June 28, 2020 – The American Crowbar Case: Huh?

Today is June 28, 2020, which is also International Body Piercing Day and the birthday of Jim Ward. The two are not unrelated. Jim Ward was reportedly the first person to open a body piercing studio in California in 1978. The day was established to celebrate his many contributions to the field of body piercing but it is not clear who established it. My guess would be: Jim Ward.

the american crowbar case: Extreme body piercing

Phineas P. Gage has to have the most remarkable body piercing story on record. Gage was a railroad construction foreman. On September 13, 1848 Gage was supervising workers preparing the roadbed for train tracks near Cavendish, Vermont. The work required the men to set up for the blast by boring a hole in rock, filling it with blasting powder, and then using a tamping iron to pack or “tamp” sand or other inert material above the powder to contain the blast’s energy.

Gage was tamping a blast hole at about 4:30 PM when he was briefly distracted by his workers. As he turned to look over his right shoulder, he opened his mouth to speak. At that very moment the tamping iron hit against the rock, creating a spark that ignited the blast powder. The tamping iron (1.5 inches in diameter; three feet, seven inches in length; and 13.25 lbs) was rocketed out of the blast hole.

The tamping rod went through Gage’s head, entering the left side of his face, out the top of his head, and landed about 80 feet away. Gage was thrown onto his back and after a few convulsions, stood up, walked around, spoke to his crew, and rode in an oxcart about three quarters of a mile back to where he was lodging. About 30 minutes after the accident, a doctor arrived at Gage’s hotel to find him sitting outside.

From that moment forward, Phineas P. Gage was a medical wonder. Not only had he survived having a tamping iron blasted through his head, but the tamping iron also performed a frontal lobotomy.

The Phineas Gage story is one of the most fascinating in medical history. I’ve only shared the beginning of it as a teaser. If you are not familiar with it, I hope you’ll check it out. To get you started, here are two short articles and a brief story from NPR:


Help with Math

Thanks to COVID-19, many schools have been shuttered across around the world. As a result, parents have had to also serve as teachers to their students. Several exasperated parents have expressed total confusion over trying to help their children with math.

Tom Lehrer is here to help! Lehrer, at age 92, is a retired musican, singer-songwriter, satirist, and mathematician. He traveled the world for many years performing musical satire and made several albums. In the 1970’s he decided to leave show business to focus on teaching math and musical theater history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He retired in 2001 but his satirical legacy continues. Parents who have been trying to help their children with their current math studies may appreciate Lehrer’s “New Math” from 1965:


chickenman – episode 71 is here!

Chickenman pays a visit to the Police Commissioner’s office where he immediately begins to try Ms. Helfinger’s patience. But she has a suggestion for how he can spend some of his pent up energy.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 23, 2020 – False Alarm or An Alert?

Today is June 23, 2020 and International Fairy (or Faery) Day. This is a day set aside by some to honor fairies, the best known of which in the US, is the Tooth Fairy. The website Historic-UK.com has an interesting article on the origin of fairies you might enjoy as part of your International Fairy Day celebration! By the way, did you know that Tooth Fairy is related to Chickenman?


false alarm? no. an alert to implicit bias

The FBI concluded that there was no noose left in the garage of NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, at the Talledega Superspeedway last weekend. Except that there was (see photo below). However, according to the FBI, it has been there since at least last October. NASCAR says that it could not have been known that Wallace’s car would have been assigned that garage prior to the race.

Source: CNN.com

Let’s think through this a minute…

  • There is no evidence that a noose was intentionally left in Wallace’s garage prior to this past weekend’s GEICO 500. Got it! No intention, therefore, no explicit hate crime.
  • Still, someone tied the garage door pull in the photo above in such a way to make it appear very much as a noose and the FBI’s report actually characterized the knot as a noose. Got it! So there was a noose.
  • The garage assignment system at NASCAR appears to be random therefore it couldn’t have been known in advance that Wallace would be assigned that garage. Got it! No ill intent on NASCAR’s part.

So what can we conclude from the facts? NASCAR still has a long, long way to go to become anti-racist. I assume before and after speedway events the Talledega Speedway work crews prepare, clean, and inspect garages. Why wasn’t the noose noticed and reported during one of these routine actions? Even better, why wasn’t it untied or simply cut off by a worker? The answers seem pretty clear: NASCAR, like so many other White American institutions is blinded by it own implicit bias. The racism has been so much a part of its culture that it doesn’t see when it is being racist. I applaud NASCAR for the strides it has made, including the show of support for Wallace prior to Monday’s race. However, those are only first steps in a sports culture that still has serious problems with racism.

It is reasonable to expect that any individual or organization, like NASCAR, that is growing in its understanding of racism in America learns of the powerful negative symbolism of the noose. I hope NASCAR is experiencing those growing pains now. Even more, I hope it is making their facilities both noose and Confederate flag free zones. If they don’t, I expect we’ll see a few nooses show up in the stands at the next NASCAR race.

Unfortunately, Bubba Wallace is catching grief over all of this. In a CNN interview he reported that some people were questioning his character and integrity over the incident. What seems to be missing by some people are the facts. Wallace did not discover the noose nor did he report the noose. He learned about it from the president of NASCAR Steve Phelps in a personal meeting that Phelps called.

Some reporting has downplayed the incident by describing the noose as just a garage door pull. However, the FBI’s report described the knot as a noose and the photo above clearly shows the pull cord tied as a noose.

Still, Wallace is catching the grief over the incident. Among other things, there is a constant flow on Twitter from about the whole thing being a hoax. The only problem with that are the facts but, of course, Stupid people don’t let facts get in the way. Wallace himself did a pretty good job of stating just the facts last night on CNN:

“It was a noose,” Wallace said. “Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So, it wasn’t directed at me but somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying.”

Bubba Wallace with Don Lemon, June 23, 2020, on CNN.

The arc of change is a slow. Let’s see if NASCAR has the courage to stay on it.


leading through traumatic and disruptive events: A Conversation with Lamar Roth

Join Lamar Roth MA, SHRM-SCP and me for a conversation on leading an organization through a period of trauma and disruption. In this video production from Tenacious Change LLC, Lamar and I explore what it means to be a resilient organization in the face of sudden, deadly disruption. We talk about the lessons learned by Lamar and Excel Industries and how they might apply to nonprofit and public agency leaders and their organizations. We begin our conversation with a very specific disruption.

As Lamar Roth was leaving his office for the day on February 25, 2016, Police Chief Doug Schroeder abruptly pulled up and stopped behind Lamar’s pickup truck, blocking him from leaving. As Lamar was about to ask him why he was parked behind him, Schroeder reached into the backseat of his patrol car, pulled out a rifle, and strode without speaking to the door at Excel Industries. The same door Lamar had only moments before exited.

Then Lamar heard the gunfire from inside the building.

Over the next several minutes a gunman would fire randomly at the more than 400 people in the lawnmower plant using a semi-automatic assault rifle and an automatic pistol. By the time Chief Schroeder was able to confront the gunman and stop the shooting, two community members and twelve Excel employees were wounded. Four employees, including the gunman who was also an employee, were dead.

Lamar Roth was then, and still is, the Director of Human Resources at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas. Lamar and the company’s attorney carried much of the load in helping the company recover in the shooting’s aftermath.

Lamar has discovered work in the time of COVID-19 is a lot like work in the days, weeks, and months following the shootings. In fact, the lessons learned from that traumatic event in 2016 are helping him navigate the traumatic period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six-minute excerpt below is from the full 56 minute conversation. The entire conversation is available here at the Tenacious Change LLC YouTube channel.

Watch the full 56 minute interview on Tenacious Change LLC’s YouTube channel at Leading Through Traumatic and Disruptive Events: A Conversation with Lamar Roth.

Chickenman – Episode 67

The Fabulous Feathered Weekend Warrior has made an arrest. He has brought in the Hummer for prosecution. All is good in Midland City again…or is it?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 21, 2020 – This Normal Dad Doesn’t Want All the Old Normal Anymore

Today is June 21, 2020. Happy Father’s Day!

this normal dad doesn’t want all the old normal anymore

The context in which I often think about “old normal” vs the “new normal” is how life was before COVID-19. Father’s Day was normal in the sense that my son and I got together. We played golf early this morning, had brunch afterward, and I got one of the sweetest Father’s Day cards from him that I’ve ever received.

At the same time, nothing about our Father’s Day get together was normal. We arrived at the golf course in separate cars. We both wore masks. We couldn’t ride in the same golf cart because we needed to maintain at least six feet of distance during the game. At the end of the game we drove separately to a diner that has only recently reopened and is following the distancing and face mask rules.

What really wasn’t normal was that we said good-bye six feet apart. I still hug him and tell him I love him each time we part after a visit, but, of course, today I could only tell him I love him. When it comes to Father’s Day and some of the traditions that build and sustain relationships with those we love and care about, I want the old normal again.

Source: BeWellPBC, Juneteenth Newsletter

However, there is another old normal that I don’t want anymore. It is what became normal for so many of us White people in the U.S. That is the normal created by racial bias which, in turn, has created the conditions of prejudice, threat of violence, and actual violence under which so many nonwhite non-Anglo people in the United States live. This image, which appeared in a client’s newsletter, reminded me about that old normal. Like the sign says, that is the normal I don’t want to go back to either.

Earlier this week my friend Bruce re-posted a video on Facebook which powerfully illustrated that old normal. I also re-posted it and you can also see it here. In an earlier blog post, I had written that I could only know vicariously what my spouse, a non-white, non-Anglo woman, experiences. I have seen her experience much of what you see in that video. I have sometimes been with her when it has happened to her and, yet, my own sense of what is “normal” as a White person prevents me from seeing it clearly. The vicarious experience is not the same as experiencing it personally. If you are a White person, please keep that in mind as you watch that brief video.

Todd Winn, Retired Marine, The Washington Post, June 18, 2020

There is a story about a retired Marine that appeared in The Washington Post that gives us a glimpse of the “new normal” as it relates to race. The Marine squeezed into his old dress uniform, put a piece of black duct tape across his mouth with the words “I can’t breathe” on it, and then stood at attention in front of the statehouse in Utah for three hours as a personal protest. The day he did this it was over 100 degrees in Salt Lake City. His shoes melted as he stood in the sun. He held a sign listing the name of the Black men and women who had recently died as a result of police brutality. His motivation for staging his protest in this way is a powerful reminder of why people choose to serve this country – whether in the military, in emergency services, or in civil service. It is worth reading to learn how Mr. Winn arrived at this form of protest.

Another glimpse of the new normal is seen in protests that continue throughout the country. The protests are comprised of very diverse groups of people. They are made diverse by race, age, sexual orientation, language, religion, and ability. Contrary to the propoganda put out by their detractors (e.g., Trump), the protests are mostly peaceful.

These are just two of the things I see that make me feel as if the “new normal” will be much better than the old for everyone. Of course, before we get there, some things have got to change from the direction they’ve been going for the past few years.

The good thing about being human beings is that we have the power of choice. We can choose what we want to be and we can even choose to be different than we have been, even if we’ve been pretty awful. We usher in the “new normal” when we choose inclusion over exclusion; equity over partiality; and justice over bias. For starters, that’s the new normal this dad wants.


the tulsa fizzle

Happily, Tulsa did not erupt into violence before, during, or after Trump’s rally there last night. It was, in fact, a pretty weak rally. My favorite photo of the rally comes from The Washington Post with this headline: “Trump rallies in red-state America — and faces a sea of empty blue seats.” The office tally in the 19,000 seat arena was 6,200. The outside overflow stage and megatrons were never used.

The Washington Post, June 21, 2020

One of the funniest stories to come out of the Tulsa event was that about the TikTok users who grabbed up thousands of tickets to the event they never planned to use. The idea for doing this came from Mary Jo Laupp, a woman from Fort Dodge in my native state of Iowa. Kudos Mary Jo!


chickenman – episode 65

Chickenman closes in on the Hummer. Or is he really?

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 20, 2020 – On Being Resilient

Today is June 20, 2020 and National Hollerin’ Contest Day. This, it seems, is a day in the spotlight for Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina where the contest takes place. The town of approximately 500 people swells to several thousand for the contest. Apparently hollerin’ is a lost art. You couldn’t prove that by my family. We grew up hollerin’ at hogs, cows, chickens, and each other. We are still a loud-talking family when we get together.

On Being resilient

Earlier today I finished editing a video interview I did on the subject of leading others through traumatic disruptive events…you know, like the pandemic? I used a new video editing software that is better than anything I’ve used before. As a result the video is far fancier than anything I’ve produced to date. It isn’t quite finished yet – it is in final review by the person I interviewed – but it will be ready for distribution in a few days. When it is ready, I’ll post it here and on social media.

Editing is an intensive iterative process. As a result you hear or see the same thing many times over. Though the word “resilience” was used only a couple of times, the video really was about resilience. More specifically, it was about how organizations recover and move forward in times of trauma and disruption. Of course, organizations are comprised of individuals so there is also an element of individual resilience too.

The interviewee shared a quote from Nelson Mandela that has stuck with me throughout the day.

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

Nelson Mandela

This describes what it means to be resilient as organizations or as individuals better than anything else which comes to mind today. Mandela’s statement is close to the dictionary definition of resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

Personally, I’ve had to be resilient because I’ve fallen down many times in my life. Each time I’ve gotten back up again but, honestly, I didn’t always want to. There were a few times when it was very tempting, even appealing, to stay on the ground. It really would have been easy to just stay down, too. Sometimes I did stay there for a while. For reasons I cannot fully explain or understand myself, I eventually did get back up.

These are tough times for everyone. A lot of people and organizations haven’t just fallen down, they’ve been knocked down. Sadly, not all of them will get back up – and it won’t be for lack of trying. To get back up, a person or organization has to have at least a foothold and maybe even hand to grab onto to pull themselves up. Already we see people and organizations who have neither and are down for the count.

The upheaval we are experiencing as a country was on full display last night again on our local news. When we turned on the 11:00 pm news we found the local station was covering a group of protesters in DC’s Judiciary Square who were working at pulling down a statue. The statue was of Albert Pike, the only Confederate general memorialized with an outdoor statue in Washington, DC. The protesters made short work of Pike’s statue. From the time we tuned in until the statue was pulled down was only about 30 minutes. Then the statue was set on fire.

The DC Metro Police watched the protesters at a distance, which seemed not only wise but also nonviolent and gracious. Once the protesters started the statue on fire, they dispersed, and the police moved in with fire extinguishers. No actual living persons were hurt in the evening’s activity.

Frankly, I am supportive of the protesters and the change they are trying to bring to the country. It is long overdue. I believe in nonviolent protest that does not harm people or property. I understand why the protesters are tearing down statues of Confederate generals and colonizers. I’m not sure whether this is the best way, though, to deal with them and what they stand for. I fear that their destruction results in the loss of an opportunity to repurpose them to correct the historical record. They could be put on display in a historical museum (the Smithsonian perhaps?) and a curriculum could be developed that tells the full truth about them. Still, I do understand why the protesters feel they need to come down.

I fear for even more upheaval tonight in Tulsa, Oklahoma when Trump rides into town – all hat and no cattle. This time, though, I fear it could turn violent. Tonight Trumpsters and protesters come together a day after Juneteenth, days after the murders of Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd, and at the start of the 100th year since the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre. Tulsa and Oklahoma is a hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic and tonight it is also a hotspot for potential conflict. Of course, Trump has already struck the match by making threats against the protesters. It is my fervent prayer and hope that everybody gets out of Tulsa tonight safely.

It is also my hope that our country is resilient. I think it is. I’ve always believed that it is. Plus, there is abundant evidence of resilience in the lives of many individual Americans – of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities.

But, as a country, do we have hope that we can get back up again? Do we have the will? Perhaps more importantly, do we have the capacity and grace to give each other a foothold or a hand up? I’m less worried about the first two than the last. I fear that 2 out of 3 will not be sufficient.


The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I may need to dust off my ironing skills with face to face restrictions being loosened in Alberta… up til now I have been rotating between three shirts a month (as long as I take them off for lunch and supper between meetings).

chickenman – episode 64

Before Chickenman can hammer the Hummer he has to contend with his mother and a stuck zipper in the Chicken Cave.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 18, 2020 – Where is the Joy?

Today is June 18, 2020 and today is also Go Fishing Day! I’m wondering…what comes to mind d for you when you hear “Go Fishing Day”?

juneteenth

Tomorrow is Juneteenth. It took nearly two and a half years for word of President Lincoln’s signing the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Galveston, Texas. On June 19, 1865 the order freeing all the slaves in Texas was finally read. This was the last group of slaves to receive notice of the order. Juneteenth marks that occasion. At last count, 48 states have Juneteenth as a state holiday or as a day of special recognition and celebration. There are also efforts afoot to make it a Federal holiday.

Most White folks like me have little knowledge or history of Juneteenth. However, it is an important day in American history and all Americans should know about it and what it means. To learn more, see this blog from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or this article from the Smithsonian Magazine, or this blog from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever sung or heard sung is Lift Every Voice and Sing, which has also been called the Black National Anthem. It is typically associated with Juneteenth but can be sung anytime, of course. I was introduced to Juneteenth and the song about 30 years ago at Urbandale United Church of Christ, where I worked part-time as the religious education coordinator. I especially loved it when we sang the anthem as a congregation. The words are powerful and the tune conveys beauty, dignity, and courage. Last weekend CBS Sunday Morning offered this feature on the song. Take two minutes to watch the segment and then another two minutes to read the lyrics for yourself.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
‘Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won

Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land

Lyrics by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson

One more video because it is just so good…here is a particularly beautiful a capella version of the song. Enjoy!

where is the joy?

Joy does seem to be eluding us. For months we’ve lived under the fear of contracting a deadly illness in this pandemic. For weeks we’ve been watching our country finally(?) face up to its history of discrimination, oppression, and persecution of all others who not White and English speaking. For days we’ve been watching Trump continue to roll toward a mass campaign event in Tulsa like a slow, deadly train wreck for those attending the event given the spike of COVID-19 in Tulsa and Oklahoma.

The whole wide world seems to be on fire. We stand still, open our eyes wide, turn around 360 degrees, and we see it happening – but the brightness of the inferno blinds us to joy. And, yes, there is joy in the midst of the flames.

It is to be found in the little things, like:

  • the walk we take with the people we live with, including our dogs.
  • the meals we prepare and enjoy together now because we didn’t have enough time before.
  • the quiet that has come with the reduced traffic around our home.
  • the slower pace, including the opportunity to sleep in an extra 30 minutes or so.
  • the excitement of seeing familiar faces on Zoom, even though we know it will still be a while before we will see them in person.
  • the opportunity to read a book that we’ve had on our “to read” list for sometime.
  • the starry nights we can now enjoy because of the reduction in pollution.
  • the pride we feel in the diverse crowds of people who are peacefully yet passionately protesting the injustices toward Black people and all minorities in our country.
  • the laughter we share with friends and family, even if only on Zoom.
  • serendipitously finding a beautiful song, poem, or sentiment on the internet that speaks to our condition.

Think about it for a bit. What are the little things that give you joy today? It’s important for us to find them and savor them. Why? Because they are the seeds of the hope that will see us through to the end.


chickenman – episode 62

The Hummer continues to terrorize the streets of Midland City and Chickenman…who is mysteriously back in his Chicken Cave and not at his grandmothers in Fargo, North Dakota…answers the call.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 17, 2020 – Dave Chappelle’s 8:46

Today is Wednesday, June 17, and today is Eat Your Vegetables Day. You’ll remember, of course, yesterday was Fresh Veggies Day, so it only seems fitting. I’m happy to report that I am eating my veggies. Clemencia and I love homemade soup and she made a wonderful batch of fresh veggies soup this morning. Tasty indeed!


Chickenman – episode 61

Chickenman – whom we assume is still enroute to see his grandmother with a basket of food and copy of TV Guide – is being called upon to deal with The Hummer.


Dave chappelle – 8:46

I’m going to do something very different with today’s Daily Drivel. I’m going to rescue you from reading but ask that you take a few minutes to watch the video below.

Dave Chappelle is a comedian who is known for comedy which is also commentary on the current moment. His language can be offensive and very rough, so please be advised. His observations, though, are often spot on. He also has a gift for helping people see more clearly, which I believe he is exercising in this performance.

If you are unfamiliar with Chappelle and watch this video, you will see a very raw and brief show (under 30 minutes). You may, therefore, be surprised to know that he has made at least one decision on the basis of his personal ethics and principles. It was a decision that cost him in excess of $50 million dollars per year and also put his career at risk. In this video, you get a sense of the risks he takes with his material and the power of his commentary. You also learn in this video who it is that might have informed his moral and ethical compass.

Before you watch the video, though, I recommend you read this brief New York Times article about it. As the article points out, there are three key references in the video that it will be useful to have in advance for context.

This video was released on June 12, 2020 – five days ago. Already it has nearly 23 million views. It is going to have a whole lot more.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 16, 2020 – What if This is the New Normal?

Today is Tuesay, June 16, 2020 a day to celebrate veggies! Fresh Veggies Day, observed every June 16, is a call to everyone to eat healthy today. You won’t believe what is observed on June 17th. Check back and find out.

Today is also the birthday of Goyahkla (“one who yawns”) in 1829. He is better known as Geronimo, an Apache chief and medicine man. He is known for his resistance against the encroachment of Mexicans, the U.S. Government, and even other tribes, such as the Navajo and Comanche. The crucible in Geronimo’s life was when his wife, three children, and mother were all murdered when Mexican soldiers attacked his camp. From that day forward he vowed vengeance against those who had committed the crimes.

Following Apache tradition, he burned the belongings of the deceased family members. Geronimo says that after he left that site and moved into the forest, he heard a voice which told him: “No gun will ever kill you. I will take the bullets from the guns … and I will guide your arrows.”

In 1886 Geronimo was the last Native American leader to formally surrender to the U.S. Military. He spent the last 20 years of his life as a prisoner of war. He died in Oklahoma and is buried there.


stories of covid-19: today’s headlines

No Vaca in Miami Please: Miami-Dade County has seen a spike in the COVID-19 infections. The number of cases has exceeded 2,000 per day for two days in a row and it is prompting some businesses to close up again on their own. While officially local government is not rolling things back to greater restrictions (they are currently in Phase 2 re-opening), it is not moving the county into Phase 3 yet.

We’d have fewer cases if we just didn’t test. Wait, who said that? That’s right! Ding! Ding! Ding! Donald J. Trump! Really, no, that’s not possible! Really! Read for yourself here or there:

So, there is not really good news though I think we are supposed to believe there is good news?!?!

We may have one treatment that actually does work. Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that a low cost steroid, Dexamethasone, appears to be effective in treating people who are sick with COVID-19. They believe the drug is responsible for cutting the risk of death for people who are on a ventilator by a third and cutting that risk by a fifth for people who are on oxygen. And what of hydroxychloroquine? Still not working, still dangerous, and now the FDA has withdrawn its emergency approval for use of the drug in treating COVID-19. This was a favorite of Mr. Trump whose own “scientific” study on an elderly population (N=1) led him to conclude it was just fine to use.

You’ll want to see this! A regular reader in Hawai`i sent me a link to Flourish which does these really interesting graphic representations of what is happening with COVID-19. This link shows the growth in deaths since the 10th death that was recorded. Notice who is leading the way. Thanks Judy for putting me on to Flourish!


what if this is the new normal?

We all seem to be waiting for the new normal to arrive, right? Implicit in the idea of waiting for the new normal (which sure sounds a lot like Waiting for Godot) is a belief that everything will magically return to the way it was before we ever heard of COVID-19.

But what if this is the new normal? That’s a question a colleague and I bounced around this afternoon. We were reflecting on a group meeting we had both been in (via Zoom) in which nearly every person expressed their weariness with Zoom. They are just so over Zoom and want to be done with Zoom meetings.

But again I ask, what if this is the new normal? Actually, I suspect it is. Businesses of all kinds – nonprofit, public agencies, and corporations – are finding that work is still getting done by teams in diverse remote locations, people can be productive working at home even if they are occasionally distracted by children and family pets, and it is even possible to develop close, strong relationships with people via Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc.

The uptake of comfort with video technology has been very, very swift. In barely three months it has become a competency acquired by people of all ages. It is being used to an extent none of us ever thought possible only a few months ago.

One of the worst things about Zooming or using other video platforms are the disparities in connectivity. Some people have really great connections so the video and sound is great. Others have so-so connections which can be annoying but you can still get a lot of work done. Some, though, have lousy connections making it difficult to see them or even hear them. However, even that is changing.

People are upgrading their equipment and internet service at home to support their video conferencing. Plus, the U.S. is moving – slowly but surely – to 5G technology which should really make videoconferencing on tablets and phone work so much better.

I don’t think we’ll ever return to the “old normal,” you know, the way it all was before COVID-19. That’s not to say we won’t be able to, I just think we are going to find we can be more productive, less stressed, and at reduced risk of everything (colds, flu, irritating co-workers, etc.) when we really embrace working remotely and allow ourselves to become expert at it.

Right now I think the hope for a return to the old normal is still too strong. We are reluctant to let go of it and embrace what is today and the possibility we are already in the new normal. Like Godot, the old normal is not coming back.

However, before we have to play catch up, we can lean into the new normal even now. We can learn how to work more effectively with the video conferencing platform of our choice. Here’s one, focusing on Zoom, to get you started.


chickenman – episode 60

Chickenman begins his race with the Bear Lady. When he arrives at his grandmother’s house, though, he gets a big surprise.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 14, 2020 – Letting Go

Today is June 14, 2020 and American Flag Day. American history reports that Elizabth Griscom Ross (aka Betsy Ross) sewed the first American flag. Quaker history reports that she grew up in a Quaker family. However, she married outside the faith (eloping with John Ross who was a member of the Church of England) and was expelled from the Religious Society of Friends. (Yes, we did that at one point.) Ross was not, however, a seamstress. She was an upholsterer.


Letting go

With 115,521 deaths today in the U.S. from COVID-19 many people have experienced the trauma of letting go of a loved one. There is a sorrow that comes with death unlike any other. That sorrow is magnified so much more when it is impossible to be by the side of your loved one in that moment of transition from this life. Sadly there have been too many people lost in this pandemic and too many who have had to let go from a distance. In writing the next few lines I am deeply aware of these realities.

We are letting go this week of one of the Girls, Madison. We took her to the veterinary yesterday to learn why she seemed to be having difficulty walking and was losing weight. Madison is a geriatric dog so her symptoms were not really surprising. She is 14 and a half in human years at least. She may be older, in fact, we suspect she is. We never saw her records because she was a rescue from a puppy mill in Ohio. Our investigation suggested she was at least three years old when she came to us. Geriatric or not, we felt like something wasn’t right and we wanted to have her checked out.

Madison

At first, the vet thought it was osteo-arthritis and simply muscle atrophy, which is common in older dogs. Then he did a blood test. The blood test prompted him to do an ultrasound. Then he delivered the news. “It’s her time,” he said. “There is nothing I can do for her. So she is not in pain, I recommend you wait no longer than a week.” He explained in further detail that she was severely anemic, a mass had formed within her, and she was bleeding internally. “It’s her time.”

Madison is not the dog that was supposed to leave us already. Dolly has been contending with Cushing’s Disease and was, in fact, not supposed to live past last July. However, a growth discovered inside her last year was benign and she is still very much alive. This news about Madison came as a shock.

We aren’t sure that it is a shock to Dolly though. We got her a year after Madison and have strong evidence that she is one of Madison’s first pups. For the past several days, before taking Madison to the vet, we noticed that Dolly was staying especially close to Madison. Dogs know stuff, don’t they?

We are making arrangements for Peaceful Passage to come on Friday afternoon to help Madison leave and help us let go. COVID-19 restrictions means that the vet cannot come into our house so we’ll have to prepare to say good-bye to her in the garage. We are grateful that Madison came to our home, we are incredibly sad that she is leaving now, and, yet, we will get to be with her when she does.

In the human world it appears that part of the new normal will be that we cannot be with our family members when they die. This a cruel reality of the pandemic. To those who have already lost loved ones in this time and to those who are to experience it, we wish it were not.


chickenman – episode 58

Chickenman makes his way to Fargo, North Dakota to deliver a basket of groceries and a TV Guide to his mother.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 10, 2020 – What We Miss When Going Too Slow

Today is June 10, 2020. It is also National Ballpoint Pen Day. On June 20, 1943 two Hungarian brothers who immigrated to Argentina, Laslo and Georg Biro, filed a patent for the ballpoint pen. The ballpoint pen was first sold in the U.S. at Gimbel’s department store in 1945 and cost a whopping $12.50 each. Today that would be $190 but it still wouldn’t be enough to buy a Montblanc StarWalker Ballpoint Pen on Amazon.


What we miss when going too slow

We left the house today. Really…more than just walking the dogs. We got in the car and drove to a doctor’s appointment about 10 miles away. Then, we bought groceries…at 2 different stores!

Four months ago I would not have believed that a two-hour outing to get my eyes checked and buy a few groceries would be blogworthy. It felt like a trip to the moon. I nearly messed up paying at the grocery store because it has been so long since I’ve had to use one of those credit card readers. At first I inserted the card; but panicked and pulled it back out of the machine. For a moment I couldn’t remember if I should have swiped it or inserted it. Of course my confusion in turn confused the card reader and it gave me a “card error” message for about 30 seconds. To be clear, it was neither the card nor the reader’s error. It was mine.

But this is what we’ve come to, isn’t it? We gotten used to a different pace and we get excited by the little things now.

Another little thing that I get excited about now when I go out is bathrooms. Why you ask? (Of course you didn’t but I know you were thinking it.) Because public bathrooms are not nearly as plentiful as they used to be. Since the pandemic not every business is letting the public use its bathrooms. When you get into a business and find it has a bathroom you can use it is like finding, excuse the really bad pun, the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow.

These have been slower times during these months of self-isolation. Not less busy, but slower. The pace has opened up space to try some new things. I’ve been doing more reading, I’ve been learning to build websites on Google Sites, I’ve been learning video editing, and I’ve been learning to play ukelele.

Playing ukelele has been my dream since I met Taimane Gardner. At the time she was about 15 or 16 years old and she was playing on the street in front of my hotel in Honolulu. It was my first work trip to Hawai`i and I was walking around Waikiki Beach in the evening. As I was returning to my hotel, I heard her playing and decided to stop, watch, and listen for a bit. While she played, her mom and dad stood close by selling her first CD, Loco Princess (which I still have, by the way). Between songs I talked with her parents and during a break I got to talk with her. She began playing at age 5 and is often described as a ukelele virtuoso. At that time she told me she hoped to travel to the mainland to study at Julliard. That didn’t happen but her career seems to have taken off. I will never play like her, but, wow, what an inspiration!

During this time of self-isolation I’ve also been reminded of life before the conveniences we enjoy now, like cable, cell phones, internet, satellite radio, and social media. However, when I reflect on how much slower we lived before these things, I think maybe I didn’t so miss much. I mean…

  • I still watched more TV than I should have with only ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS available over the air. (Our nearest TV station was 60+ miles away, which sometimes meant I’d have to go outside and turn the antenna by hand to get clear reception.)
  • I still got in trouble for spending too much time on our one family phone. (Rotary dial, no push buttons.)
  • I still got enough news about the Vietnam War from our local daily newspaper to feel depressed as I waited to turn 18 and be eligible for the draft. (My draft number? 364. Trump’s? Heel spurs.)
  • I still had one ear glued to the radio for my music. (Chicago’s WLS 890 AM and DJ Larry Lujack was a constant companion through my high school years in Southeast Iowa.)
  • I still saw enough cute cats and dogs living on a farm. (We always had a dog and way, way, way too many cats.)

On the other hand, I actually did miss a lot. We all did in those slower times. True, instantaneous news in a constantly online world can be irritating. However, it helps us see more things we missed when news moved slower.

Thanks to the velocity of news today, we were able learn quickly about the harrassment of Christian Cooper in Central Park in New York City by an entitled dog walker. We were able to learn about the murder of George Floyd before it could be covered up. We learned about, actually could see in real time, peaceful protester’s being pushed out of LaFayette Square to make way for Trump’s photo op. Unless we see and feel these outrages in real time and respond in real time, our efforts for change will always be too little, too late.

Sometimes we need a break from the rapid fire of information. Sometimes we need to step away from chaos, uncertainty, and the stress it can bring. Sometimes we need to go slow to disconnect for a little bit so we can maintain our sanity, perspective, and strength. At the same time we cannot allow our comfort in the slow periods to divorce us from the reality of our world and the part we need to play in making change.


Chickenman – Episode 54

The Winged Warrior seems to have fallen on hard times in Midland City. He is no longer as highly regarded as he once was. However, it turns out he has a fan club.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 9, 2020 – Now, What’s Next?

Today is Tuesday, June 9, 2020 and truly one of my favorite days – Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day! Strawberry Rhubarb pie is the perfect blend of tart and sweet. Today is also the anniversary of the debut of Donald Duck in 1934. Donald Duck is one of my least favorite of the Disney characters. Maybe because he is just mostly tart.


chickenman – episode 53

Chickenman makes an appearance on the Wallace Helium radio show…no relation to Winthrop Dykstra-Baum.


now, what’s next?

As I’m writing this the funeral service for George Floyd is being broadcast live from a church in Houston, Texas. In fact, it is being carried by all major broadcast networks and a few cable networks too. I am glad that so many are joining in the memorial and celebration of his life. I’m glad for Mr. Floyd that his body is finally being allowed to join his spirit in the afterlife.

Now that Mr. Floyd is being allowed to rest in peace, what’s next?

In 1978 a little Friends Church in rural Iowa was gracious enough to give a 24-year-old with, only and just barely, a high school education, the opportunity to serve as minister to the church. The people of that church were wonderfully patient and incredibly forgiving of me. They taught me far more about friendship, patience, grace and myself than I ever taught them about anything.

In that role I preached sermons on Sunday, visited members and attenders throughout the week, and performed weddings and funerals in between. One thing I learned about doing weddings was that I did not prefer them.

One thing I learned about funerals was that I was comfortable in the presence of death and grief. Was that because I had worked as a teen in cemeteries with my dad as a groundskeeper and grave digger? Maybe but who knows? Whatever the reason, I preferred funerals over weddings.

Serving that little church for three years I was honored to be with several people at the time of death. Each time it felt as though I was in a very sacred place with the person and their loved ones. It was not scary, it was not horrible, it just was. I know. Not every death is like that, but I wish every death were.

For George Floyd the time of death was scary, horrible, and shouldn’t have ever been. I wish I could unsee the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life, but I cannot. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before in real time, up close. I cannot unsee it and I should never unsee it.

Just a few minutes ago in the service for Mr. Floyd, Rev. Mary White offered a prayer in the funeral service. One line of that prayer grabbed me. I won’t get it exactly right here but the gist of it was this: “When George cried out for his mama, every mama heard his cry.” Truth. It explains, in part, why this man’s death is so different and why the response to it has been so overwhelming and powerful.

Another thing I learned about funerals is that they are for the living, not the dead. Mr. Floyd is out of his pain now and has moved into the presence of his God and his mother again. Funerals recognize and embrace the pain of those left behind. They provide a means for those left behind to release their grief and to finally release their loved one. Sometimes the death of a loved one results in a change for individual survivors.

At the individual level, the loss of a loved one can profoundly change us. We may become more attentive to our own health, we may turn more intentionally to spiritual things, we may make profound changes in our relationships, or we may “step up” in ways that we never did before. As an individual, I’ve experienced change as a result of loss. I’ve also witnessed individual change like this in others.

I am less convinced that the death of one person, no matter how horrific, will change whole groups, including communities, states, and nations. When it comes to Mr. Floyd’s death and the meaning it could have to our society and world, I want to be convinced and have my doubt erased.

The death of George Floyd changes our country and our world only if it also changes us as individuals. As Rev. White noted, when George Floyd cried out to his mama, it changed mama’s everywhere. It also changed a few papas…including me.

Have enough mamas and papas, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, sons and daughters been changed? Please, God, let it be so that the answer “Now, what’s next?” becomes plain for all to see. Then George Floyd will have truly changed the world.

The George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota – Photo by Lorie Shaull

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Tom