Tom’s Blog – The Daily Drivel

July 2, 2020 – Deciders and Doers

Today I had two very interesting conversations with people. The first occurred at the end of a round of golf. The second occurred at the end of the day. Both have put me in a reflective mood.


deciders and doers

Today I was at the golf course at 5:45 AM because it is the best time for an older guy like me with underlying health conditions to play safely. At the first tee I joined up with three other men and we played together. I did not know any of the three as is often the case at the course where I play. It is one of the most interesting and diverse golf venues I’ve ever played. It is racially diverse (nearly equal part Asian, Black, and White players) and professionally diverse (auto mechanics, doctors, Secret Service and CIA agents, etc.).

Of the three men I played with today, two were twin brothers (unfortunately for me they were identical and even dressed similarly in two shade of the same blue color and have similar sounding four letter names – Kyle and Kirk). The third, Paul, lives not far from me, as it turns out. We were not the fastest people on the course so we let people play through several times. However, we were quite likely the safest. We maintained at least a six foot distance and all four of us wore masks.

The two brother had to leave early so the third guy, Paul, and I finished the round the together. Just off the 18th green we chatted for a while about the unique nature of golf.

Paul observed, “The thing I love about golf is that every time you take a shot, you have a series of decisions you need to make – club selection, how to strike the ball, where to strike it, how to aim it, and so on. You can’t play golf without making a lot of decisions.”

Then I said, “That’s right but then the tricky part is that you have to execute the decisions. It would be great if all I had to do is make the decision and then let someone else execute the shot. So here’s an idea…if we play again, how about if I make all the decisions about your shots and you just do the shot and then you make all the decisions on my shots and I just do them?”

We both laughed.

Paul said, “You know, that’s why the pros have caddys. The caddy’s know the skills of the pro better than anyone else and know the course, too. Often they tell the pro how to hit the shot and the pro just executes it.”

That brief conversation has been stuck in my mind all day. At one level it is a fun and funny idea for a golf tournament. (Much better than playing night golf with only a glow-in-the-dark golf ball to guide you, which I’ve done once and will never do again. Too dangerous.) Here’s how it would work: You play as a team and you each make the game decisions for the other. Because you are competing as a team, each is going to make the best decision for their teammate they can. At a minimum, everyone would need to have a great sense of humor about the experiment. Now, I need to try to sell that idea to my golf course management. Hmmmm…

At another level the conversation is useful for understanding how we work with others. One way can be very hierarchical and uses heavy positional power: one person decides, the other person executes without questioning. This is the way things have been for a very long time in many organizations. The boss decides, the workers execute. Of course, if things go wrong it is usually blamed on the workers because they didn’t execute very well. Heaven forbid the decision making might have been poor, right?

Another way to see it is for understanding collaboration. Collaboration has to do with syncing up and working closely with at least one other person and usually several others. It is important for both (or all) collaborators to assume a collaborative posture. Pragmatically, even in collaboration, one person (or small group of people) may take the lead in assessing the situation, providing analysis, and offering solutions. The other person(s), with primary responsibility for “doing,” offers feedback, suggestions, and additional information the “decider” needs. In the end they actually make a decision together and the decisions are executed. In this approach, both share success and both share responsibility and accountablility.

In fact, this is actually how collaboration happens on the golf course between a caddy and their pro golfer. Ironically, the pro is often just the “doer” and the caddy is more in the “decider” role. The pro has extraordinary talents in execution and the caddy has extraordinary talents in assessment, analysis, and decision making. At the heart of the pro/caddy relationship is a phenomenal level of trust and respect. Of course, the pro gets all the accolades and the money. The really wise pro makes sure she or he pays the caddy very, very well.

Remember when we used to travel? Sometime last year when I was traveling for work, I found a film on Netflix that was delightful and very interesting. It is called Loopers: The Caddy’s Long Walk. I need to re-watch it now that this conversation is rolling around in my head. Check it out. I think you might like it too.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I like the caddy and pro golfer example as a pretty powerful illustration of collaboration. What do you think? Maybe I should spend a bit more time on the golf course developing it, eh?


missing hugs

I’ve been meeting each Thursday afternoon with a group of friends via Zoom for the purpose of simply maintaining human connection during the pandemic. Each week we have a “conversation starter” to kick things off, though, actually, we usually don’t really need one. This week the conversation starter had to do with maintaining connection during these times of social distancing. More specifically, we wondered how to respond when someone wanted to shake hands or give a hug? Or, even, if we wanted to give a hug to someone. As has become the norm for this close group, it was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation…and it is always difficult to end at just an hour.

Today I had an “aha” moment in the conversation. Since February I have not seen my son in person more than twice. Both times I dropped something off at his front door, rang his doorbell, then quickly stepped away to sthe idewalk to maintain appropriate distance. He would come outside and we’d talk from about 10 feet apart, still with masks.

The “aha” for me was the realization that both of these conversations ended in a way that they have never, ever ended before. From the time my son was born, I decided I would never let a day pass without telling him that I loved him and giving him a hug. To the best of my memory I never missed a day for as long as we shared a roof. Now that he is grown (soon to be 36), I don’t see him everyday anymore, however, each time I do see him our time together always ends with “I love you” and a hug. When we ended those conversations in front of his hous on those two times, the “I love you” was there but the hug was not. Today I figured out why it felt so strange and what was missing. I have a hole in my arms it puts one in my heart, too.

a holiday break…i think…maybe

Not that I’m obsessive or anything, but I have become a bit so with writing The Daily Drivel. I undertook this as personal therapy back on March 16 to help me manage my stress about the COVID-19 pandemic. After 109 (or is it 110?) consecutive daily blogs, I’m realizing four things:

  1. I really enjoy writing the blog. It has been an amazing exercise to try to create something each day that makes some sense and that people will actually read. The readership has grown, remained steady, and continues to grow, for which I’m really grateful.
  2. It really has helped me manage my own stress during this time. I can put down on virtual paper the things that are on my mind – whether they are rational or not. Then something magical happens: they vanish and, for the most part, are no longer stressful to me.
  3. I enjoy it so much that I don’t want it to become a chore. I don’t ever want to get to the point it it feels to me like I “have to” put out a blog. At that point it is no longer a joy but a chore.
  4. As much as I enjoy it, it is a lot of work. Plus, I also have a full-time consulting practice that takes about 8 to 10 hours each day, usually six or seven days a week and it is only getting busier. I usually take a writing break in the middle of the afternoon or I write at night when my other work is done.

To ensure that I continue to enjoy writing the blog and that it is relieving, not contributing to, my stress, I’m going to try to give myself permission to take an occasional break. “Try” is the operative word in that sentence because truly, I enjoy it.

The Independence Day long holiday weekend is a perfect time for me to experiment with trying to take a break for a few days. Therefore, I may be taking a break from writing The Daily Drivel over the Independence Day long weekend and will plan for the next one to appear on Tuesday. The operative word of this sentence is “may.” I will do my best but if I get inspired or bored or Clemencia needs me to get out of her hair for a while, you may get one on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

See you Tuesday…or maybe before…we’ll see.


chickenman – episode 75

Chickenman attaches himself to the passing airliner and tries to make pitstop on the plane.


This is that day

Today is July 2, 2020 and World UFO Day. Oh, wow, I love this kind of stuff! I grew up under the dark starry skies of the American Midwest. Each summer my friends and I, through 7th or 8th grade, would sleep out under the stars as often as we could to watch for UFOs. It was the era of the Bomb and UFO’s so anything was possible. We stay awake as long as we could hoping to see one. Never happened but we did, one night, cause an explosion so loud that it brought out the local fire department. But that’s a story for another day. Keep watching the skies!


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

July 1, 2020 – Truth in an Age of Untrustworthiness

A Note from the Past

Early in the morning on March 14, 2020 I could not sleep. I was doing a two-day strategy planning session in Jackson, Mississippi and I was to start the second day later in the morning. I had made the decision to start the drive home immediately at the close of the session instead of waiting until the next day, Sunday the 15th, to start after a good night’s sleep.

Why the change in plans?

The day before, Friday, March 13, the COVID-19 natioanl pandemic emergency had been declared. Since I couldn’t sleep, I wrote the following blog that I never posted. Still, it inspired me, two days later, to begin daily blogging. First as Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place (for 77 straight days) and now as The Daily Drivel. Today marks 108 consecutive days of posting a blog. Before you now it, it will be 110!

I’ve been taking in and sitting with all the news over the past couple of days about COVID-19. When I sat down to write today’s blog, I accidently clicked on the “Drafts” section and this unsent blog popped up. I began to read it and had a terrible, sinking feeling. At this point I want to quip something funny like one of the famous sayings from Yogi Berra, specifically, “It’s deja vu all over again.” However, it isn’t funny. It is tragic. March 13th is nearly four months ago but, folks, we are right back there like in some kind of cruel Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray to make us laugh about it.

I’ve decided to run that blog today unedited and in its entirety. Bear in mind it was written the morning after the declaration of national emergency. Mississippi, where I was working, would have its first reported case of coronavirus later that day. None of us were expected to be sheltering-in-place more than two weeks. Who could have imagined we’d be in the place we are today with 2.6 million Americans confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 130,000 dead?

I know this is going to sound nonsensical but I wish it were not still March 14, 2020. The only difference, it seems, is that I’m writing from my office at home and not the Hampton Inn Downtown Jackson.


Truth in an Age of Untrustworthiness

Today, March 14, 2020, two opposite things are true: Life goes on as normal and nothing about life is normal.

I’m writing this from Jackson, Mississippi where I finish up some work with a really terrific client today. What is normal about today is that I’m doing work I often do. I have done strategy planning sessions with many organizations. There is nothing new in this work for me. It is part of my normal life.

However, nothing about how I am doing this work this time is normal. Because of the spread of the coronavirus we are: practicing social distancing (keeping six feet away from one another), regular hand washing and sanitizing, trying to keep our hands away from our faces, and wiping down every surface we can in our meeting spaces a couple of times each day. Notice I said “meeting spaces.”

The only meeting rooms available to us were too small to accommodate all 15-17 people seated at a distance of six feet apart (an appropriate social distance). The group was divided into two – one meeting in a small conference room in my hotel and the other meeting in a small conference room at the organization’s offices. Using Zoom videoconferencing we are able to work together from our separate locations. It worked, but nothing was normal about it.

I know. Some of you reading this will see this as an over reaction on my part and that of my client. I’m okay with that. Actually, we had some fun with the “abundance of caution” here as well. I get it. During uncertain times when we are feeling a bit shaken, humor is an important resource. What I don’t get are the people who see the coronavirus thing as a big joke or even a hoax. I know. This is America, the land of the free where we are all entitled to our own thoughts, beliefs, and speech – no matter how ill informed, damaging, or hurtful they may be. If it were not for this freedom, I couldn’t be writing this post.

Here’s the problem though. We live in an age of untrustworthiness. As Americans, we have been lied to by many different people – too many of them in leadership – in the past and present. Some have invented conspiracy theories and outright hoaxes.

  • Some have lied because they erroneously believed they were serving a greater good by being less than candid.
  • Some are pathological liars.
  • Some are innocent, ignorant, and well intended – but pass on things they’ve heard from a “reliable source” but which is still neither reliable nor true.
  • Some are just plain evil and use lies to create chaos and confusion to their own benefit.

Be careful about “who” you read into what you just read. The “who” is all of us. Though some of you will believe I’m referring to a particular leader or groups of leaders and some will believe I’m referring to the media. Nope.

I don’t always appreciate how addiction to ratings and revenue often drives the media to make meaningless stories important and sensational stories even more sensational. Nonetheless, I believe they have, on the whole, tried to do more good than harm with their reporting of the Novel Coronavirus. Even in the media there are bad actors who hold to political loyalties and party lines rather than the truth. I believe the media has been trying to get our attention long enough to focus on a real threat while others would prefer to distract us from it.

The reason for a lie never really matters because the damage of the lie is still the same. It sows mistrust, lack of confidence, and we find ourselves living in an age of untrustworthiness.

My professional field is leadership not public health. However, I have spent the majority of my career working on matters related to public health. I’ve had the privilege of working with local, county, and state public health departments around the United States, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and major health and medical research universities. When it comes to matters of public health, I do not listen to our leaders or the media but directly to the people from the public health world. Sometimes, of course, leaders or the media may be channels by which public health messages get out so it is impossible to avoid them altogether. As good consumers, though, it is our obligation to pull back the curtain on leaders and the media to assess the quality of the information they are passing on.

We are in a moment when the clear, factual voice of public health is still struggling to be heard through the political rhetoric. In this moment, I believe the truth is to be found in what public health people are trying to tell us. If they could get through to us, here is what I believe they’d want us to hear:

  • We have a much bigger problem than we’ve been led to believe because too little is being done too late. The coronavirus did not just “pop up” in the past few weeks as some leaders would have us believe. Our leaders have known about it and its potential as a very serious threat since early January. They were warned by the epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on January 21 that cases of the virus were expected in the United States and globally. Still, our leaders put out information that was less than candid about the risk. In what may be the race of our lives, the coronavirus had a nearly 10 week head start on us and we have just barely left the starting blocks.
  • Infections are growing exponentially which means far more of us will become sick and die than what we ever imagined. The mathematicians have worked out the numbers for us. Epidemiologists tell us that the number of coronavirus cases doubles ever six days at its current rate of growth. If it continues at that rate, we will hit 1 million cases in the U.S. by the end of April. Two weeks later, by the middle of May, we will have 4 million cases. The mortality rates for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may as low as 3% to 5% but recent re-estimations of death rates published on March 12 show they may be as high as 15%, even 20%. More fun with math…Do you know how many American’s died of the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919? The final toll is estimated at 675,000. How does this compare with the potential death toll for COVID-19? You can do the math yourself to come up with the truly frightening number of deaths which could result from COVID-19. Remember, the Spanish Flu first appeared in the United States in January 1918 in Kansas. It came in two waves, with the second more deadly than the first.

Tell me, please. Are we simply picking up where we left off on March 14th? It seems so.


The return of weird al wednesday

So, weirdly, people really liked Weird Al Wednesday last week. So much so that Mike, a regular reader from here in Maryland, sent me this wonderful performance by Weird Al when he did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. Enjoy!


chickenman – episode 74

Chickenman continues his flight across the Atlantic Ocean all the while confusing and befuddling an airline pilot who spots the Wonderful Weekend Warrior on his trek.


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 30, 2020 – Sources & Resources

Today is a mash-up day. I’ve put together a list of interesting reads and places to visit over the Independence Day holiday. These should give you something to do so you can stay inside, or away from people, and remain safe.

Yesterday, during an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), I heard Tom Frieden (former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) say that right now we need to be practicing the three W’s:

  • Wear a mask
  • Wash your hands
  • Watch your distance

I really appreciate the clarity of the message. Seems simple enough, eh?

sources and resources on current events

Recently I’ve been reading a daily newsletter that comes into my email from Popular Information. Judd Legum, the guy who writes it, is a former political researcher. His writing is clear and his research seems to be pretty good as well. However, this is not his first rodeo, as you will see when you read about him. Recently, Legum and Popular Information have doggedly on the trail of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for their consistent failure to monitor hate speech. Today this article came out about how Facebook has been losing advertising dollars from many companies (approaching 250) for both the failure and their reticence to correct the problem. In the spirit of full disclosure…I hate Facebook for all the reason Legum spells out and more.

In the realm of politics, there are several interesting thing to examine over the holiday break. First, this whole thing with Russia and the bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan is big and getting bigger. The New York Times is reporting that Trump did learn about it in the Presidential Daily Briefing back in February. Then, Fox News seems to be putting out a story that GOP operatives may be trying to force Trump to leave the race. Interesting, huh? Not sure what to make of it but I did find this video that provides some context for the issue. Finally, with regard to the Presidential race, there is was an interesting article in The Guardian a few weeks ago by Art Cullen, Pulitzer Prizing journalist and editor of The Storm Lake Times, a family-run local newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa. In The Guardian article Cullen argues that Midwesterns are doubting Trump putting his re-election at risk.

As the general election draws nearer, I’m finding myself drawn to websites and resources that give me more information than opinion. Here are several I’m finding useful:

  • Snopes.com – I use Scopes.com to investigate the latest thing I’ve heard before I decide to believe it.
  • Politifact.com – Politifact.com does something similar to Snopes.com except it focuses specifically on politics.
  • AllSides.com – In a previous blog I also featured AllSides.com because it gives you the news from the left, the center, and the right in an effort to ferret out the media bias.
  • RealClearPolitics.com – RealClearPolitics.com is a great site to visit for information on the latest political poles and the stories behind the polls.

tough conversations

There are at least four resources to help you have the challenging conversations you need to have with people in your life on issues such as race, politics, mask wearing, conspiracy theories, etc.

Talking About Race is a new resource from the National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Smithsonian. The website is designed to provide information and guidance on how to have conversations about race with one another. It is well done and offers resources for teachers, parents or caregivers, and anyone who is committed to equity.

There are three groups that are trying to bring people together across ideological divides to have important and courageous conversations. I’ll let their websites speak for themselves:

stories of covid-19

Three items related to COVID-19 have caught my interest recently.

First, there was a very good article today on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Tracker. It was created last January by a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University. Data from the tracker are used extensively by many media outlets for following the progression of COVID-19 around the world. The story of the tracker is very interesting and gives some additional insight on how to use it.

Second, as story from NPR gives us good advice for using masks for outdoor activity. I know there…there is some debate about whether you even need a mask for outdoor exercise. Check out the article to learn more.

Third, earlier today Anthony Fauci (of the National Institutes of Health) warned that the U.S. is not in control of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak and the number of cases could rise to 100,000 per day. That’s not good news. In that same meeting, Senator Lamar Alexander chastised Trump for not wearing a mask at least some of the time.


chickenman – episode 73

Chickenman is on his way across the Atlantic Ocean…yellow raincoat and all!

Meteor watch day

Today, the last day of June, is Meteor Watch Day. Seems like a great day to go out on Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star.”

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 29, 2020 – Trauma & Organizational Culture

Today is Monday, June 29, 2020 and Hug Holiday Day. This day is designed to encourage people to give hugs to others who need them. It was obviously created before the COVID-19 pandemic. Hugs are great, but not for now. Save the real hug for after we get through the pandemic. Instead, mark the day by giving virtual hugs to people who need them. You can do this by giving them a call, sending them a note, or planning a Zoom meeting with them…unless they are totally exhausted from Zooming already. In which case, give them a hug by NOT inviting them to Zoom.


traumatic disruption and organizational culture

How does an organizational trauma impact it’s culture? This is the focus of another segment of my nearly hour long interview with Lamar Roth, Director of Human Resources at Excel Industries. In the brief conversation below, we talk about how the culture of Excel Industries was impacted by two major traumas. The first was in February 2016 when a gunman entered Excel Industries and began shooting his co-workers. Four employees, including the gunman, died.

The second began in March of this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. In the full interview Lamar talks about ways the two traumas are similar and how they are different. He also describes how the lessons learned in the active shooter experience informed and helped prepare the company to deal with the pandemic.

This 6 minute, 54 second video focuses on the impact of traumatic disruption on the culture of Excel Industries. The full 56-minute video, Leading Through Traumatic and Disruptive Events: A Conversation with Lamar Roth, includes many more insights and recommendations for organizations also dealing with COVID-19.


who will we be?

The word “existential” is defined as “concerned with existence, especially human existence.” Hence, it refers to how we are to be as humans. Who are we? Who will we become?

In barely four months we will have to answer these questions. The next general election on November 3rd is shaping up to be about more than a choice between two old White guys sitting in the Oval Office. The question we have to answer, first as individuals and then as a country, is far more existential than that. Our vote will be an expression of who we wish to be and what we want the country to become.

Okay, that’s it for now. I thought I had a fully baked thought to share on this today, but I don’t. It is still half baked so I’m going to come back to it, I hope, in the future. In the meantime, I’m going to sit with my thoughts about what I want our country to become. I invite you to do the same.


some days, it’s all just too much

I’m realizing that I’m feeling incredibly overwhelmed at the moment. The news today has been devastating. Is it possible that Trump’s love affair with Putin really has caused him to hide his eyes from seeing that American soldiers have died in Afghanistan with a Russian bounty on their heads? Add to this that COVID-19 still has the U.S. in its grip.

Today we have rounded the corner on 125,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. and we are headed toward 130,000 in a few days. If nothing changes in the behavior of Americans, the death toll could be at nearly 180,000 by October 1. Even worse, if Stupid people and Ignorant policies win the day, that projection rises to a higher level. At this point, the U.S., which has prided itself in setting an example for the world on all things (not that we are arrogant or anything) is now an example of what NOT to do with regard to COVID-19. To make matters worse, word comes today that the Novel Coronavirus has mutated and scientists are rushing to figure out what the “G variant” means for us.

One bit of good news, Pence has finally said that wearing a mask is a good idea. Seems too little, too late but at least he said it and he occasionally wears one. For Trump, the only hope is a bit of advice from Randy Rainbow.


chickenman – episode 72

Chickenman attempts to fly to Europe. You can only imagine how that turns out. Yes, that’s right.


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 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 27, 2020 – Connected by Music

Today is Saturday, June 27, 2020. This is also Sunglasses Day. I’m happy to say everyday is sunglasses day for me…kind of. I wear glasses with transition lenses that turn dark when I’m outside in the sunlight. I love but it doesn’t always set well with the papparazzi who follow me everywhere or the fans that swarm me when I’m in public and want a selfie with me. My automatic sunglasses, of course, hide my eyes. Which means I wear my sunglasses at night?


connected by music

Today Clemencia and I had to pick up Madison’s ashes. We had her cremated after she was euthanized about 10 days ago. (Just to be clear, I’m referring to the older of our two Miniature Schnauzers.) Her ashes came back to us in a beautiful wooden urn, with a nameplate, and a place to put a photo of her. To be honest, we aren’t quite sure what do to with her ashes. We’ll have to think about it a bit.

On the ride this morning to pick up her ashes, we were listening to music of the 1970’s on Sirius XM Radio. Two songs came on that made us realize something pretty cool. Though we grew up a language and two continents apart apart, we had some of the same music in common.

The first song was Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun,” released in December 1973. When the song came on this morning smart alec me said, “You know, when I hear this song the only thing that comes to mind are groups of junior high and high schools girls singing along and crying with this song.” Clemencia’s response was, “Well, one of those was probably me.” “Oh…,” I sheepishly replied.

“Seasons in the Sun” was a one-hit wonder for Terry Jacks, a Canadian musician. The song is about a dying man saying farewell to his loved ones. Ironically, the “B” side of “Seasons of the Sun” was Jack’s original composition about burying a deceased pet dog. From a dying person to a dead dog…seems a bit of leap, don’t you think?

Originally, The Beach Boys had recorded the song with Jacks’ producing it. However, The Beach Boys decided not to do anything with it, so Jacks recorded it on his own label and released it independently.

Much to my shock at the time…and still today…it was a huge song. Within a month of its release it broke into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and by March it rose to #1 and stayed for 3 weeks. It stayed on the Hot 100 chart until Memorial Day 1974. In Canada it did even better. By late January 1974 it went to RPM’s #1 position and stayed there for four weeks. It also held the #1 position on music charts in Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Now, if you do the math, that was a whole bunch wailing and sobbing young people out there! In the end, Billboard ranked it as the #2 song overall for 1974.

Not all of its fame was glorious, however. A couple of polls, including one conducted by CNN in 2006, rated “Seasons in the Sun” as one of the worst pop songs ever recorded. Seriously, and with deep apologies to all my good Canadian friends, I so agree with this poll.

Here is the version I remember. Keep you Kleenex close!

Colombians Ana and Jaime, recorded the song in Spanish. They were are a brother and sister duo from Bogota who were known mostly for ballads and protest songs. This is the version that Clemencia remembers.

The second song that came on which we both knew in our respective parts of the world in the 1970’s was “Rose Garden,” sung by Lynn Anderson. “Rose Garden” also did very well in the charts holding #1 positions in several countries, including the U.S. The song, however, is noted for being one of the very first “crossover” hits – from country to pop. It made Country Music Television’s list of “100 Greatest Songs in Country Music” in 2003. Just last year, 2019, Rolling Stone named it as one of the “20 Songs That Defined the Early Seventies.”

Here is the “Rose Garden” I was listening to in 1970. This version is from the BBC’s “Top of the Pops.” It features a live orchestra and a studio full of British teens doing an interesting variety of dances to the tune.

This is the version of “Jardin de Rosas,” by Colombian singer Maria Antonia, that Clemencia was listening to in Colombia. Enjoy!

Today’s musical exploration was a fun excursion into the past and the meaning of muic in our lives. It also reminded us of the power of music to connect people.


the view from jeff

Jeff Explains: With people moving from their curated studio spaces into face to face meetings I can only imagine that coffee shop power bills will spike due to people bringing their own optimal lighting sources.

chickenman – episode 71

Chikcenman had “issues” today and I could not create a link to him. Sorry about that! He’ll be back soon!


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 26, 2020 – The Conundrum of Forgiveness

Today is June 26, 2020. This is also celebrated as Forgiveness Day – a day to forgive and to be forgiven. How can one day be so impractical and at the same time so practical?

after the rain

Late yesterday afternoon we had a fierce thunderstorm. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention or if it really did sneak up on us, but I didn’t see it coming. One moment all seemed to be just fine out side, the next minute it was raining so hard that it was difficult to see across the street.

Throughout the storm I continued to work. When it had stopped raining our telephone rang. Our neighbors Neil and Jan called to tell us to look out the window. When I did, this is what I saw.

I don’t recall ever having see a complete rainbow in my life, let along a double complete rainbow. The double rainbow is a bit easier to see in the picture below. Notice the intensity of the colors of the inside rainbow.

I ran from window to window and window to deck to get a better angle to take pictures. All the while I was rushing about hoping it wouldn’t dissipate too quickly. I needn’t have worried. It was such an intense rainbow that it was visible for close to 30 minutes. Extraordinary!


the conundrum of forgiveness

The conudrum of forgivess is this: it is never about the other person, it is always about us. The capacity and will to both seek forgiveness and forgive others is what makes us decent, fully-human people. No matter the hurt we feel or the hurt we cause, granting or seeking forgiveness sets us free.

I’ve had the experience of doing both though I’ve more often had to seek forgiveness than grant it. Asking forgiveness is one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had to do. If you are familiar with the 12 Steps of Alchoholics Anonymous, and similar 12 Step groups, you know that the act of asking forgiveness is critical. In fact, beginning with the Fourth Step, seven of the 12 Steps are all about seeking forgiveness.

In the 1980’s I regularly attended Adult Children of Alcoholics and we used the 12 Steps in our own healing and recovery work, too. Addiction requires at least two people: the addict and a person who enables the addiction. Sometimes the enabler is the whole family. It took me a while to fully see and understand my own contribution to my father’s alcoholism. While I was not to blame, I helped enable the conditions that allowed him to feed his addiction until it grew beyond control. Enablers are not to blame for the addiction; but they do have responsibility for either supporting it (even unconsciously) or addressing it intentionally through what Al-Anon calls “detaching with love.” Many may see the line between feeling responsible and feeling a sense of blame to be very thin. I assure you, it is not.

When we carry blame, we also feel shame and powerlessness. It hangs on us like a backpack full of rocks. We can never seem to wriggle free from the bag, no matter what we do.

The mindshift from blame to responsibility is actually quite freeing. When we have been able to make that shift, we find that responsibility opens us to options we never had under the oppression of blame. Among the options that appear are giving and receiving forgiveness.

The 12 Steps, particularly Steps 4 through 10, help us embrace our responsibility. I can remember working Steps 8 & 9. It was excruciatingly difficult because it meant I had to seek forgiveness from people I had hurt in my wildly chaotic quest to fix my father’s addiction.

One person I approached for forgiveness and with whom I needed to make amends was the former minister of our church. As a young and upcoming preacher, who left the Methodist tradition to become a Baptist, I was invited to speak at the community Easter Service in my hometown. I used that opportunity to unleash the whole of Baptist hellfire on my former minister in a highly public attack while he sat only feet away. Why? Because I believed he had failed my father and my family.

Still, he extended grace to me that day, years later, when I sought him out to ask his forgiveness. I got the impression that he had largely forgotten it and had dismissed the bad behavior as pure hubris. Nonetheless, that day he took two of the big rocks out of my backpack – anger and loathing.

The act of forgiving, though, is a different kind of challenge. Sometimes the offense is so small that it takes little effort to forgive. Other times it takes every single ounce of humanity we possess to do it. For me, the most powerful model of forgiveness came from a man I stood in line with once at a Chinese take-out restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa. I knew of him by his reputation and I wanted to meet him. But I was still too burdened by my hidden shame to walk up to him and introduce myself. I regret having lost that opportunity.

His name is Ako Abdul-Samad, but this Wikipedia page does not really tell his story. Today he serves in the Iowa House of Representatives and recently he has been personally involved in keeping peace in Des Moines among the people who are protesting the death of George Floyd. He has even physically stood between police and protesters.

A more complete story, including his remarkable act of grace and forgiveness, is recalled in this article, written in 2016 but recently updated. In brief, Ako’s son was shot by another young man and died. Because it was a gang related shooting and Ako knew the shooter would not be safe from retaliation from his son’s gang, he took the young man into his own home. As he planned his own son’s funeral, he offered shelter and protection to the young man who killed his own child. Read the full story yourself, please. It is more real in Ako’s words.

Over the years as I’ve recalled Ako’s story from time to time, I’ve wondered how forgiveness and forgetfulness fit together. “Forgive and forget” is something we are all told at one time another. It seems impossible because it doesn’t seem wise. If I forget the harm done to me, what prevents me from getting hurt again? For this reason forgetting seems to be an irrational companion to forgiving.

Still, do we ever really forgive without forgetting? The answer is not simple. There is an elegant but complex dance that forgiveness and forgetfulness does within our soul.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget when the offense is slight and we have no permanent damage or scar. If this is the case, then we sometimes wonder if forgiveness is really needed at all, “no harm, no foul,” we say to ourselves.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget because we are so full of grace and faith in humanity that it is impossible for us to keep account of our hurts. This is rare indeed and if you are one of these unique people, you might consider applying for sainthood.

Sometimes we first have to forgive so we can begin to lose the memories of the pain. The act of forgiveness releases the valve that holds the memories in place. This takes great patience because some pain can leave deep impressions on our memory.

Sometimes we forgive and lose the memories of the pain but not the memories of the actions leading up to them. In these cases we are graceful and also wiser but sadder. The wisdom allows us to remain aware of potential danger. The sadness is because we grieve the loss of relationship that comes with such mistrust.

Forgiveness and forgetfulness are a mystery and inexplicably woven together. For this reason each of us have to discern for ourselves whom we need to forgive, from whom we need to seek forgiveness, and how much of our own hurt we can afford to forget. This work of discernment is also known as the Fourth Step in the 12 Step program: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Happy Forgiveness Day!


chickenman – episode 70

Benton Harbor (Chickenman) has another costume malfunction as he tries to prepare to apprehend a shoplifter. Gladys, a colleague at the shoe store, learns his secret identity.


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 25, 2020 – Halfway to Christmas

Today is actually June 25, 2020 – not yesterday as I erroneously reported. Today really is Log Cabin Day, yesterday was International Fairy (Faery) Day, and Tuesday, June 23rd was National Columnists Day. My bad. I skipped over it in my list of holidays and recognitions…I think maybe the fairies made me do it…must have played a trick on me. Of course, this is all very confusing to you because I write this blog on the day before I post it, using the date that I write it as the header instead of the date you receive it.

Regardless of the date, I want to take a minute for a “shout out” to National Columnists Day. It was created for two purposes. First, to honor Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Scripps-Howard news syndicate who died during the World War II Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He was best known for his articles about ordinary American soldiers during the war. Second, it recognizes more generally the value of writers and columnists in all forms of media. In an hour when “fake news” tends to win the day, writers and columnists are valuable for putting out truth, exercising the rights in the First Amendment, and preserving it for now and the future:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article I, Contitution of the United States of America.

halfway to christmas

Today, June 25, marks six more months until Christmas. It has always been my family’s tradition to celebrate Christmas, given our Lutheran and Methodist traditions. My two oldest sisters were raised as Lutherans and my youngest sister and I were raised as Methodists. Don’t know whyit just was.

Specifically, we celebrated the holiday on Christmas Eve which was our family tradition. Happily, Clemencia’s family tradition is also Navidad (“Christmas Eve” in Spanish), which means we can sleep in on Christmas morning.

My mother would stock pile baking supplies through the summer and then, in October, get really serious about baking for the holiday. She made all sorts of fudge, divinity, and cookies, including Zimmer and Springele, which are two types of traditional German cookies. Zimmer are spiced cookies and the Springele are more commonly known as as “Anise Cakes.” I’ve got both recipes but have only really focused on making Springele. I don’t usually fire up the oven to make them until November and, if I remember this year, I’ll take pictures and post them. They are not only tasty, they are also very artistic.

At Christmas, my brother-in-law Boomer would make the chili. Boomer, you may remember, was my biker/racer/father figure. He made a really excellent chili. I never knew what he put in it – and probably don’t ever want to know – but it was extremely good. None of it was ever left over for Christmas Day.

Boomer worked much of his life in the building trades. He learned cabinet making from a master carpenter in our hometown. Later, he transitioned to building steel infrastructure for buildings and worked for another man in our town who had a very successful steel and concrete business. However, he never gave up carpentry and woodworking.

He built two of the three house he and my sister lived in. In fact, my sister still lives in the second one he built. I remember he also built the kitchen cabinets in our farm house. To save money for my parents he built them out of plywood but they were naturally finished, very beautiful, and extremely strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still in use. In fact, they may be the only thing that is keeping the house standing (and it is still standing, by the way).

When Boomer was “in the zone” while he worked, he would whistle. Most often, he would whistle the song Mountain of Love. The song was written and first recorded by Harold Dorman in 1960. It is a memorable – some would say infectious – rockabilly tune that gets into your head and stays for a little while. It remains one of my favorites. The song has been covered by many artists over the last 60 years, including Bruce Springsteen – 12 times in live concerts!

One of the most successful covers was by Johnny Rivers. His 1964 recording went to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. His is the version I heard most often played and is the one that I think inspired Boomer’s whistling. Non sequitur alert…in 1993, on the eve of the Great Midwestern Flood, as the river was rising only a 100 yards or so away, I got to see Johnny Rivers perform the song live in Des Moines, Iowa. It was the night before the start of the Des Moines Grand Prix which was, of course, flooded out and never returned.

The artist who has had the most success with the song, though, is Charley Pride, a former pro baseball player turned country western singer. Charley Pride is also one of the few Black men to be successful in modern country music. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. In the 1970’s, he and Elvis were the best selling artists for RCA records. His country version of Mountain of Love is the only one that ever hit #1 and that was on the Billboard Hot Country Singles in 1982. Charley has a terrific voice and this is a great country version of the song.


chickenman – episode 69

Chickenman checks in at the Police Commissioner’s office only to be given a very special clean up task by Ms. Helfinger.


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 24, 2020 – It’s Weird Al Wednesday!

Today is June 24, 2020 and Log Cabin Day, founded by Virginia Handy, and the Bad Axe Historical Society in Michigan. It was first recognized in 1986. Log Cabin Day was created to promote the preservation of log cabins and increase understanding of life during the period in the United States when log cabins were widely in use. Seems like a good day to break out the Lincoln Logs! Interesting factoid: Lincoln Logs were invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.


weird al wednesday!

I confess. I am a Weird Al Yankovic fan. Weird Al’s real name is Alfred Matthew Yankovic, which explains the origin of his moniker. Yes, Weird Al is the guy behind so many of the song parodies we’ve heard or seen on video for over 40 years. I was a bit surprised, and you may be too, to learn that those song parodies have been far better to him than I ever imagined. He has won five Grammys (out of 16 total nominations); had four gold records; and six platinum records.

My first acquaintance with his work was in the mid-1970’s on the Dr. Demento radio show. I was attending school at a tiny college in Western Kansas and Dr. Demento came on every Sunday night. I continued to follow Dr. Demento and Weird Al over the years. Each year now Weird Al appears live at Wolf Trap (well, not this year!) and it is still one of my “bucket list” wishes to go to one of his concerts.

Not that I need another reason to admire Weird Al but here’s one: he was asked to be the guest editor of MAD Magazine in 2015! Now I’m just jealous!

One of the things I learned about Weird Al is that he always asks artists for permission to parody their songs. In an interview in 2015 he revealed the only artist who refused his requests until that time was Prince.

I’m not sure why he came to mind today. Just for totally drivelous fun, I decided to feature some of my favorite Weird Al videos. Enjoy!


“Tacky” is a parody of Pharell William’s “Happy” and is one of my favorites. Weird Al’s singing the lyrics but it also features a number of guest stars lipsyncing the words.

Click here to see Pharrel William’s “Happy”

We don’t always think of Weird Al as a social commentator, right? “First World Problems” is an original Yankovic work that delivers plenty of commentary with humor.

“I Lost on Jeopardy” is one of the first Weird Al videos I ever saw and I loved it. Note that the host of Jeorpardy! in this video is NOT Alex Trebek but his predecessor, Art Fleming. Trebek started hosting Jeopardy! shortly after the Weird Al video was released in December 1983. Unfortunately, I’m not able to embed the video in the blog but if you follow its link, or this one, you should be able to see it.

“Ricky” was Weird Al’s first music video. It was a parody of Tony Basi’s “Mickey.” Again, YouTube is not letting me embed the video here but you can click on the hyperlink, or this one, and it will take you to it on YouTube. In Weird Al’s parody the song is about the “I Love Lucy” show. In it he appears as Desi Arnaz without his moustache, beard, and his hair straightened. He bears a striking resemblance to a young Desi Arnaz.

In the next video, recorded just as the pandemic was beginning in March, Weird Al plays the instrument he knows best – the accordion – in a cover of Classical Gas. Yankovic started playing the accordion on his 7th birthday.

In this last video, Weird Al faces off against Jon Batiste, music director for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It showcases the talent of both amazing artists. Enjoy!

Okay, that’s Weird Al Wednesday. I hope you enjoyed the tour and also developed a greater appreciation of this talented comedian and musician.


chickenman – episode 68

Benton Harbor (Chickenman, the Crime Fighting Capon) seems to have some challenges getting out of bed on the weekend. This could be a barrier to his weekend crimefighting!


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