A year of great discontent…

July 11, 2020

In a recent post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, pastor Freed used this very apropos quote – “Progress is not created by contented people.”  (Frank Tyger)

One does not need to be a scholar or history buff to know that most, if not all, of the changes (both large and small) that have happened in America grew out of someone’s discontent with the status quo. Even at our beginning as a new nation, many in what became known as America were content to be subjects of England and the rule of the English King. Throughout our history as a nation is has been discontent that changed the course of that history. Our discontent with staying put on the eastern side of the continent took the form of “Manifest Destiny” that drove explorers (and later settlers) westward. Discontent with the immorality of slavery eventually led to the Emancipation Proclamation. Later, discontent with the social, legal and economic situation that had evolved in the nation, mostly in the southern regions of the country, led to the Civil Rights Movement. It could be said that man’s discontent with being stuck on the surface of our planet led to the creation of aviation and later space flight and our moon landing. There are tons of other examples and all were driven by someone’s discontent with the existing situation.

The word “content” is relatively benign. It means – “in a state of peaceful happiness”. For some who do not see the problems at hand, that may actually mean “in a state of blissful ignorance”. For others is more of a state of “resigned acceptance” of things that are wrong. A lack of concern about anyone but ourselves can lead to a state of numbness or callousness about the events happening around us. Others may take offense at any disturbance of their otherwise serene and prosaic environment.

The year 2020 is proving to be a year of great discontent. The discontent over the sexual exploitation of women in the educational, entertainment and business worlds carried over from 2019, with almost weekly exposures of new grievances. The jarring changes mandated by state governments in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic caused great discontent and exposed a long-festering rebellion against government authority and the basic concepts of society by groups on the fringes of society. Discontent boiled over into the streets in matters of race and inequality of opportunity in America. While the trigger for the protests in the street was the murder of a black man in Minnesota, the underlying discontent was with the continued and pervasive racial biases that dictate the day-to-day lives of people of color in America.

What will come out of all of this discontent? The hope is that changes will be made at a systemic level. Changes will be required to laws that support the bad behavior; but more importantly, changes will be required at the personal level. It really doesn’t matter if the law says it is illegal to discriminate, if we still do that in our hearts and minds at every encounter with someone different from us. That change will take longer and is impossible to legislate. Real change starts with you and with me. We must become discontented with not only the things that are happening around us that we know are wrong, but with our reaction (or lack of reaction) to those things. As I have opined here a few times, it is those “things left undone” that we must pray for forgiveness about, as well as the things that we may have done.

If you are to “love thy neighbor as yourself” you cannot start from a position of fear, hate and bias. Be discontented with that state of mind and seek to change it. Do not become satisfied and content with a state of affairs that positions you in comfort and safety while leaving many of those around you in poverty and despair. Take no comfort from your good fortune while ignoring the needs of your neighbors. Inequities are at the root of many of the problems that are causing the discontent that we see in our society right now – inequities of positional power or economics or opportunity. The systemic changes that are need must be aimed at identifying and righting those inequities.

If Tyger was right, this should be a year of great change, since it is already a year of great discontent. Let’s all look for the good that can come out of this discontent.


A self-inflicted wound…

July 6, 2020

This morning I read a story posted by an American Ex-pat who currently lives in France (see Do Americans Understand How Badly They’re Doing?). The story was focused upon the difference between the coordinated, national-level measures that European Countries have taken to control and contain the Corona Virus vs. the chaotic and rudderless efforts in the United States. The U.S. ranks with Brazil in the out-of-control spread of the pandemic – see chart.

By The New York Times | Source: Johns Hopkins University

I posted about that last week – see How Embarrassing. One phrase that the author used that seems to apply to the response to both the pandemic and to the lack of national leadership that is contributing to the unfolding disaster is “self-inflicted wound”.  Indeed POTUS could easily switch out his MAGA logo on his red baseball caps with Self-Inflicted Wound and they would immediately become much more meaningful and accurate.

Several states that rushed to reopen have also discovered that they have caused self-inflicted wounds upon their populations. The southern and western states that reopened everything are now having to backtrack and take measures that were obvious from the get-go – closing venues where large, unruly crowns might gather and requiring masks in enclosed spaces. It is only a matter of time until regulation or common sense causes the airlines that decided to fully pack their planes to back off that decision. No one in his or her right mind would get onto a fully loaded plane.  

I also posted here last week about the lack of will that American have displayed in dealing with this crisis – see Felled by a lack of patience and resolve. What I did not state strongly enough was the devastating impact of not only a lack of leadership sat the national level, but indeed a leadership that seems to be only concerned with political survival. This is a self-inflicted wound on America; but, it is one that we can  correct in November. We need only hope that our Tweeter-in-Chief’s self-aggrandizing and delusional leadership is kept somewhat in check until then. One can also hope that his Senate toady Mitch McConnell stands proudly at attention saluting and goes down with that ship.

Until November we will all have to watch the embarrassment unfold on the nightly news as POTUS keeps claiming what a great job he is dong and the successful countries of the world keep their borders closed to Americans. I guess it is good in one way that we can’t ravel to those countries, since we would be subjected to their laughter and derision about our self-inflicted wound.


How embarrassing…

July 1, 2020

On last night’s national news it was reported that the United States has been listed as a travel banned country by the European Union, due to our inability to bring the Corona Virus under control in our country. How embarrassing is that? To be lumped in with Russia and Brazil as countries without the political will, resolve or discipline within their populations to stop the spread of this pandemic. You really can’t blame them. See my post from yesterday – Felled by a lack of patience…

The American traveling public earned the nickname “Ugly Americans” from the title of a 1958 book by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, due to their arrogant and entitled behavior when traveling abroad. Now, perhaps the “Contagious Americans” or “Stupid Americans” might better fit. The news report said that Europeans are appalled by the scenes that they see on their news shows of Americans ignoring all health rules and congregating in public. Our skyrocketing infection rate and climbing death rate are proof to them of our selfish disregard for the well-being of others.

Probably as strange to them is the total lack of national leadership on this issue from our Tweeter-in-Chief and his band of clowns in Washington. No other country in the world, including many developing nations that are well ahead of us on this issue, has as vapid a group of so-called leaders at the top of their governments. And, the response from fearless leader was “So I told them to slow down the testing.”

Now, we find ourselves banned from travel to countries that have taken effective, if sometimes painful, steps to contain the pandemic. While in the Wild, Wild West of America, POTUS worries about how he looks in a mask and frets that people are wearing them just to slight him. How pathetic is that?  Instead of a slogan built upon the initials MAGA, perhaps we should use SEA – Stop Embarrassing America. The good news is that we will have the opportunity to make a SEA change in November.


A new song in the fields…

June 3, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed wrote this –

“I don’t feel tired.”  (Slavery hymn)  I don’t know about you but I’m “sick and tired” of lots of stuff these days…but imagine yourself as a slave – you’d be tired. Really tired. But the slaves sang in the fields “I don’t feel tired. I don’t believe God has brought me this far to leave me.”  Today let us remember that God has not brought us this far to leave us.

In today’s world, the streets have been substituted for the fields and the songs contain the phrases “Don’t Shoot” and “I can’t breathe”. What hasn’t changed for most of the African –Americans in the demonstration is the belief that God is still with them. Certainly, there is frustration and anger that the oppression of racism continues to exist, but there is also an abiding belief that God is with them and that things can and will get better.

The process of change in our society is frustratingly slow, but it is also inevitable when the change is to right some wrong direction that the society has allowed itself to fall into following.  Some wrongs are more deeply ingrained than others and racism is one of the most deeply ingrained in America. It is fairly easy to see the contrast in relationships between races or ethnic groups when one travels to foreign countries, even countries as close as Canada. There is a natural acceptance of differences in people, rather than an unnatural fear or suspicion.

There is much said about this being a systemic problem, and it is.  Our system reacts to the needs of the minority community and the bad behavior that those needs drive by cracking down, beefing up police presence and building bigger prisons. Our “solution” is to try to make the problems go away by putting people away – out of sight. We do not focus on rehabilitation of those we incarcerate, just on keeping them out of sight. We do not focus upon improving the schooling, and thus the opportunities, for minority youth and then wonder why they went wrong later, as so many had already concluded that they would.

Our national leaders take great pride in declaring the United States to be the greatest nation on earth, yet try to ignore that a significant portion of our population has been left out of that greatness because of the color of their skin. It’s not like we don’t realize that we have this problem (see the Pew Research Group report on racism in America of 2019 – https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-america-2019/). It is that, so far, we don’t have the national will to make the changes that are needed in or society.

Recently, Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, made a major announcement of an effort to make General Motors the most inclusive company possible and to work to eliminate racism in any form within the company. Maybe it will be the actions of business leaders, rather than political leaders, that will cause change in our society. If other major business leaders join Barra in the fight to eliminate racism within their companies, it would be a step forward to resolving the systemic nature of the problem. Enlightened business leaders see, and actually get, the benefits that they can achieve from a well-integrated and diverse work force.

Hopefully the anger and frustration fueling the peaceful demonstrations in the streets today  will translate to real change in the upcoming elections at all levels, but especially at the top. We need real leadership, not egomaniacal showmanship and Tweeting at the national level. We need men and women in Congress and the Senate who will get behind real change in laws and programs that work to include everyone, not just incarcerate some. We need changes to our education system to focus on preparing and equipping the youth of today (of all races and colors) to be contributing members of society.

The good news is that as the old slave hymn said – God didn’t bring us this far to leave us. Perhaps had he opened that bible that he was waving around as a prop for his photo op, The Tweeter in Chief would have noticed that God didn’t say “when the looting begins the shooting begins”.  Rather, he might have found the advice, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). Show that loved for your neighbors of all races by getting out to vote for real change in November. The choices have never been more obvious.


The cameras are rolling…

June 2, 2020

Jack used a quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog today that rings true – “Racism is not getting worse.  It’s getting filmed.”  (Will Smith). I’ve been around long enough to know that racism has always been there, but smartphones with video  recording capabilities were not always there to capture it and let it be shown on the nightly news.

The Civil Rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s succeeded in getting many of the overt signs of racism removed and caused changes to the American Education system, but it did not cause racism to go away. Much of the focus of racism shifted from social expressions of separation onto economic and political means of subjugation of the black community.

The racism that sparked the marches and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still there when the news cameras stopped filming. It had become “old news”. But the protests against it never stopped. I remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist during the playing of the US national anthem at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. The news media was all over that. And there were the riots and protests in 1968 over the killing of Dr. King. That got news coverage for days.

I remember also the news coverage of the desegregation of Boston’s public schools and the hate that made the nightly news shows as schools across America were order to desegregate. Much of the focus of protest during the late 60’s and early 70’s was on the Viet Nam war, but racism was always there and sometimes not below the surface.

In 1980 Miami erupted into violent protest and riots over the killing of a black man by four white police officers. And in the 1990’s In Los Angeles in 1992 a week-long series of riots, lootings, arsons and civil disturbance that occurred i, following the acquittal of police officers on trial regarding the assault of Rodney King. That was the last time that the U.S. Army was called upon to quell the rioting.

In the 2000’s much of the attention of the news services shifted to covering mass shootings; but there was always racism bubbling up in the background somewhere. These are just some that made the news:

2001: Cincinnati riots – April – in the African-American section of Over-the-Rhine.

2009: Oakland, CA – Riots following the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant.

2012: Anaheim, California Riot—followed the shooting of two Hispanic males

2014: Ferguson, MO riots – Riots following the Shooting of Michael Brown

2015: 2015 Baltimore riots – Riots following the death of Freddie Gray

2015: Ferguson unrest – Riots following the anniversary of the Shooting of Michael Brown

2016: 2016 Milwaukee riots – Riots following the fatal shooting of 23 year old Sylville Smith.

2016: Charlotte riot, September 20–21, Riots started in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police

2017: St. Louis protests, beginning September 15, large protests erupted when police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

2019: Memphis riot, June 13, following the fatal shooting of Brandon Webber by U.S. Marshals, Memphis, TN.

It is notable that the first smartphone cameras were introduced in 2002 by Samsung and Sprint introduced the first camera equipped smartphone in the U.S. The public has been documenting racial incidents and the riots that often followed ever since. As soon as the camera quality become good enough for the video to be used on the nightly news we began seeing the stories of racial discrimination and the resulting unrest pop up again on our TVs. It had always been there, but no one could capture it until technology gave bystanders a video camera in their pockets. Some, as we have recently seen in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, were not innocent bystanders; but, rather, were participating in the acts by documentation.

Will Smith is right that things haven’t changed very much, they are just getting documented better. However, it is that constant reminder of the things that need to be changed that will eventually cause that change. It was the ugly nightly newscast pictures and video that eventually drove change at the national and state levels in the 1960’s. Today, it will be the smartphone videos on the nightly news that thrust the ugly reality of racism into our homes, which will drive change. The question is – How many people have to die on camera for us to make those changes?

Let your political representatives know that you have seen enough and demand that they make changes. Let’s turn the cameras on them and see what they do.


Where are the leaders of today?

May 29, 2020

Pastor Freed used this quote some time ago in his Jack’s Winning Words blog and I’ve been saving it for inspiration – “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  (John Quincy Adams)

Leaders aren’t cynics, like our current Tweeter-in-Chief. Leaders don’t lead by painting negative pictures, they lead by offering inspiring visions that others want to follow. As I thought back over the last few decades of presidents that we’ve had in Washington, there have been few real leaders. There have been a few competent stewards of the nation and some good men who just didn’t inspire us. There have also more than a few politically savvy fools who took us off into wrong directions. Rather than try to evaluate and label the various occupants of the White House over my lifetime, I will just say that, in my opinion, we’ve only had maybe 2 Presidents that I would say had the vision and charisma to be called true leaders.

During the recent Democratic primary season, we got glimpses of candidates with leadership potential. Men and women with visions of what this country could be with the proper direction and leadership. Obviously, none of them were there yet and the Democratic Party ended up with what they felt was a safe fallback candidate. So, we are faced again this election with a choice that, while obvious, does not inspire the electorate to dream about a greater future, just about a less foolhardy one.

Perhaps this is the consequence of the polarization of the two political parties and the lack of any viable third alternative. The parties seem to embrace candidates that are safe and predicable (although one party has veered sharply away from those values), even if they don’t really inspire us. The rhetoric of current politics has shifted from expressing positive messages about where we could go to focusing upon conspiracy theories, mudslinging and name-calling.  Instead of aspiring to go to the moon, as we once did, we are now harangued to protest against whoever occupies the leadership position. It is sad that we no longer march as a nation toward some goal, but instead march in protest against almost every decision made at the top, no matter which party is in power.

We should be watching the elections at the state level, whether for state offices or congressional seats, looking for that elusive spark of leadership that may serve to unite and excite us all. I’m sure that the leaders of tomorrow are out there. I just hope that the muck of our current political landscape hasn’t become so nasty and pervasive that they have soured against applying their leadership skills to pursuit of political offices.

Let’s all hope that true leaders emerge from the mess that we find ourselves in now. Perhaps we are in the darkest hour before a new sunrise of leadership. I want to be inspired by my leaders again.


Let’s hope that we’ve learned…

May 18, 2020

Jack had a particularly apropos quote today in his blog – Jack’s Winning Words“Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”  (Vern Law)

We are all living through the test right now and the real-time grades that we see on the news every night show that many are failing and even more are failing to learn. Even the national health official in Sweden who made the call not to impose any stay at home guidance now is saying, “Gee, I didn’t realize that so many would die.” Sweden has experienced one of the highest per capita death rates in the world because of that decision.  They were going for herd immunity and instead ended up thinning the herd.

In the United States we have seen the consequences in meat packing plants across the country of some states not taking enough precautions. We will soon see the second wave of infections due to the re-opening of many states before they were ready. The focus has now turned to testing and tracing, neither one of which we are prepared to do adequately. The models predict well over 100,000 dead by mid-June. Still, some idiots claim this is all a hoax or a plot to unseat President Trump. He certainly doesn’t need the help of this pandemic to prove that he shouldn’t be President.

I’m certain that the cooler heads of the health professionals that still exist in Washington will learn from this experience; however, they will probably not be allowed to use that new knowledge as long as the Tweeter-in-Chief is in charge. He has already chosen to ignore their advice on re-opening the country and called into question their loyalty to him every time they disagree with one of his pronouncements.

Hopefully, the experience of the last four years has taught enough of us a lesson that we take actions to apply what we have learned at the ballot box in November. We shall have to wait until after the election to start to see sanity return to the decision making process at the Federal level. Until that time, remember that we are still taking the test and what you do to protect yourself and others will determine your grade.

Stay home. Stay safe. Learn from this experience.


Honest confusion – real concerns…

April 23, 2020

Two of the most truthful statements that I’ve heard on various news casts lately were “We just don’t know” and “We’re making it up as we go along”. Those were honest responses made by State-level  bureaucrats in recent news show interviews in responses to questions about what happens next and how Federal financial aid programs were being implemented.

While one can get weary hearing terms and phrases like “unprecedented”, “extraordinary” and “never in my lifetime”; the fact it that the current situation is one that very few have been alive long enough to remember having experienced. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the last comparable event. So, honest confusion about what to do is understandable. We are all making this up as we go along.

Honest confusion about what to do next should not be compared with the overt stupidity being displayed by those who would ignore the threat and get everybody back to work immediately. Idiots running around in large crowds with “Liberate Michigan” signs represent only the lunatic fringe of society, so self-centered and unconcerned about others that they would put us all at risk.

The paper today had a story about the impact of the Stay Home order on the tourist industry in the northern part of the state, specifically in Mackinaw City.  While the lack of tourist traffic will be a severe hardship for the businesses that depend on the million –plus visitors to Mackinaw Island each year, the business owners there ae more concerned about loosening the restrictions too soon and putting their communities at risk. Some were even quoted in interviews stating that they might not reopen their stores or restaurants if the Stay at Home order is lifted too quickly. They are rightfully concerned about travelers from other parts of the country bringing the virus with them.

Fear, anger and ignorance seem to be driving the push to reopen all businesses right away. Some of that is understandable even if not acceptable. The response at the Federal level has been pathetic and states were unprepared for something this big. Perhaps the states that have decided to open up starting next week will show us all whether that is a good idea.

We’ve already seen the impact that a stupid mayor in New Orleans had on spreading the disease and turning his city into a hot spot. Later he said.  “Gee, I didn’t know that letting people gather in large crowds for Marti Gras would spread the disease.” Well, Duh! Maybe the Governors of the states that are rushing to reopen can dust off that lame excuse. It’s unfortunate that the states surrounding  those states can’t close their borders and prevent travel from those states.  

For most of us, honest confusion is almost inevitable. We are bombarded daily with conflicting views from politicians and government leaders about what has been done and what needs to be done. The messages from medical professionals has remained consistent, focused upon social distancing and personal hygiene. Their goal all along was to try to slow the spread enough to allow an unprepared health system to keep up. Others in that industry have been working to find effective treatments for the sick and to develop a vaccine for the future.

As much as those healthcare professionals appreciate the “clap outs” and supportive signs that they see, they are more concerned with the movement to open the economy back up too soon. They know that our healthcare industry cannot sustain the intense level that they have been operating at for the last month or so. A second wave outbreak of the virus, precipitated by getting people back to work and back to public gatherings too soon, will break the system and the people within it.

The question now becomes one of, “Who will we listen and follow?” Will elected leaders who have little real understanding of the situation and no scientifically defensible rationale for their decisions cave into the loud voices of the angry mobs demanding the right to get sick and to be allowed to sicken others? Will common sense prevail or will we all be exposed to the unmasked and loud, virus spreading shouts of the ignorant? Should the connector on their signs be changed from “Live Free or Die” to “Live Free and Die”? Let’s watch what happens in Georgia and see; before we make the same mistake in Michigan.

In the meantime – let’s all stay home, wear masks and gloves in public and wash our hands often. There’s little to be confused about in that.


It is your house…what will you do?

October 7, 2019

In today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, Jack used this quote from teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg:

“I want you to act as if your house is on fire.”

It is common wisdom that when threatened most people react one of two ways – flight or fight. The flight response can take many forms – actually running away, lying to yourself and others, or just pretending not to notice. The fight response usually takes the form of some action to deal with the threat.

I would submit that the “house” that Greta alluded to is one that we all live in – the planet Earth – and the threat is not a fire but the effects of climate change. The response of many to this threat has been to ignore it or to create and spread the lie that it is not happening. That is a flight response. It is real. It is happening. Our house is on fire.

The flight response has not worked, nor will it ever work. We must turn and fight this fire in our house. Making that choice can leave you feeling a little like those pictures you see every now and then from California when wild fires are raging. Perhaps you’ve seen the ones with the homeowner standing there with his pathetic little garden hose trying to save his house by himself. It is a feeling of helplessness and being alone in a futile battle. That does not have to be the case.

You are not alone. There are many organizations out there that are rallying support against climate change. Some focus upon trying to get big companies to change their polluting ways; others focus on the political process and back candidates who get it and are committed to making changes to save the planet. Still others primarily focus upon educating the public and changing the mindsets of citizens who are still in flight mode by fighting against the misinformation being spread by the polluters themselves.

It’s time to take a stand and fight! It is your house. It is on fire! What will you do? Flight or fight?

Maybe it’s time to listen to the child – “And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6 ) – and join Greta in her fight against climate change.


The search for contentment…

August 17, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words contained this quote – “We may pass violets looking for roses.  We may pass contentment looking for victory.”  (Bernard Williams)

Jack went on to call into question the popular sports-oriented saying “Winning is the only thing.”

As a society, I think that our obsession with winning and not allowing ourselves to be content with having made our best effort is contributing to the tensions and unrest that we see on the nightly news. It also is a major contributing factor to the current politicaldebaters divide, where compromise, which could lead to contentment, is considered failure. The two political parties have abandoned any search for a middle ground on most issues and seek only to win, to beat the other side. We saw that locally this past week were the scrum to choose a successor to the late L. Brooks Paterson turned nasty and completely partisan from the get-go.

I have from time to time called for the creation of a third party in the middle of the political spectrum  a party of compromise and reason. At least a new party would not disagreement2carry with it the baggage that the current parties have accumulated of late. It would also allow those who are uncomfortable with the extreme on both sides to fins anew home that perhaps with which they could become content. I suspect that quite a few who call themselves Republicans or Democrats would welcome a party with less strident positions on the issues and one which relied more on common sense than the political litmus tests that the current parties use on issues.

In life, as in politics, winning isn’t really everything. Giving it your best effort is more important. It’s not that you will be unhappy if you don’t win; but, rather, that you will be pecial olympics 2unhappy with yourself if you didn’t give it your best shot. If you made your best effort, but that fell short of winning, you can still feel good about yourself. In sports, even competitive athletes are often happy if they achieve a person best – they know that they did the best that they can for that event or race. Maybe you can look at the events in your life the same way. If you’ve achieved your person best, be happy, celebrate your achievement, use that experience to plan way to do better next time. Stop and smell the violets. Find contentment.

Have a great weekend of contentment!