Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Human Family

There are 2 kinds of people _______(fill in the blank). How many times have we said/heard that? There are endless possibilities, so many ways of dividing ourselves:  people who think like us and people who don't, cat people or dog people, famous and obscure, religious and nonreligious, conservatives vs liberal, honest or dishonest, beer drinkers or wine drinkers, party people or couch potatoes, educated and ignorant. Us versus Them.
In this age of excessive partisanship our differences seem to define us. One thing all individuals on the planet have in common is our uniqueness. We want to feel special, and that sometimes is achieved by feeling disdain for others. But the things that divide us are superficial. Fundamentally, in the things that really count, we are all the same.
What we tend to forget is that we are all part of the Family of Man. We all were once a little baby, someone's son or daughter.  We all look pretty much the same in any culture in the world, without our clothes and other trappings. We will all grow old and we will all die someday. If we are lucky in the meantime we will experience love and laughter and friendship and success and comfort. Many of us will be considerably luckier than most.
We all want to be significant, even if it's just to a few loved ones. We want to be respected, especially by those whom we respect. We don't want to disappoint our loved ones. We want what's best for ourselves, our children, other people's children, our neighbors, our country and our world.
We all have aspirations and hope. Not all of us have the resources to achieve our dreams. Some dreams may be incredibly modest. The satisfaction in achieving them is just as profound.
We are all touched by the same things. We cry when we see sadness and tragedy. We are all afraid when we see danger. We get angry when we see injustice. We want to have fun. We all dance to our favorite music. We are all happy when we play with a child.
We all experience excitement, anger, boredom, anxiety, sickness, hunger, beauty, pride, curiosity, compassion and courage. We can understand and forgive. We seek truth, respect fairness, try to set good examples. 
We cannot escape our human condition. We need to embrace it and make the most of it. We need to understand each other and bridge our differences. 
Perhaps each year on our birthday we should all give a moment of thought to how alike we all are and how much better the world would be if we kept that realization uppermost in our minds in our daily interactions and in the decisions we make. 
Our fundamentals are strong. We wake up every day to see that we have not destroyed ourselves. We want to wipe out prejudice and hatred so that everyone is free to enjoy all that life can offer. The current of our history is sweeping us in the direction of individual autonomy and global cooperation. Because of grassroots movements we've managed to make great strides in civil rights for women, people of color and gays - just in my lifetime. (Of course, an official equal rights amendment would be nice, fellas.) There is now no large group of citizens who are officially second class citizens in the developed world. Perhaps in the next generation we will wipe out prejudice, racism and silly sectarian hatred. The Arab Spring continues to expand. Human rights are demanded and recognized in every 'corner' of the globe. As Steven Pinker asserts, we are living in the least violent period of our existence. There will always be those that are short sighted, motivated primarily by greed and self interest. But it doesn't take that many of the rest and best of us to push for the solutions to the problems they cause.  
To see ourselves in a positive light is an intelligent choice. To be an optimist is not always easy, it can take some convincing. But to believe in ourselves is the best way to proceed. We are the species that can deduce black holes and multiple universes and create cures for our diseases. We can overcome our frailties and curtail our destructive impulses. Even though we have the power to destroy our planet, we also have the imagination, technical knowledge and persistence to rescue ourselves from our weapons and our actions. There is always, hope.

This photo is from the book "The Family of Man" by  Edward Streichen, the exhibit that showcased the universal condition of our shared labors, rituals, pastimes, joys and tragedies. 

Every man beareth the whole stamp of the human condition - Montaigne

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Myth conceptions

52% of Republicans in Mississippi believe Obama is a Muslim1.  I suppose it would be meaningless to ask why that would be a big deal.  66% of those likely voters polled don't 'believe' in evolution. 
At least 3% of Americans believe they have been abducted by aliens. If a lot of them live in the south, perhaps that explains some of this bizarre thinking! Silly aliens, what will they have us believing next?
One of those Obama conspiracy theorists is a distant uncle of mine who recently sent me an E-mail purportedly proving that Muslim claim (and other very nasty things) based on erroneous excerpts from Obama's books. 
I have so many questions about people who circulate such things on the web. I have no question about the individuals or organizations that author them in the first place - they are clearly motivated by political ambition. But my uncle and others, why would they send ugly, libelous rants to their friends without taking even a minute to check on their veracity? I would never circulate some made up story abut Mitt Romney, let's say, about being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, unless I absolutely knew it to be true from a very reliable source. It took me just an instant visit to the non partisan site to find out all of the statements were false. I forwarded that info to my uncle, yet I have not seen him issue an apology or correction to his recipient list.
btw, I hope nobody extracts any partial sentences from this blog to forward some horrible rumor around the internet! 
Calling certain media outlets 'liberal' is one way to keep people ignorant; convince them not to read or listen to certain things to keep them from seeing an opposing point of view, or in most cases - what's really going on in the world.
The voters should get real, get smart, get sensible. If Obama really was some sort of Manchurian evildoer, wouldn't he have somehow already done more damage than ensuring that my daughter can get health care for her preexisting condition?
The sad situation is that we can convince some of the people of anything because they are not disciplined in their thinking. Their lives are faith based instead of fact based, so they often put their trust in preachers, politicians and leaders who want very different things than what would help them lead better lives.
Why is it that we tolerate such a huge amount of misinformation and deception? Is it the old 'end justifies the means'? Are these people so totally convinced that Obama is harming this country, that they think any tactic to sway opinions is OK?
It's sad and dangerous when people misconstrue and make up things like death panels, and non existent tax increases. We are living in different realities. 
Clearly we need more fact checking. Perhaps the push for that can come from some of us. More indignation, more pointing out fabrications, more requests for some semblance of truth and oversight in our political advertising (like we have for consumer products)., Fact, ... we ought to have them on the top of our browsers. Let's have less 'Pants on Fire' comments, or at least more debunking after the un-fact.
Here are a few facts worth circulating:
Government spending has risen at its slowest rate under Obama than in the past 60 years.2 Some of us would consider that a mistake in a sluggish economy.
The average number of private sector jobs created under Democratic administrations is twice the average number created under Republican administrations. 3
Since World War II the average increase in the national debt has been almost twice as much under Republican administrations than under the Democrats, accelerating first during the Reagan administration, and then ballooning under Bush (the charts are truly dramatic). 4
Ironic isn't it, that voters who want the same thing - a fiscally responsible administration, are voting for different parties? Facts are often different from the accepted reality.
All lies are not equal, some politicians lie more than others and some lies are bigger than others. Some say one thing but do another. It might be nice if we all just voted for the most honest (factually correct) candidate. At least we would have some trust again.

Here's a sad statistic that should concern people from any political persuasion:
for the second year there have been more soldiers committing suicide than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan5. Especially on this Memorial Day weekend we can agree this is a horrible situation that we should try to alleviate, even if it means (gasp) spending some tax dollars.

1 March 10, 2012 Public Policy Poll
2 Nutting May 22, 2012 Market Watch, Wall Street Journal
3 US Bureau of Labor Statistics Series ID CES0500000001
4 Project America "US Federal debt change by President"
5 widely reported including Center for New American Security

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Be Nice!

Be Nice! -  they know not what they do.

typically irreverent, sorry.

I am, of course, referring to those rural 'fly over' people. Here in THE city, everyone (almost) reads. Ergo, we are much better informed than those who rely on talk radio, or worse, for their information. We are engaged in politics and world affairs because we know it impacts our lives. As we commute back and forth, the construction workers are clutching the free am paper, the Financial clones are perusing their Wall Street Journal, the literary types are hunched over their tablets. We are (quite literarily - new word!) what we read.
It was no shock to learn that Fox news viewers are worse informed than people who watch no news at all, that's probably deliberate. There are lots of politicians out there who are misleading folks instead of leading them.
BUT that doesn't mean we should deride these un-brights as lazy or not knowing what they're talking about. Quite the opposite. We need to show them compassion and understanding. Less Keith Olbermann, more Elizabeth Warren.
The typical citizen doesn't have time to spend an hour or more boning up on world events (although making it a bit more of a priority might help). They are busy raising children and earning a living. They can't be expected to understand the bond market, or the implications of trade treaties, or this country's shift of focus to the Pacific region, if they don't even know about it.  We should not be condescending in our tone (I'm trying to avoid that, really). It's not their fault that they live in red states, surrounded by influences so different from ours. We should be patient and understanding if we want to have any chance to win their hearts & minds and trust.
I just recently 'got' why so many ordinary people think global warming isn't 'real' or caused by human activity. It puzzled me -  why would they throw their lot in with corporations who don't want to pay to clean up after themselves? Like, who wants more severe weather and coastal flooding? Answer: they associate the global warming 'controversy' (which of course is myth in the serious scientific community) with - Al Gore. They've been indoctrinated not to like him, so that issue became a Republican/Democratic divide.
It seems the 2 parties are polarizing ever more obviously into one party that personifies masculine traits - the strict, authoritative parent; and another with the more feminine attributes of human nature - nurturing and compassionate. Seems like that scientist is right who claims Republicans lack the empathy wiring in the brain. (See: the Republican Brain by Chris Mooney, ex). Some people apparently really don't feel horrified by the suffering of others, and assume that those who express that are being hypocritical or cynical or devious.
When Cheney says he thinks Obama has been an 'unmitigated disaster', I don't know what the heck he means, and it makes me wonder if he really did get a heart transplant. Is he disappointed that O has been in office 3 years without starting any new war? His disappointment couldn't be: saving us from the brink of economic disaster, improving America's image and 'soft' strength around the world, supporting Europe through their debt crisis, using just the right touch with China, bringing home troops from Iraq & Afghanistan, walking that tightrope with Pakistan, supplying health care to our citizens, etc etc.  Obviously Cheney is not reading James Fallows as I am. It's like he's in some alien parallel universe.  (curse you Quantum multiverse!)
One party wants to preserve us in the status quo, like insects in amber, while the other tries to move us forward, dealing with the issues of our modern age.
It would be nice if the Dem leaders would refrain from rhetorical overreach - 'war on women' sounds so harsh, but we all know the value of framing and sound bites. Incidentally, that term: "Republican War on Women" was first applied by Tanya Melich in her book, subtitled "an insider's report from behind the lines", published in 1995.
Every comment that seems even a bit harsh gets reacted to with increased nastiness, like the observation that Romney's wife has never worked a day in her life. You'd think the commentator was calling her a communist. The effort to point out that perhaps Romney should look to more qualified sources for advice about the economy,  was twisted into the implication that being a full time mother isn't hard work. Any time you have 5 million women in a category, you have to go after their votes with all the ammunition you can muster. I myself would prefer the insight of a woman who has to face the pressure of performing in a career, budgeting the paycheck and taking care of a household and raising the children.  Stay at home moms should spend their time studying child psychology and behavior, investigating edutainment software and researching education options, not economic theory.
We have to be better than 'them'. We have to, because that's who we are.
Before you call out someone, imagine them stroking a puppy, before you formulate a response. If that doesn't soften you up, try kittens. Let's call it political puppy love. No wonder they all kiss babies.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Choosing a (running) Mate

One of the most mysterious questions in life is -  what attracts us to certain people?
Even more mysterious is how those same people we used to be crazy about can start to repel us.
When I was (a lot) younger, I met a guy who was intelligent, attractive (my friends were jealous), fun, sexy and a bit quirky, which set him apart from the somewhat stereotypical, predictable guys I knew. I put up with things to have a relationship with him that most women would have given up on (their jealousy faded and was replaced with pointed questions). We had a child, so this guy (can't really call him a man) has been in my life ever since.
Now I consider us opposites in very important, fundamental ways, like: honesty, financial responsibility, emotional stability, political views, fidelity. 'Offbeat'  morphed into 'a bit crazy'. 'Boyish" turned into 'chronically immature'. Integrity, unselfishness and credibility are now much higher on my list of must haves. I came to realize he really isn't that intelligent (yes, Harvard failed again), he only seemed that way.
When you're dating, you go to dinner, talk about acquaintances and events of the day, all while your mental processes are busy trying to decide if you want to sleep together. We project traits onto people who resemble others that we admire. I once had a date with a guy simply because he looked like someone I'd had a crush on, then ended up throwing up in his car (my fault, not his)!
When you live with someone, the negatives can start to color our attitudes until we come to consider that person completely unacceptable. Maybe they're chronically lazy, or compulsive about their possessions or neatness (clearly silly values indeed).  Doesn't make them terrible people, just a bad fit for you.
It's the same when we chose our politicians (although I don't think it should be). As long as we're in the dating stage some of these would-be leaders look OK. But when we start thinking about living with them for 4 years, forget about it!
Look at the Republican choices: after awhile people discovered that Gingrich is incredibly mean. Santorum doesn't believe in birth control. Romney might be a secret racist (I only recently discovered why Mormonism is so suspect, understandably - especially in the black community). All of their rhetorical overreach takes away their credibility. Would we pick a date by listening to a guy spout a lot of negatives about his rivals?
We have to be careful not to be swept off our feet. When you're alone and lonely the guy/gal who shows interest in you looks very good. When you're with an unsatisfactory partner, everyone else starts looking good.
When choosing a mate in both our private and public lives we want someone with substance, not just style. Someone who will  be smart about when to spend money and when not to. We want someone with sound suggestions, not silly or disproved ideas (trickle down - really?!) We want someone who is able to compromise, who respects others, who will protect our environment (your turn to take out the trash); someone rational, moral, patient, with intelligence and empathy; a hard worker, making friends - not enemies - with the neighbors (yes, that includes trying - even with nasty, noisy neighbors like Iran). We need a person who values education, someone who will look out for us, keep us safe, get us through bad economic times, focus on important things like jobs; use diplomacy and communication.
Don't be seduced by the guy that offers you a great night on the town, or a tax cut in your pocket, and nothing else.
For the long term we want someone we'll be proud to introduce to our friends and family, not just someone who looks good after a few martinis or a beer bong. We want them to prove themselves worthy of our commitment or our vote. We want the best we can get.
And if we are lucky enough to find the right person, let's hope we have the good judgement to realize it. Don't overlook that nice, boring gal who has the right stuff when it comes to important, core values.

We should use our intellect, not pure emotion, to make good selections for the people in our lives - both public and personal. They will be play a huge role in our lives, with ripples reaching far into into the future. Whether it's senator or president, wife, husband or partner; these are jobs, and we should interview and audition them carefully, or we may be very sorry indeed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How 'Big Government' has benefited me

Let's start with my Dad. Because of the New Deal policies of FDR, he was able to go to college and became an engineer. If he had not, he would most likely have ended up working on the railroad like his father. He wouldn't have moved to Philadelphia, he wouldn't have met my mother and I wouldn't even exist. Thank you Democrats.
But presuming I was born, we would not have had a middle class life, and perhaps I would not have had the means to go to college either. Instead of living in a reasonably nice suburb, perhaps we would have remained in the poor rural Pennsylvania area where my Dad grew up. My sister would not have gone on to get her PhD, and all of the students she has taught through her career would have missed out -  to their great detriment.
Let's presume I did somehow get to college, and had roughly the same life I have now - I would not be living in New York City. Republicans would do away with rent stabilization in a heartbeat, so to work here I would have to be a commuter - which, most likely, would have resulted in my working elsewhere. So that means I wouldn't have met that guy and had my wonderful daughter.
But let's presume she got born somehow too. She has a preexisting medical condition, so especially if she ends up as a freelancer - which is very likely - she would probably not have medical insurance even if she could afford it. She wouldn't be able to afford her many medications (one of them costs about $25 per pill - that's right - per teeny tiny little pill - that manage her crippling migraines).
Thanks to "Obamacare" I'll be able to keep her on my insurance until she's 26. This means so much to us, Thank you Democrats.
Thanks to the excellent education system, she benefited from going to the top Public schools in New York City. She would not have had that variety of choice and challenging learning environment anywhere else. (Obama mentioned her High School in one of his speeches). Because of public transportation, she'll be able to get around the strange city she'll be in for college, and ride home on the train. Thank you Democrats!
In a few years, after a lifetime of multiple jobs, having my own businesses and much hard work, I'm looking forward to retiring. Without Social Security and Medicare, I wouldn't be able to consider it, despite saving my entire adult life in IRA's and my 401K. Thank you Democrats.
Small government apostles don't believe in banding together to create social programs that help citizens (except when it's them). They think we should all be on our own, pitted against profit hungry corporations, letting free markets run amok without regulations.
No student loans, no public health insurance, no progressive income tax, no environmental or consumer protections, no workplace safety protections. Fewer police and Fire houses - want to think about those consequences? No libraries, no Sesame Street. How about some new roads & bridges? Should we get rid of the FDA and just ingest any drug or food product that comes our way? No regulation of banks? How about the Coast Guard? Even though I never go near the water, let alone going in it or on it, I'm sure willing to pitch in to help people get rescued, why isn't everyone? I even like the idea of having public beaches, parks & playgrounds, even though I may never set foot on any again. Isn't it worth a few tax $ per citizen to provide safety nets and safeguards? My family sure thinks so.
So if the Republicans had their way 1) I wouldn't exist. 2) my daughter wouldn't exist. Or I'd be living somewhere I don't like, doing something I don't like, with a lousy standard of living and a lot more worries. (let's hope I'm exaggerating!)
And so would a vast majority of the country. Without the New Deal, the country wouldn't have pulled out of the Depression (when FDR cut back spending due to backlash, there was another immediate recession, necessitating the Second New Deal). Just as Obama's steady hand dealing with the recent recession has prevented further financial disaster and resulted in our current financial recovery. Thank you democrats.
Of course with Republicans we would probably have more wars to watch on TV:  Libya, Iran, Egypt? Anybody still pissed at the French? - let's go kick their ass!
Those soldiers sure wouldn't be coming home from Iraq.
THANK YOU Democrats.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Call for a Virtual Peace Corps

blog for your (political) lives!

   Young people are, as they have been in every generation, our hope and 'salvation'. Young people are fresh, open minded, not stubborn or intractable like older folks. Because they are still forming their opinions, they are less opinionated.
 If you believe that it's not guns - or bombs - that kill (although weapons certainly do facilitate); that it's people's beliefs and hatred that kills - then you may wish to be part of the solution: to change people's minds. Banning weapons is not easy - it's more effective to convince people not to use them.

 Young people today have a bigger challenge than the Baby Boomers.  My generation saw injustice and rallied against it - civil rights, women's rights, the Vietnam war; we protested and we won - we made great strides. It was a deeply satisfying feeling that we could and did change our world.
 Now the world is faced with terrorism, of many kinds. Not just a clash of cultures and lifestyles, but of philosophies, with no geographical borders.
Most alarming is the assault on rationality.

 This generation has powerful tools for the spread of understanding - social networking. Reach out to those on the opposite side - exchange ideas and info. It's not as exciting as marching in the streets. It is appealing and rewarding to be part of a cause. Check out message boards and start a polite dialogue. Participate in exchange programs if you have the means.
 Be a representative for good.
'Friend' an extremist, or an evangelist, or a TeaPartier. Avoid proselytizing - the last thing we need is digital missionaries. Get to know them, aim for mutual understanding. The world does need more reasoned dialogue. 

It's time to discourage extremism and craziness (here and abroad).
So how can we explain our viewpoint to someone who thinks very differently from us? More challenging - how can we explain how we think if we are interacting with people who are acting out of emotion or 'people of faith'?

 Be respectful. People believe in all sorts of things, some people firmly believe they have been abducted by aliens, and would challenge you to prove them wrong.
 Can we change someone's mind? It's almost impossible, since we are all products of our environment. People on the other side of the world grow up listening to their elders' teachings, people they admire and trust. They have been indoctrinated, just as we have been, with certain ideas. Why are people so inclined to mistrust? Partly because of isolation and lack of diversity. Fear of the unknown. Different does not equal scary.

Start with humility. We are not better. Our government does not necessarily make us more free than other citizens. One god is not more merciful or loving than someone else's god.
 We're all on the same side. All members of the Family of Man. People who think differently are not our enemies. Different opinions are interesting, stimulating. We can discuss without arguing. Try to divorce yourself from your emotions, because no one can discuss things logically and effectively when they are upset.

 Defuse the clash of civilizations. (Even if it's just Red State vs Blue state - Republican vs Democrat) A secular society does not equate to valueless. On the contrary, some believe doing the right thing simply because it's the right way to treat our fellow man, not doing so in order to gain a reward or avoid punishment, is more moral. Value rationality versus mythology. Extreme religion is an excuse for hatred, racism and violence. It's time to stand up against that. It's time to tackle extremism. Inflammatory rhetoric is the first step toward violence. Denounce hate speech.

 Take responsibility. It's best to live in the present, plan for the future, but let go of the past. Old animosities lead to a cycle of recriminations. Other people do have legitimate grievances - sometimes about policies you may personally support. Especially in the anonymous online world, people will insult you and possibly upset you. Shed the anger. Don't stoop to their level. Live and let live.

Listen. Instead of changing their minds - maybe they will change yours - be open to that. Put yourself in their place. Ask questions about their lives. Some countries particularly suffer from unchecked population growth that leads to alienation. The unemployed will increase around the globe. Find common ground, like global warming or economic concerns. Share your interests: video games, fan fiction, TV shows; sometimes diversion is the best tactic (ask any toddler's parent). People need projects to feel useful and stay out of trouble, engage that energy. 

Ask them for specifics. Why do they believe their viewpoint is correct? Check the facts - not just yours - but what they base their arguments on. Push them to think more logically, and not reach hasty conclusions based on one side of a situation.

Form informed opinions. Educate yourself. Curiosity about the world is the driving force for mutual understanding. People who read Steven Hawkins can converse more intelligently about the universe. People who have read Steven Pinker can discuss nature vs nurture with authority. Opinions should be formed on the bedrock of knowledge. Leaders who form beliefs based on listening to others without that intellectual authority should not be taken seriously. Steer people to objective, factual web sites for info - not sensational, biased media outlets.

Celebrate genius, talent and scholarly effort.
 When did 'elite' become a 4 letter word? Why do some people distrust intellectuals? We need to swing back towards sense, not sensationalism. Time to stop dumbing down – and smarten up! A large segment of the world is listening to the wild and wacky instead of the best and the brightest. They're deciding who to trust based on symbolism instead of substance. Worse, deciding who to distrust based on rumor and misinformation.

Make a difference, even if it's tiny. As Edward Kennedy said in eulogizing his brother Bobby:

"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, (you) send forth a tiny ripple of hope...building a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

It's worth a try. Take the country and the world forward.

- author of A Kid's Guide 2 Politics