Monday, September 24, 2018

A Global Perspective

I had a few minutes to read a few days ago, and jumped to the back of the book "Thanks for Being Late" which I have been reading off and on for a few months.  At the back, I found an extensive Acknowledgements section.  To be honest, when I envision myself writing a book someday, the acknowledgements section is short.  I always considered writing an individual endeavor.  Perhaps this is just my nature, more comfortable working alone, or perhaps it is just the reality that I express my opinions about topics which interest me, with research that is available at the click of a mouse, without much interaction with others.  Anyway, whether it be the stories I have written or the almost 400 posts on this blog, I do not often give credit to other people.   Even now, as I concoct this post about a gaining a global perspective, I imagine it will lean towards my own tendencies in perceiving this topic, without commenting (much) on someone else's viewpoint.

Anyway, the author in question acknowledged dozens of people for aiding him in the creation of his book.  Of course, his book did require a lot of research, and Friedman (the author) spent countless hours accumulating the information that he used to develop his "optimistic" viewpoint in this age of accelerations.  Hopefully, should I write such a book someday, I will employ a similar process that will both, enable me to write something informative, and alter my personal limitations when it comes to working with and learning from, others.

But the real point of this post is to comment on the diverse nature of the people with whom Friedman met and who contributed to his book.  I would not be exaggerating if I were to guess that he traveled to multiple countries, and interviewed people representing a dozen different nationalities.  Clearly, the author is an exceptional writer.  But his skill transcends his ability with words.  He is willing to seek out information from whatever the source, whether it be the most advanced technological organization on the planet or the least advanced hamlet in southeast Asia.  Friedman acknowledges some of the greatest minds alive today, as well as people who may never see their name in print again.  He shows a true global perspective because he understands the scope of what we know, what we are learning, and what we are seeking to know, and most importantly, that ALL people, everywhere, are engaged in the same mission.  It is this leveling of the field through a respect for each person's story and contribution that makes his book so compelling and worthwhile.

And, it is the lack of this type of perspective, or perhaps I should say the turning away from this perspective, that is harming our nation and our world.   Certainly, a little bit of xenophobia is alive in all of us, whether that fear is based in race, gender, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.  To put it another way, we are generally more comfortable with people who are like us, even though it is far more likely that we will be harmed, physically and emotionally, by someone we know as opposed to someone we don't know.  It is safer to seek an environment that is predominated by those who live, worship and think like ourselves.  It is why the various social media platforms have contributed so mightily to the partisanship that embroils virtually every big topic of discussion.  Whether our physical world is diverse or not, we can build our online world to be as homogeneous as we like, with one accepted view above all others.  And, with plenty of feedback to reinforce that view, and discard all the rest.

Without a bigger perspective, we stop learning. 

Freidman's book might still be good, had he only interviewed people he knew or discussed information he already had gleaned, but it is so much better because he sought out other opinions, experts as well as everyday folks, and pushed his knowledge base far beyond what he had already learned.  He states, more than once, that it sometimes took more than one interview with a person to fully integrate their knowledge into his words so he could inform his readers.  Rather than pretending to know the subject, and passing along info that most of us would not have known was incomplete, he broke through his own limitations to better understand and communicate. 

When we seek to interact with people unlike ourselves, we learn about ourselves.  When we seek sycophants, we become immersed in our own perspective, unable to see when we are wrong or on the wrong path.

It is normal to be afraid of the unknown.  I often hear people say that the world is moving faster and faster, and that it is becoming a challenge, even a hardship, to keep up.  While it is something that has probably been stated for many generations, Friedman documents how it is actually true, to a degree, for us, now.  Whether it be a graphed depiction of the advances in medicine, transportation or communication, those graphs always show a mostly straight line for long periods of time, then a sharp upswing to what almost seems to be an infinite point, suggesting that the advances are not over yet.

How we react to these changes, whether by circling our proverbial wagons to keep out anything new, or by opening up our minds and hearts to our differences, knowing that these differences are being expressed in the form of other humans, fellow travelers, and creations of the God we all say we believe in and trust, is what will determine if we survive the accelerations that are buffeting us, or become the dinosaurs of the future.

The good news is that once we embrace diversity, the cycle feeds itself.  We become more comfortable with new perspectives which allows us to be open for even newer people and ideas which leads to moments when we our awareness of our differences is positive.  Or perceived with the understanding that the differences are what adds up to what makes Earth unique in the universe.

Will it take alien life to come to our out-of-the-way home in the Milky Way for us to begin acting as a family of man?  And, if so, will that start anew our fear of those who differ from us?  At least that  difference might originate from a new species perspective rather than the 0.1% difference there is currently among the various peoples of our planet. 

In the end, perhaps our creator will judge us solely on how we handled that 0.1% difference.  With understanding and love and cooperation, or with guns and hatred and walls.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Visit to DC

My wife and I recently spent an extended weekend in Washington DC.  Our reason to go was sad as those who are a part of my family know the unfortunate situation of one of our cousins.  While the outflow of love and support was uplifting, it is an upsetting turn of events when someone who worked hard his entire life to support his family, someone whose unsung work assisted all Americans, someone who has a new granddaughter in his life, now faces the inevitability of his mortality, only a year after retirement.  For him, his lovely wife, children, daughter-in-law, extended family and countless friends, my thoughts are with you.

After spending this precious time with my cousin, we spent two days visiting the Smithsonian museums and the monuments.

The first day we focused on a few museums, one which we had never visited before, some old favorites.  We spent time in the American Indian Museum, the Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum.  Even though we had visited the last three museums before, there was some major changes to them, especially the Air and Space and Natural History museums.  At times, we felt our age, as the changes seemed to target a younger age group, more glitzy and colorful.  This is not to say that the information presented wasn't clear and educational, but it made us feel that we were not the audience in mind when the displays were conceived.  Understandable but disconcerting, as my age continues to be reminded to me in these past few years. 

However, I also must note that we noticed many examples of emphasis on some science that is less supported by the current administration and those who helped elect our current president.  Information about evolution and climate change were very prevalent in Natural History.  At one point I even wondered if Vice President Pence had recently visited one of the most popular museums in his town, given his expressed belief in the bible as more than a religious guide.  The realization made me feel more positive about America and our future, thinking that science is still king in the DC museums despite the popularity of a party and a president that ignores the science behind climate change.

But the real star of the day, for us, was the American Indian Museum.  Unique building style. Straight forward depiction of the atrocities committed in the name of America's westward expansion.  But also personal stories demonstrating today's Indian culture which has somehow survived to this time despite our overt prejudicial treatment of the natives of America.  Information that reminds us that American Indians are still born in this country, everyday, that their cultures still exist, and that their leaders are still active in our country to both remind us of the various treaties signed (and still in effect) between various Indian nations and the US government, and to participate in the continuation of these cultures.

The second day we visited monuments.  Again, some familiar, some less so.  We started at the grand daddy of the monuments, the big pointy one named after our first president, then spent some quality time at the WW2 monument which was very impressive and moving.  A walk in a slight drizzle brought us to the Lincoln Memorial which reminded us again of the horrors of the Civil War, the bloodshed, loss of life and harm to so many families who were torn apart by varying loyalties in that war, but even more so the effect that slavery had on our country, both then and for the next century. 

Lincoln certainly did not place freeing the slaves about the fate of the nation, but also found it hard to believe that a nation founded with the phrase, "all men are created equal", could not continue to pretend to believe in freedom while slavery existed.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when there are those who prefer to believe that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, and the free labor that this odious institution  provided to drive the engine of the South's economy.  Even more insidious, there are those among us who continue to believe that African Americans are less "equal" than their white counterparts, just as so many people still, to this day, believe the lie perpetrated on the American people by then private citizen Donald Trump who questioned the birth nation of Barack Obama.  Of course, Lincoln paid the ultimate price for his beliefs, saving the Union but not his own life.

From there we walked past the Korean War monument which was very interesting, featuring life size statues of men as they trudged through a field with the shadows of the faces of those lost in the conflict on the wall.  I was impressed with it, simple yet effective.

From there we walked in a steady rain past the DC memorial to those who had lost their lives in the service of their country and a simple monument for the WW1 veterans.

Lastly, we walked to the Martin Luther King memorial.  First time.  Very powerful.  Large, full size statue of the man, eyes focused across the basin at the Jefferson Memorial.  Various quotes engraved on the wall surrounding the memorial.  Uplifting, but again a reminder of the sad fact that, despite the passage of 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King still needed to give his life to end the decades of Jim Crow laws and push our country to recognize the need for another round of laws to affirm that "all men are created equal". 

All in all, a good weekend.  Family power, relaxation, and reflection on those who have helped make our country strong and free,  a reminder of the obstacles that we have faced, failed to face, and continue to face, and an affirmation that those who promote unity are the real heroes of America, and those that promote blame and disdain cooperation are the enemies of our great country.   


Monday, September 10, 2018

More on Water

I finished reading the Summer Lapham's, entitled Water.  As I said in my recent post about this edition, there were not many articles that struck me individually about the subject, but that they all in aggregate made an impression.

A number of articles expressed water as a living entity with a history, and a place in time.  I found this very intriguing, to think of a particular body of water, a river or ocean, or even a local tributary, and how it has altered its path over the years in response to human or natural activity.  How it has been used for recreation, from the simple pleasures of fishing from its banks or diving into its coolness from a tree rope, to the more complex rewards it provides via food for entire communities or its navigable pathways which bolster our economies.  Or the simple fact that water, especially in its ocean form, separated cultures and civilizations from each other, enabling, in part, the rich diversity of humankind that we find so rewarding, and so challenging.

The edition made me think about the unique qualities of water, as opposed to other liquids, which have inspired all the great religions to view it as more than a necessity for life on Earth, but as a pathway to eternal life.  Water has been perceived not only as being endowed with divine and curative powers, but as a way to quench fire, whether it be the fire that destroys our homes and fields, or the fire we dread that represents an eternity of pain.

This edition reminded me of the preciousness of water, despite the fact that 70% of our planet is covered by it.  Its necessity for life is easy to understand, but what about our requirements for water in the area of sanitation and hygiene.  I had an interesting conversation with a family member about why we live as long as we do after centuries of dying in our 30's and 40's, and she pointed to the advancements in medicine, which is certainly true.  But there are still areas of the world where too many children die before the age of five, and where people still struggle to reach 60 years of age.  And yes, the medicines do not always reach them as they do in the developed world, but it is also the lack of clean water that the medicines are not there to heal that leads to the diseases that kill these people and reduces their life expectancy. 

And, unfortunately, this edition reminded me that as we tend to do with so many of the resources that we have been blessed with, we tend to use water as a weapon.  We divert its flow to address the needs of our fields, while reducing its flow for those downriver, threatening their survival.  We dam it to provide energy to mega cities, while eliminating the culture or lifestyle of those whose land is now underwater.  We pollute it in our chase for more profit, while forcing the neighborhoods to drink tainted water to the detriment of their children or spend money on bottled water rather than some other necessity.

As my wife has often reminded me of late, we fear the future will abound with water ownership battles, whereby the water distribution systems of communities will be the legal and protected property of large corporations who will treat water as just another commodity to improve its balance sheet.  And where countries will go to war over water access rights, as they do now over precious metals and energy sources. 

And, finally this edition makes me think that our quest for more and more material possessions, regardless of the price, might extend past water, which is clearly now a marketable item, despite the fact that it occurs naturally, and next touch on air. 

Is it possible that, just for the vast majority of the human existence on Earth, water could be consumed right from its naturally occurring source without having to be cleansed of man made pollutants and toxins, air will next fall victim to our insatiable need to control and profit from nature?  The fact of the matter is that bottled air is already available online.   It is sold to provide a higher concentration of oxygen, or as "country" air for urban residents, or as a source of air that comes from northern climates where the air is "purer".  While these enticements to buy might sound foolish to most people, today, imagine how foolish paying for bottled water would have sounded to your grandparents.  When we make conscious decisions to mortgage our future for today's dollar, we open our country, and our world to the possibility that fresh air may become a commodity as fresh water has become today.

If it is not too late to return to a time when water was treated with respect, respect for its effect on the quality of our lives, and respect for the need for it to be universally accessible, regardless of income or nation of birth, it is certainly not too late to avoid making the same mistakes in regards to air.  It is our complacence with the ease of which we can turn a faucet and have water, that has blinded us to the realization that water is no longer a free flowing liquid which descends from the air via rain or from the mountaintops via snow melt, feeding our streams and rivers to allow us to eat, and move, and transport goods to other parts of the world, but is now a way for man to establish dominance over other men.  If such a travesty should occur to air, if a future Lapham's edition called "Air" is printed which reminds of past times when air was naturally pure, and not stacked in neat rows on a supermarket shelf, it will surely mark another example of man's greed ruining the environment, and destroying our one and only home planet.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


I thought it might be time to talk about the "I" word.

I am not all that confident that impeaching President Trump is the right course of action.


Don't get wrong,  I did not like him as a businessman, did not like him as a reality TV star, certainly did not like him as a candidate, and think his record so far as a president is dismal.  He is the epitome of the selfish American, doing anything and everything to amass his fortune, taking credit for the successes and blaming someone else for the failures.  He represents the worst of our prejudices, inflames divisiveness, and appears to be amoral and unethical in all his actions, from his early real estate dealings through his personal relationships and marriages to his current attack on anyone who disagrees with his opinions, whether they be representatives of our judicial system, legislative system or media.

But to me, impeachment is becoming a cure all for democrats/liberals.  As if, once Trump is removed from office, everything will be right again.  Donald Trump is the manifestation of the decline of our American democracy, not the cause of it.   Not just because our leaders have failed us, repeatedly, seeding the ground for a populist wave that tells us what we want to hear, preys upon our prejudices, and offers simple answers to complex problems, but mostly because we the people have ceased to take responsibility for a healthy governmental system, pulling the levers based on one issue agreement, evaluating candidates based on their party not principles, or worse, preferring to stay home on election day with a self-righteous cynicism rather than spending even the most basic time to research the candidates towards making a choice that reflects the majority of one's list of important issues.  Impeachment only removes the result of the refusal of our electorate to first, participate, and second, make informed choices.

The good news is that, without the blue wave that so many democrats are hoping for in November, impeachment will not even come to a vote in the House of Representatives.  And, even should the Dems take control of the House, 67 United States Senators must vote to impeach him.  That would require all 49 Democrat and Independent Senators plus 18 GOP Senators.  Even should the Dems gain 3 or 4 seats in November, not automatic considering that 24 of the 33 Senate races in November are currently held by Democrats or Independents, that would still require upwards of 15 GOP Senators to vote to impeach. 

Of course, the results of the Mueller probe could contribute to the eventual success or failure of an impeachment effort.  I have no doubt that President Trump has lied often, and about a plethora of issues, and has engaged in obstructing justice in countless ways, so if lying and obstructing justice are enough to start impeachment procedures (as it was with Clinton in late 1998), then the possibility exists,.  But politics has as much to do with the impeachment process as actual criminal activity.  The House and Senate were GOP controlled after the midterm elections of 1998, but not as severely as some GOP strategists predicted, and so while very few Dems voted to impeach, enough GOP representatives voted to send only two of the four counts for impeachment to the Senate.  And, despite the GOP holding 55 seats, the two articles received only 50 and 45 votes respectively, which means that not even all the Republican Senators voted to impeach.  So, while there is the possibility that the gravity of Trump's offenses in that they are related to interfering with the operation of the justice department, not to mention the possibility that members of his campaign, including his family, sought help from a foreign government with the candidate's blessing, as compared to Clinton whose crimes were related to sexual harassment and affairs, politics is not always driven by a search for the truth. 

My fear, therefore, is that if impeachment fails, Trump is emboldened even more so to tout his relentless attack against the FBI and judicial system, the anti-American liberals and progressives who were politically motivated to impeach in the first place, and the mainstream press who will assuredly support the impeachment process.  In short, failure to impeach will be a disaster.

But will success be better? 

Perhaps, but only if a successful impeachment is due to an overwhelming vote.  A close vote based exclusively on partisanship, meaning all Dems vote for impeachment with few, if any GOP reps, voting alongside them, will exacerbate the divide between pro-Trump and anti-Trump sentiment.  Also, we must remember that Mike Pence will assume presidential duties, someone who does little to inspire me to believe he will reverse the harm done by the anti-environmental decisions that Trump and the GOP have passed so far, not to mention the anti-worker, anti-equal pay, pro corporate philosophy that has become the foundation of the GOP party.  Nor do I see him ever standing at a podium and acknowledging Trump's crimes. 

Yes, at least those type of policies will be blocked with a Democratic controlled House and/or Senate, but I don't see much progress made in reversing the harm already done with Pence in the White House.  Not to mention the fact that, should the most recent Supreme Court nominee be confirmed, Trump will have already positioned the ultimate court to continue ruling in favor of reducing women's reproductive rights and workers' rights, while expanding the rights of corporations as if they are actual people. 

So, what is to be done?

First, if you are in agreement that America is being led in the wrong direction, vote.  In fact, even if you are OK with what is happening, vote.   We need to send a clear message to our current and future leaders that the electorate is in control of our democracy, not the few with the most money.  We need to break all the records for midterm election turnout, which, regardless of the results, let both parties know that the American voter is involved.  Should a blue wave come to pass, then we can at least halt the damage. 

Also, and I cannot put too fine a point on this, it will send a message to our president that we have tired of his agenda.  I am sure he will still have his rallies, attended by the faithful, and will continue his assault on all that disagree, but, if the voters send a clear message of rejection, he will be talking to less and less of the public.  From there, we can only hope that in 2020, should President Trump not cancel the election, the voters of the United States decisively reject his re-election, especially if the Dems can come up with a strong candidate.  (Are you listening Barrack Obama?). 

To be honest, I don't see Donald Trump disappearing from public like Sarah Palin has done.  He is too shred to let his popularity fade away before he makes full use of its advantages.  His presidential brand may be harmed, but his personal brand will continue with the help of his friends at Fox, along with those forces that hide behind patriotism when promoting their anti-immigrant, anti-government policies.
He is and has always been about promoting Donald Trump, and will continue to do so, president or private citizen.  Removing him from office is paramount, but how we do it, is just as important.

Direct voter rejection of the Trump agenda, not impeachment, is be the most effective way to quiet his popularity, and remove some of his bluster.    Let's hope the Dems see the forest for the trees and have a realistic back-up plan to the "I" word.