Where were you when you made your decision?

10-25-2019

In his book We Are The Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer writes about his family facing the onslaught of Nazi Germany marching on Poland. He speaks of those who refused to leave the country and as a result, thousands died. He quotes Raymond Aron who was asked whether he knew what was happening at the time. He answered: “I knew , but I didn’t believe it, and because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t know.” On the surface, it sounds something like a riddle. Jan Karski, a 28 year old Catholic embarked on a mission to travel from Poland to America to inform world leaders of what the Germans were perpetrating. He had a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter ( A Jew) and reported the atrocities in Poland. After hearing the report, Frankfurter said the following: “I didn’t say the young man was lying. I said I am unable to believe him. My mind, my heart, are made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”

This is the way Foer begins his book regarding climate change. His contention is there are some issues that we know to be true and yet we cannot accept them. It is hard for a rational mind to not believe the 97% of the world’s most credible scientific minds that climate change is real and caused by mankind. Yet, we cannot accept it. One might argue that yes they do believe it and yes they do accept it. Foer then asks, what changes, what actions have you taken to back up both your belief and your acceptance.

Later in the book the author describes the cure for polio. He uses this explanation to suggest that there is a reason for individual action as well as proof of an outcome. President Roosevelt was instrumental in the development of a polio vaccine. He helped form the organization that became the March of Dimes. One recipient of that funding was Dr. Jonas Salk. He and his family were the first humans to test his vaccine, next came a clinical trial of nearly two million people. Elvis Presley was photographed getting his shot to promote vaccination. Soon polio was completely eradicated. Foer describes this medical success came about as a result of top-down publicity campaigns and grassroots advocacy. Without the efforts of all, it would not have happened. He ends the chapter with these words – “Who cured polio? No one did. Everyone did.”

So to the point of this writing. If I fall within the lifespan statistics for a male in the United States, I can expect to live about 8 to 10 more years. Sometime between 2027 and 2029. My two sons can expect 30 to 40 more years of life. Sometime between 2049 and 2059. The lives of my two grandchildren should extend somewhere between 2085 and 2089. The best information of the climate scientists suggests without massive worldwide changes, our planet will see the following, long before these years: 143 million people may become climate migrants. Armed conflict will increase by 40 % because of climate change. 400 million people will suffer from water scarcity. Half of all animal species will face extinction. Crops yields will be reduced by 6 to 18 %. Global GDP per capital will drop by an estimated 13%. That is only the beginning of of the list.

So what shall we do? Will we believe the facts but not accept them? Will we simply choose to accept that climate change is “A hoax perpetrated by China.” Say, “What can I do, I’m only one person?”

A good friend of mine says that he always tries to “be responsible for his side of the sidewalk.” By that he means, he does his part. And like the cure of polio, saving this planet will only be accomplished if each of us decides to do our part.

I wonder if our children will ask us, “Where were you when you made your decision?”

“Men Argue. Nature acts.” Voltaire

Go well. David

Great ?

Make America Great Again

What Makes America Great

Great Compassion

Great Wealth

Great Diversity

Great Trust

Great Lies

Great Foes

Great Allies

Keep America Great

Is America Great

Great Truth

Great Democracy

Great Monarchy

Great Future

Great Disaster

Great Legacy

“There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.” Leo Tolstoy

Who and what shall we be?

Go well, David

The Need for Beauty

10-8-2019

We have news blaring at us twenty-four hours a day. 24 hours – 1440 minutes – 86,400 seconds every day – NEWS. I am not sure about others, but there are times (growing more often every day) when I need to see and hear something beautiful. Some days it is the magnificent and effortless soaring of a turkey vulture. A bird with the looks that only a mother could love, has the graceful flight of an angel. To see him or her fly is to see an animal in it’s perfect glory. Riding the thermals ever higher, it is a sight to behold.

And then there is music. I’m not sure one could do any better than to sit quietly and hear the penetrating rhythms of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K322 played on guitar. If that is not to your taste, try Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, or an old Hank Williams rendition of Hey Good Lookin‘. It really doesn’t matter your choice in music, what’s important is that we stop and exchange the sounds of loud motorcycles, yelling neighbors and the blaring horns of irritated drivers for the wonder of music. Music can, and does take us all around the planet. You can meet the genius of Mozart, Freddie Mercury or colorful Mexican Mariachis with the push of a button.

What’s in your backyard, or the home across the street, or the desert path two miles from your front door? Do yourself a favor, stop and focus on the structure of the next flower you see. Look at its petals, the tiny center and color. Does it smell good. Is it soft? As you look at it, is it possible to frown? Here in Tucson we see magnificent blooming cactus flowers. Bold reds, bright yellows and creamy white blossoms are on full display much of the year. The smallest flowers (some call weeds) can grow and thrive in the hardest, most rocky desert soil. Could you do that? What grows near you?

What about books? What is the last great book you have read? Did you fall in love with a character? Did the author have you so spellbound you couldn’t put the book down until the last two words were – The End? How many people have you told that you loved Educated, or maybe it was The Grapes of Wrath or was it the latest Harry Potter book? Would you rather have dinner with Emily Dickinson, John O’Donohue or Barbara Kingsolver? Perhaps you prefer poetry, science fiction, or something so clever and funny it makes you linger in the bathtub (my favorite reading spot) until you finish the next chapter. Take a trip anywhere in the world, its just a short trip to your library.

How often do you go and spend time outdoors? When was the last scarlet sunset that took away your breath? When were you last up early enough to see the sun come up over the mountains or across the ocean? When was the last time you walked into the desert, mountains, plains, woods or canyon and listened as the silence of nothing grew louder and louder? Treat yourself soon if your answer was, “I don’t remember.” Say hello to a spiny lizard, a small bunny hopping to get away from you, or bumblebee as it goes about it’s business. Pick a wild flower and give it to someone you love. Thank whatever you believe in for the moment you have solely for yourself. It’s yours alone, just for that brief moment.

Find whatever is beautiful for you. Enjoy that beauty and then do it again and again and again.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

Go Well, David

A sweet, strong smell of truth

9-19-2019

I had just finished a short biography of John Steinbeck and was tired and sleepy. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep and seemed only moments until I felt the soft tapping on my shoulder. “Wake up, let’s talk.” I looked up, bleary eyed and looked into the face of an older and tired looking man. I instantly recognized his sensitive blue eyes and neatly trimmed mustache. “John? John Steinbeck?”

“Let’s talk. Look I know you think you know something about me. But you don’t. I haven’t quite figured it out myself out , much less you doing it. And you need to do something.” He waited as I knuckled the sleep out of my eyes. “First of all, take me down from the pedestal, I didn’t ask to be put there and I don’t want to be there, it’s both boring and tiring. Second, stop trying to think you want to be me, start being who you are.”

“But I want to be a better writer.” My words sounded pathetic even to me.

“So you’re going to whine about it or are you going to do something about it?”

“I’m not sure how.”

He looked across the dark bedroom and out at the darkness of the sky. “You want some magic formula, you want some quick action pill? Maybe you want God to reach down and fill you with the magic. How about you get off your tired ass and go about doing the work of getting better.”

“But I remember what you once wrote about wanting to be better. What did you do to get better, to become John Steinbeck?”

Again another look of disgust. “I was always John Steinbeck. I just had to trust myself.” He paused and then added, “and I worked my ass off to be better.”

Then he was gone. I was alone in my dark bedroom. I turned on the lamp, picked up the biography I’d just finished and reread the last two pages. He had written about the development of American Literature and compared some of our great authors to the ancient greats. I got to the line that had stopped me cold. The message of his writing was clear. He compared our countries greats to other greats and concluded – “… like them, it has the sweet, strong smell of truth.” And then I knew the answer.

The Nobel Committee said this about Steinbeck’s writing, and why he won the Prize for Literature. – “For his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.”

Words once written by John Steinbeck regarding his self-doubts. “Wish to God I could learn to write as I would like to write. I fall so damn short every time. But I’ll keep plugging and damn it – one day I’ll maybe turn up something.”

Go Well, David

Tara and Hound Dog Taylor

9-03-2019

If you do only one thing for yourself this month, let if be reading Educated by Tara Westover. It is a wonder filled book written by a lady that was raised in Southeast Idaho by a survivalist family. Tara’s father, a man possessed by his faith, mental illness and unyielding fear and hatred of the government. Her brother brutal and abusive. Home schooling consisted of helping her mother concoct healing oils and working in her father’s scrap business. No birth certificate was issued as an effort by her family to never allow the government to know of her existence.

Tara was born at home and never attended school until she was seventeen years old. Destined to live the same isolated life as her parents, she decided she wanted something different. Her break from her solitary and abusive life came after self-study and admission to Brigham Young University. After graduating from BYU, Tara went to Trinity College, Cambridge where she earned a MPihil, then on to Harvard University as a visiting fellow and back to Cambridge to earn her PhD in 2014.

Although Tara’s march through a world class education is impressive, her real story is her ability find the courage and means to resist a predestined life. This young woman fought against all obstacles to become not only a scholar, but more importantly a strong, independent and healthy human. Her story is an amazing example of a human beings ability to overcome almost any difficulty to become what they wish to be.

It’s a beautiful book, please read it.

Hound Dog Taylor was born in Natchez, Mississippi on April 12, 1915 and died December 17, 1075. A true Blues Man who played boogie like no other. He said this about his music – “When I die they’ll say he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good.” That was the Hound Dog. He always played cheap Japanese guitars, his records are rough, raw and rowdy. But how they make you smile.

Hound dog was not your usual man. He was born with six fingers on each hand (known as polydactyly). The extra digits were rudimentary nubbins and could not be moved. One night, while drunk, he cut off the extra digit on his right hand using a straight razor. That incident doesn’t suggest the joy his music brings to me. When I’m down, one song by the Dog can raise me up. As he said as an introduction to one of his songs – “Me and BB King used to drive tractors down in Enola, but come every Saturday night, we used to have some fun, brother!” I’ve never been to Enola, and I never heard Hound Dog play live, but when I hear his music, I have some fun, brother.

Do yourself two favors, read Educated and listen to Hound Dog Taylor.

“Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.” Benjamin Disraeli

Go well, David

Words Matter

8-28-2019

An ad popped up on my Facebook page this morning. It was posted by a conservative political group. The focus of the ad seemed to extol the virtues of the not being “politically correct.” I read about a dozen of the comments posted regarding the ad. Most were metaphorically screaming “YES! – It’s my constitutional right to not be politically correct.” It got me thinking about the incredible power of words. I also considered how there are those whose words hold far more power, authority and volume than others.

Merriam Webster defines politically correct as: “Conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated. If I understand that definition correctly, the reverse would be that a person holds a belief that they have no responsibility to not offend others with their language and practices. Technically, I guess that’s true. It may be that nothing requires us to not offend others. The Right (with a capital R) of free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution. But in practice, does, or should that mean we disregard civility? Should we not be concerned with truth when we say something? Do lies no longer matter, if we say something that is not honest and truthful?

There are many words that seem to be intentionally inflammatory. A person does not use the n word to be accurate or truthful. It’s used to insult, demean and inflict harm on another human being. Many of the comments in the above described ad stated that “racism” is overused ( my interpretation of their comments). They seemed to argue that the word is now overused regarding those who are “just being honest and not politically correct.” Is not being politically correct always being racist? Of course not. But to hide behind the Constitution to insult, bully, demean, harass, and diminish another human, cannot be justified by saying “I have the right to say what I want.”

It seems to me that we’ve moved to a place in this country where we believe those who shout or scream the loudest are the “truth tellers.” Facts matter. Truth matters. It doesn’t matter if you are the President of the United States or the poorest, most uneducated person in the country – the words they speak matter.

There is no question that I’ve been provoked and succumbed to screaming back at those who post comments where I disagree. I’ve written stupid and insulting comments. But I’ve also come to believe that my words change nothing, no one’s mind is changed when I yell. Truth is not measured by volume or insults. It’s time I heed my own words. It’s time I stop reading ads that have no purpose other than to inflame or to insult the sensibilities of others.

Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of the one for the other.” Benjamin E. Mays

Go well – David

How it Should Be

8-20-2019

Normally I would dismiss anything that started with this title. I’d say something snarky like, “Sure, you know everything! You have the audacity to try and tell me you know something for certain?” In this case, yes I am.

On Sunday morning, Suzanne and I took a walk in a nearby neighborhood. Older houses probably built sometime in the late 1980’s. Some still need a bit of repair, many showing the pride of their owners. As we passed one home, Suzanne noticed the gate to the back yard open and a man and a woman working. In an excited voice she said, “Look, they have real grass.” You must remember this is Arizona, grass is as rare as a white man that can dance. The woman in the yard heard Suzanne and immediately called, “Come inside and look.” So we did.

The yard was beautiful. Sculpted turns bordered by trimmed hedges, a bubbling fountain, flowers, fig and lemon trees. A., the husband and C., the wife are both originally from Italy. A. had built an outdoor cooking area complete with a wood-fired pizza oven. They were from Napoli, Italy and he told us we needed to again visit and he’d make us a pizza. We stood and talked with this delightful couple for twenty minutes, neither of us wanting to leave. As we started to go , A. gave us fresh basil and carrots from his garden. He gave me a fresh fig to taste as he explained about an Italian breakfast – crusty bread, sliced figs and prosciutto. They again told us to please come back and visit anytime we wanted to. We have smiled and recounted the story many times since Sunday morning.

So that’s the reason for the title of this piece. That’s the way ALL people should behave. We should all be as welcoming, as generous and as gracious as that couple. We should be willing to take a few minutes to meet new friends. We should be thankful for the blessings we’ve been given and willing to share our joy with others. This is an absolute truth.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust

Go well – David