Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Laughs are precious these days. I turn on the news or open my computer with a vague feeling of dread. It’s always nice to be surprised by a little humor instead, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorites from Facebook. Links to like are at the bottom of the post. Please do.

Along with my growing appreciation of anything that gives me a smile, I notice that I am also becoming bolder in expressing my opinions. This week I had my first letter to the editor published in our local newspaper. Encouraged by how easy that was, I just sent in my first ever Op-Ed piece, a guest editorial on North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill. In case you haven’t heard, you are watching NCAA championship games being played in South Carolina right now because North Carolina has a law that so blatantly discriminates against the LGBT community that even the NCAA will not hold games in our state.

These days I find myself compelled to share my true beliefs with friends, relatives and strangers once they confront me with theirs. I’ve never been one to argue politics, and I still won’t be the one to bring the subject up first. I like getting along with people. But I’m also finished pretending to be disinterested, uninformed or hard of hearing when others express opinions with which I don’t agree, or worse yet which I find abhorrent. I wish to treat people gently and to listen to them with respect, but allowing myself to thoroughly disagree has improved my state of mind almost as much as the humor.

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Finally, the past few months have brought me back to reflecting on two of my favorite topics: time and change. I am astounded that a large group of Americans (larger than I thought) believed that they could live in the same town they grew up in and do just what their parents did and they were somehow guaranteed that would make them a good living. This is basically an assumption that society won’t change over time. Of course it will. Moving, learning new skills and adapting to a changing world are part of survival.

Furthermore, much of this same group seems to believe that someone promised them that their culture, ethnicity, religion or social beliefs would always reflect the majority view just because they once did. Demographics and societal norms change. It makes more sense to work to improve the world that it is, than to fight to make it the way is used to be.

Most people like their cell phones and enjoy their iPods. I suggest that they wake up to the fact that that those are not the only ways that 2017 is different from 1957 and consider embracing this new millennium. They might find that it has a lot to offer everyone.

(If you enjoyed the humor, please go to Facebook and visit and like Neil Degrasse Tyson Fans, Paid Liberal Troll, and Liberal Progressive Democrat.)

Stand By Me: loyalty versus all kinds of other things

Does anyone doubt that a real friend is someone who will stand by you, no matter what?

Does anyone doubt that there are times to walk away from a friend?

maybe 1We hold both statements as self-evident truths and seldom trouble our souls with the contradiction that is implied. Yet in personal and public life we see this interplay at work, and never more than in an a messy election year.

Publicly, word has it that the Bush family places a high value on loyalty, and an insult to one is an insult to all. Witness the family banning together to shun the current GOP nominee, and almost unthinkable act for a blood line that has produced two presidents for that party. I’m no  great fan of any of them, but I remain oddly moved by their loyalty to each other.

The coin falls on the other side with the Trump family’s former butler and current unpaid historian, who was quickly described by Trump’s campaign as some crazy old guy the family barely knew after the “crazy old guy” was discovered to be posting really crazy stuff on Facebook. Hard to find an admirable approach in that mess, but walking away from the friendship was probably better than standing by it.

And in our personal lives? Yes, there are friends we no longer click with or enjoy. There are people we thought of as friends who it turns out we didn’t really know. There are friends who would take too much of our time or money, or at least more than we care to give, which makes us wonder how the strong the friendship was to begin with. Would they even ask that much of us if they were really our friends? And then there are those who do bad things, sometimes even awful things, to us or others and no matter how sorry they are we can’t let it go.

Plenty of people in the news these days that leave me wondering what are their friends thinking right now?

True voice 3And yet — in spite of growing apart, and selfishness on either side, and ethics and screw-ups — there is something so simple and compelling about the idea of “I will always be there for you.” The very concept takes us back to our childhoods. Does it have a place in adult life?

To me it is the essential kernel of a romantic relationship. It is the baseline of parenthood, except in the most extreme of circumstances, and of other close family relationships as well. It is what separates true friendships from social relationships, and it makes it apparent how unusual true friends are. Having someone, anyone, who will stand by you is rare and precious.

Maybe that’s why we all enjoy the simple lyrics and hypnotic base of the 1961 Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”. I referred to the song in z2, and just finished updating the music page on this blog to include the following. It’s still running through my head. Enjoy the video at the end.

ben-e-kingMy character Alex is a nice man, and he loves his wife, but he isn’t particularly romantic, at least not in the classical sense. When he thinks of their relationship, in many ways he is more impressed by their enduring friendship than he is by their romance. And when in Chapter 18 he needs to reach Lola with a song, and enlist her cooperation with a plan he has, he turns to this classic, as shown in the excerpt below.

Alex had learned to tolerate Lola’s telepathic abilities, but as the group gathered up their work to head back to the tiny hotel in Punta Gorda, he realized that he could do better. Why not actively use her talents at times to make both of their lives easier? According to what she had told him, all humans project emotions and to some extent also project the thoughts that drive those emotions. In other words, everybody talks. But hardly anyone listens. Some one percent of the population had vague, undeveloped receptive abilities, Lola had said, and some tiny fraction of that, through desire, practice and circumstance, crossed over into being fully adept receivers.

A little over a year ago, Lola had made just such a crossing. Which meant that now he could send information to her, but not get an answer. Think about it, Alex laughed to himself. In some ways isn’t that every husband’s dream? He can tell his wife things and not have to listen to a word back?

Alex supposed that was a less than admirable thought… but hey, a man thinks what he thinks, and fortunately Lola’s ethics were such that she generally stayed out of his head and let him think in peace. But knowing how much his people-avoiding wife was going to hate the idea of having three unexpected houseguests, and how much better she would deal with it if she had all the warning possible, Alex tried for the first time to actually get Lola’s attention. She said images worked well, so he imagined a picture of himself jumping up and down waving a large bright yellow flag. Look. Look over here. I need to tell you something. This is important. I’m going to totally mess up the rest of your holidays with the kids there and everything by bringing three strangers and two ancient artifacts home with me and I really need you to flow with this.

Then he remembered. Music was one of the easiest items to transmit and receive. What was a song that Lola liked? That he liked? His subconscious mind found it for him, and he hummed and whistled Ben E. King’s anthem of loyalty “Stand by Me” over and over as he helped to load up the car. Of course, he’d follow up with an honest-to-god phone call once he got to the better reception at the hotel, but with any luck by then Lola would already know and be in a frame of mind to help him.

I’ll bet you can’t sit still, or keep from smiling, as you watch this video that celebrates both Ben E. King’s original song and the movie of the same name.

 

Picking a President: “Holding Out for a Hero”

So I am adding to the music page on this blog, and come to “Holding out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and suddenly current events sort of click for me. I confess that watching this presidential primary process has left me disturbed like never before. What does an 80’s song have to do this? Walk with me here, because I think I’m on to something.

superheroWhy is the protagonist in a novel, or movie, or TV series usually called the hero of the story? We love our heroes (male and female) because we not only love to cheer them on, we also live through them vicariously. In fact, we are so used to being entertained by heroes that I think we’ve evolved into a society where many of us don’t want our politicians to be leaders.  We certainly don’t want them to be politicians. We want them to be our heroes, and that’s a different thing.

Some politicians thought to have a good shot at the presidency are having a hard time fitting the hero image. Hilary Clinton, Mark Rubio and John Kasich are all struggling with it, and Jeb Bush failed at it along with eleven other GOP hopefuls.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has risen as a hero to the left. It’s fair to tell you that I like a lot of Bernie Sanders ideas and if he wins the primary I will vote for him, even though I do not think he would be particularly good at the business of governing these United States. My point here is that I don’t think his followers are focusing on his abilities as a statesman. He is a hero to them for speaking out against the injustice in our nation.

fractal 6On the other side of the aisle are an array of heroes to chose from. Does your hatred of the federal government run so strong that you cheer on a man willing to shut the entire government down if he doesn’t get his way? Have we got a candidate for you. Fancy a quiet neurosurgeon whose medical feats don’t qualify him for politics but sure are impressive? Step this way. Or is your idea of a hero someone who is wildly rich, terribly confident and never backs down? Ohhhh boy, you are going to love what we have for you.

I’m afraid that as a nation were not looking for the most capable leader we can find. We’re each looking for our own particular kind of hero out there. We want someone we can rally behind and yell “hell yes”, the country be damned. It makes sense in a very visceral way, even though I don’t think this is what the founding fathers had in mind for democracy. However, as our society has become ever more entertainment-saturated, this might have been inevitable.

I think it would be a good idea to be more aware of what we are doing, and to ask whether heroes have historically made good leaders. What do you think?

While you ponder that question, enjoy this 1984 video of a young Bonnie Tyler and her 80’s hair as she sings “Holding out for a Hero.”

(Learn more at bonnietyler.com/. You can buy this song at Amazon.)

z2 is a story about becoming a hero when necessary. Enjoy this short excerpt about one of the moments when my protagonist has to act like a hero. And no, I do not think that being able to handle a situation like this qualifies one to be president.

“It’s probably just the cat,” he muttered, mostly asleep.

“It’s NOT the cat!” she said. “It’s coming from the front lawn.” Lola stepped into the hallway and could see a bright glow coming in through the front windows. “Oh my god, Alex.”

Alex could recognize genuine panic when he heard it and he went from barely awake to completely awake in about two seconds. This was his job. He protected this house. He strode into the front hall and saw through the glass panels on either side of his front door an angry and probably drunk mob of white hooded people on his front lawn, most waving burning torches and chanting something about his house, shelter and Satan.

“Call 911,” he barked to Lola, heading back to the bedroom to grab some pants. “Then see if you can make it out the back door and get to a neighbor. Bring back some help if you can. I’m going out there to see what they want.”

It was an indication of how serious the situation was that Lola didn’t even pause to discuss his plan with him.

He opened the door, and saw that a cross about the size of a grown man had been erected on his front lawn and was being doused in liquid from a metal can. As he opened his mouth to speak, the crowd noticed him, and the chanting was replaced by a plethora of epitaphs.

 

Time and Hate

This is a blog about time and hate. Maybe intolerance or bigotry would be a better word than hate, but I like the punch in my word choice. Group hate is really what I’m trying to say.

hippiepeace3Group hate rises out of incidents and situations, grows, sometimes to horrible proportions, and then it passes like a bad winter. With time, it looks ridiculous. Who didn’t react with disbelief upon hearing that 150 years ago signs saying “Irish need not apply” were common? Why wouldn’t you hire the Irish? Everybody loves the Irish. Or at least I though that they did.

While researching z2 I learned about how unwanted Italians circumvented the immigration laws of the day by crossing the Rio Grande and coming in as more welcome Mexicans. I was astounded to learn of the extent to which Asians were denied entry into the early U.S. under any circumstances. My own ancestry is largely German and, yes, there was a time when some states tried to keep out the undesirable Germans, too.

I don’t talk about this to make light of the group hate that plagues us today. I don’t think society will ever look back on our racism and xenophobia and laugh. I least I hope not. Rather I want to point out how ultimately petty and harmful our biases of today will someday seem. And I want us to consider that, sadly, new group hates will likely keep forming until we as a species learn to be far more vigilant about this.

weird2My point is, I wrote z2 in 2012. That is not very long ago. The examples of group hate that I turned to were ones that have plagued my home state of Texas for a long time; race relations between whites and blacks, and immigration issues with Mexico. Although the book was written eleven years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it did not even occur to me to discuss animosity between Christians and Muslims. Why? Because it wasn’t something I heard all that much about.

Here we are, not even four years later, and this new group hate is taking hold fast. I have no reason to think that white people in Texas are doing all that much better empathizing with the challenges faced by African-Americans or recent immigrants from anywhere, documented or otherwise. Rather, for many the vilified Muslim has just been added to the mix of people of whom to be afraid.

On online news magazine The Week reported this story yesterday

A Muslim woman was removed from a Donald Trump rally in South Carolina on Friday. When the Republican presidential hopeful said Syrian refugees “probably are ISIS,” Rose Hamid and a few other people silently stood, sporting badges made to look like the stars worn by Jewish people during the Holocaust. The crowd chanted “Trump!” and Hamid was escorted out as some supporters shouted and booed at her. “This demonstrates how when you start dehumanizing the other it can turn people into very hateful, ugly people,” Hamid said. “It needs to be known.”

Rose Hamid is now a hero of mine. Not because of what she did, although it was heroic. No, she has my full admiration because she understands. When any of us, all of us, no longer think of one part of our brothers and sisters as human, we lose the capacity to empathize. Once we lose that, we are capable of atrocities beyond belief.

I learned the story of Mary Turner while researching x0. Mary Turner was a twenty-year-old black woman, lynched in 1918 in Georgia. She was eight months pregnant when she publicly denounced the killing of her husband by a mob. I quote what happened from the website Remembering Mary Turner :

To punish her, at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob.

I have a question for you? Do you think that the people who behaved with this unthinkable hate, considered themselves good people? I bet most of them did. I bet most went to church, were good to their own children, and cared kindly for their elderly parents. Some may have regretted their actions eventually, but I bet many of them hardened their hearts and somehow found words to justify the horrible atrocity to their dying day.

How do you begin to explain this? All I  can think of is that to this mob, Mary Turner, and her child, were not human. Every time we peel a group of people off and denounce them across the board as being “dangerous” we lessen our ability to feel compassion for them and set ourselves up for mob behavior.

Whole countries have waged war on us in the past, and we on them. We inevitably demonize their looks and their culture and they do the same to ours and then we manage to go at each other, killing away. It’s sad, and fifty or a hundred years later it finally looks that way.

wake up worldAre individual sometimes dangerous? Of course they are. We have laws to deal with this, and it is worth remembering that those laws are also in place to keep us from collectively losing our heads and setting ourselves up as executioners. Those laws are in place to keep cruelty separate from justice.

We know in our hearts that group hate is wrong. It’s embers are fanned by fear and its strength grows when we see it accepted by those around us. There are things we can do. Spend time leaning more about those who make us uncomfortable. Turn on both our hearts and our brains when we hear outrageous claims being offered as truth. Speak up when others are silent in the face of fear-mongering.

Today I saw this wonderful article from the Detroit Free Press called How to Truly Support the Muslim Community. It has several practical ideas, but it was most interesting to me for the following reason. It suggests talking to people like they are the living, breathing individuals that they are. You know, humans with heartbeats like your own. What a fine idea.

 

Is it an honor to be person of the year?

Watching a “year in review” news program, I was surprised to hear the comment that both Stalin and Hitler had once been named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. No, I thought, they are making that up.

spirit science 5It turns out that they weren’t. What’s more, Stalin actually got the title twice (in 1939 and 1942). My problem was that, like a lot of people, I thought that being named “Man of the Year” was an honor. It isn’t, and these newscasters went on to have a serious conversation about how Donald Trump should probably have won for 2015. They had a point. You see, Time Magazine is clear that this designation is not an indication of merit or of contribution to the human race. Rather, it is bestowed on the person believed to have most affected the news of the past year.

Don’t believe me? This year’s list of eight contenders included Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, and Vladimir Putin, who already got to be person of the year back in 2007. Other past winners who raised my eyebrows included Nikita Khrushchev (1957), US commander in Vietnam William Westmoreland (1965) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979).

And about that “Man of the Year” thing. In spite of the fact that it was called “Man of the Year” all the way up until 1999, three and half women received the designation including the woman who King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry (1936), Queen Elizabeth (1952), president of the Philippines Corazon Aquino (1986), and Soong Mei-ling who shared the honor in 1937 with her husband Chiang Kai-shek.

But not only didn’t you have to be a man to attain the designation, you didn’t even have to be a person. The first group to be selected was “The American Fighting Man” in 1950, referring to our men in uniform in Korea. Since then, Hungarian Freedom Fighters (1956), U.S. scientists (1960), Middle Americans (1969) and, interestingly enough, American Women (1975) have all been named “Man of the Year”. Recent years have seen a lot of groups selected, including protesters (2011), American soldiers (this time in Iraq in 2003), and whistle blowers (2002).

The oddest winners were certainly “You” (2006), “The Computer” (1982) and The Endangered Earth which was designated planet of the year in 1988. (Not a lot of good competition for that title.)

Time Magazine began this exercise in 1927 by dubbing Charles Lindbergh as the Man the Year. It surprised me that Franklin Roosevelt and every president after him (except for Gerald Ford) was named such at least once and most of them got the designation twice. (Roosevelt got it three times). Whether you think they deserved the recognition for their contributions, as opposed to just their influence on the news, depends of course on your politics.

On the other hand, winners such as Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963), The Apollo 8 astronauts (1968), Ebola fighters (2014) and possibly all three popes named for the title, seem worthy of the sort of honor I originally thought this was, as do the groups designated “The Peacemakers” (1993) and “The Good Samaritans” (2005).

Now it is called Person of the year, and in 2015 Angela Merkel became the first female to gain the title after it was given non-gender specific wording. She not only beat out the head of ISIS (who came in second) and Putin (who came in last), she bested Black Lives Matter activists, transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner, the president of Iran and the CEO of Uber, all of whom were either gracious or silent about the outcome.

She also beat out Donald Trump, who took third place, and responded with a childish tweet that read “I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite. They picked person who is ruining Germany.”

sungazing1Sounds like The Donald was also under the mistaken impression that the title Person of the Year is some sort of measure of worth. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps Donald Trump knows exactly what the honor is about. It is about who has gotten the most attention in the past year, and he might have been miffed that someone thought it wasn’t him. So he tweeted something nasty to get even more attention.

Do we really want a president who craves being noticed that much? I personally resolve to do my part to see that he receives even less attention in 2016.

For more year end fun see some of the oddest predictions for 2016, read about my best New Year’s resolution yet,  take a look at the top women of 2016 and catch 2016 plans for world peace.