Category Archives: 2014

Problems with the truth

And Nothing But The Truth  (From February 2015)

Telling the truth, it is said, is the best approach, because if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what it is you said.  I would like to say that I am always 100% truthful, but that in itself would be a lie.  It is human nature to use fabrications to avoid responsibility for things, or to make ourselves seem more interesting than we are.

NBC News Anchor Brian Williams has said some things in the past that don’t seem to have been entirely true.  His stories were embellished in some cases and fabricated in others.  He isn’t the first public person to do so, and he’s surely not the last.

I have a friend who, while serving in Viet Nam at a post well out of harm’s way, heard gunfire when afternoon, and saw a reporter and cameraman at the edge of a path, with soldiers firing into the grass at nothing.  That reporter, as the story goes, was Dan Rather.

Secretary Clinton was taken to task about a helicopter landing story she remembered incorrectly.  And, Al Gore invented the Internet.  So, I guess there is a storyteller in all of us waiting to get out.

The problem with news people and elected officials making things up is that we have an informal contract with them that says they will be honest with us and that we will be able to trust what they say.

Did Brian Williams rescue a puppy?  I don’t care.  Were his reports from Katrina accurate, or contrived?  Well, I guess I do care about that.  Making news isn’t part of a reporter’s job.  Making themselves look heroic is one step away from painting someone else to be uncaring.

When all is said and done, if we strip down to who we are as people, without jobs or homes or status, our honesty, or lack of it, is who we are.

I think there is a lot of lying going on in Washington and elsewhere these days.  A consultant on healthcare has told numerous audiences that they lied about the Affordable Care Act because if they had told the truth it wouldn’t have been approved.  That’s maybe a worse like than Brian Williams told, except I’m not sure Brian reported on those statements, which would be covering up someone else’s lie.

Brian Williams seems like a nice guy.  It seems like he wanted to be seen as an even nicer, braver, more compassionate guy, so perhaps he told some stories.  Is that really such a big deal?

Sadly, it probably isn’t, because so many people lie so freely and without shame that a person telling the truth must immediately be doubted, or prove that his truth is genuine.

To paraphrase the statement our mothers all said to us, if you can’t say something truthful, it’s best not to say anything at all.

Wouldn’t a quieter world be nice?

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Thanksgiving

(From the week before Thanksgiving)

I hear we’re having Thanksgiving next week. That’s nice. One day to be thankful for a few minutes between football and gluttony… and then football again.

I’m being overly cynical. I think a lot of people are thankful every day, realizing what a gift life is, and for those with families and homes and jobs… well, there is very much for which to give thanks.

A lot of the time the thanks we feel is hiding back in our minds. When we see someone who is struggling, or see an article about many of the world hotspots where innocent people fear for their lives – or lose their lives, or their families.

We don’t even need to look that far. A neighbor having troubles reminds us at some level that our situation is much better, and that generates a vague sense of gratitude. We would never wish trouble on them, and in fact, sometimes we feel like we should take the trouble from them out of fairness.

I think it’s important to say out loud to someone how grateful we are with what we have in life. Some people do that in prayer, while others express their thanks sincerely. I think it’s important that we speak about our good fortune to our family members so they too can think about how fortunate they are. It’s too easy to focus on the things that are far from perfect, and complain about them. Easy and reasonable, really.

But to save up many thanks for much good fortune is a hedge against bad things that happen, because they remind us that despite a current bad time, there has been much to be thankful for, and probably will be again.

Thanksgiving Day around our country probably has many expressions of gratitude in many homes. Thousands of people help the homeless and home bound on that day as a means of giving thanks in a tangible way.

The holiday season is very commercialized, but at the same time it provides us with sufficient opportunities to contemplate, give thanks, and consider what we might better do to show that thanks on behalf of people who are less fortunate.

One simple thought: at your Thanksgiving gathering pass a Pilgrim’s hat and take up a cash collection for the food pantry. Even a few dollars from dozens of families would make a difference.

Or, just enjoy your family, and make good memories for which everyone will be greatly grateful years from now.

 

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The Morning Discussion Group

The morning discussion group is an interesting phenomenon. It happens in bakeries and McDonald’s, and cafes in small towns and big cities all over the country. Thousands of conversations take place at a leisurely pace each morning among people who have stories to tell and issues to discuss.

The participants are mostly retired folks, though some younger people sometimes participate when time allows. The discussion groups tend to be segregated by gender, with men gathering around a table, and women around another. Sometimes, the men and women are in two different stores all together.

Because I travel alone quite a bit, and sometimes have time to kill between appointments, I find myself within earshot of these morning discussion groups from time to time. Each group has its own dynamic. In some cases, it seems that everybody chimes in with their stories or their thoughts, while other times there seems to be a real leader of the group, mostly due to having the loudest voice. I see that most in the men’s groups.

In the women’s groups there seem to be a lot of talk about family, weather, health conditions, and home repairs. Men talk about family too, but in different ways. They talk about the weather in terms of how they’re prepared to deal with it. They talk about health as an annoyance, mostly.

At McDonald’s, the discussion groupers mostly order a “senior coffee.” That makes me think about the changing demographics of our country, and a potential hyperactive super hero: “Senor Coffee!”

Most morning discussion groups amble in after the busy breakfast time, which means management doesn’t much worry about the amount of space they take up. And they do order more than coffee sometimes.

I guess people who have always worked and had families have always had somebody to talk with each day. As the kids grow up and leave the house (and come back and leave again), and as spouses move on or pass on, it makes sense that a person would crave a social group. Bars provide a place for that kind of conversation too, but not everybody is comfortable with the tavern ambience.

I have to say that I’ve been sharing stories of when I was young since… well, since I was young. It’s important to find new groups of people if a person is going to keep telling the same stories. My family is very kind not to point out how many times they’ve heard each of my stories – or worse, jokes.

As my memory fades a bit from age, maybe a group of older people would be a perfect place to tell my stories. I won’t remember I’ve already told them, and perhaps they won’t remember that they’ve heard them already.

We all need to spend time with people who share life experiences with us, and not as in telling us their stories, but as in living lives at the same general time we did, with similar experiences and joys and sorrows, and looking forward together to see what’s next.

Oh, one more thing: the morning discussion groups all over the country actually solve all the world’s problems each morning, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to listen in, if you can.

 

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Hard Jobs

Mike Roe has become famous for his willingness to experience the dirtiest jobs in the world, and be filmed while doing them. Thank goodness I’ve never been in the places he’s been, but of course, the minute he leaves, the regular workers keep doing what they were doing, whether it’s cleaning out a sewer line or artificially inseminating a hippo.

Dirty jobs aren’t always the hardest jobs. In fact, some really hard jobs aren’t physically challenging at all. Here’s an example: every network has a sideline reporter for football games, and most of them are women. Their presence shows how open to diversity the NFL and NCAA are, I guess, but the poor women are put in an impossible position.

They interview coaches as they leave the field at halftime, while they are either angry or really wanting to get with their team. Typical question: “Coach, your team had three interceptions: what are you going to do to stop that in the second half?” The coach then answers, “Not through the ball to their guys.” He runs off to the locker room, and she looks dumb, which she isn’t.

Presidential press secretary is another tough job. All presidents have ups and downs, but during the downs, the press secretary is put in the position of explaining things that are inexplicable, putting a good spin on things that are horrible, and pretending to be “open,” while sharing almost no actual information. And sometimes, perish the thought, flat-out lying.

Also, imagine being the airline pilot who must tell the passengers the flight must be cancelled, due to circumstances he or she can’t control. And, of course, oncologists, with the ultimate bad news to deliver must grow weary.

And, I guess it’s hard to be a husband or a wife sometimes. Not at my house, of course, but, well, I’ve heard stories…

There are thousands of professions and relationships that can be very difficult from time to time. EMT’s, police, firefighters and military are right up there, but so are the kind souls who take care of severely disabled children and adults. And, spouses who take care of each other to the end.

Some people do difficult jobs to pay their dues on the way to a better job. Some people do tough jobs because they know that someone needs to. And some people do hard jobs out of love or a sense of duty.

It’s funny, but I would think being a hospice nurse would be a really difficult job, but from what I’ve seen, they sure don’t act like it.

Maybe the secret is that many of these hard jobs bring the doer the satisfaction of knowing they’re up to the task. Crawling under houses to catch snakes, or dealing with a classroom full of behavior problems masquerading as children of your neighbors – the difference being that you are allowed to grab the snake by the throat – are jobs most people couldn’t do.

Thanks to the people who do the hard jobs, and the dirty jobs, and the seemingly thankless jobs. I hope they know they’re appreciated.

 

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How Much Is Enough or Too Much?

Lately I’ve been thinking about our means of determining what people should be paid, and what things should cost. Mostly, the issue is how much top executives are paid, and how little, comparatively speaking, the lowest level employees make.

The disparity between the top earners and the bottom earners has never been greater, it is said, though I would think that the royalty and nobility of Europe would give today’s CEOs a run for their money, so to speak.

Many call for increasing the minimum wage and/or limiting how much the highly paid folks are allowed to make. Here’s my question about all that: who gets to decide how much is not enough, and how much is too much?

Adam Smith, the father of free enterprise economics, suggested that the invisible hand of supply and demand would answer such questions better than other mechanisms. People would be paid equal to their market value, and items would sell for what they were worth.

Our country largely follows Smith’s model, and we’ve done quite well. Our poor people, on average, have a better lifestyle than the typical citizens of many countries. And, our rich people are really, really rich. Some would say they are too rich. But, what’s a fair way to determine that?

For example, imagine someone making $15 million per year. If that person is a CEO, we say that it is way too much, even if she or he is responsible for managing an enormous enterprise with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in assets. If the person is a professional athlete, however, we are less likely to question that pay scale, because it’s clear that the athlete’s value is equal to what a team is willing to pay. But, isn’t that also the case for that CEO? His or her value is determined by what the company thinks it is, and by what other companies might offer to pay.

Likewise, the fellow who cleans the team’s locker room could be easily replaced, having no special athletic skills, so he makes a much, much lower wage.

Telling a company how much they have to pay for an employee goes against the logic of paying someone according to the value they bring to their job. And, for some workers, a higher minimum wage might make their cost to the company greater than their value, meaning they will be let go.

Someone made a point about minimum wage by saying we should raise it to $100 per hour, since that would be more fair than $10 per hour. That’s an example of showing that something is illogical by taking the idea to an extreme.

Limiting how much someone can make has more complex implications, but telling a company how much they can pay makes as much sense as telling them how much they must charge for their product, or even what product they should make.

Life is inherently unfair, and it is very laudable for us to help people move up economically, through extra education, internships, and incentives for hard work. But, I’m uncomfortable having the government tell me how much I can or must pay, or be paid. I might just try out for the Packers some day.

 

 

 

 

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Unfathomable

The things going on in the Middle East these days are of great concern to the people who live in that region – particularly people who are not of the Muslim faith, or the particular sect of Islam that the people with the most guns happen to have in that region on that day.

It is comforting to know that the only ones of us who will be impacted by those goings-on are people in the military. And, perhaps there will be some changes in gas prices and such.

We may be missing something. The people who are in charge of ISIS and Al Qaeda and their companion Islamic extremist organizations have a long-range plan that includes, well, everyone. They would like you and me to be Muslims, and for all of us to be governed under Sharia law in a world-wide Caliphate – an Islamic government.

That seems pretty far-fetched, of course. That’s probably what the Europeans thought during the surge of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. Parts of Europe, up to Constantinople, were swallowed up by those Muslims, who originated in Turkey.

Now, you might say that Christians did their share of empire building too, what with the Crusades and all, and that can’t be denied. And, the Spanish Inquisition was pretty extremist too. Just as all Christians then and now aren’t extreme, not all Muslims then and now are bent on converting everyone and killing those who won’t convert.

A big problem now is that of the 35,000 or so ISIS soldiers, many have US or European passports, meaning they can travel there and here with relative ease. And, there are numerous reports of ISIS members crossing the Mexican border. An investigative journalist even dressed up as an ISIS soldier and crossed the Canadian border into the US.

So, when the ISIS people make threats against the United States, they aren’t just flapping their lips. September 11th having just passed, I think we need to remember that those folks really do hate us.

I’m not saying you need to lock your doors at night, though that’s good advice anyway, or hide the Bibles. I am saying that just because something is far away doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to do with me and you. There are some great books out on the history of conflict in the Middle East, and it might pay to look them up. It has proven to be a big mistake to assume something horrible could never happen here.

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How Local is Local

I’ll admit to having a very low pain threshold when it comes to trendy words. I still haven’t gotten over the term “warm fuzzies” from the 1970’s. I equally dislike the term “selfies,” both because of how the word sounds, and the narcissistic nature of what it means.

So, knowing now that I am a cranky old guy who is quick to respond to such things, let me add one to the list: “Locally sourced.”

First, I’d much rather hear that something is “from around here,” or “from this area.” “Locally sourced” sounds like something somebody from UW Extension would say (FYI: I am a former employee of UW Extension) to demonstrate having kept up with the latest research.

Part of my discomfort with the term is that locally sourced things are held up as morally superior to non-locally sourced items. I understand that there are advantages to buying things from nearby, especially when it comes to fresh foods, because they’re likely to be fresher. That being said, we don’t hesitate to eat Alaskan salmon or New England clams or Florida citrus, so non-local things can be okay, right?

Here’s an example of how locally sourced food may, or may not be best:

Let’s say you like Brussel’s sprouts. Right away you’re on thin ice as far as I’m concerned. Now let’s say there’s a grower 40 miles from you, and another grower in Washington State. Well, what if the grower near you drives his sprouts in an old Chevy pick-up to a farm market. Or maybe 20 old Chevys to 20 farm markets. That’s a lot of miles in a lot of trucks getting lousy gas mileage and polluting the air.

Also, let’s say the person 40 miles away wasn’t quite careful enough with pesticides or with organic fertilizer (if you know what I mean). Those Brussel’s sprouts might not be the best for you.

But, it’s possible that our friend out near Yakima is very particular with pesticides and fertilizers, and is one mile from the train line that runs to the Midwest. Trains use very little fuel per ton shipped.

Somebody smarter than I am could do the math, and I honestly don’t know which grower would turn out to be the most fuel efficient, but my point is that being “locally sourced” has advantages, but it isn’t the only factor to consider.

I like the idea of supporting friends and neighbors. I like buying things from local artists, local farmers, and local merchants – even though what they sell is often from Asia.

I currently own two pairs of shoes that were made in America, and that isn’t easy to do. They aren’t made a few miles from me, so they aren’t “locally sourced,” but there’s no ocean between here and there.

So, to summarize, I’ll continue to buy things from around here, but I won’t feel guilty for buying things that aren’t. I also won’t ever get “warm fuzzies.”

 

 

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