Wednesday, April 01, 2020

How many people are dying?

So, one thing I want you all to think about today, a question really. How big is America, and how many people dying is a huge number?

Maybe you are freaking out by the idea of 100,000 and 200,000 Covid19 deaths here in the US. I'm thinking its because this is the first pandemic in the 24/7 cable news, and social media era.

We've had these types of pandemics before. The last big one was the H3N2 virus that killed 100,000 here in the US in 1968. Never heard of that one? I hadn't until I started looking into this. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed over 600,000 in the US. That's more deaths than the Civil War. Pandemics happen, and we should be prepared, both as a nation and as individuals.

So, let's look at the most recent prediction of 100 to 200,000 people dying. Is this a lot of people? Yep, it sure is. If one of those deaths happens to someone you know, and especially someone you love, it will be even more tragic to you personally.

One hundred thousand, or two hundred thousand people is a big number, but how many people is that as far as a percentage of all Americans? Let's do the math.

America has about three hundred, twenty seven million people. 327,000,000 people is a very large number.

So, lets say people don't do social distancing, shelter in place, and stay at home like they should, and we have more than the 1-200,000 people die. Let's say 327,000 Americans die, that's almost double the amount they are predicting now. What percentage of the population is that?

Is that 10%, or one in ten, Americans dying? Nope. If 10% of Americans died, that would be 32.7 million dead.

How about 1% of Americans dying, what would that look like? That would be 3.27 million people dying. So, were still quite a ways off that.

How about 1/10th of 1%? That would be the three hundred twenty seven thousand people dead. That's the 327,000 number I used.

So, I'm not giving you this number to make you think you should blow off the social distancing orders, and go back to your regular life. Not at all. This 1-200,000 number the administration is using relies on people limiting contact for the next few weeks. This social distancing works, it really does.

Maybe the fear of these numbers is actually working to make people follow the social distancing orders. So, maybe I should just be quiet.

What I am trying to point out is we are going to get through this. No doubt, this is going to be rough. People are dying now, and many more will be dying before this is over. This is serious, so do your part. Understand your risks and minimize them.

When this is over, I want us to look at how we deal with actual crisis in the age of cable news and social media. We need to start looking at how this new social media world is really amplifying fear, and making things worse.  Our news media and social media companies will get terrible reviews when this is over. They will deserve it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The currency of Cool.

At 54 years old, and I am painfully uncool.

That's okay, I gave up trying to be cool somewhere in my twenties when my life turned upside down, and cool was a luxury I could no longer afford. In fact, there were a few necessities I couldn't afford at that point in time. Poverty and reality have the effect of smashing everything that is not true or essential. Being cool is not important when you have a newborn and $80 in your savings account.

But wait, don't you wear skate shoes, play music, and have an Instagram account? You must a little cool, right?

Not really. Any coolness I enjoy is accidental at best. Any of the semi-cool things I wear; skate shoes, concert t-shirts, or 501s are just out of habit. I wear these because that's what I wore in high school, and they are still what I find comfortable.

I'm not sure when we first discovered cool. For me, maybe seventh or eighth grade, but certainly not in early elementary school. Back in my day, especially out in the tiny rural town I lived in, fashion and brand names didn't exist. Or at least they were not at the center of popularity and 'coolness'.

My family, depending on what economic cycle we were in, was well pretty well off as those things go. Not that you would know it by what I wore to school. My mom shopped at Sears like everyone else, and I wore t-shirts and Toughskin jeans, just like most of the kids in our K-8 school.

Today, it seems like kids, even little kids, are very aware of fashion, brand names, and the latest trends. From Nike, Hollister, H&M, Hilfiger, to iPhones, Galaxy, Airpods, and Beats headphones, most of the kids in school understand exactly what they have, or don't have, and what the cool kids have.

It's crazy to think a seven year old should be concerned she will be ridiculed for not having the 'right' kind of (fill in the blank). If you wonder why child anxiety and depression rates are climbing to alarming rates, I would say you need to factor this consumerism and comparative mindset into the equation.

I'm sure another one of the factors is our all-encompassing digital age.

Out on the ranch, I didn't know what cool people wore, or what cool people did.  That was up until a family from southern California moved up to our tiny town. I remember the first time I saw Skateboarder Magazine at my friend Tim's house. I went home and begged for a skateboard. Keep in mind we only had twenty feet of concrete sidewalk at our house on our cattle ranch, and the only place I could ride it was at school. Well, that was until they outlawed them. Skateboarding is not a crime Mr. Boris!

The plain fact was, aside from television, I knew very little of what was happening outside my zip code. Which is probably for the best.

Today, the kids in Pine River Wisconsin can see what the Kardashians wear, how they talk, and keep up with the latest pop music star's life and romances. They can check out the celebrity and sports icons shaping the culture, and compare their lives to the 'cool people'. This is a recipe for disaster.

This trend will continue, and probably get worse as the comparative/coolness mindset gets driven downward to younger and younger kids.

I'm not sure when we grow out of this pursuit of coolness. Maybe we never do. It's like a currency we all want. Although, some are happy without it, others will go to almost any length to get it.

One thing is for sure, your parents might be able to buy you the uniform of cool, but if you're not a genuinely good person, kids will only hang out with you to get what they can from you. Paying for friendship is pretty sad.

I find the more years I mark off the calendar, the less coolness concerns me. If you've ever seen me walking to the mailbox on Saturday in basketball shorts, slippers with wool socks, and a Carhartt hat, you can see how obvious this is.

I don't know what we can do as individuals, or as parents. We can explain the difference between our 'wants' and our 'needs' for sure. However, what we really need to do if reinforce our definition of worth and value to our children. That comes through what you do, the way you think, and how you treat others, not through what you wear, drive, or the kind of lifestyle you can finance.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

2019: President Hillary Clinton's finest yet.

This is CNN...

Good evening, and welcome to our 2019 presidential year in review. Three years into Hillary Clinton's first term, you could say, she is just hitting her stride. Quite frankly, by any measure, economic, foreign policy, or just sheer change in the way Washington DC works, the president has been on an unprecedented roll. 

Absolutely Jake, let's start with the economy. President Clinton has overseen a booming economy. An economy with the lowest unemployment rate in a half century. We all thought that five percent unemployment used to be 'Full Employment' but the Clinton Boom, as it's called, has seen rates down in the three percent range. Just astounding. Truly great news for all Americans. 

So true, so true. And not just overall unemployment Chris, but if you drill down into those numbers, you will see two things that stand out. One is the unemployment rate among African Americans is at the lowest rate ever recorded. Let me say that again. The lowest unemployment rate among African Americans, a key voting block who will be key to re-election, is at an all time low. That is really good news for President Clinton. 

Second, if you look at wage growth, it is rising, and growing fastest among low and middle income earners, another key group, especially in swing states. 

One hundred percent agree Chris, but let's not forget one thing that fired up much of her base in the last election; Judges. In three short years, Hillary Clinton has pushed through so many judges to federal bench, that right now, she has named a full quarter of federal appellate court judges, and over twenty percent of all federal judges. Plus the two justices to the Supreme Court and maybe even one more, all before her first term is over. Truly remarkable. The Clinton court and federal bench will be deciding cases, and shaping the rule of law for decades. What a great legacy for this president. 

Absolutely, and with all this great news the president has seen this year, we haven't even talked about the stock market. Record high, after record high. The Dow Jones, the S&P, all finishing strong. The S&P 500 is up an astounding thirty three percent since her election night victory. The Dow has gained ten thousand points since election night. 

Seriously, I've been in this town for three decades and have never seen a president with such and impressive record on the economy, foreign policy, trade deals, the list goes on and on, truly incredi.....

(Wake up Wolf)
(Wolf, wake up, we're live in thirty seconds)

Hold on. Oh man, I just had the most incredible dream. It was wonderful, Hillary was president, and everything was so great. Oh, it was incredible. 

(Aaaand we're live in three, two.......)

Good evening, I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is a presidential recap of 2019. The worst year of what will surely be Trump's first and only term. Let's start with the Muller Report and the President's ties to Russian collusion......

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanks, whoever you are....

So, every year we read essays written about how thankful someone is about such and such, and so and so. How they are taking time out of their busy holiday to extend feelings of gratitude to those around them.

Okay, fine. What about a person who you might owe big time, you just don't who they are? What am I talking about?

Well, here's a person I would like to thank. A person who made a difference in my life. There are many more like this, and I will try to remember to post one every Thanksgiving. Here goes:

To the person who was driving down Oak Run Road, (near Redding California) next to our driveway, the day I checked the mail on my Honda Trail 70, thank you for not killing me.

I was about 10 years old, and I would ride up our half-mile driveway to the mailbox. Oak Run Road is two lane country road, and almost always empty. I pulled up to the big metal mailbox and grabbed a handful of mail out of the box. I stuffed inside my blue Dallas Cowboys jacket for the trip home, and I pulled into the street to do a U-turn for the trip back to the house. I never looked over my shoulder to check for cars....

The driver must have swerved to avoid hitting me, as I was four or five feet in the roadway by that point. They just clipped the brake handle on my motor bike with their passenger side mirror as they went by at 50 MPH. They stopped a couple hundred yards down the road and when they saw I was okay, they kept driving. My motorbike was on the ground in the middle of the right lane, and it took me a minute or so to quit shaking and kick start the little Honda back to life.

I didn't tell my mom or dad, because I was almost killed, and it would have been completely my fault.

 Thanks, dude/mam. I should have been smashed flat that day.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

23 and OMG - Happy Fathers Day

(some of you know the story I wrote three years ago, I've cut my original piece by almost a thousand words, with less bio and other info to make it a shorter read) 

        I sat there staring at my phone in disbelief.

No way. Wow... No way.....  I have two half-sisters? This cannot be happening.......

I guess I should start with a little background. I’ve only had one father in my life, or so I thought.

Let me start with the one whose name I share; Walter Joseph Lucas.

My father was fifty years old when I was born, so you could say he was late to the game when it came to having children. My sister Lisa is two years older than I am. I knew my father had been married twice before, but the few times he did talk about his other marriages were very brief. He would only say his previous wives did not want to have children and he did. It seemed reasonable enough.

Even into adulthood, I never pushed him to tell me more. My father had a very complicated relationship with his own family. He was born in 1915 on a ranch near Lockeford Ca. His father died when he was 18 or 19 and he had to take over the responsibilities of running the family ranch. I'm sure he did all he could for his mom, but there was definitely some bad blood between he and his siblings. I only know the little he told me about his family, and I don't know their side of the story, so I cannot judge what really happened.

My father was two generations older than me. He rode a horse to school, and milked thirty cows by hand before and after school. His life was work, money. and family, but mostly work. He couldn’t get into the Army during WWII because he was deaf in one ear. He worked in the shipyards at Mare Island, building PT boats during the war years.

By the time I came into the world, my father was a successful rancher, real estate broker, and owned a land leveling business. He had an extraordinary work ethic and drive. I can best describe him as a combination between John Wayne and Donald Trump. Just imagine that for a moment.

     I loved my father, as most sons do. I loved him despite the fact he was very flawed, like all fathers are.

My father was an alcoholic. Ever since I can remember, my father drank, a lot. He was a maintenance drinker. He was never falling-down drunk, and he was never hungover. He would always get up at 6AM the next day ready to work, but damn, there were some frightening nights at my house growing up.  

     My father was a complicated man. He loved his family, but he had to be in charge of everything. He had my life planned out, and expected me to take over his 'empire' when the time came. However, he spent almost no time teaching me how to do that. 

     He was also a little sketchy in his business dealings. He could also bend a rule, or outright break it, if stood between him and his business success. He was hard working, but had a soft heart. He never talked about his own feelings, and rarely how he felt about you. Unless he had been drinking, even then, it was 50-50 propositions. You were either the best kid in the world, or a huge disappointment.

Many people loved my father and thought he was a great guy. Others thought he was a son of bitch. I think, in the end, they were both right.

One day in May of 1991, when he experienced intense pain in his abdomen. He went home and stayed there for a few hours before my mother convinced him he had to go to the hospital.

He sat in the ER at Woodland Hospital for three or four hours while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. By the time a new doctor came on and decided he was bleeding internally, it was too late. He’d had an aneurysm in his aorta that morning. He was airlifted him to UC Davis Med Center that evening. The doctors performed surgery to repair the tear in the aorta, but he had lost too much blood and he died two days later.

Not that there is ever a good time to lose a parent, but it could not have come at a worse time for our family. The cattle market was heading into a decline, along with the real estate market. Losing not only my father, but also my employer, and the person who had engineered my life, was a huge hit. Even though I had my real estate salesman's license, and was working on my father's ranch, I had let him make almost all my decisions for me. He had been running the show, and now he was gone.

I was very immature for someone in my position. At twenty-five, I should have been ready for this day, but I wasn't. Not by a long shot. I went through the motions of gathering the cattle, and trying to help my mom figure out if we should keep the leases on the ranches. In the end, with all my father's bills and past due taxes, we had to sell everything, my house included, and start over.

At the time, all you see are the problems, all you feel is the pain, all you want is to have things put back the way they were. That wasn’t going to happen. You have to move, you have to go forward, you have to grow, and so I did.

Shortly after my father passed away, my mother told Lisa and I that dad had two sons with his first wife, long ago. He told her never to tell us kids, but now that he was gone, she thought it wouldn’t hurt anything. She didn't have any names, just the little my father had told her.

This was fascinating to me.  I’d always wanted a brother, and it started me on a long journey to find my lost relatives. was a new service, and I signed up looking to find my half brothers. I had no luck. I tried to find his first wife, but without her maiden name, you cannot find birth records at the county courthouses.

Eventually, I found a census record of my father living in Stockton with his first wife Zelda, her mother, and two small children with different last names. So, I think those kids were my father's stepsons, and would be no relation to me. A bit anticlimactic, but the mystery was solved. It was pretty interesting stuff, but I always wondered if could go back further or dig a little deeper.

Enter the new DNA registry 23andMe.

I had always heard from my father that he was mostly Irish, with some French from my grandmother. My mom is full Portuguese, half from the Azores and the other half from Portugal by way of Brazil.

I wanted to see how true that was, so I signed up. A week or so later a package arrived. I followed the instructions and spit into the little tube, sealed it up and mailed it back. They said it would take about 6 weeks to get the results.

I didn't think I would find too many surprises, but being a huge history buff, I thought it would be cool to be able trace my heritage even further. I received an email saying my results were in and I logged on and looked at my DNA results. Nothing too startling. I was 28% British/Irish, 25% Broadly Northwest European, and 35% Iberian, (Spain/Portugal) with the rest a mash up of mostly European lines.

This tracked almost exactly the way I thought it would. Oh well.

I traced my father's Lucas lineage back to Prince Charles County Maryland in 1731, before the founding of the nation. I thought there may have been a little genetic, American-melting-pot, wildcard thrown in there somewhere, but it turned out I'm just a plain old American.

I had told my mom about the 23andMe findings and she wanted to know why I was so interested in it? I said I found it fascinating to know for sure where you come from. Knowing what part of the world you were from, tracing your history and such. I thought that was the end of the story.

A few days later I received an email from 23andMe asking if I wanted to search for my DNA relatives. Sure, why not. I clicked the link.......

I looked at the page for a minute, and reread it a few times just to make sure.

No way. Wow... No way.....  I have two half-sisters? This cannot be happening.......

I clicked on their names and looked at their profiles.

How could this be? They must belong to dad, but when were they born? I found a link to send them a message. What do I say? Hi, I'm your long lost half brother, where did you come from?

I sent each one a message and waited, checking my email constantly. I had so many questions. I asked if they knew my father, and did they know about my sister and I?

Pam was the first to respond:
”.... Tracy and I now know how we are half sisters through information told to us by our mothers when we were young adults. I'd be happy to connect if you want to solve this mystery for yourself. It is just because our parents really wanted us to be born, and all they did to arrange for our arrivals. I was born in 1961. Tracy in 1967. It will benefit us all to know the health and genetic data. So glad to find you. :) "

Wait? What?

I was a little slow on the uptake here just because it seemed so strange. With Pam being born in 61, that was before my mom and dad were married, so no foul there, but Tracy was born in 67, two years after me. Why would our all our parents really want us to be born? 

      I could see my dad having a bit of fun, but I'm pretty sure my mom wouldn’t have been happy with my father out populating the planet.

Like I said, it was staring me in the face, but I hadn't put it all together.

I sent both a message saying it looked like my father was a bit of a scoundrel if we were all related. 

     I think Pam and Tracy had a correspondence between each other, and decided to have Pam spill the beans:

"Well, not a scoundrel actually. I don't want to shock you, but since you are over 50, I think you can handle it. When I was 14, I found out that my father (my legal father) was not my biological father. Before my parents married, he had a vasectomy. It couldn't be reversed. My parents really wanted me, so they went to a specialist in San Francisco who arranged for a sperm donor. All they knew was he was a medical student who was healthy and had a great health history and already had a family and children. I was never to have known. Back then, the secrecy was thought best for the child being conceived. At 14 when I chose to sever my ties to my father, my mother told me the truth of my paternal creation. I didn't know about any of you, but always thought that this medical student may have made several donations. Lol. I met Tracy last year through her daughter making a connection to me. We were both stunned. Tracy found out from her mom about the medical student on her 22nd birthday. She is still very close to her legal father, so she is cautious about making it known because she doesn't want him to feel bad. So was your legal father a medical student? Tracy and I don't know if you were from donation like us or if our parent’s donor was both your legal and genetic dad. Sorry for the shock if you didn't know." 

Wow..... No way.

I was shocked.

So the only man I ever knew as my father was not my biological father.

No flippin' way.

As I sat there staring at my phone, I felt a rush of different feelings.

      My head was swimming, but it was late and I went to bed with lots of different thoughts rattling around. What am I going to say to my mom? Should I even bring this up? I had to. It was just too much to let go. Besides, my mom did nothing wrong. She did something extraordinary to bring me into this world. The doctors had instructed her not to tell me about my biological father, and she kept the secret for over 50 years. She did it out of love, and that is a great reason.

     This changes everything…..Then again, it changes nothing.

    My father will always be my father. He raised me, for better or worse. It was surreal to me that a man from my father's generation would use a donor to have children. He was nothing if not a man's man. With all his success, all that money, there must have been something missing. There must have been a huge hole in his life he needed to fill with children. It made me wonder about those two stepsons he had with his first wife, and how it must have hurt to lose them when they were divorced.

The next day I called my mom in the morning. We spoke for a while, and then I said I was going to tell her a story. I told her what Pam had told me. The story of Children's Hospital in San Francisco, and the donor, and the instruction not to tell us kids. When I finished, I asked, "So mom, do you have anything you want to tell me?" 

      There was a bit of a pause, "Well, I would say that my story is the same as the story you just told me." She said with a nervousness in her voice. 

We talked about dad and her not being able to have children, and how the special clinic at Children's hospital was cutting edge for the 1960s. How it was very expensive, but it was their only hope of having children. She said my sister was conceived the same way. The doctors said it was best not to tell the children. Mom said she never really thought about it about it as the years past, and didn’t think it was important to tell us when dad died. We were going through enough turmoil at the time.
  The fact that I signed up for the DNA tests out of pure curiosity was something no one could have even imagined back in the 1960s. 

      If I had not spit in that little tube, I would have never known about my biological father. Surreal. 

So, the real question is: Now what?

What does it change? Like I said before; it changes everything, and it changes nothing.

Walt Sr. will always be my father. He raised me, he showed what it was to be a man, to work hard, and he showed me you can always do more than you think is possible. He also showed me some of the darkness in life, darkness that we are all capable of. Taken all together, the good and the bad, I will always love that man.

So what about my biological father? Do I want to know more about him? Yeah, I guess so. I would like to see a picture of him, and see if we look anything alike. I would like to know something about his personality, his temperament. Those kinds of things.

I'm sure he never imagined DNA testing back as a medical student, and that three strangers would someday find each other through an ounce of saliva. I wonder if he ever thought about how we all turned out?

So many questions.
  In the end, I am glad I know. I am also glad my mother and father went to that specialist in San Francisco. I am here, on this planet, for whatever that’s worth.

I have a wonderful family, a wonderful life, and memories to last me a few lifetimes. Here is the really strange part,  23andMe is a new company, not many people have signed up. I may have more half siblings out there. 

    I always wanted a brother. (Sorry Lisa, love ya)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

To be truly good, you have to know how truly evil you are capable of being.

Those of you who know me, understand my fascination with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson.  He makes you think. He doesn't tell you what to think, he helps you figure it out how to think. That way, you can become better at figuring out all kinds of things. Figuring out the world around you, and more importantly, the world between your ears, is a necessary and critical skill.

I've been listening to Peterson's podcast the last few days on my commute to work. In the latest one, he interviews Joe Rogan. Rogan is the host of a one of the most popular podcast on the planet, and has been a pioneer in long-form podcasting.

The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is downloaded millions of times a month. I listen to Rogan's podcast all the time. He interviews fascinating people, from MMA athletes, stand up comedians, psychologists, doctors, physicists, evolutionary biologists, mathematicians and sometimes, just  people he finds interesting. 

His long-form podcasts are great because people don't really get past their canned answers until the first hour is over. By then, they know Rogan isn't trying to "get them" or to make them say something dumb that gets a headline. Rogan is genuinely trying to understand them as a person. People let the guard down and start really communicating in this format.

Peterson's podcast was great because it turned the tables on Rogan. Peterson spent a few hours asking Rogan about his childhood, his martial arts career, his transition to being a stand up comedian, and how he started his podcast.

As they spoke about comedy, they brought up Bill Cosby. They both thought the worst part of Cosby's destructive fall, other than the damage to his victims, were the two completely contradictory sides of his behavior. His public persona was that of a wholesome, funny, father figure, spokes person, actor. However, deep within the heart of the man, he had a very dark side.

Peterson spoke about a book by Depth Psychology. The part he touched on was the idea: Don't be better that you are.

Meaning, beware of adopting a persona of someone far better that you actually are. The danger is, that dark part of you, that part you are not willing to admit to, or deal with, is going to go off and have some fun of its own.

When I see a public fall from grace, I used to think those people just snapped and went off the deep end. As I've grown older, I have started to see how these things don't "just happen", there's usually a long lead up of behaviors, and patterns of thinking, that start long before the fall.

I remember reading a story about a group of small town promoters, who in the late 60s, had booked Paul Harvey to speak at a local venue. Harvey was a popular national radio personality back then. As the date drew nearer, tickets sales were not going well and the promoters needed something else to sell tickets or they faced disaster. They needed another act, but had no money to pay for one. A local reporter thought of a young couple who had a puppet show, of all things, on a Christian broadcasting channel in their town. He asked the couple if they could do a live performance to open the night, and they agreed. They would do it for free.

Jim and Tammy Bakker put on a great show, and the event at least didn't lose money. Jim and Tammy were so strapped for cash, they asked for bridge toll and gas money to get home.

The point is, Jim and Tammy Bakker were once very, very nice people. However, they had a dark side they never dealt with. Looking back, as their popularity grew, and the money and fame came rolling in, they probably started to believe their own press. Those dark, secret, thoughts and urges were probably welling up and gaining strength, all the while their pristine image kept growing.

I'm not sure what that first, solid step, down the road to destruction was. Maybe something as simple as a kiss, or a late night dinner that ended up in a hotel room, but when that ball started rolling, Jim Bakker could not stop it. As those two sides battled inside for control, it must have been torture. The persona of a wholesome man of God, pitted against a sexual libertine looking for more and greater pleasure.

I would imagine Bakker was actually relived, in some small way, when it all came crashing down. At least he didn't have to pretend any longer. He finally had to confront his dark side. It was laid wide open for the world to see.

So what is the antidote to catastrophe? How do you keep that dark side from grabbing the keys and taking your life for a joy ride of destruction? I wish I knew for certain.

One thing I am sure of: The ability to stave off destruction, of your own making, is in direct proportion to the effort you put into understanding, and dealing with, your dark side. It isn't very pleasant, seeing yourself at your worst. That's why you haven't dealt with it.  Like Carl Jung said, "That which you most need, will be found where you least want to look".

An example of this is the lens we view our lives through. Peterson says that most people read history from the perspective of the victim. You imagine you are the Jew being rounded up in the Warsaw ghetto. You are the Gypsy being stuffed into a train car, on your way to the death camps. No one wants to read that story from the perspective of the oppressor. However, throughout history, that is the most likely scenario.

If you were a man born in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century, you were almost certainly going to be fighting for Adolph Hitler. No way, you say. I would never do that! Sorry to break it to you, but you probably would. There was an extremely small, active resistance to the Nazis within the German population, especially during the late 1930 and early 1940s. The odds of you being in it are one in a thousand.

In the beginning of the war, they needed factory workers and farmers, so maybe half of the men would be able to stay out of the army. By 1944 and 45, if you were a 16-50 year old German man, and were able to hold a rifle, you were going to be fighting in the Wehrmacht. You would have been the one poking the Jews with bayonets to get them in the rail cars. And the crappy part is, so would I.

We want to think we would be have the moral courage to stand up to this kind of evil, but that's not how most people are wired. More than likely, we would do what everyone else is doing. We would follow orders. How many of us are ready to see our family taken out and hung in the town square for our treason? Not many.

When we start to imagine ourselves as capable of doing something horrific like this, we can start to understand that anyone, and everyone are capable of doing these things. You, me, your spouse, your parents, your children, the Pastor at your church, the famous actor who has given millions to charity, your musical heroes, every single human being has this capability within them.

Some people understand this all too well. They have seen it in flashes or short bursts. The worst parts of them come out, sometimes by surprise. Be it cruelty, fury, sexual depravity, lying, deviousness, name your dark side, they see it, and they recognize it for what it is. Even if they never act on these dark feelings, they know they are in there, somewhere inside, just under the facade we show the world. 

We as a society, we don't want to talk about this dark side inside us. Especially, to our children. When our kids have these thoughts, as they all will, they think they are somehow broken. They think they are the only ones. This is a very bad thing. Talk to your kids about this, please.

As adults, we love to point to "those people" as the folks with dark sides. Criminals, and deviants of all sorts, it's those kinds of people, not us.  Yeah, not so much. We do a great disservice when we pretend we ourselves don't have these thoughts and urges. .

Look, some of you are better at tamping down these thoughts that others. So much so, that they only pop up once in a great while. When they do, you grab the RoundUp and spray those bad weeds as soon as you see them. Others, myself included, we will let them grow in the back yard of our mind until they take over. After some time, you have to hack your way through them just walk around. This is not good. Once they take over that back yard, it's not too long before they make their way around house to the front yard. 

One of my buddies, who worked with me on campus, had a great analogy. We were working in the summer, and some of the young ladies on campus wear very revealing outfits. We would be on some job site, and some woman would walk by with just enough clothes on not to be arrested. Look, I'm a married man, but it's hard not to notice. We would catch each other looking.

He would always say. "I'm a man, I'm going to notice those kinds of things. But those thoughts are like a bird. If it flies over your head, and keeps going, you're good. If it stops, and stays there, and builds a nest, brother, you're in trouble."

That's good advice. 

So, maybe you are a pillar of the community. Let's suppose you are in a leadership position in your company, your government, your church, or just within a group of friends. Maybe you always do the right thing. Maybe you have a spotless reputation. Okay, that's great, or is it? Is it a lie?

Are you hiding an affair? Embezzling funds? Abusing your spouse at home?  Or maybe you're  struggling with a terrible thought life, or an addiction to porn, or booze, or pills?

You can do something about it. You should do something about it.

The farther the divide between those two sides, between your public and private life, the worse the disaster is going to be.

If you need to resign from some position, or organization, so you can get some help, do it. If you need to come clean to your spouse, or your boss, or your coworker, do it.

If you just keep ignoring that dark side, one day you will be sitting in a court room discussing bail, or signing divorce papers, or in the ER on a ventilator. Maybe one day you will wake up with your picture on the front page of your local newspaper, and wonder how it ever got this far? Hopefully, your fall won't make nation news.

This first step is an honest, 360 degree assessment of the distance between your public persona, and your inner self. Look in the darkest corner, and root it out. It won't be easy. Even if no one ever knows how hard it was for you to change, it will be well worth it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How we see the rest of the world.

A while back I read a piece by David Wong that hit the nail on the head; at least for me. This is not a rehash of the 2016 election, it's a piece on how each side in this divided nation sees the other. The truths the author communicates are so apparent to me, and yet are unrecognizable to many on the other side of the divide.

"Nothing that happens outside the city matters!" they say at their cocktail parties, blissfully unaware of where their food is grown. Hey, remember when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Kind of weird that a big hurricane hundreds of miles across managed to snipe one specific city and avoid everything else. To watch the news (or the multiple movies and TV shows about it), you'd barely hear about how the storm utterly steamrolled rural Mississippi, killing 238 people and doing an astounding $125 billion in damage.
But who cares about those people, right? What's newsworthy about a bunch of toothless hillbillies crying over a flattened trailer? New Orleans is culturally important. It matters. To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. "Are you assholes listening now?" 

I empathize with the author in many ways.

I was raised in the vast ocean of red America; on a cattle ranch in rural, Northern California. You know, the other California. The one without the sandy beaches and Facebook millionaires. In fact, the three room school I attended from first to eighth grade had just over 50 students K-8th. My graduating class was 8.

I have drawn a paycheck as a working cowboy. I can still rope, ride, and work cattle. I can weld, operated heavy equipment of all kinds, and in a pinch, I could build you a very basic house.

These days however, I work on a university campus in the tech field. Davis is a dark blue island in that red ocean of inland California. Along with all the skills, and experiences I gained on the ranch, I can also fusion-splice fiber optic cable smaller than the size of a human hair.

I am at home in the smallest cafe or backwoods bar in the middle of nowhere, talking to a diesel mechanic, school teacher, or oil field worker. I am also perfectly comfortable in a 26th floor office in San Francisco talking to a CEO about a million dollar project management proposal. I'm also cool with hanging out in the LBGT center on campus talking to someone with half their hair shaved off and the other side colored blue and pink.

If you are cool to me, I'll be cool to you. And even if you're not cool to me, I'll probably give you the benefit of the doubt, you might just be having a really crappy day.

Other than my views on the Second Amendment, I was quite liberal when I was a young man.

I'm not sure how, given my background and rural upbringing, I developed my outlook on those around me. Maybe I was just excited to meet anyone new. After all, my nearest friend lived from grade school lived miles away.

To me, people are just people. I take each individual as they come along. Well, at least I try to have that outlook. Sometimes, I fall into the trap of grouping people into "them" categories, but I try hard not to.

My point is, I know both sides in this divided nation. They are all just people. Some I agree with politically, some I do not. Some are racists, some are prejudiced, some are hopelessly ignorant of the way the world works, and some are so stuck in their "us" vs "them" mentality, it's hard to have an honest conversation with them.

Now, I know those of you on the left will read that last part and be thinking, "Ahah! I knew it. You just admitted those rural hillbillies are bunch of bigoted homophobes." While you folks on the right will read that and think, "Ahah, I knew it. You just admitted those hipster, social justice morons are close minded and prejudiced."

Guess what? You are both right, and both wrong.

Here is what is happening, at least the way I see it.

We use the most extreme examples of behavior to make the case, both for our side, and against the other side. We get stuck in our own cocoons of media and friends, where we become isolated from hearing what is happening in the rest of the world. Just look at your Facebook feed.

Before the election, the Super Trumpers would post click-bait articles labeled "Hillary get destroyed by a veteran" or Hillary fans would post "Trump supporter gets owned by The Daily Show".  It was, and still is, the primary focus of the media. Give them what they want.

We tend to avoid news that is contrary to our views. We 'Hide' people who post stories on Facebook we disagree with, or we just 'Unfriend' them. We dismiss articles or essays if we disagree with the headline without ever reading the piece.

The simple fact is, we don't want our opinions challenged, let alone changed. We don't want to admit that we might be wrong. Again, let's not be thinking, yeah, you guys over on the other side just don't get it, I'm talking to you too. I must include myself in this as well.

If I read a piece written by a person on the far left, I immediately start picking apart their premise, their facts, and their points. I am not reading the piece to understand their point of view, I am reading it with the idea of defending my own point of view. That is a mistake.

I should be trying to understand where they are coming from. Do they have a point I never considered?  It doesn't mean they are right, maybe they're full of beans. I just want to know how they came to their opinion. Look, if we don't start to understand the other side, even when they are wrong, maybe especially when they are wrong, we are not going to talk about important things. Again, this is a huge mistake.

The easiest way for people to engage with those they disagree with is in a binary, I'm right - You're wrong attitude. It protects us from what we fear the most: Being wrong. That is our blind spot. It is where our reactive brain jumps in, and slams the door on any well thought-out opposition to our way of thinking.

When we look at every major news story from 'our side' without trying to find out what the truth is, that's when we stop thinking and just go into that Good/Bad, Right/Wrong mode. This is the mode most of the noisy people on your Facebook feed are stuck in.

We will  keep reading our side's slant on the coverage and look for stories that point to how 'right' we are. This is called confirmation bias. It is an easy trap to fall into, but it is dangerous if you are unaware it is happening to you.

As a nation, if we keep using the most extreme examples to define the other side, we will not see the flaws in our side, and that is even worse. At least we hold a little influence over 'our side'. They should, in theory, listen to the people who vote for them, give them money, and support their political goals. Well, this is how it should work.

Why do we point to the extremes? Extremes are sexy. Extremes are attention getting. They are what leads every newscast, every newspaper headline, and what drives most of our political discourse. Very seldom do I ever get into discussions about what is going to happen when our historically low interest rates go back up. No one seems to know, or care, the amount of interest we pay each year on the 21 trillion dollars of debt will soon be more than we spend on the entire defense budget.

No, what I get when I talk politics is, Trump is a racist. or everyone who supported Hillary is a communist. Trump Good, or Orange Man Bad. That is our world today.

This why conservatives look at a young, socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and think, "How stupid are the people who voted for her?" They can't understand the reason she was elected. They don't understand the district she represents. The NY 14th Congressional District is the Bronx and Queens. It  has a 29% Democrat advantage in party registration. It is deep blue. Think of it as rural Wyoming in reverse.

The people in that district are city people. They use government transportation everyday. Chances are someone in their house or a family member works for the City, State or Federal government. Someone in their family is probably signed up for some sort of subsidy or assistance program. They look at the government as a part of their lives. They want it do more for them, and make things better for them individually.

You are not going to win the democratic primary in that district by talking about balancing the budget or working with Donald Trump to get legislation passed that might help your constituents. You are going to win by going as far to the left as you can without calling for outright communism. AOC is giving the people what they want, or at least what they think they want.

The same thing happens on the other side. When progressives look at Trump all they see is an angry, racist, bigot who lies all the time, and wants to turn back the clock to the 1950s. They see all his supporters as outright racists, or at least closet racists. They cannot fathom any reason at all why anyone with a brain could ever vote that man.

Rural and suburban America sees Donald Trump a little differently.  They are not government-centric voters. Their only interaction with the government is when they pay taxes, go to the DMV or have to wade through the mountains of paperwork to get a building permit for that new redwood deck in the backyard. These people look at government as a necessary evil. Something to be avoided.

This is 180 degrees from a working, single mom whose child gets a free taxpayer provided lunch at school, lives in a subsidized apartment, gets Home Energy Assistance Program; Utility Bill Assistance through a government subsidy, and is enrolled in a few different types of public assistance like SNAP. Now, I do not mean that most people in that district live that way, but chances are, you know someone or have a family member in a similar situation.

It all comes down to the lens you see government through.

When Trump does something, anything, both groups look at the event through their respective lenses.
As Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons likes to say, they are watching the same movie on two different screens.

Lets say Trump signs an executive order rolling back an Obama era order about the Clean Water Act definitions. The progressives go nuts. To them, this just proves that Trump doesn't care about people, and doesn't mind if the water is poisoned, as long as his big-business friends can make more profit. Also, Putin must have ordered him to this anyway.

To the Trump supporters, big government is bad, and any Obama regulation is probably terrible anyway. If you live in the country or work around farmers, you know how far the EPA was stepping over the line. To them, Trump is just making it easier to grow the economy and make more jobs for America. Same movie, two different screens.

Look, I don't have any answers to this predicament. Well, maybe just one. As much as you will hate it, you need to start calling fouls on your team.

When the president does, or tweets, something that is stupid, or it's an outright lie, call him on it.  Mr. President, that kind of tweet, or that decision is not helping your cause, which is my cause. I wish you would stop it. You will find that when you call balls and strikes on both sides, you will earn a bit of respect from your progressive friends. Just a tiny bit, but it's a start.

What is even better is you can now go up to your progressive friend when Nancy Pelosi does or says something stupid, and ask them if they think what she said is okay. "Do you really want stand behind her statement, or do you wish she had not said it?" You can ease into it, "I know you still like her, but that is really a dumb thing say right?" Don't beat them over the head with it, but just get them thinking that 'their side' is not 100% right all the time.

Then go back to holding your side accountable.

We all want to 'win' the argument. Sometimes we want to win all all costs.

We start calling people terrible names, personally berating friends, and if you're mad enough, just being a straight up asshole. That isn't winning anyone to your side. In fact, that just confirms to them what kind of person makes up the other side.

It's easy to play the 'Whatabout' game with people. What about when Obama did this? What about when Bush did that? It rarely changes anyone's opinion.

Let's start a dialogue with people. Let's try to imagine how they think. Why do they believe what they believe? Then let's ask them.

There is a catch. You will have to do a lot more reading and watch a lot less cable news. 

Hey, it's a start.