Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Living In History: The Coup d'etat in Burma

 There was a coup yesterday. 

I’m not talking about a guy with viking horns taking selfies in front of congress. Coup as in the military going into parliament building, capturing the most prominent politicians, and declaring a new government. Few coups are on film. Saddam Hussein seizing power and few Latin American coups are the exceptions. They are all quite frightening, as exactly as I would expect a coup to be. This coup from yesterday, at least the film of it is not at all what I imagined when I thought coup. She was aerobics class when she accidentally captured this. (link in case embed is not functioning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD8BDCjq6AY)

New meaning to Dance, Dance, Revolution

A girl doing a dance routine to electronic music while a coup takes place is perhaps as emblematic of our times as could possibly be captured on film. A strange pairing of military force and happy everyday life filming an online fitness class. A strange reminder that while we go about playing basketball and watching Netflix, history moves forward around us. We may think Burma is far away and won’t affect us, yet the last military coup in Burma affected me, and millions of others, significantly. Growing up in the 90’s it often felt as if History with a capital H was over. We were wrong. We assumed sometime around the fall of the Berlin Wall everyone collectively decided “Okay, we're done here, wrap it up boys!” There were no more great wars, or communists about to blow up Washington D.C. It was over for us millennials, all we had to do was to play basketball for those who could, or play video games for those who could not. 9/11 was a wake up call for everyone in America. For a quick moment we realized we were not as Post-History as we had thought. But after a month of everyone with an American flag, life returned to normal and we were once again playing basketball if you could, and video games if you could not. There were however several of us that took up writing poetry as we felt we perhaps had something to write about. There were other occasional slaps of history, like when we watched the invasion of Iraq on live TV. But at the same time it felt different than history. Did people during the Revolutionary War or the Battle of Britain, take a break from playing Super Smash Brothers to watch a city get bombed thousands of miles away, before returning to their game? The notion was absurd. Our poetry reflects it. Peace is a beautiful thing which like many beautiful things are not fully appreciated when you have them. We wanted adventure. I went to Thailand where I lived in a refugee camp. I was among people who lived history. I had already met dozens of Karen, an ethnic group from Burma, not a middle-aged American woman in America, before I left for Thailand. They had been relocated from the refugee camps to begin their life anew. I loved learning about their often tragic and often beautiful stories. People who had lost family, who had their lives and villages burned before them, about traveling through the jungle in the dead of night to escape the oncoming forces. Having hunger pains so intense that tree bark seemed as a viable alternative to food.

A picture I took of Mae La refugee camp which I took from behind the school at which I taught

Tragic, but in it there was also beauty, they left their homeland they had fought for and created their own in mountain jungles on the edge of Thailand where they were out of reach of the Burmese forces. There they built churches and had families, and lived their lives. In as beautiful and normal a way as someone who had their lives previously burned to the ground. In December when I was there it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas, there was no snow, there were no Mall windows filled with ideal scenes of London. But large numbers of the Karen are Christian, and I was invited to go to I believe it was a presbyterian church that day in December. You can imagine my surprise to see a full probably 30 or so piece orchestra. I have been to Abravanel hall and seen some of the best orchestras in the world, but none were as beautiful as seeing this group, of people living in literal bamboo huts, yet carefully maintaining their instruments in about the worst circumstances imaginable so that I and those around me deep in the Jungle of Thailand could hear Silent Night that Christmas day. Out of great terror often arises the most sublime beauty.

There were a few beautiful monasteries in the refugee camp. I knew several of the monks, one attended the school I taught at. They were incredibly friendly and generous to share their food with me, despite having almost nothing themselves.

The history that created these unfortunate events fascinated me, perhaps in part because I knew people who had been there, and knew all the key players. And the worst chapter of it all began, in a similar way yesterday, with a military coup. The conflict between the Burmese and the Karen goes back hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years. Its modern form re-spawned in 1949, just a year after Burma gained its independence from Great Britain, which was only a few years after Burma had been liberated by Britain from the Japanese. The Karen wanted their own country, the Burmese didn’t want to give it to them, and the British, had given up caring about that part of the world, with far too many other fish (and chips) to fry. Civil war broke out. It was technically a war, but skirmishes and casualties were few. Burma had other troubles and did not have the military might to do much more than keep the situation at a stand-still. Then 1962 happened. The general Ne-Win rolled into the then capital Rangoon and took over the government from then president Win Maung. I doubt there was a girl doing her aerobics class in front while this happened, but I’m sure, just like today, many thought it was an ordinary day with a strange blip in the news, which surely would not change their lives much. Ne-Win’s reign would mean the building up of the military and the most brutal aspects of the civil war against the Karen. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes as their lives burned behind them.

The border of Burma and Thailand where I crossed illegally into Burma, and likely where many of the tens of thousands of Karen who had fled Burma during the war had crossed as well.

Living in that refugee camp, I met people who knew all the main characters in that story, who were there when Ne-Win crushed the 8888 student uprising in 1988 which was bigger and more deadly than the well-known Tiananmen square protests a year later. It was history, it was exciting, and for them it was just their lives. Humans will get used to anything, and they had. It had become life, and what is more, the war itself had come to a close, well technically it had not, the war is ongoing to this day and remains the longest ongoing civil war in the world. Though at that time we didn’t think it would continue much longer. In 2012 the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) had entered into a cease-fire which had kept a tense, if not complete peace. After 50 years of strict military rule, Burma had returned to democracy, as well as a tentative peace with their neighbor tribes. It appears that democracy lasted 8 years. 

I crossed into Burma to attend a celebration of the KNLA. One of those moments when aesthetically at least it feels as if you are part of history. I only spent a day in "Karen Country" inside Burma, possibly the only time I stayed a night illegally in a country, a night I spent sleeping literally on a pile of straw under the stars.

Sitting among those refugee camps, I felt, as I believe many of those I spoke to felt the war was essentially over. Cease-fire had been signed, and it was only a matter of time before Noble peace prize winner, daughter of former leader of Burma, and current leader of the largest party in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi would make a deal with Karen and peace would return. I think they felt, much as I had in the 90’s that perhaps they were also “Post History.” Yet they were not. 

History, like life follows Kierkegaard’s axiom that it, “can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.” Nassim Taleb elaborates on this in his famous book The Black Swan. He lived through the Lebanon civil war and everyone he talked to thought they understood what was going on, yet no one actually did. They all thought they were going to be done with the war in a matter of weeks, just a small blip and they would get back to their lives. It carried on for over a decade. Everyone seemed to understand what was happening, but failed to see how everything they predicted didn’t come true. “History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what's inside the box, how the mechanisms work.”Taleb writes. 

When we look back at events, we see them fundamentally different than when we are going through them. Nassim says the book that influenced him most was not many of the great history books or philosophical thinkers, but rather Berlin Diary by William Shirer. It is as the subtitle says, “The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934 - 1941.” What it provided was a look at history as it happened, versus what we usually read, History, the narrative of the past. The journal of the moment lacked the big narratives and meaning that we as humans put on a collection of facts, mostly because the author didn’t know the facts going forward. He didn’t know World War II was going to break out, or who Hitler was. 

If we had the ability to ask some bloke in England in 1776 about what was going on, my guess is he might mention the Revolutionary War, but doubt it would be any more prominent in his mind than say the latest fashion trends in London. We don’t know exactly what they would say, but I think it is a safe bet that it wouldn’t match the narrative we have read in our history books. 

Unlike in the 90’s we seem to now feel that as opposed to History being behind us, it is now right before us, that we are on the precipice of something huge. History goes forward, despite the fact that we still are playing basketball for those who can and an increasing many who can’t having diversified our activities from playing video games to playing video games AND watching Netflix. All the world’s a stage, and we are but actors, yet we don’t know our lines, and are confused when our cue is supposed to happen. 

There is little we can do to change the future of history, but we can do our best to make it the best for those we love around us, and pray for those that we cannot help directly, like the people of Burma, who we hope will not suffer nearly the pain, war, and chaos that took place after the last coup that led to countless death, sadness, and destruction.

Regardless of how this play develops, I hope we can find some beauty and comfort, regardless of how crazy and chaotic our world gets. May we be able to have the peace, tranquility and resolve to keep on going, whether it be with our electro-music aerobics, or like this man, of this piano player during some riots in Spain, making beautiful music.  (link in case embed not functioning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BMp3hnE7Hk)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Why the sideline is the best place to be in the Gamestop fight


My argument is clear, please watch this GameStop scenario from the sidelines, but I write to two audiences. First, the general public who don't have a strong opinion on who is right and who is wrong between the billionaire hedge fund managers shorting stocks and the small guys who write on reddit from their parents basement. And second, those who care passionately about this fight. Since, my arguments are different for each I will write this post in two sections.

Section 1, those without a dog, cat, large rodent or any other animal in the fight.

Whenever you see a stock blow from $17 a share to $450 it becomes easy to say, "Why didn't I buy it last week?" But of course realistically back when it was selling for $17 a share you didn't even know GameStop had a stock, but you did start to hear on the news about it when it had only jumped to $100 a share. Why didn't you jump in then? You could have made more money in two days then you make in a month. But why sit here and kick yourself for not getting in yesterday? Why not get in today? Maybe there is still money to be made on this thing.

The simply answer is there is still money to be made. This stock is not done with crazy fluctuations and if you guess correctly on which way those fluctuations have to go you could make money, lots of  money. Oh wait, no you couldn't. Here's why.

Be realistic when you start to day dream about what could have been. How much money do you have sitting around that you could throw at this anyways? How much would you be willing to miss? If you are like most people you don't have $100,000 sitting under you couch cushions waiting for a wall street battle to take advantage of. So, $1,000 if you feel really risky. Turning $1,000 into $4,000 would be nice and all, but it's not going to set you for life on a beach somewhere. 

Second, there was an IF a big IF in my previous statement. That is, there is money to be made IF you know which way the stock will fluctuate next. Depending on who decides to back this fight GameStop may have just begun to rise, but it could plummet tomorrow. If I had to guess there is much more downside than up in this stock, but it could rise for a long time before the ultimate crash. So do you buy or short? Neither. Because while buying stock is not always gambling, here it is and gambling is never a good idea.

But all of that is not the #1 reason you should stay on the sidelines. And to explain the #1 reason, I want to take you on a little journey. You happen to be scrubbing the cabinet underneath the bathroom sink, you have never done this before, after all, it's the cabinet under the sink. But you feel ambitious and you touch the p-trap and the door hinge at the same time and are magically transported back exactly 24 hours. You find that every time you touch these two objects at the same time you again get transported back 24 hours. You repeat this a few times and you find yourself back a week or so ago and GameStop is selling for $20 a share. You could take a second mortgage out on your home, put it all on GameStop and be set for life. Should you?

If you do what are you really accomplishing? As tempting as it would be I feel strongly the answer is a resounding NO. Why? Are you putting money into a company that will use that money to do good, get the world a product, make lives better with that money and thereby get a return on your investment, or are you simply seeing lots of money flow from other peoples pocket into yours? While it may go through a stock trade at the end of the day all that is happening is money flowing from others to you. That is not much above stealing. It hurts the people who loose the money, but not near as much as it hurts you. 

The greatest value money has, is the journey we take in earing it. The lessons it forces us to learn, the people it forces us to become. Money for nothing, especially large sums of it can have devastating results. So, don't do it. Just sit back relax and hope that this all works out without you playing winner or loser.

Section 2- For those who want to buy GameStop in the name of social justice.

For you, I hope you noticed the very stereotypical way I introduced the two sides above. Wall street fat cats against reddit users in their parents basement. Neither of these stereotypes is likely very accurate. That is important to point out because on both sides of this fight you have little guys and on both sides of this fight you have billionaires. And there will be more losers than winners, and most of the losers will be the little guys and most of the winners will be billionaires on both sides. 

While we are breaking stereotypes I don't think these evil hedge fund managers are as evil or conspiratory as many think. I know, arguing for hedge fund managers is not a popular thing, but here I go. I do not believe in shorting stocks. But there are valid reasons for doing it. The argument is they spend all day bad mouthing stocks, promoting why they should go down, pushing hard working companies down over and over again and make money on it. There may be some truth to this, but not much. Most people short companies not in an evil conspiracy to make them go down in value, but because they think the company is overvalued and they put their money where their mouth is. And they have less ability to fluctuate a stock than we may think. 

Did short sellers hurt GameStop stock? Yes, but that is not why GameStop has been going down for years. It's because they are losing money, market share and value. Those have much more to do with this stock going down than anything the short sellers are doing to it. And those short sellers are taking a risk. Could GameStop through innovation turn around and prove the short sellers wrong? Absolutely. Tesla has, so far. Lot's of people were shorting Tesla because they felt it was overpriced (and for the record, it is). But the company kept moving forward and most of those who bet against it lost and lost big. 

The problem is when you mislead or tell outright lies to push a stock one way or another to make money on it. This is done by short sellers and buyers alike, it's wrong and illegal. But it's very hard to prove if someone is pushing a stock or short because they honestly believe the company is good or bad, or simply to make money. It's not only hard for those who are listening it's hard for the person who is saying it. Anytime money is involved we are not a good judge of our own motives.

And that is another reason why I am apposed to buying GameStop or AMC as part of a cause. First, are you really doing it as part of a cause or are you secretly hoping it works in your favor? "I will fight those big fat cats, and if I get a little money on the side while I do it, well then..." Also, are many of the people pushing this really in it for the right reasons or is their righteous indignation simple a pump and dump scheme. Maybe it started as righteous indignation but has turned into a pump and dump. Some of the "good guys" on this fight have already cashed out to the tunes of billions. 

Lastly, what are you trying to prove? The little guy deserves a break? I can tell you when there is a huge run up like this many little guys throw their money in and are left holding the bag.

Maybe you are anti-hedge fund. But what is a hedge fund? It's not just a bunch of billionaires anymore than reddits all people in their parents basements. Hedge funds are often risky business and part of that risk is it's often on borrowed money. People are loosing their livelihoods, homes and lives over this and other hedge funds. But will this make hedge funds less or more common? The things that fuels risky behavior on the market is this type of volatility. People will be doing crazy things for years because they think it's the next GameStop.

Maybe you are anti-shorting. While I understand the argument to short, I think it's really bad idea. I would be supportive of getting rid of the ability to short a stock. It's highly risky, not well understood and you are betting on people to loose. But with that said, what is happening with GameStop will convince more, not less people to short. Why? Everyone knows this game will end. GameStop is not worth $400 a share. It's not worth $100 a share. Those promoting it admit that. So where does this ultimately end up? Smart money is that ultimately GameStop will return to $20 range. So while a few hedge funds may be crushed, there are more in the wings. And my guess is some of them have begun to short GameStop and as it continues up are expanding their short position. So you might be convincing the little guy to push money into GameStop so it can fall into the pockets of the very people your fighting on the way back down.

Stocks when used correctly are a wonderful thing. They allow us to put money into companies we hope will make our economy and world a better place to live. When they do, they give us some of that profit in return. But neither side is this battle is using the stock market wisely. And some will make large sums of money in this, some will loose large sums, but like most wars there will be far more casualties than victors, and ultimately no one will really win.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A surprise writer


 Valerie Loveless

Reading author bios often makes me feel a little insecure about my dreams as a child. They often start with, “When I was four years old I remember telling a story to my daddy and I looked into his eyes and knew I’d be an author someday.” Someday I’ll read one that says, “It was at that moment, as I passed through the birth canal that I knew I would be an author.”

That is part of what was so refreshing about speaking with Valerie Loveless. “I had no plans to be an author.” She had always been a creative individual and loved music and art, but writing was not one of the creative outlets she took. The first inkling of writing came when her and her sisters collaborated to write two children's books, Singing Not so Sweetly, and Anabelle Loves Babies. But even then the idea of writing a full length novel wasn’t on her mind. “There is a big difference between writing a kids book and something that is 85,000 words,” she notes.

What changed this was another one of her sisters. “My sister wrote a full length novel, and I was like, if she can do it then I can, I am way more creative than her.” That became the inspiration and motivation for her to begin to write. They say, write what you read and so she instantly got into Science Fiction. “I finished one novel and started several others, but they were no good. I just hit a block when I write sci-fi. I love it but at least for now it’s not what I am meant to write.”

The next trial was with romance, “I began sending chapters of a story to my family about a young girl who wrote for a local gazette. The story bounced between the young girl's life and the crazy, over the top, stories she told in the gazette. “I loved writing the gazette portions, because it allowed me to not hold back at all.” When asked what inspired the book she notes a specific episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman she saw that had a story of a local girl who wrote for a local publication. “I liked the idea and it kept growing on me.” The other inspiration that she only realized in hindsight was Little Women. And the similarities are striking. Not her book, but her story. She was sending these fun over the top stories to her family. Much like Jo March in the attic..

After eight or so chapters sent to the family Valerie decided, like Jo, that perhaps there was a market for this. Her sister had not turned her novel into any publishers, but she decided she would be different. Did her family love the novel so much that they said she must publish? “No, they were like, good story, but didn’t really push me to publish that was mostly me,” Valerie Admits. Once the manuscript was finished she turned it into a few publishers and was over the moon when Cedar Fort said they would publish it.

But her relationship with Cedar Fort was about to go far beyond just publisher and author. “As part of promoting my book I wanted to do a podcast, where I would interview other authors about their books and their writing journey.” Cedar Fort loved the idea and asked that she begin doing it for them and their authors. It only expanded from there. “Now I work for Cedar Fort, and in addition to my own podcast I produce another four podcasts.”

And while she did all this amazing recording and podcast work she continued to write. Enduring Promises of the Heart came out in 2018. It has been warmly received, one of her favorite review was from Barbara Raymond, it's a five star review on Amazon that reads, “This book is a definite read but the ending was, oh my, I can't even come up with the word! The end, the end? Really. You will definitely enjoy this book. I definitely recommend it.”

Valerie and her readers loved the story enough that she followed the book up with a sequel, Unbroken Promises of the Heart, that came out in 2020.

In addition to the podcast Valerie also began a newsletter and on April 1st 2019 as part of an April fools joke she told her readers she was working on a book called, My Bigfoot Boyfriend. But the joke only grew on Valerie and by April 1st 2020 she had decided that she was going to write that book after all, and this year in August My Bigfoot Boyfriend was released. The book which is more a novela at just over 30,000 words is also her first self published book. Why self publish a book when you work for a publisher? “Well for one thing it was very short, but the honest reason is that I couldn’t imagine dealing with the team laughing about it when it was pitched.” But it did give her a great chance to better understand a business that has become a huge part of her life. She had to do everything, the cover design, the manuscript set up, setting up the printing. “It was a huge lesson and now when I take issues or questions to different people in the office I understand what I’m talking about.”

So, what’s next? She hasn’t completely given up on doing some Sci-fi, but the next big goal is a hallmark movie. “It’s not too crazy right? After all a few years ago I didn’t think I would be a published author, so who’s to say I couldn’t do this as well.” It’s that kind of ambition and optimism that has gotten Valerie through some amazing adventures, both in and out of her text, and Hallmark or not you can bet her future will be exciting.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

We Never Know

Roland at the bus station before we said goodbye

Six hours is way too long. I hate long drives, and even more than the drive, I hate making it longer by stopping.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

“You can hold it.” I call back.

“I’m hungry.”

“There are plenty of old cheerios and fries jammed in those seats back there.”

“Is that the gas light?”

“No...maybe...we can make it.”

So it was a surprise when the sudden desire to pull over for the man who looked like a vagrant walking along the highway came over me. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; Anyone who reads my blog knows I don’t mind meeting new people under the strangest of circumstances, but the problem with people on the highway is a problem that fits best in a jr. high math class:

If a van is traveling the highway at 75 mph and passes a vagrant walking at 2 mph how long does the driver have to notice the vagrant and decide to pull over before he is so far down the road that the driver feels it’s too late?

That is exactly what has happened to me many times. I flinch and the slightest hesitancy at 75 mph makes it too late (probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it's really too late; well, probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it’s really really too late. Well, probably not really but that is how...you get the idea.)

And what causes us to flinch? Many things: We have all heard of stories of people getting picked up and then them finding bodies on the side of the road a short time later. In addition, at this time we were in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our leadership had instructed us to avoid one another; what better reason is there than that? And of course, number three, I don’t want to get involved (I wrote on this earlier, so reference that here.) And don’t get me wrong, your safety is a valid reason to debate, but I can attest that I felt a real clear impression to pick him up.

The difference this time was I didn’t hesitate. It likely helped that I had recently gone through a similar situation and Jeanine had been nothing but supportive (she really is amazing). I quickly followed the impression and pulled off the road only 100 or so feet in front of the traveler, which, if you are still following the math problem, means I have lightning fast reflexes.

A short, skinny man carrying a small plastic bag and a longboard got in the front seat. We were traveling, so our front seat was covered with snacks, garbage, diaper bag, etc. We pushed what we could to the side and tried to pass the longboard back so he could jam in.

“Thanks for picking me up. I can give you money for gas,” He offers as he gets situated.

“That’s okay. What’s your name?”


“Where you off to?”

“Las Vegas.” His voice was soft and had a sort of accent, and the two made him very hard to understand.

“We can take you to St. George, but you will have to get the rest of the way from there. Why are you going to Las Vegas?”

“I live there. Is it far?”

“Las Vegas?” He nods. “It’s still at least a three hour drive.”

He looks perplexed. “That’s far. But you can’t take me there?”

“No, we are only going to St. George.”

“Okay, I’ll walk from St. George.”

“That’s a long walk. I’m not sure you want to do that.”

He looks concerned, as if to say, ‘what other choice do I have?’ but just says “I mean I will get there tonight?”

“Not if you walk you won’t.”

We are rolling down the road by this point and we offer him something to eat and a water. He graciously takes both. Finishes the whole water quickly, we offer him another, he again finishes quickly, so we offer another, again with the same result. It’s clear he is very thirsty and has nothing to eat or drink in sometime. “How long have you been walking?”

“About 2 hours. You sure I couldn’t get a bike or something in St. George, so I could ride it to Vegas”

“That would still be a long ride. What are you doing in Utah?”

“They drove me up last night to help them move a big chair, but then I lost my friend at the gas station. Could you get me close to Vegas?”

“I’m sorry I need to stop in St. George. So, you like to longboard?”

“No. You can have that. I don’t know how to use it. I just found it on the side of the road.” He goes on to show me what was in the little bag he was carrying, other things he had found on the side of the road. An old political flyer, a paper license plate, a metal hunk of a broken car.

As we spoke a picture of what was going on began to become clear. This was not a homeless vagrant as we had guessed. While he was hard to understand, the more I learned the more I realized this was an adult, who was very much a child. He lived in a group home, didn’t know his phone number, could tell us the basic location but not the address. And no matter what I said I could tell that deep down all he could think about was how could he get home tonight.

It was like you losing your 8 year old at the gas station, them not knowing what to do and then they start walking home, when they are 300 miles away. Why didn’t people stop and help him, after all if you saw a young child in need walking along the highway wouldn’t you stop? But he didn’t ask, and he didn’t look like an 8 year old. He looked like a vagrant, someone who knew what they were doing walking down a highway, if such a thing exists.

We were lucky. The Salt Lake express was running from St. George to Las Vegas, we got him a ticket and made sure he got on the bus. The bus line was super helpful and let him stay with them until our amazingly generous friend, Jason Segedy, (who was willing to pick up a total stranger at midnight at the drop of a hat) picked him up and took him back to his group home.

I wonder what would have happened to our friend Ronald had we not picked him up. It was hot, very hot, he had no water, no food, night was coming. Even picking him up, it took us a lot of conversation, hard to understand conversation, to realize what he really needed and that giving him a ride part way and then dropping him off would likely just put him back into the same situation. I hope that if we had missed him that someone else would have picked him up. That they would have taken the time to figure out what was going on and what he really needed. But if you had been the car behind me would you have stopped?

Now I don’t doubt that if you would have known the situation, essentially a child, hundreds of miles from his home, lost and just hoping to get back, that you would have acted. But that’s it, we never know. We need to make split second decisions when traveling at the breakneck pace that society sets for us, whether to stop and put our own lives on hold to help others, or to stay in the fast lane. And if we don’t watch, listen, and be prepared to set aside our priorities we will leave Ronald and so many others like him lost on the side of the road.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Rain Circle - The other view point.


The Rain Circle - The other view point.

While walking up in the high parts of Puno, me and my mission companion (I was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) got into sharing stories from different parts of our lives. One story that really became a focal point for me was the story he told me about the “rain circle”.

As a young child his mother had warned him about rain circles, rain circles you see are rainbows but rather than the arch shape you typically see with rainbows, rain circles form a perfect circle. The rain circle will typically form around the sun. However once spotted, they then will fall down and encircle the viewer, though this may seem like a beautiful and serendipitous encounter it has a most heinous outcome. The viewer once encircled will encounter death. You can always tell when someone has been killed by a rain circle because they will have a certain coloration in their skin, just a little remnant left behind by the rain circle. There is however one way to protect yourself from a rain circle. Once the viewer has spotted the rain circle they must pee a circle around themselves and stay within confines of the circle until the rain circle has passed. The pee circle you see protects you from the rain circle. Treding even a foot beyond the pee circle while in the presence of a rain circle could mean eminent death.

My companion went on to state that once he and his friend were once walking out in the countryside when they spotted the rain circle. They of course were well aware of the legend so naturally they peed out a circle and stayed safely inside until the rain circle had passed.

I walked on and was waiting for some kind of punch line to the story, but looked over at my companion and realized he wasn’t telling a joke, he was serious. I then started to giggle. He turned and looked hurt by my laughing and stated, “What is so funny”. I then said, with much amusement, “Not only is there no such thing as a rain circle, but even if it did exist which it doesn’t, it most certainly wouldn’t kill you!” I laughed and I laughed and I laughed some more, to which my mission companion shot back at me, “My mother wouldn’t lie to me about that kind of thing”. I laughed some more and I protested at the ridiculousness of his notion and he protested back. It wasn’t long before it was clear we were in two different camps when it came to rain circles and there simply would be no compromise. I wiped my tears away, my laugh is ridiculously large and breathy, and we both decided to leave the issue behind us.

Though we didn’t agree on rain circles we grew to be close friends, we shared many a laugh together, but as fate would have it after 6 weeks he was summoned to go serve on an Island out in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I stayed in my area with a new Elder that was assigned to work with me. A few days after he arrived we were walking through the same remote part of town up in the highlands where my old companion had first told me the story of the rain circle; when my new companion blurted “Hey look, a rain circle”. I in awe said “What?” Sure enough I looked up to see none other than a rainbow but in a perfectly formed circle.

This served as a lesson for me, I simply don’t know everything there is to know. “The world is wide” I tell myself. If I hear something that is beyond crazy I try to think, I don’t know everything and maybe there is truth to this. A few weeks after spotting the rain circle, I was told of the story about Kharisiri; a person who steals fat from people for evil purposes. Once the fat has been taken, usually without the victim knowing, it will leave the victim feeling sick and no western medicine can help. The only cure is to walk with a lamb to a holy spot in the mountains, which can only be found by someone who has made the journey before. Once there you have to then sacrifice the lamb and perform a ritual and then start the journey home. If you make it back successfully you, or the loved one you made the journey for, will be cured. Those who don’t do this, will have a slow, gradual but painful death.

When I heard this story I so wanted to say “Wow there are people stealing fat from people! People would pay good money for that in America, and to think they do it free of charge here.” But I thought back to the rain circle and kept an open mind and said instead: “Wow I had no idea that happened.” The teller then went on to tell me about their personal story, an encounter with a Kharisiri, which was truly a captivating story and one I never would have heard if I would have gone with my original gut comment.

Recently, I have thought back to the story of the rain circle. Our nation seems unrecognizably divided, the two sides thinking that the other side is utterly incomprehensible. Each side dehumanizes the other. The story of the rain circle however reminds me to accept the lived experiences of others. I often think that if I were to have lived the life that the other person had lived, that I would probably see the logic in their point of view. I still think disagreements are healthy but all sides can benefit from a bit of humility and an ounce of compassion. For there may come a day where you too might look up and say, “O gosh there is a rain circle”.

Lastly you might be wondering what I did when I saw the rain circle? Well, naturally I did as anyone would do when encountered with a rain circle, well anyone who survives to tell the tale that is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Real Pandemic

I can’t help but notice while COVID has substantial risk to our country it is not the pandemic that worries me the most, nor is it the one that is most common among Americans today. The problem with this other pandemic is not only that it is much more pervasive but those who have it rarely recognize it, it’s highly contagious, and it attacks the fabric that holds our society together, the ability to live peaceably with others.

What is this pandemic? To introduce it I bring in a concept that is a very popular topic among those who are loyal to our current president but before I do I must be careful to note that this pandemic equally affects all parties and political creeds. Early in Trump's presidency his supporters started touting the idea that pundits and die-hards on the left had come down with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). The idea that Trump was the embodiment of evil, that everything in their life that was bad came because of him. TDS blinded them from noticing or admitting if he did anything right. It allowed them to categorize and minimize his supporters. That they were dumb, uneducated, backwoods folks who don’t know what’s best for them. This also allowed them to turn a blind eye to the reality that there must be something real, something worth paying attention to in the moment that elected him. Something they needed to learn from and change.

In my humble opinion TDS is real. I believe far too many people have it to one degree or another, but that is not the pandemic I am writing about. And part of the reason is BDS or Biden Derangement Syndrome is just as real. There are just as many on the right who can’t accept any discussion or recognition to anything good that this man has done. They envision him as a socialist baby killer who can’t wait to destroy the economy by taking from the hard working and giving it to the lazy. They equally begin to believe that any rational decent person couldn’t vote for Biden.

If I said right now that I am endorsing Biden and you cringe you have BDS. If everytime you see a yard sign that says Trump Pence you negatively judge the person who owns the home you have TDS and if you hear a business owner is supporting Biden and you think you’ll take your business elsewhere you have BDS. I hope you get the idea. The truth is that the decision about who to support for President is nuanced. There are so many factors that impact it. Yet we often try to trivialize it down to one issue or topic.

As an example, I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, while not every member is Pro-Life, I think it is safe to say that a majority of active members feel that protecting the unborn is an important issue, I for sure do. But it pains me when I see members of my church who support Biden get attacked online because of his stance on one issue. In doing this they turn a blind eye to many other issues. And I feel the same for those who get attacked for supporting Trump. But he’s an immoral bully, they say. 

What do I do if I have a I don’t want to vote for a canidate who will increase access to abortion or a immoral bully? If I belive Biden will increse access to abortion and that Trump is an immoral bully than I have to pick one, vote for someone that has zero chance of winning or not vote. Those are my options. And I only list this as one example. There are hundreds if not thousands of nuanced decisions that go into a voting decision. My point is I know smart, moral, and well thought out men and women who will be voting for Biden and Trump. If you don’t, you have blinders on and need to cure yourself of TDS or BDS. How? I’ll get to that in a second, but first:

I still have not told you the real pandemic. Biden and Trump in time will dissipate and will become like Mitt and Obama or old. Whatever your feelings for or against them may change (has your views of Romney changed?) and their importance will diminish as the spotlight moves onto someone else. This is not about Trump and Biden. The pandemic is perhaps best called PDS, Political Derangement Syndrome. The disease that makes us think that our political views are the only ones worth having. That allows us to instantly judge, in a negative light those who don’t think or believe as we do. This to me is far more pervasive than racism, sexism or any other ism, but has all the same impacts. I saw it with the Black Lives Matter movement, on both sides. People lost jobs over things their relatives said on facebook. Like all political movements there were a huge amount of things that went into the BLM movement, any honest person no matter their political views probably agreed and supported some of them and disagreed with others. Therefore it’s perfectly rational for people to either support or not support the movement. The problem is we pick which side of the political world we sit on then we only look at the negative issues and the most extreme supporters of the other side all while turning a blind eye to the fact that our side, whatever it may be, has those same problems.

The problem with this is obvious. The worst and most dangerous enemies are always from within. Internal division, the endless desire to focus on what divides us over what unites us is far more likely to destroy our nation and our economy than is China, Coronavirus, Hurricanes or a Nuclear Bomb. So how do we cure it? 

  1. Accept that you are wrong at times. Politicians and policies we love aren't always as good as we thought. And sometimes ones we thought would be horrible end up not that bad.

  2. Make sure you have close friends who disagree with you. Most people, the more we get to know them the more we like them. If you have a black lives matter and Biden poster in your front yard, invite the neighbor with the Trump and All Lives matter poster in theirs. And don’t talk about politics. Find out that you have far more in common and that they are really good people. People worth loving, people worth listening to, not to belittle and unfriend on social media or more importantly in life.

  3. Talk politics with those who disagree with you, not to persuade but to listen. I know I just said don’t talk politics with the neighbor you disagree with. And not to disagree but to understand. You will be surprised when you ask, Why are you voting for Biden? They won’t say because he kills babies and wants to destroy our economy. They likely have reasons that if you really listen, not just superficially long enough to see a weakness and attack, that they have really worthwhile reasons.

This year is very interesting for me. The man I respect most politically, my father, and I will likely be voting for different candidates. I think we agree on 90% of political issues, but we predict different outcomes based on the votes. Is he right? Maybe, I for sure can’t say with any certainty that I am. But I feel good that the vote I am making is right. Likewise there is a decent chance my wife and I vote differently this year. There was a time in my life that this would really bother me. That it would lead to endless arguments, endless focus on how we see things differently. But this year I am very at peace with both my decision and theirs. And at peace is a great place to be.

If we want more of it we need to fight this pandemic.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Give me the *&%*# Hammer and how we can learn from construction workers.


Construction Workers

This week my Mother is having some construction work done at her home, and I happen to be there, also working from home. I have forgotten how angry and full of vitriol some construction sites can be. As the concrete pumper truck begn to flow so did the swear words. Now don't get me wrong I have worked on concrete jobs and they are stressful. Once the truck starts pouring there is no turning back. 

They yelled, they cussed, they called each other totally inappropriate names. And as a team they got together and did an amazing job.  As the job was complete they laughed together, told jokes and were clearly once again the best of friends. 

My point is not that we all need to expand our vocabulary by the extensive use of swear words so we can get more accomplished. No, I would just assume go without the anger and swearwords, but what we could learn is the lesson they teach on forgiveness and not taking offense. In the ultra PC world we live in, and in many court rooms what I saw and heard in the yard would be nothing short of a hostile work enviroment. But whatever you call it, the individuals were slow to take offense, and within a few hours had forgiven each other of any hard feelings, if there ever even were any. 

Is it too much to belive in a world that takes the best from both worlds? One where we work hard to not get angry and swear at work, but when we do or when we encoutner those who struggle with this, we don't take offense, claim harrassment or file a lawsuit?