Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hidden Figures, not so hidden prejudice

I saw the movie Hidden Figures last weekend.  Truly inspiring.  It reminds me that HIStory is the version of what happened in the past through a male perspective.  Perhaps one day, the complete stories might be told - or at least a HERstory version.

Anyway, the movie reminds us that it wasn't that long ago that there were colored only toilets, water fountains, areas on the bus, and even schools.  Not long ago that being black in America automatically relegated you to limited opportunity and a limited shot at achieving the American Dream, regardless of your abilities or work ethic or ambition.

But the movie also reminds us that despite such obstacles, the women depicted in the movie persevered.  They fought the silent battle that occurred in black households all across our nation, sometimes by sacrificing their goals for those of their children, sometimes by being the first to accomplish something and then suffering the consequences of being the first, sometimes by ignoring the ignorant whose only yard stick was skin color, and resisting the temptation to fight fire with fire by condemning all white people for the actions of some.

Now that the two terms of the first black president has ended, we are experiencing a backlash to the progress that was just beginning in the 1960's and which culminated in Obama's election. A backlash against a man of decency, insight, and vision who, by being the first, is subject to all the nastiness that assailed all those who broke the color barrier.  We hear coded phrases bandied about in the media, and by some of our elected officials about making America great again, phrases that underlie a desire to return to a time when minorities knew their place, and laws were created and enforced to maintain that status quo.  Of course, we have progressed as a society in that today, a much smaller percentage of white people believe in white supremacy as a natural rule of law, but have not progressed so far that a similar call to prejudice cannot be whipped up against those with a different religion, or culture, or sexual preference.

Does it matter that those of us with one or more grandparents who were born outside of the United States are descendants of a wave of immigration during the early 21st century which faced open prejudice from the "native" American families of the time, who themselves could only trace their heritage as Americans five or six generations at most considering that before 1776 America was not even a country?  Does it matter that President Trump himself is the child of an immigrant mother (Mary Anne MacLeod was born in Scotland), and immigrant paternal grandparents (both born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, now Germany)?  Good thing for President Trump that his grandparents came to America in 1902 and not 1942.  I would imagine they would have been treated in a much different manner considering Germany was not considered a friendly nation at that point in time.  Similarly, does it matter that two of Donald Trump's three wives are immigrants which means that 4 of his 5 children are first generation Americans?

Did it not dawn on those who lapped up Trump's association with the "birther" conspiracy, that questioning Obama's birth nation only gained traction because he was black.  I would imagine that some who thought it was a legitimate question to ask do not think they are racist, but when Obama's GOP opponent in 2008 was, in fact, not born in the United States, it sure seemed like racism in action.

That is, in fact, the problem with racism and prejudice.  When it is overt, like lynching a black man accused of a crime without a trial, it is easy to spot and condemn.  But when it is covert or subliminal, when it festers just below the surface, and needs just a bit of a nudge to spring forth, that is when it can be used effectively by those who wish to inflame our passions in the battle of us versus them. The danger is that "them" can be defined any which way.  Germans and Japs.  Commies.  Gooks.  Fags. Ragheads.  First we dehumanize, then we break out the pitchforks.

There is trouble brewing in America when a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, as innocuous sounding as one could imagine, is introduced in the United States House of Representative (HR 2802), and that similarly worded bills have been proposed in almost 1 out of 3 states houses.

Make no mistake, these are attempts as obscene as the Jim Crow laws of the deep South, which legitimized racial discrimination except in this case it would "prevent the federal government from taking action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage".

In effect these bills would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community, making it possible to deny jobs, housing, business services, health benefits, pretty much anything one might seek in a free society, to people who believe that, in America, they should have the right to marry the person they love.

Be wary, fellow citizens!






  
 







 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The GOP agenda begins

And so the GOP agenda, confirmed at the polls last November, has begun.  While it is no surprise to me, I wonder if those who voted for our current President while also providing him with a GOP controlled Congress, were expecting some of the recent bills which were passed.  Of course, many of Trump's supporters won't be cognizant of the details of their voting, but will instead only know of those issues splashed across their favorite Fox news show or internet conspiracy website.  They will support the ban on refugees in general and Muslims in particular, even though that policy will inevitably do more harm than good.  They will support the firing of all those who might offer a balance of opinion, even though that results in a myopic view of the world and a reduced pool of solutions towards resolving our problems.  They will support the recent Supreme Court nominee, even though his far right agenda may tilt the court towards rulings that restrict individual rights rather than protecting us from the tyranny of the majority.  They will support a "wall" and a tariff on imported goods, even though the wall will result in more deficit spending and tariffs will produce higher prices for everyday Americans.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 38 nullifies a federal rule aimed at protecting streams and drinking water in Appalachian states from pollution caused by mountain top removal coal mining.  I wonder if those who voted assuming Trump would bring back coal mining jobs also knew they were voting to allow coal companies to blast mountaintops and then dump fractured rocks and other debris into their streams and valleys.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 41 nullifies an SEC rule under which publicly traded companies must disclose payments to foreign governments for access to oil, natural gas, coal and other mineral resources.  I wonder if those who voted assuming Trump would work for average Americans also knew they were voting to allow fossil fuel companies like Exxon, which coincidentally used to be run by our new Secretary of State, to secretly bribe foreign governments while possibly creating conflicts of interest for American businessmen who influence foreign policy.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 40 nullifies an Obama administration rule designed to keep the mentally ill from passing federal background checks on gun purchases.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump in support of gun rights also knew they were voting to allow all Americans, regardless of mental stability to have access to a gun.  Makes all those gun rights advocates who frequently sight poor mental health services in America as the problem rather than guns, seem like hypocrites when they prefer arming those people while often also voting to cut community service funding which goes to mental health clinics.

Voting along party lines, HJ Res 37 nullifies federal regulation aimed a keeping federal contractors in compliance with workplace laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, Americans with Disability Act, Civil Rights Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, and Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump to help create good paying jobs for Americans and knew they were voting for the removal of worker protections against employers who would discriminate in their hiring as well as place them in harm while performing their job, and subsequently, face fewer legal challenges when an employee was treated unfairly or hurt.  I guess they expected different from an ex-real estate developer?

Finally, voting along party lines, HJ Res 36 nullifies a regulation aimed at reducing losses of natural gas through venting, flaring and equipment leaks being mined on federal land.  I wonder if those who voted for Trump to reduce foreign dependence on oil by helping domestic oil and natural gas companies, also knew they were voting to allow those companies to spew waste into the air and water on land in our national parks and land designated as tribal.  Of course, abusing Native Americans is nothing new for our government, especially when profit comes into play so perhaps this is not a surprise, but to allow the possible ruination of land which is supposed to provide respite and recreation to all of us seems a bit short sighted, if not greedy.

Just so you know, the Senate voted in favor of these new laws as well.  In addition, the Senate voted to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, 56-43.  One could argue that travelling the world making business deals to buy oil for Exxon gives Tillerson ample international experience in making a profitable deal, but one might wonder how these experiences will help when he has to deal diplomatically with a nation which does not share our values or perspectives.  

Lastly, I wonder if those who support President Trump's philosophy of draining the swamp, understand any better that Trump, how important it is to have consistency in government in regards to those who do the actual, everyday work.  Of course, it is a new President's right to change the players at the top to reflect his beliefs.  But the backbone of how the federal government works are the career people at State, Defense, GAO and the other agencies who do the work.  Inflaming the belief that all government workers are lazy, overpaid, or any of the other disparaging remarks that Trumps' supporters throw at them, belies the facts that we need competent, patriotic people in these posts to make the system work.  Improving the functions and efficiency or government is one thing. Assuming it is not necessary, or actually detrimental is another, because in the end, someone will still be introducing and passing laws, and if we fail to pay attention to those laws or fail to understand the importance of the process, then we truly will get the government we deserve, as opposed to the one we elected.    
    


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Balance of Power

I have been reading many of the articles about President Trumps' actions in this first week, then scrolling down to read the conversations that are posted under each.  While there were some comments that stayed on topic and presented a cogent contribution, much of it was name calling, on both sides, which is too bad considering the seriousness of the content of the articles themselves.

Despite the lack of civility and potent remarks, I decided to join the fray.  After reading the article which discussed the individuals who are said to be on the short list to be President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, I clicked on the "join the conversation link" and found only 16 comments, to my dismay.  I say my dismay, because the conversations I had perused earlier today and on previous days, generally featured hundreds of comments.   So, I posted the following:

It says a lot about the American people's understanding of our great democratic system (which includes the brilliant creation of the three branches of government which are supposed to act to check and balance the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches), when there are so few comments on this article concerning the possible Supreme Court nominee, a position which will effect our country long after the current President leaves office, while other, more inflammatory types of articles, such as those on the border wall or voter fraud or crowd size at the inauguration, generate hundreds of comments. When we vote to grant either party all the power by giving them control of the executive and legislative branch, perhaps we might consider the wisdom of allowing the minority party to control the next Supreme Court nominee. Or at least, as an electorate, make it clear to the majority party that we prefer to maintain some kind of balance of power. Remember, regardless of whether you believe Hillary won the popular vote or not, there are many people in America who did vote for her, many people in America who love their country AND think that the liberal perspective is correct, just as in 2008 and 2012, despite Obama's clear electoral and popular victories, there were still millions of people who did not vote for him and deserved to be considered when new laws were being made. I would like to think that a great country is one which treats all its people with respect, not just those in the majority, whether that majority be race, gender or political viewpoint. Just a thought, along the lines of that famous quote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

That was about 4 hours ago, and since then the total tally of comments is 35, including my statement above, the 2 people who commented on my remark, and my two replies to them.  Ugh!!

I had commented a few times, both in my posts and to my friends, that I sometimes felt that Trump was running for king as opposed to president, based on the manner and content of his campaign.  After reading a few days of comments, it seems that some of his supporters were voting for king as well. They seem to believe that any liberal/progressive thoughts and ideas will now be swept under the rug, and that only Trump ideas should be entertained.  What is odd is that in their comments, many bemoaned "Obama's unwillingness to listen or compromise", yet do not hide the fact that they expect Trump to do the same.

Praising those who work to thwart the policies of the other party when they win, then deriding those in the other party who do the same to you when you win, is the very definition of partisanship.  Advocates of both parties are guilty, yet neither seem willing to stop the cycle.  Which means that our government will not operate on behalf of all the people, just those on the top for now. It is easy to be happy when all the decisions, all the policies seem to benefit you, but how will it feel when your particular needs do not mesh with those of the majority?  

One other comment I left today, was the reminder that Obama governed with a Democratically controlled congress for only two years, 2008-2010, as the Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, while President Bush governed for six years, 2000-2006 with a GOP controlled congress.  Overall, during the last 16 years, 8 under a president from each party, the GOP controlled both houses of Congress for 6 years, the Dems for two, while Congress was split the other eight, six of which were from 2010 to 2016. Now, clearly, the last six years have been marked by very little progress.  Both sides acted like kindergartners, sticking their collective tongues at each other, scuttling any meaningful legislation regardless of its merit, if it included any type of compromise.  But, lest we forget, during 2000-2006, when the GOP last controlled the executive and legislative branches, we experienced the 9/11 attacks and the housing bubble which contributed to the 2008 recession.  Actually, I guess we did forget.

I remain hopeful that the Trump Administration will provide the leadership necessary to break the gridlock in Washington, perhaps even to the point of bridging the obvious gaps between the perceptions of his supporters and those who did not vote for him.  If not, perhaps for the next election cycle, we will remember the lessons of history, and choose our elected officials with an eye towards maintaining a balance of power.  Or, at the very least, to challenge them to govern as adults, and to work across the aisle to improve the lives of all Americans, knowing that each party represents half of the electorate.     





Friday, January 20, 2017

One last look at Gender

Today I finished the January issue of National Geographic called Gender Revolution.  Such a remarkable and thought provoking conglomeration of essays, accounts of real life stories, and statistics.  As we mark the beginning of the Trump Presidency, a presidency fueled, in part, by a less- educated-white male backlash against perceived injustices and discrimination emanating from the increase in population of minorities, the push for race and gender equality in our business and political worlds, and the Obama "agenda", the last two articles, American Girl and the Dangerous Lives of Girls which depict real suffering, real discrimination, real horror for those whose only crime was being born with two X chromosomes in the 23rd pair of chromosomes should be required reading for every male. One could only imagine the uproar and outrage if men had to endure limited access to education and career advancement, forced marriages, sexual violence, and unwanted pregnancy and the stigma that it carries, not to mention genital mutilation.

While it is certainly true that in the United States and Western Europe, gender equality has made enormous progress, the recent U.S. election in which the voters rejected one of the most qualified persons ever to run for president in favor of someone with zero experience in politics whose stated policies and opinions changed from day to day, certainly reflects the long road ahead for women to gain equal footing in our government.  Additionally, the ranking of America by the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report, starkly demonstrates how far we need to go.  Using an index which measures the equality gap in four areas, health, education, economic participation and politics, as of 2015 when the index was last calculated, the United States was 24th out of the 109 countries graded, ahead of Japan, China, Russia and Israel, among others, but behind Iceland (#1), Slovenia, France and Bolivia, among others.

I especially found interesting the perceived connection between gender equality in political representation and laws which improve gender equality.  In other words, gender equality laws are more likely to be passed when more women serve in office.  Consider that when you think about the next four years which will feature a male president encouraging and signing laws passed by a Congress which is 80% male, as opposed to what may have happened had a woman been elected as president.  This seems even more alarming considering the president elect's off color remarks about his access to young women's dressing rooms when he was involved in beauty pageants, his "blood coming out of her whatever" remark about Megyn Kelly, and his past relationships with women, at least those we know about, in which he cheated on each wife before marrying the next, now on his third marriage.

Of course, just being a male does not disqualify one from working to improve gender equality. President Obama attempted to pass equal pay for equal work laws but his effort was scuttled by the GOP on behalf of the business community.  Seeing as so many of Trump's cabinet choices are billionaires, many with histories of active involvement against equal pay for equal work as well as against increasing minimum wages, a wage which generally effects women more than men as women make up a higher percentage of those industries (retail, fast food, agriculture) that pay the lowest wages, we can expect very little progress on this front in the near future.

I would remiss if I didn't make at least a token effort here, to defend, or at least justify, the male in charge perception that reflects both our future president, and the less educated white male who helped elect him. Trump's main message, Make America Great Again, by its use of again, suggests a time when societal norms were more traditional.  Men worked, women had babies and stayed at home, minorities were silent and isolated, and gay men and women were invisible at best, perverts at worst.

These themes play much better with people who have limited experience with people different from themselves, experiences which can be gained from time in college, among other things.  Among white voters with some college or less, Trump won by a 39% majority, the only margin of victory considerably higher than those attained by McCain or Romney against Obama in 2008 and 2012. The truly sad part is that those who have attained lower levels of education, are the ones most hurt by laws that restrict gender equality, while encouraging income inequality.  It is their jobs that are lost due to outsourcing and modernization, practices which are the hallmark of the corporations run by both Trump and most of his cabinet choices.

It is too late to change the results of this election.  For those of us suffering from FOBO (fear of a better option), we must look to the future.  We must encourage those young women in our schools who are interested in the sciences, in math, in business, and especially in politics to fully engage in those pursuits.  We must encourage those successful women who run businesses, hold office, and lead our nations' universities, to identify and mentor the next generation of women who will then continue to break glass ceilings, both in business and in politics.  And, given the current climate of resistance to breaking our male dominated institutions, we must fund those groups that advocate gender equality, whether it be through business partnerships or the election of female public servants.

America can be great again, but not by running backwards to the stereotype gender roles of the 1950's but by sprinting forward to a time when equal opportunity and access to the fruits of the American Dream will exist regardless of whether your gender was determined by two XX's or an XY chromosome.

 

              

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.