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


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.