Saturday, September 2, 2017

Alan Kurdi, age 3

Little Alan Kurdi (lower right photo) was found, having washed up on the beach in Turkey.  He was 3 years old when he and his brother drowned while escaping with their father from the violence in Syria.  The photos captured international attention for a few days.  In the years since, thousands more have been driven from their homes, and another 8,500 have died like little Alan did.  

When we think of the crisis in Syria,
we think in broad strokes, but it's
personal.  This is Abdul Hamid
al-Youssef whose wife Dala and
twins Ahmed and Aya were killed
in a sarin gas attack.  He released
photos of himself holding the 
lifeless bodies of his precious
twins. He lost his wife and
children and a dozen more
family members.  He wants
us all to know.
There are five million Syrian refugees now, regular folks who've lost everything, running for their lives and the lives of their children.  The Assad regime has used chemical weapons, and the civilian casualties (Ref: NC-17) are horrific. Following an attack in April, rescuers found adults and children, conscious and gasping for breath as they died before their eyes.  It was the latest chemical attack the war-torn country has witnessed. (Ref)(Ref)
A sarin gas attack in April this
year killed 89 including
20 women and
 27 children.

Hundreds of civilians have died in the last 30 days, collateral damage from strikes by all sides.

Here, if we felt that there was a need to protect our kids, we'd do a neighborhood watch or ramp up our police presence.  If folks were threatened, we'd defend them, and our community would step up and help.  If some radical group sprang up, armed and violent, we'd mobilize at whatever level was needed to squash such wickedness.  Folks in Syria have tried everything, and 400,000 have died.

How might we respond to such need so far outside our own community?

Our own disaster in Houston is on our minds, of course, and we'll respond appropriately.  Volunteers and givers and governments will step up and help.  Our neighbors in Mexico have joined in to assist like they did during Katrina.  
Let's remember the larger world as well.

There are good organizations we might support.  
The Salvation Army is perhaps at the top of the list for crisis response, in Houston as well as international work.  
With a long history of helping effectively, World Vision is among the best developmental assistance organizations.  They're extraordinary.


"World Vision has scaled up our response in places where families have fled, and your help is needed more than ever.
We must help Syrian refugees, half of whom are children, by giving them the vital resources they need to keep their children safe, healthy, and secure. Please pray for these families, and give a gift that to help them today."

Steve McCurry commented to Al Jazeera, "In seeing this current global refugee crisis, it's almost like people in Europe and the US are scared of refugees. Or they simply don't want the burden of hosting them. But we forget none are actually more scared than the refugees themselves. They are forced from their country, their homes.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Preferential Opportunity

Veterans returning from WWII used their benefits to buy homes and get educated.  Owning your home was the first step in wealth-building, and education guaranteed employment.  The result was an explosion of economic growth, the blossoming of suburban life, and the emergence of the American dream.

It only worked for white people.

We were trying to do well with the GI Bill, but our banks wouldn't lend to African-Americans.  Of the first 67,000 insured mortgages, less than 100 were issued to non-whites despite thousands having applied. 

In the years that followed, millions took advantage of the home loan guarantee. From 1944 to 1952, the Veterans Administration backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II Veterans.  Blacks, with wages  39-52% lower than whites, were ineligible for or denied most opportunities.(note)  

Suburban development areas often had formal or informal covenants against racial integration.(ref)  Agents and sellers resisted sale to black families.  If an African-American did manage to buy a home in a suburban setting, whites would often sell and move out.(ref)

Few colleges would admit African-Americans.  In the south where 80% of African-Americans lived, only a few black colleges were available.  They were generally underfunded and lower quality than the white schools.  Their limited number and capacity resulted in thousands of applicants being turned away.  Only a small percentage of African-American veterans benefited from the program.

Discrimination was aggressive for returning veterans.  Employers preferentially hired whites under most circumstances and were hesitant to promote non-whites who did manage to find employment.

An entire generation blossomed and moved ahead, and the country became a world leader through economic progress, but African-Americans were systematically held back.  It was deliberate.  The effects are visible today.  In the race to get ahead, "Whites have a hundred-yard head start in a four-hundred yard race."

The result:
The ghettos were born.  African-Americans were generally constrained to urban living, lower-paying work, and limited opportunity for improvement.  It had nothing to do with their intellect, work ethic, or virtue.  Other minorities were affected similarly.  Social stability declined predictably and inevitably in the neighborhoods.(ref)  

Long-term impact: in 1984, the median white household has a net worth of $39,000; median black household $3400, mostly accounted for by differences in homeownership. Nearly 70% of whites own homes, with average value of $52,000; only 40% of blacks do with, with median value of under $30,000.  (Figures for 2000 are $81,000 and $8000.)

During the civil rights era, we passed laws against discriminatory business and banking practices. We changed laws regarding school admission. Today's assistance projects and equal opportunity programs are attempts to mitigate the harm done by individual and group bias, discrimination, and selfishness. We've worked hard to adjust our national attitude about accepting differences. Such cultural efforts were (and continue to be) vigorously resisted by conservative elements. 

Conscious and unconscious discrimination persists today.  It's an artificial constraint imposed without reasonable basis.  We've made progress, but our bias seems to resurface with each generation.   

This isn't a new issue for America's majority.  Without a reasonable basis to support our reasoning:
- we presumed we were superior to native Americans.
- we presumed we were superior to Africans.
- we presumed we were superior to Irish, Italian, and eastern European immigrants.  And Jews.  And Mexicans.
- we presumed men were superior to women.
- we presumed white folks were superior to non-white folks.
- we presume the comfortably established and privileged are superior to the non-wealthy.

- did you know? we've discovered in many universities today, white males are presumed to be intellectually superior to females and minorities despite performance metrics to the contrary.  These are institutions that aggressively pursue equality and diversity, so study results like this are a bit of a surprise.

What might be the root of such inaccurate thinking?
Is there a single character point that covers it?  Of course.

Discrimination is common but fortunately not universal.  While bias persists in the culture, some have seen with clarity and deliberately pursued a different way.  By itself, information like this does little to avert a life of self-centeredness and separation.  Perhaps until we are profoundly changed, such bias will resurface throughout our lives.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What do rich people worry about?

Overall, 91% of wealthy folks say maintaining “the luxury lifestyle” is a key concern.  About 81% say “not being able to meaningfully enhance” their current lifestyle.  That's what rich people worry about.

As Russ Prince (author, the wealth industry) describes it, it’s the mindset of, “I have the $5 million jet. I want the $10 million jet.”  But he doesn’t see it as greed.  Rather, he says, it’s simply a reflection of what everyone at every income level wants: something more.

” ‘Greedy’ is the wrong word,” Prince says. “ This is not a bad thing. This is the capitalist model. The desire to keep moving up, to enhance their lifestyle, is critical to having this entrepreneurial society.”


Awhile ago, this young fellow came to the teacher and asked what he needed to do to finish well.  He was told to love God and obey the rules.  The guy said he'd done all of that, and the teacher told him to prove it, but he couldn't or perhaps wouldn't, and he went away unhappy.  His wealth, it seems, had tainted his thinking, his view of his lifestyle and future.  He couldn't imagine changing course to a better purpose.

It's hard, the teacher said, for a rich person to finish well.  Really hard.  Later, the teacher's friends were struggling to understand.  "If that rich fellow can't do it, how can we or anyone?"   There is a way, but it's perhaps not obvious once wealth and class obscure things.  Wealth becomes an impediment at a surprisingly low threshold.

Interestingly, the not-rich folks are the most hospitable, the most generous, the most ethical.  The rich, not so much.  Where's the dividing line?   Around $20k/person/year is the dividing line between the richest 5% of folks in the world and everyone else.  Your $20,000 per person, per year puts you in the richest 400 million people in the world with 7.1 billion folks below you on the ladder.  Statistically, one group is normal and the other is an outlier, an aberration, and unconnected to 'normal'.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Deep, Dark Woods

Once upon a time in the deep, dark woods, little Ruby walked along the path with her mom and dad.  She stayed close like she is supposed to until, suddenly ... from the distance, they heard a most amazing BURP!  It was a hugely magnificent burp and even the ground vibrated a little bit.

Ruby and her folks were so surprised; it was even a little scary.  They couldn't help but go look and see what it was.  What could burp so loud?  Could it be an elephant, maybe, or maybe some secret dinosaur that had been hiding in the woods for a million years.  Who knew?

Off along the trail they ran, and Ruby ran the fastest.  Down the trail, over the hill, around the bend, and into a clearing ... 

FIRE!  FIRE! There was a cloud of fire in the air right there in front of them.  They could feel the heat, and it wasn't bad, sort of like sunshine at the beach.  And it was coming from a dragon!  It had to be a dragon because it was breathing fire out of it's mouth!

"Eeeek!"  They stopped in their tracks, not really sure what to do next.  Should they run, hide, scream?  Not knowing any better, they ran around in circles yelling, "what do we do, what do we do?"

Finally, Dad, the calmest one in the merry-go-round, says, "Wait a minute.  The dragon is smiling at us!"  And sure enough, it was.  

Ruby, ever the adventurer, steps curiously into the clearing and sees the monster close up.  Sure enough, it really is smiling and it's got something in its little hands; it's a strawberry!  Ruby loves strawberries, of course, and the monster cheerfully gives it to her, a friendship gift.

They all became life-long friends, and Ruby visited him a lot in the deep, dark woods.  Much later, they found out it wasn't a dragon, it was a granoladon, a friendly herbivore (leaf-eater) that had occasional flammable burps.  They named him George.

Ruby took all of her friends to meet George and play, but only after they and their parents got over the 'dragon' thing.  

Ruby learned a lot from George over the years, the best part of which was that being good and even occasionally being nice was a pretty powerful thing.

Think about it.  If George had been angry and mean, no one would have liked him, and everybody would be afraid of him because he was different. But George was good and even nice; and he shared his strawberries.  And if Ruby hadn't been brave, it would all have ended badly.  But! They did it right, and it changed everything ... without a word being spoken.  

Pretty cool, George.  Well done, Ruby.
For Ruby, the nicest granddaughter in the world,

Of course, then there's the story of Tiny Tina Tumbleweed and how she saved everybody.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The tale of tiny Tina Tumbleweed ~ and how she saved everybody!

Once upon a time ...

You know what it means when a story starts like that, right.  "Once upon a time" means it's just a story, but there's a meaning hidden inside the story. 😉

Okay, so once upon a time in the little village called Tinkertown, there lived a young girl named Tina.  She lived with her dad and mom, Teo and Tillie Tumbleweed. Everybody in the town was little bitty, like maybe dandelion tall, so the town itself was only maybe as tall as a blueberry bush.

Tina was little, but she grew up to be really good at running and jumping.  She was so fast that even the older boys couldn't keep up.  They'd be being cool and typical boys, thinking they are faster than girls, but when it came to running a race, she would leave them in the dust.  She'd smile every time.  She was especially fast at turning corners, too, and no one could keep up with her running around trees and things.

Tinkertown nestled on the edge of a deep, dark, forest where big animals lived and the trees are just huge, like bigger around than the town is.  It gave them lots of shade in the afternoons and fun places to explore for the kids.

Well, in the woods there lived this wooluf. He had big eyes and big ears and bad breath because he didn't brush his teeth much.  The wooluf prowled around the woods looking for something to eat pretty much every day, so eventually he found his way to Tinkertown.  As he looked from behind a big tree, he noticed all the people in the town were small, maybe just the right size for a meal, and he decided then and there he would try to catch one.  The wooluf's name was Wolfred, by the way.

So Wolfred the wooluf snuck out from the woods ... up to the edge of Tinkertown … where people filled the streets and the voices of street vendors floated in the air, "Radishes for sale, and grapes and strawberries, too."  Wolfred the wooluf stood up to get a better look ... and an old lady saw him and screamed oh so loud, "Eeeek!  It's a wooluf, it's a wooluf, eeeeeeeeek!"  

Suddenly, the town was in confusion with little people running everywhere, yelling to each other, "Run, run away fast!"

Tina saw it all.  She was afraid at first, and turned to run.  She knew she was the fastest, and if anybody could get away, she could, but before she had run the first step, she remembered her mom and dad and everybody else she loved.  Maybe they could use some help.  Despite her fear, she thought, well I'm fast enough, and if anybody could distract the wooluf away from the village, I bet I could.  And with that thought, her decision was made.

She ran quickly to where the wooluf could see her and hollered, "Hey, hungry wooluf, eat me!  I betcha you can't," and she laughed at him.  Now she definitely had Wolfred the wooluf's attention.  He stopped and stared at her, trying to understand why his lunch would laugh at him like that.

He took a step toward her, but Tina danced aside and laughed again.  He took another step, and she dashed out to the edge of town and toward the woods.  "I can certainly catch her in the woods," thought Wolfred, "because that's my territory."  So off they went at an impressive speed.  Tiny Tina ran so fast that her little feet were a blur over the ground, and the wooluf was huge and just lumbered along behind her, not nearly as fast as she could do at her best.
Tiny Tina slowed down on purpose to let Wolfred catch up until she could feel his snorty nose-breath on the back of her ears, then she made a sudden turn around a tree, WHOOSH!,  and she did it so much quicker than Wolfred could.  He stumbled and tumbled and landed on his tail (ouch!), and he lost sight of Tina for a moment, but then he saw her way far ahead and set out after her again.  His tongue is hanging out the side of his mouth, and he's breathing hard and running really hard, trying to catch up.

Tiny Tina has a plan, and it's just ahead!  The thicket!  The thicket is bushes and brambles and briars that don't bother Tina at all because she's little and can run right under their little branches, but it's a problem for a big wooluf because he's so tall.  Tina lets Wolfred catch up until he's just inches behind her, and then she ducks into the thicket, and all the wooluf gets is a mouthful of thorny branches. "Aaaaaouch!"  Still running hard, Wolfred gets a face full of leaves and twigs with every step, and he keeps tripping over and over from all the brambles around his feet.  Not willing to be left behind in the race, the wooluf presses ahead, but he can hardly see through all the branches and leaves hitting and poking him in the face. (bonk, ouch! slap, ouch! boink, splat, poke, OUCH!)

"Almost, almost ...," Tina thinks as she sees ahead to her escape.  She slows down to let Wolfred get closer ..., closer ..., now!  And she makes a spectacularly sudden turn just in front of the grandpa of all big trees; it's el magnifico huge, and Wolfred, who can't turn nearly fast enough, runs face-first into the tree!  BABABAAAMMMMMMM!  "My nose, my nose, ouch my nose" Wolfred wails in pain, "and my head, now I've got a big bump on my head, and my tooth is loose, I think, and it hurts a lot."  Wolfred sits on the ground, whining and complaining, but he's definitely done with running.  He finally gets up and limps off into the forest, never to be heard from again.

She wins!  Tina smiles and skips all the way back home.

At Tinkertown, Tina is met by a crowd of family and friends, precious people she loves, and they congratulate her and thank her for saving everybody. When evening comes, they celebrate together and laugh a lot.  It is such fun that they do the celebration over and over each year afterwards.

Every year at the celebration, they tell the tale of tiny Tina Tumbleweed and how she saved the village of Tinkertown from the big, bad wooluf.  Every year, the story gets better, the people get tinier, and the wooluf gets bigger and badder because that what tall tales do when you tell them over and over again.

Remember how we said there was a hidden meaning?
What do you think it was?
     ~ Be a good friend?
     ~ Do what's right?
     ~ Help those who need it?
         Yes, every one of those are hidden in Tina's story.  
She'd be happy we heard her message.         
For Ruby Marie, the nicest granddaughter in the world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


There is not a single pure heart among us, and the most judgemental are perhaps the most tarnished.

The less time we spend loving and enjoying and encouraging others, the less our life is worth living.  The more time we spend criticising and judging and blaming others, the more we corrode our minds and waste our years.

The racist extremists in Charlottesville don't need me to protest against them.  They don't need me to throw rocks at them.  They don't need me to crash my car into their midst to convince them they're on the wrong path.  It wouldn't change their minds.

They do need a better solution than the one they've got.  They need a hope that's real and healthy and noble.  The need to see magnificent life for themselves.

Extremists are a small fraction of of our population.  For every one such dark mind, there are a hundred or a thousand reasonable folks. So then, do we hide ... or step in? And how might we take advantage of this opportunity?

One unusual fellow sought out the KKK members and made friends.  They ate dinner together and talked things through.  His friendship lead to two hundred KKK members changing their minds and leaving the organization.  He is Daryl Davis, the famous musician.  And he is black.
"When two enemies are talking, they're not fighting," Davis said.  A Chicago-born Christian, Davis traveled the world in his youth.  After many countries and racially mixed cultures, coming home to America where folks could throw rocks at him because of his color was confusing, to say the least.  It lead to a lifetime of confronting racism.  His surprisingly successful tactic: friendship
Not everyone agreed with his tactics.  Davis recounts:  I had one guy from an NAACP branch chew me up one side and down the other, saying, “you know, we've worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner, you're putting us twenty steps back.”
I pull out my robes and hoods and say, “look, this is what I've done to put a dent in racism. I've got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who've given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?” And then they shut up.
Davis's father, a senior Foreign Service officer, believed that his son engaged with the Klan because he needed to make sense of their hatred, to seek common ground. He remarked to The Washington Post that his son "has done something that I don't know any other black American, or white American, has done."