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. 


Monday, March 25, 2019

You'll live through it. I did.

Look, to be fair, I remember in 98' driving back home from a job down in Livingston and listening to the Starr Report come out on KFBK. All the juicy details of the Lewinski affair, the cigars, the lying under oath, White Water, The Rose Law Firm records, etc, and thought, there is no way Bill Clinton is going to remain president. It can't happen. Well, I was wrong.

The big difference between now and then, the media was on Clinton's side. He's a democrat, and so are they. All the stories were, Oh, c'mon, it's just lying about sex, and some super shady real estate deals in Arkansas, and super shady Cattle Futures trading with Hillary, no big deal, let's move on. That's where came from, in case you forgot.

This time, it was different. The media, including half of the conservative media, hate Donald Trump. They don't just dislike him, they hate him with the intensity of a thousand burning suns.

Hillary was supposed to win. Hands down, slam dunk. There was no way, just no way, Trump was going to be President.

On election night, millions of people were stunned. None worse than media. The Russian collusion theory was floated out there by the democrats almost immediately.

Hey, it was a close election. 70,000 votes in three states swung the election to Trump. It must have been the Russians they thought. I mean, nobody could have voted for Trump on purpose right?

So, the media/democrats went on this crusade to gets the goods on Trump, and his puppet master Vladimir Putin. They were going to get Hillary in that Oval Office at all costs. This would not stand.

I'm sure Donald Trump has broken some campaign finance laws. It's just the way things are done they days, Even President Obama was fined $400K for his violations. And you don't get to be a billionaire real estate tycoon without some creative interpretations of tax laws, zoning laws, and greasing some palms along the way. The man is also a reprobate when it comes to his personal life. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.

All that said, with the lowest unemployment on record, 3.1 GDP growth, trade deals being renegotiated in our favor, and ISIS crushed, the world and the nation are humming along right now. Much to the chagrin of the media/democrats. The Mueller Report was the key to impeaching Trump and getting a democrat in the White House in 2020. Heck, the House still might impeach Trump. There's a huge power struggle going on inside the democratic party right now.

So, if you're a democrat and you just can't believe Trump is still going to be your president, take a deep breath. It's going to be okay. I lived through it, so will you.

I understand why you're so upset. You listened to the media/democrats for two years talk about Russian Collusion and now, Mueller found zero.

On the bright side, never underestimate the destructive power of Trump's ego. With this exoneration, he might think he's really above the law now, and start doing some over the top illegal stuff and get caught. I'm think there's a 1/5 chance of that. However, if you guys double down on this, and impeach Trump, say hello to four more years of your worst nightmare.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

10 rules for twentysomethings.

I just came back from a college graduation party for a young lady I've known since she hit the ground. Jaelyn earned her Bachelors Degree from Chico State and we are all very proud of her. Her party was held at the Western Yolo VFW Post in Esparto. 100 plus people from the Capay Valley and her friends from school.

It was raining outside, so inside the hall was crowded, noisy, babies crying, kids running around, Bill's dog Precious scooping up anything that hit the floor, it was kind of crazy. But for us, basically it was perfect.

Her mom asked if I would say a little something before we ate, and she wanted it to be focused mainly on all the young people gathered there. I wasn't sure what to say. Heck my own kids barely listen to me, but I thought I would give it a try.

A few of these I borrowed from my favorite book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson, but most are my own. Everyone actually quieted down, and so I gave them about two and half minutes worth. I hope they found at least one that resonated with them.

10 rules for twenty somethings:

1. You’re young, which means your body works great right now, but you don’t know that much. You are going to wrong. A lot. That’s okay. It will teach you to rethink what you ‘know to be true’ and ask, “How could I be wrong?” This question will save you a lot of time, toil, money and looking foolish.

2. Your parents are not stupid. They may not know how to Snapchat, but they’ve been through some really tough times and made plenty of bad decisions. You should listen to what they have to say. It may save you some heartache down the road.

3. You don’t have to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life right now. But you have to move forward, towards a goal. Sitting idle for a week, can easily turn into a month, then a year, then a decade. Right now, you may not have money, but you do have an even more valuable asset: Time. Spend it wisely.

4. Try something you really think you will like. Go after it 100% for two years. If you fall face first, you will have learned a valuable lesson. Failure isn’t permanent, in fact it’s necessary to learn and grow. If you fail at something, you’re still young. Reassess and go after something else at 100% for two years. If you fail. You’re still young.

 5. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. A penguin cannot be a giraffe, so be the best penguin you can possibly be.

6. Make friends with people who want the best for you. Toxic people will keep you in one spot like an anchor.

7. Don’t chase happiness. Happiness is a fine thing. So is love, success, pleasure, money and even fame. But they will not sustain you when the crisis of your life hit. And believe me, crisis are just waiting in line to smack you when you least expect it.

8. People are a bag of snakes. All people, including you. Know this, and try to understand the darker side within yourself so you can control it, or it will control you.

9. Reality smashes everything that isn’t true. Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie.

10. Take God seriously. Even if you don’t believe a word in the Bible. Those beliefs that built the last 6,000 years of western civilization should not be dismissed out of hand. The ideals of individual human rights, taking care of the orphan, the widow, and the poor, being held accountable to someone outside of yourself, that the rules apply to both peasants and kings alike, that you should tell the truth even if it cost you everything. All these ideas spring from belief that there is something larger than ourselves out there. Live like you believe in God, even if you’re not sure.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A sea change in helping people. Including yourself.

If you are on Facebook, and who isn't these days, you will see many inspirational quotes. Some are funny, some are insightful, some are crass, and some are quite frankly, just dumb. Many of these quotes are typical of the "you're perfect just as you are" type of self-help that has become popular over the past few decades. 

Here's the problem with that type of help. It's a lie. 

It makes you feel good to tell someone they are perfect just as they are, but only for a short time. It makes the recipient feel good, but only for a short time. Even as you say it, and even as they hear it, both your brains know it isn't true. 

Trying to live your life based on something you know isn't true will eventually, and perhaps quickly, put you on a collision course with reality. Reality is a cruel master. It does care about your feelings, your good intentions, your wretched past, or your wonderful plans for the future. Reality smashes all things that are not true. 

I understand the motivation behind the  "you're fine just as you are" type of help. It's based on compassion, and compassion is a good thing, up to a certain point. After that, compassion can turn into enabling. Enabling bad or destructive behavior,  is never a good thing. 

So, what is the best advice you can give someone struggling with life in general, or with a specific issue? Tell them the truth. At least the truth the way you see it from your perspective. 

This advice is harder on both parties in the short term, but it leads to clarity. Seeing the situation clearly, free of distortion, is much better that camouflaging the problem with kind words. 

It is going to be messy, know that going in. You will hurt their feelings, but maybe their feeling need to be hurt. They will become defensive, and start listing the top-ten reasons why this situation is not their fault. Maybe you just unearthed the true problem. Maybe their view of the world is the real problem. Maybe it's a lie.

We should be able to look at ourselves and give this same critique. What are we doing emotionally? How are our relationships? How is our health? What is our plan for the future? What truth are your denying?

If we have no real answers for these questions, we are not living a life based in truth. We might skate by for a while, a month, a year, even a decade, with serious, complex problems in our lives. Given a choice, we will choose not to see, let alone deal with these problems in a realistic manner. Again; Reality smashes all things that are not true. It's just a matter of time. 

When that friend comes to you, with their latest breakup story, and how they will never find true love, and there are no good men/women left in the world, you will have a choice. I would start the conversation just like that. "Do you want me to tell you again  there is nothing wrong with you, and that guy/girl is stupid for not seeing how wonderful you are, or do want me to tell you the truth or as close to the truth as I can see it?" 

This may take them aback. They may be counting on you to prop them up, to tell them everything will be alright if they just continue to believe in themselves. They may just be searching for that dopamine release that comes from hearing comforting words, even if those words are lies. 

The truth is, they are not perfect, and they never will be. Neither are you. No amount of success, money, love, safety, or fitness will make us perfect. We are all flawed. Some of us are more screwed up than others, but baring a severe mental health diagnosis, we are all capable of becoming better versions of ourselves. Even if just a tiny bit better, if we try to see the truth.

To borrow from my favorite book at the moment, Dr. Jordan B Peterson's 12 Rules for Life; and antidote to chaos.    Rule #4 Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.  

Check out more of his work. He has thousands of hours of his University of Toronto lectures on YouTube, along with many interviews. 

One of the themes he comes back to time and again, is answering this question: How do you make you life better?  By not making it worse! And brother, we are experts at doing just that. 

"Start by stop doing something, anything, that you know to be wrong."  

Okay back to people with problems, which is all of us by the way. I I used to tell people going through terrible situations, some of their own making, some not, that everything would be okay. I'm sure they felt better right then and there, but eventually they must go back to the real world and the problem is waiting for them.  

Many times, things would not be okay, or at least not okay in the way they wanted. In the end, there is only reality, only truth.

In the last few years, I try to tell them the truth, no matter how it makes them feel at the time. If they need to break down and cry, I will give them a shoulder and let them know I'm there for them without judgement. If they ask my opinion, if they want the truth, it is my duty to tell them the truth. 

I have told people going through a bad break up, "This is going to hurt. You will get through this in time, and the pain will subside in a while, but it is okay to feel heartbroken right now." If they are in the middle of a job loss, or the loss of a loved one, they need to know that they are at a turning point. Things will never be the same. Things will be different from here on, and it's up to them to respond in the best way that works with their new reality. 

If they really screwed up their lives, or the life of someone they love, they need to know that. The reason you're in this spot is you created this world, this hell you now live inside.  You need to figure out how you got here so you don't repeat the same actions, or make the same decisions that created this hell. 

This advice may seem cold-hearted. It may seem like your just throwing more weight onto the shoulders of someone drowning. Just remember what I said about reality. 

Kind words and self esteem will not cure the disease you were just diagnosed with. Kind words won't keep your home from being foreclosed on if you just pretend the bank notices are just going to go away. Getting your soul crushed, and then choosing the same type of boyfriend/girlfriend who is assured to repeat this process is pure poison. In short, you need to recognize the truth and act on it. Sometimes you need help. 

Someone in your life needs to have the courage to tell you the truth. You also need that same courage to look upon your own through that lens. Can your life stand up to reality? What problems are you sweeping under the rug? What are things you know to be wrong that you continue to do? 

Are you getting closer to the truth, closer to dealing with the world the way it truly is, or are you just getting better at hiding from it? If you are seeking the truth, if you are trying to become just a little bit better version of you each and every day, that is enough. Press on. 

To close I will leave you with this. At the beginning of the day ask yourself this question. What am I going to do to make myself a better version of me? Then do it. That way at the end of the day, you can answer this question without regret. Am I one day closer to becoming a better person, or am I just one day older?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

How to win going forward. Which side will learn first?

(I originally wrote this as a draft shortly after the 2016 election. I kept coming back to it, but never really finished it. I have updated the piece after the midterms.)

There's something people, especially pundits, are not talking about in the deconstruction of the 2016 presidential and now the 2018 midterm elections;

Abortion and guns.

Both have been hot button issues for a long time and will continue to be effective wedges for both sides in the foreseeable future.

When you ask people on the left what they stand for, what is most important to them, you will get a pretty predictable laundry list of issues; Free healthcare for everyone, free college, free housing, a fifteen dollar minimum wage, gender neutral bathrooms etc. Talking with some of my more liberal friends, especially women, of all the feel-good, hopey-changey things that makes the progressive left more appealing to them, it comes down to one issue. For many of them, that issue is Abortion.

Abortion is a core issue for women; on both sides. Yes, there are women on both sides of this divisive issue. Not that you would ever know that by listening to the news.

For those who see abortion as purely the matter of a woman's personal choice, there are others who look on abortion as the killing of a human life. Both sides are entrenched in their beliefs.  The pro-choice side can point to Roe v Wade and say it's the law of the land, but that doesn't change the fact that abortion, especially after the seventh or eighth week, stops a beating heart.

For many women who identify as feminist, the idea of abortion is very close to a religion for them. Those who are ardently pro-choice see any threat, any restriction on abortion, as heresy. Abortion on demand, at any time, up to and including the moment before the birth of the baby, is a woman's right, and she has the only say.

Now, some women I talk to say they are open to at least some restrictions on late term abortions. Unless there is a documented, medical reason that threatens the physical health of the woman, they think third-trimester, or late-term abortion, is wrong. However, they are leery of the slippery slope of restrictions that will put more and more limits on that choice, until abortion is only legal under a very limited set of circumstances.

I think this 'legal until the second or third trimester' stance is actually the general view of most women, and men for that matter. They know in their hearts that late term abortion, especially partial-birth abortion, is wrong. It's wrong when it's done for sheer convenience, or because the woman changes her mind in the last weeks or days of her pregnancy.

Bottom line; they think abortion should be safe, legal and available, but they are open to some restrictions on late term or partial-birth abortions as long as the restrictions stop there.

Anyway, that is my take on what I have heard. It's a very complicated issue.

If I had to guess, I would say abortion is probably the one issue that can influence the 15-20% of women who are usually non-political. They don't follow politics, in fact they probably hate politics, but they know they want to keep abortion legal. If they can be made to feel that right is under attack, they will show up at the polls. This is where Planned Parenthood, and the multi-million dollar abortion interest groups, come into the equation.

We saw this play out in the Kavanaugh hearings. Things got nasty because the left saw Kavanaugh as a direct threat to abortion-on-demand laws. Everything else, including the Christine Blasey Ford testimony was just theater. I hate to put it that way, but it's the truth. That confirmation vote was about abortion.

Now 15-20% of women make up a sizable group of voters. A group that size would swing an election from a toss-up to a landslide if you could motivate them to your side. If you could persuade them into voting for your candidate, or just get them to sit out the election, you have changed the race.

Could Republicans learn to soften their message on abortion? Could they start talking to those who would be willing to listen? It's a possibility.

For Democrats, this is a weakness. For Republicans, it is an opportunity.

Here is basically the flip side of that coin: Guns.

As a life Member of the NRA, a certified firearms instructor, and someone who follows every court case involving the second amendment, I am out of the mainstream. I understand that.

So to say that second amendment issues are important to me is an understatement. However, I know I am an outlier. Most gun owners just want to keep their guns, be able to keep this right for their children, and make sure criminals can't easily get their hands on them.

As in the abortion debate, there are people who live and breathe this issue, and others who are just interested only when they think it will affect them personally.

They really don't understand anything about assault rifles, other than they are scary looking and seem to shoot a billion bullets a minute, thanks to Hollywood and the media. Many of these soft second amendment supporters are on the peripheral of the fight. They can be moved into action by the NRA telling them 'the other side' is coming for your guns.  They are convinced that when Democrats say "common sense gun laws" they think it's double speak for gun banning and outright confiscation in the future. I would also say that this group is about 15-20% of the electorate.

Could the Democrats start talking about guns in way that eases the fears of this 15-20% Could they start talking to those who would be willing to listen?  It's a possibility.

To Republicans this is threat, to Democrats this is an opportunity.

So here are a few possibilities as I see it; whoever learns to assuage the concerns of either of these two groups will win at the ballot box for the next generation. Going further to right if you're a Republican, and further to the left if you're a Democrat is going to leave the middle wide open.

This is both exciting and frightening, on both sides.

What if republicans went out to speak with single women, with whom abortion resonates so deeply, and said this;

"We need your help. Can we speak to you about the best way to bring down the number of abortions in this nation? Can we talk to you about your fears, your concerns about keeping abortion legal, and work out a plan where we try to make abortion a rare, but legally protected choice in America?

I know we are not going persuade all of you. I want to speak with those of you who want to make sure your daughters will continue to have this right going forward, but who also see partial-birth abortion as a terrible thing. Something that must be stopped unless there is a very real threat to life of the mother.

Can we stop the fear mongering around this issue? Can we have an honest debate about partial-birth and third trimester abortions?"

Sincerely, (Republican turning a blue state red)

I think this is an argument that would swing many of those in that 15-20% of the electorate who vote around the abortion issue. Even if the republicans could get 5% to switch sides,  that would be a game changer. If they could learn to speak to those women who like the idea of school choice, pro-economic, pro-growth policies, but let them know the Republicans are not the town council from Footloose looking to establish their own moral code on America, they would win big. They could even win bigly.

Conversely, what if Democrats said to gun owners, especially the fastest growing segment, women gun owners, and said this:

 "We are not going to take your handguns away. We don't want to keep you from lawfully owning a firearm. If you pass the background check, and get the proper training, carrying a handgun for self defense is something we can support. We don't want the Wild West, but we acknowledge your right to self defense. We understand that the world is a dangerous place. We just want to make sure criminals don't use firearm to hurt others.

We want a nationwide, instant background check before you can pickup your firearm. We want to make sure the thousands of firearms laws on the books right now are enforced. We want to try to find a way to ensure people bent on the slaughter of innocent lives can't get their hand on the means to do so. We want to ban Assault Rifles and outlaw Hi-Capacity magazines. No civilian needs an AR-15.

I know we are not going persuade everyone. I also want to reaffirm, that we as Democrats, acknowledge your right to keep and bear arms. If you safely keep a gun in your house for protection, we want you to know we respect that. In the end, we need your help to try to make harder for criminals to hurt people with guns."

Sincerely, (Democrat turning a red state blue.)

Now, I can give you chapter and verse on why instant background checks won't bring down the homicide rate in America, but that is a discussion for another day. It's the criminals doing criminal things, not inanimate objects that are the problem here. Where I live in California, we have an Assault Weapons Ban, Standard Capacity (Hi-Cap) magazine bans, Universal background checks, 10 day waiting periods, purchasing licenses, ammunition restrictions and every other feel-good gun control legislation known to man. We still have mass shootings and gun crime because (Surprise!) criminals don't follow laws. It's why they are criminals.

The Democrats will surely demand an "Assault Rifle ban" even if this would only be symbolic. There are around one and a half million AR-15 style rifles in America. The Democrats are not going to knock on a million doors and confiscate them, that is how you start a second civil war. This is where they should tread lightly.

Just by acknowledging the right of legal US citizens to own a semi-automatic handgun, you diffuse the anxiety of a large portion of gun owners who are not 'gun nuts' but who want to protect their families with a 9mm Glock. Especially single mothers. Change those minds, and you change elections.

Do you think these two messages would resonate with voters, especially swing voters? I certainly do.

Here is the rub. The entrenched sides on these issues will point to a long history of republicans trying to outlaw all abortions, and democrats trying to outlaw all types of firearms.

The reality is neither of these cases will be made a central focus in the next election cycle.

Both sides are still largely funded at local, state, and federal levels by special interest groups. Your local congress member is subject to a big primary fight if they don't toe the line when it comes to these issues.

If you live in a dark red state, or congressional district, you will need that A rating from the NRA or National Shooting Sports Association to keep your seat.

If you live a dark blue state, or district, you will need that A rating from Planned Parenthood or NARAL to keep your seat.

I don't think the balance of power is going to shift anytime soon because of the deep polarization in the American electorate. How many pro-choice republicans, other than our current president, can you name? How many pro-second amendment democrats can you name? With the House in Democrats hands, and with the Republicans pickup a solid majority in the Senate, it is going to be even harder for either side to reach across.

Whoever figures this out first will dominate for a generation.