuba's western coast, will we tread like explorers seeking knowledge and insight, or conquerors looking for resources to plunder?

Despite a recent discussion I had with a friend who insists that the US Government has had secret bases on Mars for many years, and that there is intelligent life there as well, I am encouraged by the recent interest in sending humans to Mars in the next 20 years.  (If you google secret mars bases, you can read for yourself some of the internet talk on this subject).  I am encouraged, despite the incredible challenges that such space travel entails, and the enormous costs involved, because it is bigger-than-life goals such as this that, I believe, is essential for humans to maintain and nurture, both as individuals and as groups. I feel strongly that if America truly needs to be great again, it is for lack of vision that was reflected in the race to the moon of the 1960's.  You can argue the point from a which came first, the chicken or the egg debate, but it seems clear to me that humanity can only reach its full potential through advanced goals.  Keep the bar low, get low returns, raise the bar high get remarkable returns.  

While I vividly remember watching on our 12" black and white TV as Neil Armstrong jumped lightly from the Eagle onto the lunar surface, I was certainly unaware at the time how incredible a trip it had been from the inspiring words of JFK in 1961 to that historic day.  I read recently that the NASA budget at the time was about 4% of the total budget for the United States (that would be like spending $140 billion today compared with the actual budget of $18 billion).  In addition to that huge commitment of resources, the NASA team was comprised of the smartest people of the time, not to mention the bravest.  While I am sure that today's NASA team also includes some of the best and brightest of our time, I wonder if the focus on individual wealth and fame precludes many from such a career.  

My interpretations of the greatest events in human history includes an understanding that virtually all of these events were the result of cooperation within a group towards a common goal.  While there is plenty of evidence in today's vitriolic version of media and communication concerning organizations of people with common concerns, the conversations seem more tribal than cooperative.  Our group versus your group.  We versus them.  While we all must wish for a successful Trump presidency, as his success is America's success, I am concerned that his vision of a great America is a backward looking one.  He clearly is in tune with the issues that everyday Americans face, but offers solutions that are rooted in how things were, not how things are or can someday be.

Fortunately, men like Elon Musk, founder of Space X, along with the unsung thousands who work with Musk, at other private space exploration firms and NASA, continue to provide vision about what can be accomplished.  Like those who imagined the day when a man might walk on the moon, there are a multitude of men and women in America that imagine a day when some even greater event might take place, and who are willing to work in concert with other dreamers to make that event a reality.  Sadly, there are those with loud and influential voices who prefer to ignore the science that
presents information contrary to their religious and commercial perspectives, often ridiculing people of intellect and scientific discipline.

Of course, manned missions to Mars will not result in equitable income distribution, livable wage jobs, lower student debt, or health insurance for all Americans, but perhaps the mere goal of such a trip, and the fact that such a goal requires resources and cooperation across many disciplines and commitment from people from multiple generations, will spur Americans to think beyond the short term and begin to seek the deep satisfaction that only long term plans and group achievements can produce.

From being beaten into space by Sputnik and the Russians in 1957 to the first manned moon landing in 1969, we achieved a remarkable feat that most people thought impossible.  Imagine what the next twelve years could bring with such focus and determination!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seeking the Silver Lining

In an effort to assuage some of the angst being felt by those on the left, I thought it timely to find the hidden silver lining as regards to our president elect, and the overall perceptions of those Americans who feel America is on the wrong track, or who are eager to get their country back, or are looking forward to seeing America become great again.

While there will always be negative media, especially with the rise of social media in which bad news spreads like an infectious disease, there will certainly be a reduction of negative stories from the family of Fox News broadcasts, once President Obama leaves office.  My hope is that many of those negative sounding stories will be replaced by neutral or upbeat accounts of what is happening.  For instance,

Unemployment spiked dramatically beginning in 2009 once the recession began to take hold of the economy, peaking at a bit over 10% during Obama's first term.  Since then, unemployment has steadily declined to around 5% as of this past month, but if one were to watch Fox business hosted by Lou Dobbs, the rate of unemployment was less emphasized as compared to those who have left the job market, or those who were under employed.  Perhaps starting on January 20th, and assuming unemployment remains low, Dobbs may remind his viewers that unemployment is at historical lows, and he may even throw in a commentary or two about there being tens of thousands of job openings, perhaps as a way of indicating that anyone not working isn't trying hard enough.

The stock market was also negatively effected by the recession.  On January 9th, 2009 the market closed at its bottom mark of 7063.  By November of this year, the market was over 18000, an increase of over 150%.  Yet, it seemed that this incredible turnaround was always buffered by a belief that either it could have been better, or that activity on Wall Street did not reflect everyday people who were still suffering.  Hopefully in about 51 days, stock market reports and analysis may emphasize the record setting aspect of the current market, and the fact that all those everyday Americans have more money in their 401K and IRA accounts.

Immigration was probably one of the hottest topics for those who chose Trump over Clinton.
Trump was seen as tough on illegals immigration (I will build a wall) while Clinton supported policies like the DREAM act.  It is hard to get a handle on actual numbers of deportations, as there are those on the left who bemoan the Obama record on deportations as being too draconian, while there are those on the right who claim his policies allows criminals to penetrate our border.   Assuming the truth is somewhere in between, and the clear fact that increased immigration, illegal or legal, is generally tied to job availability which is linked to economic growth, it should be easy for the bias in stories about immigration to begin shifting by mid January to detail just how many people are being caught trying to cross the border illegally, who are detained at the border, and who are deported if they commit a crime on US soil.  While these activities are happening now, more news stories about them will assure Americans that our borders are being better secured, even if the actual numbers of deportations don't actually change all that much.  And, even if there is token work on a wall, people will see something tangible being done and feel more at ease.

The anti-government rhetoric by Trump also played well in the heartland of America.  But now, Trump will be the government.  I expect that more uplifting stories about how the United States Government helps the average working American will be aired.  All the tax money that was previously characterized as wasted, will now be shown to be spent on Veterans Affairs, infrastructure, a strong military, support for police and fire departments, aid to seniors and children.  Again, it won't matter if the amounts spent are the same, or even a bit less, because reports of all the good being done with our tax dollars are so sparse now, that an increase in those articles will reaffirm Americans' belief that the government is working for them.  Also, evidence of a stronger border presence will cause Americans to view those departments involved as part of the solution as opposed to asleep at the wheel.

Finally, there may even be a respite on the attacks against the elite who have ruined America once the new cabinet and all the thousands of support staff are appointed.  They will be good people, the best people, even if they boast Ivy League degrees or have years of Wall Street experience.  The emphasis will be on competence over diversity, even though these are not mutually exclusive traits.  The attacks that our government is run by political hacks, and big donor relatives will be replaced by an emphasis on work ethic and accomplishments, even when those appointees are, in fact, big donors.

In short, our new president makes up for his lack of detailed knowledge of the world, with an extremely developed understanding of the effects of negative psychology when in attack mode, and positive psychology when in support mode.  As do those on the Fox executive board.  America, will, in fact, be great again, the moment Donald J Trump takes office, because he and Fox News will tell us so.  And, while that may seem like an illusion, feeling better about one's self, one's country goes a long way to making one's self, or one's country better.  For so many reasons that seem negative, a Trump presidency with the support of the best propaganda machine in America, may be good for our overall psyche.  Perhaps all we needed was someone to tell us we are great and everything will fall into place!

As always, I stay positive, and hopeful.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Confronting the Trump in all of us

It has been a week since America awoke to the news that Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States.  In that time, reactions from both Trump supporters and those who did not vote for him, have dominated the headlines.  

First, while I would prefer that those protesting Americans accept the fact that their choice did not win, I acknowledge their right to express their opinion in public demonstrations, just as, should Hillary Clinton had won, we would have allowed the Trump faithful to demonstrate on behalf of their candidate.  It should come as no surprise that so many people are angry and upset, as both candidates had high ratings of unfavorability during the entire campaign.  Someone had to win, someone had to lose, and half of the electorate was bound to be disappointed at the outcome.  To me, it is encouraging that so many people are expressing their concern, even though it comes in the wake of a reduced turnout at the polls as compared to 2008 and 2012, and might smack of closing the barn door after the horse has left for those of us who voted, for we all know that a certain percentage of the demonstrators didn't bother to cast a ballot last Tuesday.   But that would also have been true, regardless of the result.

I do however, object to the perception among the left that since Clinton won the popular vote, the second time in 16 years that a GOP candidate lost the popular vote but won the electoral count, we should consider abandoning the concept of the electoral college.  Or, that we should encourage some of the electors in that college, to vote contrary to the public's will, and choose Clinton over Trump.

As I said in a previous post, it is important to maintain the integrity of our institutions, despite our great disappointment at the recent election results.  If we allow the losing side to change the rules whenever it suits them, then the stability of our democratic system will be eroded.  The electoral college is not a perfect system, but it is the system designed by the founders to prevent a regional candidate from accruing such a huge majority of popular votes in a minority of states that victory in the overall election may be attained despite losing the popular vote in 30 or 35 states.  So yes, Clinton won the popular vote but she only won 21 states (if you include DC), which means that Trump won 30.  As I had suggested in a previous post, had Clinton won just 3 more states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she would have won the electoral college vote 278-260. 

Would the left be so quick to want a change had Clinton won those three states, 24 in total, but lost the popular vote?  Would the right now be clamoring for that change instead, if, in winning 27 states they had won the popular vote but not the electoral college?  (By the way, in the 2000 presidential election when Bush bested Gore, Bush won 30 states despite losing the popular vote.  Had Gore won Florida, he would have won the election with just 21 states including DC, as opposed to 29 for Bush).

Second, my respect for President Obama has increased dramatically by his handling of the transfer of power to a man who actively questioned his nation of birth and religion for many years.  What an incredible show of restraint, and respect for our nation and its laws!   Not to mention his plea for Americans to honor the results, results that may virtually wipe out his legacy and all that he did to advance the causes of those who elected him, twice.  Could you have been so polite, so willing to put the nation ahead of your personal disappointment?  Has anyone ever in our political history?  It would be a great boon to unity if Fox News would relate this information to its audience.  Perhaps just that one nod to civility would help move the needle a bit towards understanding that it is OK for political and philosophical disagreements to exist, in fact preferable in a democracy, but not OK to demonize those on the other side and to promote the belief that there is only one right opinion.  We must respect those on the other side if we wish to convince them of our perspective.     

But the real point of this post was to discuss prejudice, and its insidious effect on our great country.

Clearly, racial bias, and xenophobia were factors in this election.  NOT THE DECIDING FACTOR HOWEVER.  Let me make that point clear, again.  Trump won the election because he won over middle America, hard working men and women who feel that the American dream has been stolen from them, and Trump promised them he would fix that problem.  Had the Democrats and Clinton learned that lesson from the success of Bernie Sanders primary challenge, we might have had a different result, but they assumed that Trump's negatives would win the day.  One might even say that they assumed that it was OK to discount middle America's angst, believing that Trump's forays into belittling virtually anyone not a white male, would force the voters to choose her as the lesser of two evils.  

And this is why we need to address our own Trumpness, so to speak.  We all exhibit bias, demean those we think we are better than.  Using terms like redneck and white trash to describe some Trump supporters is no different than those who would call our First Lady an ape in heels, or who stereotype all illegal immigrants as rapists and criminals.  

Be honest, if you found yourself walking at night in an unfamiliar area and saw 4 or 5 young men approaching, would your first instinct to cross the street?  Hold tight your purse?  Is it more or less the same if the young men have dark skin?  

If a business person, do you look more closely at the resume, or the tattoos or piercings the applicant may have?  

If you are in a public situation where you need to sit within a crowd, do you seek a seat next to someone more like yourself in race, gender or age? 

Prejudice is deep rooted, often the results of generations of biased thinking.  A child who listens at the lap of a white supremacist grandfather and father as they recount tales of suppressing the negro, will more easily develop a deep hatred of that race, just as a black child who hears tales from their family of the white slave owner who abused their ancestors and separated their families.   

This is where I may disagree with some Trump supporters, but, to me, the answer to reducing and someday eliminating prejudice is familiarity with those different from us.  Contact with them.  More diversity, not less.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when an older person visits their lifelong friend, and finds that friend's grand daughter helping around the house, a grand daughter with a tattoo on her forearm and a pierced nose.  Perhaps the thought that young people have different ways of expressing themselves but are still just young people making their way through the world might remind them of the fads of their youth and how they were looked at askance by their elders.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a gay marriage opponent finds herself stranded along the road, waiting for AAA, when she is helped by a friendly lesbian couple who change her tire and share their hot beverage to warm her.   Perhaps the thought that those young woman were not unlike her when she was young, hoping to find love and happiness.

Imagine the surprise and change of perspective when a left leaning progressive comes home to find his young child playing with the new kid in school who just moved from there from Mississippi, and when he takes the child home is invited in for a cold glass of lemonade.  Perhaps the thought that these new neighbors are probably as scared and unsure as he would be should he move to a new town, and how much a helping hand would mean as opposed to a stereotyped judgement.

We are a divided nation.  One might even say that some of that divisiveness still echoes from the Civil War.  But we are also known by the inscription on the Statue of Liberty which says 

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"     

It is why so many people risk life and limb to travel from Central America and Mexico to live and work here.  Why the newest wave of immigrants from the war torn countries of the Middle East have streamed into Europe and wish asylum in America as well.

Like those who sent opinion letters to their papers decrying the influx of the Irish, Italian, Polish and other European nations during the early 20th century, we find ourselves, children of those same immigrants, fearful that our country is changing, and that our culture will be altered by these new immigrants.  It is natural to feel that, and so understandable that so many people responded to Trump's call for restrictions, were ready to blame our problems on these newcomers.  And yes, perhaps some are over the top racists, but most are everyday Americans who want to provide shelter and security for their families and the opportunity for the same in the future.

Let's acknowledge our prejudices.  Confront our fears but in an inclusive way, with the knowledge that the problems will not be solved unless we involve everyone on both sides of the debate.   And let's understand that if we see unappealing traits in President elect Trump, we can best address those faults by turning that gaze within and rooting out those same traits in ourselves. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Congratulations to Donald Trump

Congratulations to the next president of the United States, Donald Trump.  His unconventional campaign, his reluctance to ignore the advice of seasoned political advisers, his speeches in which the normal filter for political correctness, and perhaps even basic politeness and civility, and virtually every part of his overall strategy, all of which he orchestrated on his own terms, proved successful.  I have tried not to read too much analysis, summary and postmortem articles about the results, so if you have already read this next comment, I apologize for repeating it, but, as Frank Sinatra so beautifully sang, Trump can now proclaim that "I did it my way".

I tuned in to the election results around 9:30 last night.  At that point, Trump had already been declared the winner in numerous states across the south and middle parts of the country and was leading in the electoral college.  Despite this, the commentators on the PBS channel I was watching, still spoke of Hillary Clinton's path to electoral victory.  Slowly, as the night progressed and the races in the pivotal rust belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin began moving towards Trump, preceded by his declared victories in Florida and North Carolina, it was easy to sense that the mood of the moderators was shifting.  Surprise, shock, disbelief, while not overly obvious, certainly began to seep into their words and expressions.  Despite the temporary lead that Clinton gained around 11:00 when polls closed on the west coast and she was declared the winner in California and Washington, it wasn't long before the numbers in those states detailed above began to turn towards Trump.  Between midnight and 1:00 AM, there was a clear path for Trump to win, while Clinton had to sweep the remaining states that had not been called, a prospect not likely.  In the meantime, the belief that the Senate may turn to the DEMS, was squashed as key races were won by incumbent GOP candidates.   I don't remember what time it was precisely, but by 2:00 AM, a Trump victory was inevitable, the Clinton campaign announced to her supporters that they should go home from the hotel where they had gathered to celebrate the election of the first woman president, and the commentators began discussing how the polls could have been so wrong.

I stayed awake for Trump's victory speech.  It was well done.  He thanked his family and supporters, acknowledged the concession phone call from Hillary Clinton, thanked her a hard fought campaign and her decades of service in government, and spoke very clearly of reaching out to all Americans, those who voted for him as well as those who did not, so as to unify our great country.  He was gracious in his acceptance of the victory, the nature of the historical nature of his election, and perhaps even the gravity of what he had accomplished, and what the American people now expected him to do to prove to them that they made the right choice.

So, as will be analyzed to death for the next few months, why did Trump win?  And, more importantly, how did the GOP, a party as fractured as there ever was, not only secure the White House, but maintained its historic advantage in the House and hold on to its majority in the Senate?

I wonder if the polls, perhaps biased as Trump and his supporters have claimed, actually helped Trump and hurt Clinton.  While his remained energized, able to rally around the thought that they weren't being represented properly by the elite media, hers may have become complacent in the thought that she was going to win, that she couldn't possible lose to Trump.  The numbers I heard during the evening's coverage suggested that both candidates won the demographics they were expected to win, but not necessarily by margins expected.  In the end, and perhaps, despite winning the popular vote (she is currently ahead as of this writing), Clinton did not connect with the Obama coalition that propelled him to the presidency in 2008.

What surprises me the most, was not that white male voters chose Trump overwhelmingly, or that Clinton won virtually all minority and women demographics, but that, as of this post, neither garnered as many votes as Romney did in losing the 2012 election.  Based on the intensity of this election, I was hoping that we might surpass the turnout of the past two presidential elections, but instead we will fall far short of the 130 million and 125 million votes cast in the 2008 and 2012 elections respectively.  We may just surpass a 50% turnout rate, a far cry from the 58+% in 2008.  In essence, Trump will be our next president having been chosen by half of those voting who are themselves, half of those eligible to vote, who are themselves about 68% of the population.  In other words, the roughly 60 million people who voted for Trump represent the views of 17% of our country's 350 million people population.  This is not to belittle his accomplishment, the same would have been true if Clinton had won.  It seems more an indictment of our electorate, and its reluctance to participate in such an important election and the overall complacency of the voting public.  Not since 1968 has even 60% of eligible voters made their way to the polls although we have at least surpassed our all recent history all time low of 49% in the 1996 election.  

If not enough people participating may have led to Clinton's loss, perhaps the presence of the protest vote for the Green and Libertarian candidates also contributed.  While one may argue that some of the Libertarian vote may have been cast by disaffected Republicans, it seems more likely that, since Trump represented the change or protest vote so dramatically, a larger portion of the Libertarian vote, as well as the vast majority of the Green party vote were Democrats who did not connect with Clinton.  Looking at the breakdown of votes for Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the math suggest that these protest votes, had they gone to Clinton, would have shifted 46 electoral college votes to her resulting in a 274 to 244 win, that is how close the popular vote was in those 3 states.

As I mentioned in a few previous posts, there may also have been some gender bias at work.  At one point, I heard that male African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, while supporting Clinton in the majority, did not do so as significantly as they did for Obama.  Perhaps there were enough males of those backgrounds that were able to more easily overlook Trump's shortcomings, perhaps chalking them up to a locker room mentality or the boys will be boys excuse, simply because they were uncomfortable with being led by a woman.

It will take me a while to wrap my head around the phrase President Donald Trump.  But I hope that in the name of unity and for the good of America, those of us who did not vote for him will be able to give him the benefit of the doubt.  His demeanor last night was certainly more presidential than I have seen in the past.  And there are a number of areas of agreement that can be addressed right away before our differences are explored.  I hope his supporters can also put aside our differences, forget about the vengeful talk of continued criminal investigations into the Clintons, and work together to rebuild our infrastructure, address the physical and mental needs of our veterans, encourage corporations to honor America as opposed to their profit margin, and reduce or remove the vast amounts of money that have been allowed to influence our election process.  

In the meantime, I stay, as always, hopeful that humanity in general, and Americans in particular, will continue to evolve spiritually, continue to strive for goodness, to treat others as they wish to be treated, and to forgive rather than to seek vengeance.   

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Protecting Our Governmental Institutions

I have mentioned in past posts that I watch Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time.  Often he has mentioned his desire to get President Obama on the show, and last week he announced that he had finally achieved that goal, although the appearance was taped, not live.  Along with as large an audience in eight years, I tuned in for the show last might.

To be honest, I found the interview to be just OK.  I think that part of the appeal of Maher's show is that it is live, and it seemed that something was missing in his performance.  Perhaps his constraint was due to his respect for the President.  I expect that next year. Maher will be able to book Obama on his panel and it will be more entertaining.

I mention this only as a segue into what I thought a very interesting conversation on Real Time after the Obama interview.  David Frum, a frequent panel member on Maher's HBO show, generally represents the opposing viewpoint to the show's tone and perspective.  He is an ex speech writer for the Bush Administration, and is typically portrayed as a neoconservative.  While Maher has had him on the show many times in the past, it should come as no surprise that he booked him on the last show before the election as Frum has publicly stated that he voted for Hillary Clinton.  If you are interested in Frum's writings, he is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and is an often published op ed writer.  In some ways, one might say that he is in the minority in terms of oft read op ed writers, in that he is rational, logical, and civil in his discussions and his work.  His continued popularity encourages me to think that there is still a place for reasoned debate among those with whom you may disagree, without the obvious bias and vitriol that marks so many media outlets that pretend to be news organizations.

Anyway, Frum's problem with today's political discourse, a problem that he lays squarely on the extreme elements of both parties, is the attacks on the institutions of government.  His essay called the Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy is a must read if you are interested in some insight on why the American electorate in general, and the Republican party specifically, have accepted the rhetoric of Donald Trump.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/the-seven-broken-guardrails-of-democracy/484829/  

Frum's perspective points to the popularity of both Trump and Bernie Sanders as proof that both parties are at fault in the breakdown of the base protections that preserve our democracy.  Each plays on the fear of Big Government, the insider culture that rewards big donors while marginalizing the needs of the american working class, and the belief that "they are all crooks".  The problem is that the failures of those we elect to govern us are not the fault of the institutions of democracy, but the fault of we, the electorate who continue to be bamboozled by politicians who promise us that we can eat our cake and have it too, and the party establishments, both DEM and GOP, who have long ago passed from country first, in support of policies and laws that help the most, to party first, in support of candidates who share their political affiliation regardless of whether their ideas or plans for governing are good for the country.

Frum quotes statistics that demonstrate that the electorate has often chosen one party for the executive branch, another for the legislative.  Yes, some of that is due to the extreme gerrymandering that exists in the drawing of legislative districts, but it also points to an understanding that it may not be wise for one party to control all three branches of government, that such control can only lead to abuse.  It is why our founders created such a wonderful governmental structure, why so many other countries exhibit such unstable governments, and why, believe it or not, a strong government is one of the cornerstones to prosperity.  But strong in the maintenance of the structure, not strong by having an autocrat or dictator in charge.  Hillary Clinton clearly understands the importance of the branches of government working together to create compromise policies that improve the lives of most people. There is no such thing as a perfect law, a perfect trade agreement, a perfect treaty, where perfect means your side achieved all its goals and the other got shafted.  (Of course, one could site most of the treaties between the US Government and the Indian nations as perfect, unless you were an American Indian).

Donald Trump is clearly running for king of America, and a large percentage of his supporters are making the gigantic mistake of thinking that once he is king, he will pervert our democracy and change everything to favor them.  The left, progressive influence will be ignored, perhaps even put in jail, and all will be right with the world again.  And, I guess as a white male, I should be happy since Trump's vision of "great again" hearkens back to a time when minorities, women, those with different religious, social or cultural beliefs, were kept in their rightful place.  Sadly, as is always the case with absolute power, the country will suffer and those who readily voted for a candidate who has no respect for American democracy (has he said the word rigged a hundred times yet?), no respect for the rights of others who disagree with him, no respect for anyone or anything that doesn't lend itself to praise for Donald Trump, might be surprised when their needs, livable wages, health care insurance, property rights protections that conflict with a business concern, rights for their daughters and granddaughters to make choices about their bodies, are brushed aside with the same ease that they cheer when Trump talks about banning Muslims.

A divided government by its nature leads to conflict.  But the conflict should be about the best way to achieve prosperity, safety, and opportunity.   And, since both sides truly believe their perspective to be the correct path, since both sides include patriots, then the debates should focus on actual proposals, and actual accomplishments.  As Frum rightly points out, Trump has presented very little in the way of concrete plans, using trite phrases like "trust me".   Since the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular among the GOP, despite that fact that many of them now have health care insurance, and/or obtain their health insurance through Medicare and Medicaid, programs that the GOP often target as Big Government intervention in our lives, Trump declares he will repeal it.  When asked what he will replace it with, he says, "something terrific", and the cheers resound.  Will that terrific plan allow young adults to stay on their parent's insurance?  Continue to provide health exchanges for those who cannot get insurance from their employers?  Maintain the ban on rejecting people with pre-existing conditions from being automatically rejected?  Continue the no lifetime cap on insurance payments for the really sick among us?

The truly amazing thing, the sheer brilliance of Donald Trump is that he has convinced millions of people that everyone in Washington is an elite snob who only cares about diverting tax payer and big donor money into their own pockets, and that the government itself, those who run our military, sit on the Supreme Court, meet in Congress to consider and pass laws, enforce the regulations that protect our water and air from pollution, discuss ways to improve education, all of them, know less about what they do than he does.  The fact that he was born rich, has lived the life of those with a golden spoon, uses his failures as a businessman to avoid paying taxes, and exhibits very little knowledge or interest in understanding the complexities of our government and democracy somehow makes him more attractive, not less.

As Frum points out, the guardrails that protect our institutions have been broken through. Unfortunately, too many Americans are cheering that breakdown, unaware of how important those protections are, unaware that their reluctance to appreciate and understand how government works will lead to a government run by someone who does not have the capacity to make it work for them.      

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A local Murder

Last weekend, a young man was murdered in a park in my small town.  The park has a baseball field where the local high school and churches play their league games.  It has a small pool for infants and toddlers, a playground with about 6 or 8 pieces of play equipment, and a tennis court with 4 playing areas, and a basketball court with 4 hoops.  Besides the play areas, the a pathway in the park accesses directly to the walking paths that connect one end of town with the other.  Currently, I walk my dog there; in the past I frequently took my children there to play on the swings.  Obviously, my town is experiencing some shock and disbelief concerning this tragic event.

The details of the killing, as are known to me today, involve 3 teenage boys plotting to rob a drug dealer.  They stole two guns from the home of one of the boys, and set up a drug buy at the park where they attempted to rob the victim at gunpoint.  At first, the young man drove away from the boys, but then he emerged from his car to confront them.  At this point, one of the boys fired at the victim, striking him in the chest which proved to be a fatal wound.

Before starting this post, I read the local newspaper account so as to present the facts as they are known.  I also checked the comments which had been posted after the news story to get a feel for my community's reaction.  Unfortunately, there weren't many comments, only 4.

The first one described the boys as scum and wished them a long life in prison.

The second thought them heroes for killing a drug dealer, wanted to name them honorary policemen, and hoped they would be freed using a self defense plea and so be able to kill other drug dealers.

The third comment asked for sympathy for all parties with a version of the quote "there but for the grace of God go thee".  The fourth comment agreed with the third by praising her empathy.

Additionally, I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance, who told me that had the victim been his grandchild, he would make sure that the case never went to trial, presumably meaning that he would kill the boy as revenge.

So, where do we go from here.

The motives of the boys is not fully known.  Were they interested in the money only, figuring a drug dealer wouldn't contact the police if robbed, or did they believe they were acting as some sort of vigilantes, ridding their community of a drug dealer?  The boys are 15 and 16 years old, so I tend to think their motivations were mostly material, but I certainly do not know for sure but there is also the question of how they knew who to call for the drugs, i.e were they in the habit of buying drugs, which may have inspired their plot.

As a 16 year old, it is possible that he could have known where his parents stored their guns, and even the key if they were locked up safely, but I imagine that there are many people in my community who feel that the parents may be partially at fault.  My sentiments on the ease in which guns can be acquired are no secret, but I also acknowledge that a significant percentage of gun owners are responsible.  If it turns out that this is untrue in this case, I imagine that the community will continue to be in turmoil through both the murder trial (if there is not a plea bargain) and the inevitable civil trial that will follow.  Perhaps the parents did lock their guns, and bullets in separate places but failed to maintain the secret location of the key.  Perhaps the boy had handled the guns in the past so they thought it safe to be less vigilant because he could be trusted.  As the details have been related so far, the boy whose parents owned the guns was not one of the shooters but, allegedly fled the scene before the shooting took place.  

And, of course, the victim who was certainly a victim in that he did not deserve to die just because he was selling drugs, was not completely a victim, as he was involved in an illegal activity.  Plus, the current story surrounding the details of the murder paint him as a possible aggressor, although we will never know his side of the story since he is dead.  I would hope that the details as presented by the boys in custody can be confirmed by an independent witness, and not taken as gospel.  Had the victim been arrested before on drug charges?  Or was this a relatively new way for him to make some money?  For those who might say, what does it matter, one strike or three, do you apply the same standards to your self, your spouse, your presidential candidate?  

Turning to the comments, small sample as it is, I can't help but relate it to virtually all the important topics under debate today, in that each extreme response is represented.  While a middle ground is also noted, and even confirmed, I don't think I would be going out on a limb when I suggest that it will be the two extreme responses that will be repeated more often, agreed to or defended depending on the perspective of the voices being heard.  Those are the responses that make for good TV and radio and internet postings, whereas the calls for sympathy, reasoning, and a more full understanding of the facts and the people involved will most likely be ignored.  I imagine, and have heard a few people state it, that the preliminary hearing for the boys will be very tense, very charged, and very covered by those who only see a story without seeing the people or the community involved in that story.

America, and Americans, may represent one of the greatest paradoxes of mankind's history.  We are generous to a fault, donating billions of dollars to everything from kids in far away countries to abused animals to the victims of natural and man made disasters.  Yet we continue to send convicted citizens to death row, talk of torturing both our enemies and their families, use unmanned drones to kill the guilty and innocent alike via bombs from above, and seek revenge whenever we feel slighted.

The truly sad thing about this murder, is that the details will be lost in the controversy that surrounds and permeates our national discussions about crime, drugs, gun control, violence.  We may never know why those boys thought that a few hundred dollars from a drug dealer was worth his life or why their victim turned his back on legitimate work to sell drugs or why the parents of the young man in jail thought a gun would protect them, and from whom they sought protection.  
 
I saw the end of the movie Starman yesterday.  We are described as an interesting species by the alien visitor in that we are at our best under the worst of conditions.  Yet, incidents like this murder, and the knee jerk, extreme responses that it evokes, makes me wonder.  Despite the tag line of the GOP presidential nominee, America is great, right now.  We have the resources, both intellectual and monetary, that, were they properly focused, could solve most of our problems, if the goal was to actually solve them, and not be able to take credit for the solutions so as to enhance one's bank account or further one's political career.  But, like the alcoholic or drug addict, the first step is admitting a problem which can never happen as long as it is easier and more lucrative to blame "others".