Monday, August 29, 2016

Luck and Perspective

It is so difficult not to become vain about one's own good luck.
                                                                                        -Simone de Beauvoir, 1963

A quote from Luck.  You may want to Google Ms de Beauvoir, and even if you only read the Wikipedia entry on her, you will gain some interesting information.

My addendum quote to the above might be - It is so difficult not to become bitter about one's own bad luck, and envious in an unhealthy way about those you deem lucky.

Strangely, I would imagine that many people deemed lucky by others, may not consider themselves lucky.  I would guess that there are many billions of people currently residing outside of the United States who consider every American citizen to be lucky just to have been born here.  I would guess that when reading about famous people, many Americans think those stars are lucky, even though we also love to read about their problems.  Their failed marriages, drug and alcohol abuse,and often short life spans are great fodder for the tabloids, demonstrating us to be as curious as the rubberneckers who just have to look at the car accident as they pass.  Yet, I would bet if  answered honestly, a significant percentage of the rich and famous actually feel unlucky and are envious of the rest of us, anonymous in our ordinary lives.

Ah, perspective.

There is an interesting and alarming article in the September edition of National Geographic about potential and ongoing commercial developments in the Grand Canyon.  I am fortunate in that, as a young adult I made three visits to the Grand Canyon.  While I did not devote the time to really experience such an incredible natural wonder, I can still recall the awe I experienced when standing at the edge and gazing for miles in all directions at the sheer beauty of the canyon, knowing that its creation took millions of years of natural processes.  One could arguably see such an example of the raw power required to carve the canyon, and the patience necessary for its surrounding walls to endure the relentless erosion of the rushing Colorado river, and conclude that God does exist, to provide us with such a powerful vista.  And that each of us is special as well in Her eyes.

Unfortunately, there are those who see the Grand Canyon as just another way to make a large pile of money.  Most people don't know, or prefer to remain ignorant of the fact, that there are still American Indians living on reservations today, and that there is much land in the American west under their jurisdiction, including a lot of the area surrounding the Grand Canyon.  One such tribe has been granted unlimited license to fly as many tourist helicopter rides as they can sell, resulting in an area on the western end of the canyon being known as helicopter alley due to the sheer volume of noise the hundreds of copter rides occurring each day can make.

Of course, I tend to give this tribe a mulligan when it comes to their endeavor to be capitalists.  Our treatment of the American Indian is a national shame that will only be erased if hollow phrases like make America Great Again, are allowed to pretend that America's history is rife with examples of its greatness, if you were a white male.  Besides, there is plenty of blame to go around, from multi-national corporations looking to improve the profit margin of their holdings in the tourist and entertainment industries, to politicians who are all too eager to sell off our nation's recreational areas to developers. loggers, miners and fossil fuel companies so as to swell their campaign money chests, to private land owners all to willing to trade clean water and air for a temporary windfall, knowing full well they will move as soon as they can leaving their neighbors to deal with the environmental costs of their greed, to even some in the government agencies themselves who were hired to ostensibly protect the integrity of our national parks, but instead cozy up to those very same entities listed above knowing that their favorable rulings on opening new drilling sites will garner them a cushy job in said industry when their "public" service is over.

As I was walking the dog this morning, thinking about today's post, I tried to play devil's advocate against myself in reference to this issue.  Certainly, it is important for America to seek energy solutions at every turn, as the bigger picture or global uncertainty is not to be ignored.  And, of course, it is important for people of vision, people who can transform possibility into reality and concepts into jobs to be nurtured as their contributions are necessary for our continued economic well being.  It is a difficult balancing act, regulating and restricting businesses while encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation.  But when we entrust our public servants to do what is best for all people, not just those who have the resources to gain their ear and improve their bank accounts, then the rest of us must stay vigilant to the point of protesting all development that threatens our public recreational lands and remaining pristine environments.  If we abdicate our responsibility and leave these decisions in the hands of those whose only yardstick is profit, our legacy to the generations of Americans to come will reek with the stench of profit before people, and the philosophy that the only valuable land is that with malls and entertainment centers with corporation names.

Natural wonders, parks with walking trails and babbling brooks, camping areas in the woods, undeveloped fields of wild flowers have a value that cannot be determined.  Allowing those whose perspective is gauged only by the thickness of their wallets and breadth of their portfolios, is not only short term thinking at its worst, but a slap in the face to a creator whose work can last millenniums yet be despoiled in a few short months.      


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Good Luck

The Summer edition of Lapham's Quarterly arrived a few months ago.  The focus this time is Luck.  As a log time advocate for the understanding of how important and determinant is the Birth Lottery, I was expecting an enjoyable few months of reading.  While I can't say I am disappointed so far, I also can't say it is one of my favorite editions.  Yes, there is a multitude of essays and stories demonstrating the link between failure and luck, and success and luck.  Perhaps because the concept was already instilled in me, this particular assemblage has not set off bells in my head, or made me say AHA, as has happened while reading other Laphams.

Until I came to a short essay towards the end of the edition.  This particular person's quotes were from a book published in 2008.  He begins by commenting on the phrase, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness", a comment with which he agrees, then furthers by suggesting that those who complain about others' luck aren't working themselves into luck.  "If you want to be lucky, prepare for something big", he says.

Further, he comments on those who vent their frustrations and anxieties.  How there is a trend of thought that says that venting ones problems is healthier than keeping them inside.  Unfortunately, he states, this is only true to a point.  Complaining without doing anything about it can be detrimental to one's physical and mental well being.  With the advent of blogging and other forms of social media, he continues, "people are spending way too much time harping on negative themes.  The emphasis is out of balance, and the negative focus doesn't help the situation."

He goes on further to say, "Don't dwell so much on a problem that you've exhausted yourself before you can even entertain a solution.  It just doesn't make sense."

And finally, "It takes brainpower and energy to think positively and creatively - and to see creatively and positively.  Going negative is the easy way, the lazy way.  Use your brainpower to focus on positives and solutions, and your own mind-set will help create your own luck."  

Some good stuff there.  I like the part about exhausting yourself in worry to the point where you have no energy left to address a problem.  We seem to be a nation of worriers if one is to believe all the stats about our usage of anti-depressants.  Also, I especially like the part about going negative being the easy way, the lazy way.  It reminds me of all those people who look for simple answers to complicated problems, who prefer the offerings of simple answers, black and white answers, and/or a deflection of a solution via blaming others, particularly a segment of the population that is not like oneself.  When complex problems require complex solutions, the lazy approach is to offer simple answers steeped in prejudice.    

So, who is this font of wisdom?  None other than Donald Trump, from his book Trump Never Give Up, 2008.


Is the Donald Trump running for president a different person that the one quoted in 2008, or has he used the prep work of the GOP's platform of racism, anti-government ranting, and fear of those with different cultures, then multiplied it with the obsession over President Obama's nation of birth.  Is he lucky to be the GOP nominee, or just more prepared to take advantage of the mind set of a certain population of Americans, especially white, male Americans?

What seems really strange, is that Hillary Clinton has also created her own luck to be in a position to be the first woman President.  Of course, she took the establishment path.  She has held political positions, first lady by default, but then state senator and secretary of state through hard work and personal ambition.  She knows all the players, knows how the system works, and spent the last decade preparing herself for the opportunity, despite the unexpected setback in 2008 when America chose the first Black President rather than the first Woman.

How ironic, the establishment candidate, a woman, vs the outsider, a white male, who in reality is not really an outsider as evidenced by his own words of how he donated to all politicians, GOP as well as Democrat, knowing they would take his calls and ease his path when he needed it.

Of course, one of these paths will win the day in November, while one will come up short.  If we are to believe Trump's words, it is nice to think that the electorate will recognize the lazy way, the negative focused way, the way of division, isolation and prejudice, and vote for the person who puts forward words of cooperation, community, and creativity towards finding solutions for our problems.  
As it appears that Trump is sticking with the path that garnered him the GOP nomination, let's hope that Clinton is that candidate, that she can cobble together a big enough coalition of those who can look past her use of the establishment way (a path no different from one walked by many white male presidents before her), and reject the prepared way that Trump has walked, no ran down so effortlessly.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

President Trump

First, for those of you who are into numbers, my last post was my 300th.  Also, a while back  my blog passed 100,000 "hits".  Of course, I know that the most popular blogs get more than that many visits in a single day,  Still, I am happy to have been able to continue sharing my thoughts for the past 6 years, proud that I have stuck with it to have created 300 posts, and appreciative that so many people have visited my blog.

Now, on to President Trump.  Latest polls indicate that he is trailing Hillary Clinton by anywhere from 3 to 10 percentage points.  Additionally, polls in the swing states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, show him behind.  Still, there is almost 3 months to go before the election, and all the debates to watch, for those on the fence, or those who may still be favoring one candidate but still open to switching allegiance.

If, in fact, Trump were to win the day, would everything come crashing to a halt?  Would the economy tank?  Would Trump actually authorize a nuclear strike, or send in our military against the first national leader who insults him?  Would diplomacy be replaced by "I know best"?  Would an actual wall be built separating the United States and Mexico, and if so, who would pay and high tall might it be?  Would anyone with a Muslim sounding name be barred from America, or just from his cabinet and close advisers?  Would the Affordable Care Act be repealed leaving millions of newly insured Americans uninsured, and reversing the act's core principals of capping lifetime co-pays, eliminating the pre-existing condition obstacle to obtaining medical insurance, and allowing children to remain on their parents' policies to age 26?  Would most of his tax cuts ultimately advantage the rich, resulting in more American children living in poverty?  Would his Supreme Court appointee revitalize the other conservative members of the Court and help reverse some of the decisions that have extended the benefits of the Bill of Rights. and the Constitution to those minorities previously outside those protections?  Would abortion be illegal and doctors preforming abortions (along with the mothers having them) be prosecuted?  Would women be viewed with the bias and prejudice of the new president, losing the gains they have made in rising to leadership levels in business and politics?

All these possibilities, and more, have been predicted should Donald Trump be elected in November.

But be at ease, and cut and paste the link below to see the predictions of the far Right should Obama win the election of 2008.  

My point, of course, isn't that we shouldn't worry about a Trump presidency.  I can not emphasize enough my objections to him as president, both as a leader, and as a person.  However, the beauty of our government with its three branches and triad design of responsibility and power, assures us that regardless of his shortcomings, President Trump will not, can not, bring down the United States.  We must all have faith in our system, and each other, to elect a Congress that will check his policy proposals, and a judiciary that will weigh any new laws against the precedents, meaning, and actual wording of our great documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Remember, there have been some pretty bad presidents.  Corrupt, racist, mean spirited and just plain stupid.  Yet here we are, the only real military power, the destination for virtually all those people who seek opportunity and freedom, the strongest economy, and the home of the athletes with the most medals in Rio.  An informed electorate is all we need to counter the effects of a poor president. And, future episodes of Last Week Tonight.

So, that being said, what good could come from Donald Trump occupying the White House?

First, he does not routinely talk about limiting abortion rights, and scaling back recent social progress in the area of marriage equality and LGBT rights.  That being said, he may still sign legislation passed by the House, which makes it all the more critical that the Senate majority be Democratic.  If he does lean towards the right in these issues, I expect it will be as a way to get his economic programs passed.  Of course, Trump is not big on compromise, and frankly, progress on social issues is generally found to enhance business opportunities, so he may take his lead from the business community rather than evangelicals.

Second, his massive tax break proposals will need to be offset by benefit reductions.  Will he borrow some of Paul Ryan's proposals concerning cutting medicare and social security?  If so, some of his popularity among older voters may be lessened.   I assume he will target those with the least, as most GOP proposals do, but some of those changes will hurt the blue collar, middle class white man that is the base of his popularity.  And, who knows, he certainly talks tough, but when he sees the details of the bloated Pentagon budget, perhaps he will carve into it, alienating those who consider "nuking" our enemies a viable strategy.

But the biggest area of conflict might be his promise to bring home jobs from overseas, the very foundation of all multi-national corporations (his included) which do not consider national borders when searching for cheap labor.  Will he penalize those businesses that provide services via off shore call centers?  Or those that manufacture in Southeast Asia and China?  Will he impose tariffs on countries that he views as competing unfairly?  Will he publicly humiliate those businesses who are the worst offenders in using cheap overseas labor, as he does when discussing anyone who disagrees with or criticizes him?  Remember, low or no tariffs, trade pacts, and preferential tax laws for "job creators" is the GOP formula for business success, and it is those concepts that many of Trumps' supporters despise.

In the end, perhaps, should we weather the uncertainty of Trump's next ill-advised tweet, his misogynistic attitude towards women, his belittling of prisoners of war, his arguments with the parents of dead American soldiers, his every fact twisting, name calling, egotistical tirade that he calls press conferences, perhaps the American voter will grow up and realize that democracy is not a spectator sport, that a true leader can move his (or her) programs forward even when there is disagreement, and that the best man is not the richest, loudest, or most boastful, but the person who works to improve the lives of the least among us.        

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Imperfect Candidate

Recent polls suggest that the two presidential nominees have the greatest "negative" ratings - that is that the percentage of those polled have a negative opinion about the candidate - of any nominees since this kind of polling began.  Both candidates, with Trump only slightly ahead of Clinton.

Sometimes, of course, poll results can be misleading.  If one asks a question, which lists four areas of concern, and all four choices are in line with the questioner's agenda, then it is easy to publish a survey result that indicates that only topics deemed problematic by the pollster matter to the public.  I recently received one such survey from my state rep asking for a ranking of the problems that concern me most and climate change was not on his list.

Also, the current climate of extremism on both sides of the fence produces so much negative publicity for Trump and Clinton that anyone watching Fox TV would conclude that Hillary is a liar, while anyone watching MSNBC would conclude that Donald is a racist bully.  Dirty laundry attracts viewers which increases ratings which attracts sponsors, which is far more important that accuracy and fairness.

In the meantime, Trump supporters wave his banners and truly believe that he can save the United States from the path of doom and destruction that we are on, while Clinton supporters equally believe that only she can navigate the complexity of being president.   And, lest we not forget, tens of millions of people voted for each of them in their respective primaries.

Is this "unfavorable" rating thing actually meaningful then?  It certainly makes good politics when both sides can say that the other candidate is not well liked, and it is a boon for all forms of media which rely on increases in viewers, readers, and listeners to stay relevant and viable.

To me, a more telling question is, despite your misgivings, would you still vote for (fill in the blank).

I pose this slight alteration, because when push comes to shove, a significant percentage of those with unfavorable opinions of the candidates will still vote for one of them.  You might even say that the winner will be the candidate who gets the highest percentage of those that consider them unfavorable but still the better choice.

In short, which imperfect candidate will win the day?  Remember, in the end, all presidents. past, present and future were imperfect men (and someday women), disliked by a large percentage of the population, and ridiculed in private and public for their policies and omissions in policy.

To prove that point, Google the name of any of our most revered leaders with the phrase
"criticism of" preceding that name and you will get many returns referencing scathing rebukes
by both their contemporaries and scholars.

Here is one for Abraham Lincoln.

Here is one for George Washington

While we can surely debate if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the best and brightest that America has to offer for potential presidents, let's not assume that similar complaints about every president did not exist.

So, if we assume that both are imperfect candidates, how to choose?

Some voters will choose to ignore the negative press about their choice, chalking up any bad reports on partisan politics.  This "drinking the koolaid" as it is often called, allows the electorate to deny the reality that all people have flaws, make mistakes, speak out of turn, lie, and sometimes make choices that help them while harming others.  One might call it the papal infallibility trait except we replace God' divine grace which grants it to the pope, with the power of the ballot.  It enables us to place the future of our country in the hands of someone who, merely by their winning an election, is magically more sound in their judgments and fair in the their policies.  It is reflected by the so called honeymoon stage of a new president's term, which is often marked by a burst of new legislation, approved with bipartisan support by Congress.  Like a new marriage, we focus on the good traits of our partner while ignoring the bad.

Some voters throw up their arms and choose not to vote, in the mistaken hope that if enough people stay at home, the process will change and better candidates will be supplied.  Sadly, this has never worked, will never work, and actually works against the non-voter.  When less people vote, more influence is gained by those who are one issue voters, or of extreme opinions.  Voting is not a take it or leave it proposition, but a right, earned not only by the bloodshed of those who died in the nascent years of our democracy but in every war for freedom since.  Sometimes we must make difficult choices in life, and only the faint of heart walk away from those choices.

Then there are the voters who know that there will never be a candidate whose policies, perspectives and personal beliefs match their own.  They evaluate the candidates with regard to multiple issues, choosing the one who aligns best with their overall priorities or those of significantly more importance.  We forget that in 2008, Barrack Obama had not yet publicly committed to marriage equality yet I imagine that many in the LGBT community still voted for him based on a number of other issues of which his position did match theirs.

Finally, despite the rhetoric of one of the two candidates, no one person can solve our problems.  That is the beauty of the three branches of government as designed by our founders.  It takes a strong leader, no doubt, but an equally strong legislature to fashion new laws to specifically address problems, and a strong judiciary to rule on the legality of those laws on the occasion when the majority tramples upon the rights of the minority.

From that respect, the electorate should examine the platforms of the parties, GOP, Libertarian and Democrat, knowing that most of those elected, including the president, had a hand in the development of those tenets, and will govern with an eye towards support for those beliefs.  I encourage you to Google those platforms so that when when you cast your ballot you do so with more knowledge than just the latest sound bite or convention speeches.  And, don't forget to research the voting patterns of those running for reelection.  Do they garner high marks from environmental groups if that is a priority for you?  Do they vote in ways that seem to align with the size and frequency of their campaign donations?

Like so many other areas in life, I believe that the more information, the more "election educated" the electorate becomes, the better will be our choices.  But, even if you decide to vote "with your gut", better that, than to eschew your obligation to participate.  Let's hope that come November, we will collectively choice the best imperfect candidate possible.