Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving Day 2020 - COVID-19 vs Us

This is not really a fair fight.  In one corner of the ring sits the novel coronavirus.  It's invisible and can attack without warning.  Moreover, when it lands a punch, the victim may not even feel its impact for several days.  It can fell even a highly trained athletic competitor.  And it has proven expertise in psychological warfare.  It's opponents - us - are scared that we might become tomorrow's victims.  The virus clearly understands and exploits the power of fear.   And with deepening pandemic fatigue, the virus gains a strategic advantage as we tire of practicing recommended public health mitigation efforts.  

And in the opposite corner sits us, with a mask dangling loosely below our nostrils.  We thought that heading into the mall or to a friend's party would relax us before the competition.   After all, how much risk could there to be to have a quick drink at a coworker's house?   Or flying to another city to join with family at a Thanksgiving reunion?   "Didn't Dr. Fauci imply that airports were virus-free zones?" we recalled.  And all passengers on the plane, even the guy who kept coughing, were wearing masks, except when they were snacking every 15 minutes or so. 

The fight is only half over and I'm not sure we'll be able to endure 12 rounds.  Either we'll be knocked out cold or the referee will call a TKO.  

This is us with 6 rounds to go.

Perhaps, we should pursue a new strategy?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The 2020 Election was Rigged!

How often have we heard or read after a courtroom verdict, ‘we are going to appeal’, issued by confident lawyers who claim that their crusade for justice will yet be realized.  Indeed, I think many of us misunderstand the appeals process.  You cannot successfully aim to appeal a verdict simply because you reject the outcome.  There is no automatic judicial do over.   The losing party must offer convincing arguments to an appeals court that there were errors in the trial that rendered the proceedings unfair.  In other words, the error(s) must be material and not simply a harmless error.  Obviously, any trial or human endeavor will include mistakes that have no bearing on the ultimate outcome.

For example, if a physician like me mistakenly records a patient’s height to be a half inch shorter than the true height, then the error is not consequential and won't affect the patient's care.

'I lost? I demand an appeal!'

One of the many regrettable developments in the current post-election chaos has been the widening of the expectation that an unwanted result must be wrong and should be challenged.  This is a departure from our heretofore general acceptance that findings and rulings by authorized bodies were correct or at least should be respected.  If this new practice is maintained or extended, it will threaten so many established norms that we have previously become accustomed to.  Consider some typical scenarios.

  • A student (and his parents) claim that his lackluster SAT score is wrong and demand a hand count.
  • A sports teams loses the final playoff game.  The manager suggests that the referees were biased and possibly corrupt.
  • A high school wunderkind loses in the final round of the National Spelling Bee.  His high school principal cries ‘fowl’ claiming that the winning contestant received a much easier word to spell.
  • A contestant in a juried photography contest loses in the first round.   He rejects the decision and hires experts who give attestations that the photograph has true artistic merit.
  • A presidential candidate loses but refuses to accept the results.  He responds by attacking the process, demanding recounts and pursuing a scattershot of legal attacks.

 Of course, outcomes may be unfair or wrong and we are entitled to pursue a cure when there is a reasonable basis underlying our claim.  But I maintain that the greater good, as well as our individual interests, are served better when as a general principle we accept the findings of our institutions.  And, if we wish to challenge a ruling or a result, then we are obligated to explain in advance why we feel that the process was tainted.  We should not have a right to an investigation hoping to find evidence of impropriety that does not currently exist in a quest to achieve a new outcome. 

Naturally, this is a nuanced issue and there are exceptions to everything.  But do we want to live in a society where every outcome is summarily rejected and assumed to be wrong?

When a loser graciously accepts a result, we all win.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

How Honest Are You?

What is your threshold for speaking up?  Most of us claim to hover at an upper orbit of personal integrity.  But for many if not most of us, the boundary can be wavy.  We see and hear every day how political leaders use different sets of weights and measures depending upon political considerations.  Let me make this plain for readers with the following brief example.

“When your guy does it, it’s corrupt and dishonest!”

“When my guy does it, it’s completely ethical!”

Test your own integrity as you peruse the following list.

"Hmmm, what do I tell mom?"

Is it a lie to tell your mom that her meat loaf was great when it conjured up visions of Ken-L Ration?

If you catch your kid plagiarizing a term paper, do you contact the teacher?

If a friend divulges that he is working under the table to avoid paying taxes, do you notify the IRS?

If a coworker asks you to punch the time clock for him to hide a late start, do you simply refuse or also notify the manager?

Have you visited a small private business to find out the exact product that will meet your needs and budget and then head out to a big box store where the product will be cheaper?

If a patient asks a physician to modify a diagnosis so that a medical test will be covered by insurance, does the doctor refuse? 

And if political leaders observe their president and his minions wallowing in an amoral abyss, do they jump up to denounce him or jump in with him?

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Election 2020 - Time to Change the Rules?

Four years ago, the country was shocked at the outcome of the 2016 World Series of Politics when the darkest of dark horses triumphed over the establishment.  In that contest, the New York Elites came up short against the New York Six Packs.  The final score of the decisive game was Six Packs 7 and the Elites 6 – a clear victory.

The Elites and their supporters were incensed and bitter.

“This is not fair!” they proclaimed.  “We got more hits than they did,” explained their team captain.

“Who cares?” replied Captain Six Pack.   “The rules only count the runs, not the number of hits.”

Over the next 4 years, every time Elitists referred to the prior lost contest, they always added, “We got more hits than they did.”  In fact, many of them began murmuring that the unfair rules should be changed such that the number of hits should now determine the winner.  Fairness, they grumbled, demanded a rules change.

Let the Games Begin Anew!

It's four years later and we are all spellbound as the 2020 World Series of Politics is drawing to a close. The New York Six Packs – the defending champions – seem to have met their match against the Scranton Scrappers.  The Scrappers have the upper hand.  It’s the top of the 9th inning and they are leading by 4 runs to 1 in the final game.  The Six Packs are at bat.  There are 2 outs and the batter is facing a count of 0 and 2.

It looks grim for the Six Packers.  While no winner can be called yet, as the game is not over, hope of the Six Packs prevailing is vanishing.   Indeed, in the Scrapper’s locker room, the champagne celebration has already been set up. 

At this moment, the Six Packs call a time out. The team owner then issues a statement that the Six Packs have won and are champions once again.  He explains that all 4 of the Scrapper’s runs were achieved by cheating, and he has the evidence to prove it.  The umpires seem unmoved and even some of the Six Pack’s players seem confused.

Yes, I have concocted this fairy tale from my own imagination.  It’s so silly I would be amazed if any reader has made it this far.  Could you imagine if such a scenario actually occurred in real life?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Election Day 2020 - First Step Toward Healing?

Two days from now is Election Day, which heretofore had been a demonstration of the majesty of American democracy.  Her Majesty has been dethroned.   Millions are wailing for a change in presidential leadership and millions of others demand that the current administration be granted another term.

We are an angry people who seem willing to fight over everything and anything.  No issue is too trivial to demand someone’s cancellation.  Has the current administration caused these seemingly irreparable angry divisions or simply revealed them?  What is the pathway back to civil life?

Those who support Vice President Joe Biden do so in part because they believe that his decency and empathy can serve as a national healing elixir.  I pray that this is the case, but I have deep doubts in his capacity to turn a lumbering ocean liner around with only a set of oars.  The healing, if it is ever to occur, will have to come from within.  And we have to want to be healed.  If an angry person wishes or needs to remain so, then no change will be possible. 


Consider these realities that will confront the next president.

  • An angry nation with deepening divisions.
  • Seething partisanship in the government and in society at large.
  • A pandemic that is oozing over the nation like hot molten lava.
  • Economic collapse with more pain to come as the virus roars back.
  • A stock market that may be poised to tank.
  • Racial injustice and unrest.
  • Cancel culture.
  • Erosion in the integrity of many of our nation’s foundational institutions.
  • Loss of trust in everything.
  • Cybercrime, an untraceable scourge which causes damage, chaos and rising fear.
  • Fractured foreign alliances.
  • Aggressive actors on the international stage.
  • Natural disasters.
If we elect a change in leadership, all of these quagmires and those yet to come will be his.  In time, he will own them.  The intractable challenges will surround him and us.  One set of oars won't move the ship.  Many of us will have to row along side him  Which direction will you be rowing?


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Will a Coronavirus Vaccine Heal the Nation?

Presently, your humble scrivener is situated in Atlanta, Georgia, the destination of a long road trip from Cleveland, Ohio.  Tucked safely inside our car, we were insulated from the novel coronavirus as well as the storm surge of seething of the nation.  As of yet, there is no vaccine or truly effective therapeutic agent available for either of these afflictions.  My sense is that the virus will be sooner and more easily vanquished than will be the malignant divisions that are threatening our society.  

Am I being serious here?  Do I actually argue that a scourge from an invisible warrior that has wounded millions will be more easily defeated than our vile and vindictive politics?  Is reaching across the aisle or across the street or across the table such in insurmountable task?

Here’s why the virus, as wily and destructive as it is, will at some point be the first to be defeated. Our politics, in contrast, will be more like arthritis and diabetes, long term and progressive diseases that have evaded cures. 

Consider these distinctions.

  • We literally have decoded the DNA of the novel coronavirus.  We know the actual guts of the enemy.  The wiring of our political antagonism and strife, however, is an amorphous cloud that defies concrete understanding.  It has no tangible structure.
  • When we scream against the virus, it remains silent and permits us to vent.  When we yell at our neighbor, he yells back as we yell past each other.
  • As our experts combat the virus, they follow sound scientific principles and rely upon the successes and failures with prior pandemics and health crises.  There is playbook to follow.   Our fraught political divide is largely fueled on emotion, alternative facts and anger.  It is a zero-sum game.  There is no off-the-shelf playbook for this.  How do you dismantle an emotion?
  • Folks who are sick or scared that they may become the next coronavirus victim want to be healed and to stay well.  Self-preservation is a powerful motivator.  They want to pursue a pathway that will bypass pain and promote healing. A political force, in contrast, that spends its time and resources demonizing its enemies, doesn’t aim to avoid conflict but to foment it.  It stokes the fire.

As our road trip proceeded through Kentucky, Tennessee and rural Georgia, the political signage reflected the red character of these regions.  We ended up in a progressive Atlanta neighborhood where many houses display Black Lives Matter and various whimsical anti-Trump signs. 

I am confident that safe and effective vaccines against the novel coronavirus will emerge. Ultimately, they will be gamechangers.  But the Culture War epidemic will rage on.  Clearly, we have no natural immunity to protect us and the disease is beyond the realm of science.  Progress, should it develop, will have to happen one good person at a time.    

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Portland Protesters Topple Statues of Lincoln and Roosevelt.

To note that our nation is seething with anger – although deeply disturbing – is certainly not Breaking News, except on CNN where Breaking News flashes even when they are breaking for a commercial.  It is not that the nation is angry over a handful of controversial issues; we are angry over every issue.  Indeed, part of my dismay and fascination is how even a trivial event or utterance can provoke rage.  A few decades ago, if a person provoked or insulted someone, an argument might ensue.  Today the same provocation can have a fatal outcome. 

Let me offer a very bold pronouncement.  I do so under my own name and stand ready to accept a searing rebuke.  Ready? 

Humans are not perfect.

Yet, when we judge current political leaders, historical figures, athletes, law enforcement personnel, writers, musicians, educators and the rest of us, any flaw discovered may generate outrage.  The paradigm is not to consider any surrounding circumstances or the context of the time that might distract us from our search and destroy missions.   Ready! Fire! Aim!

Here’s an interesting twist that the search & destroy folks routinely employ.  A flaw found in one of their allies is overlooked while the same flaw in an adversary is magnified to gigantic proportions.  There is a very fancy term for this – hypocrisy.

This past week, protesters in Portland, Oregon toppled statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt over charges of racism and unjust actions against Native Americans.  I am not a historian who can judge these men, but I do know that our nation was considerably less enlightened and tolerant during their times than we are today.  Slavery during Lincoln’s presidency – while immoral and abhorrent – was lawful.  And Roosevelt served during the Jim Crow era.  They were both great men and great leaders who deserve to be honored.  I completely accept and encourage that their flaws and immoral thoughts and actions be scrutinized and studied. Give the context and judge accordingly.  But we should not allow our current sensibilities and anger to view their flaws through a modern lens as we diminish their accomplishments to justify current outrage.  We must reject this revisionism.   Isn't this how we would hope the next generation will judge us?

Should we dynamite Mount Rushmore?  In addition to taking out Roosevelt and Lincoln, we could also cleanse the landscape of two additional flawed figures, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

Should we blow it up and use the granite to make some woke statues?

With a demand for 100% purity, which has a very elastic definition, what statue will be left standing?

Many of the famed suffragettes whom we celebrate were racists.  Margaret Sanger, a pioneer and champion of women’s rights, had a permissive view on eugenics.  Many of our colleges and universities practiced racism and anti-Semitism.  Several universities had direct ties to slavery.  Yes, they are making amends in recent years, but why did it take them a century or so to come clean? 

We are imperfect people in a flawed nation in a defective world.  Blotting out, redacting and destroying recklessly won’t improve us.  Conversely, it will widen the gaping divide.  Surely, decent and tolerant people can forge alternative pathways to address raw disputes.

Who will be left standing after the statue police clear our parks and public squares? Would Gandhi, Mother Theresa or even the Almighty make the cut?

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