Iron Fist Proves Viewers are Smarter Than Critics

Iron Fist is outstanding.  Let me get that out of the way.

Before it even dropped onto Netflix, the critics claws were out and determined Iron Fist was the first failure of the Netflix/Marvel partnership.  Let’s look at the common criticisms.

Non-Asian lead.  For some reason Batman gets a pass on this as well as Arrow.  All of these characters were written by white folks and I’m sorry they didn’t want to write an Asian character as the lead, but that’s the way they were written.  There are however some outstanding Asian characters in Iron Fist, Colleen Wing, Madam Gao, for some.  You might also consider Davos or Bukido as strong Asian characters.  The real solution here is to write an Asian lead from scratch and not borrow or change other established characters.  It’s not a fair criticism for a show that does a tremendous job of honoring the origin story.  Also I hope Rosario Dawson is making some major bank, because she is fantastic!  She is the best thing ever for each story as she provides a much needed anchor to reality and some sense of normalcy.  Her struggles, fear, her unwillingness to back down, make her the real standout, and it’s really unfair to everyone else.

Slow pacing.  This one I don’t understand as I watch an elaborate shoot and punch scene.  It’s not constant action, but neither are any of the other Marvel/Netflix shows.  Maybe it’s that the producers didn’t decide to do the shaky cam fight perspective they used in the Bourne movies.  There is great character development as the layers of deception are peeled back one by one and you think “how much more messed up can these people get?”  Mysteries are not allowed to languish.  Compared to Jessica Jones, Iron Fist is non-stop action.

Fighting sucks.  Again, I’m not sure we watched the same show.  My favorite fight scene for Danny is the hatchet-wielding Triad where he kicks and punches, but also does so in a way that uses his opponents’ energy against them.  As the series develops his fighting style becomes more offensive as he struggles to control his anger and properly harness his Chi.

Danny Rand.  Finn Jones is not Batman and is not the Green Arrow, but that is what we are expecting.  Despite harsh training, he is ultimately a protector, and has the same emotional maturity of the kid left for dead in the snow.  I see where the writers are trying to go here in not trying to write the same origin story as Batman or Green Arrow.  He comes back to search for his lost childhood and is forced to slowly come to terms that he can’t really go back and reclaim it.  The Rand character is an adolescent and again despite his training is prone to outbursts, emotional swings, and I think that is what the writers and actor are trying to convey.   For me, it was not a distraction, but I see how for others it was what they picked up on to criticize.

The White Savior.  I find it hard to believe that cultural appropriation wasn’t a consideration by the writers and producers.  Luke Cage was intentionally an African-American Harlem story, culturally through and through.  Iron Fist is an Asian American movie, that links Asians from the old world to the new world.   The lead is white trained by Tibetan-style warrior monks, the music is intentionally hip-hop, but many of the supporting cast has some sort of Asian heritage.  Maybe I give the writers too much credit, but I have to believe it’s a statement about Asian culture in America.  When we think about minorities in the US, we typically think African American and Latino.  Asians in the US are at least a standout minority in the US, but are incredibly diverse within that continental and cultural designation.  Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Phillipines, Vietnam, and more countries make up the racial designation of Asian in America.  And I don’t know if you noticed in the series, but the Fist is not a bad-ass on his own.  He requires a LOT of help, and royally screws up just about every time he faces an opponent, partially because he can’t always reliably access his Chi.

I believe the ultimate statement in Iron Fist is that Asians in America are not a recognized minority because of their incredible diversity, so they are overshadowed by a white lead or another minority that has a strong identity.

Or I may give the writers way, way too much credit and it really is just a comic book story about Iron Fist as relayed in the comics.  And if that’s the case, it is fun and interesting story to me, too.

Disclaimer:  I’m a white privileged non-immigrant US citizen, so what the hell do I know?

 

A Crisis of Faith: The Decline of Organized Religion

Some statistics say that US church membership is in decline.  Every person I speak to that  doesn’t go to church wants something more than a single book from 2000 years ago to find meaning in their lives.  They also don’t want someone telling them how terrible we all are.  In a world that at times seems hopeless, they are looking to faith for inspiration and reassurance rather than fire and brimstone.  For me personally, sitting in church on one of the few days off I get during the week, singing old music, listening to a speech, and studying an ancient book all fail to make my life feel meaningful or make me feel a part of a community of like-minded individuals.

A man-made faith For every person that tells me a holy text is divinely inspired, I ask why have their been no additional divinely inspired texts recently.  Where is God today?  The answers are many, but one reason church attendance may be down is a failure to recognize new ideas, to update rituals of worship, to leave out the thee’s and thou’s and begats.  Men, and I do mean it as gender-specific, have written all of the canonic religious texts.  The fact that religion excludes half of our population or seeks to limit their role or potential is a non-starter for me.  The fact that some countries are governed closely with their dominant religion and that women don’t have a place at the table (except to prepare the food and bear children), is another reason I have not to like religion much.  Men sat down together at the Council of Nicea and said, “Here’s the Bible, here’s the church” and from the earliest iterations to the multitude of denominations and practices this is the church we know today created by men for men.

The Fallible Document  Every time I hear that the Bible is infallible, I always wonder why being so unimpeachable it is the most interpreted and contentious text in history.  It is easier for Christians to look at the Middle East as an illustration of how differences in interpretation have led to wars, and definitely to extreme suffering, but it is true of Christianity as well as any large religion.  The Bible now over 2000 years old is supposed to be the instruction manual for my life.  Even textbooks get a second edition every other year.  Why is this document so relevant that it will continue on down throughout history unchanged?

It is readily apparent to anyone who spends enough time reading the Bible that there is good content and moral instruction, but the morality comes at the price of belonging to a religion and a church and holding one text above all others.  It is the exclusion and resistance to change that leads to its own decline.

Comparative Religion Moral instruction, a monotheistic religion, and a promise of eternal life are found in at least 3 major world religions.  Why is one better than any other?  My answer would be conquest, war, and aggressive missionary practices (yes, both kinds).  These acts and not the morals they espouse have made one religion more widespread than another.  If the quality of a good religion is moral instruction alone, you could hold up most major religions as good examples that can be basically distilled into don’t kill people and don’t steal from people.

Unfortunately there is no moral GRE that qualifies only people with high ethical standards to be in places of leadership in the church and without, so some of the worst people in history have been practitioners of religion.  It is from a place of conquest that majority religions have spread, not from their moral imperative.  Conversely, it does not require religion or religious understanding to have high moral standards.

The Enlightened Community Although the US is a majority Christian nation, it’s church attendance and membership population is in decline.  This could be partially in relation to freedom of religion becoming freedom from religion.  Church for many is no longer the center of the community as people find their interests and community link them to societies, hobbies, and other memberships that to them have greater meaning than a church family.

Some in the church decry this as a slide toward hedonism or consumerism, a soulless unfulfilling life that will always be lacking.  Instead of facing a modern society and watching the unaffiliated churches that are filling the pews, the establishment church is fine with business as usual, a stale bureaucratic existence.  If they don’t adapt, they are doomed to continue to decline.

There are those also who like what the Bible has to say, it’s parables, but choke on the promise of eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and/or the one true God.  Looking for an explanation for life, the universe, and everything, Douglas Adams exclaimed that the answer was 42.  Those fleeing the church have found the Biblical answer equally unsatisfying and frustrating.  Science has advanced to a point where our understanding of the universe is deep and nuanced and we can spend our entire lives searching for more answers.  The answers that science provides in many ways refute a religious view of our world, but in one way there is an irrefutable immutable answer that always eludes science: creation.

God vs. Science  The evidence we have shows that our planet is billions of years old, and why this is a refutation of religion, I don’t know, but it is a sticking point with creationists who declare the world is flat and less than 10,000 years old.  Science can take us back as far as the Big Bang, but does not currently have an explanation for that first force that set the Big Bang in motion, nor does it explain what happened before that moment in time.  If that isn’t the greatest evidence for some sort of supernatural deity, I don’t know what is.

From the primitive worship of Greek and Roman, Hittite and Sumerian gods, to the new monotheism, we have always looked to a supernatural beings to explain what we don’t understand.  We still do.  What happens to consciousness and individuality at death?  The thing we greatly fear is oblivion, the loss of being, and from that fear springs a belief in a neverending afterlife.  We as rational amazing animals cannot accept that our only purpose is to live and die and survive.  So we have fabricated the promise of eternal life.  But why should we live this mortal life, if we can have eternal life on another plane of existence?  Even typing these words is difficult and produces in me a great deal of existential angst.  Religion answers these questions and fears in a way that science cannot, because science has an answer we do not want to hear.  Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but we don’t know about your personality, your individuality, or your soul.

But if we focus our collective intellects on a better understanding of our universe, we discover that the sun is not a god in a chariot driving across the sky, but a giant ball of burning gas.  Jupiter is really a gas giant and not a star, and stars are similar to our sun.  Only not all stars are the same.  Some are older, some are younger, and when they go supernova, some create black holes.

And to me these explanations while not as fanciful are infinitely more exciting and meaningful.  And so far they have done nothing to diminish the possibility that beyond the Big Bang we live in a created Universe.  As long as there are questions left unanswered, there lives my God.  And really my God is a god of discovery and curiosity and creation.

If I had my way, ancient religions and practices would fall away in favor of soulful community, the pursuit of discovery, and instilling in every person a feeling of purpose for the betterment of themselves, their families and humankind for now and for the possibly infinite future.  But what do I know?  I’m just some damn fool idealist.

Social Media Feed:  A Healthy Diet

I am alarmed in daily conversations with the number of seemingly high-functioning adults that talk about social media exhaustion or bombardment and have made the decision to quit these platforms–even if only temporarily.  My wife and I like to call them “the Facebook suicides.”  How often do you see someone who posts that they’re taking a break from Facebook usually around a particularly contentious political campaign or a contentious post that leads to argument?  Even in that “suicide note” there is either a play for attention or a feeling of obligation to others.  Although, my reaction is sometimes “bye, Felicia” I think that it is a cry for help.

I have a few tips, personal rules, and advice to give on this subject to help protect ourselves not only from bad people and circumstances, but also to protect ourselves and not invest our emotional capital in too many stories.

Social media rule #1-You Are What You Eat.  If you consume a steady diet of bad news, don’t be surprised if you don’t become cynical and depressed.  Feed yourself inspiration and you will be inspired and inspire others.  There is a cultural phenomenon I’ve noticed where people feel they are obligated to care for the world or for a certain caliber of literature or to care about all the terrible things happening in the world.  It is the same with people that become trapped in the 24-hour cable news cycle.  I don’t know where this obligation comes from, but I do know that escaping it can be difficult.  Some do it for the schadenfreude, some to stay informed, but others increase their own suffering by reading about the suffering of others.  It is one thing to stay informed about world events, but it is another to wallow in the rampant misery that can be found in the greater world.  News media gravitates toward the most terrible events and sensationalizes them.  There are 7.5 billion people on the planet and we cannot possibly hope to experience all their suffering to be informed about all their lives, nor can we have the empathic capacity to care for them all.  Nor does it do us any good to hear about something we cannot have a reasonable impact on.  The news tends to follow anything related to death, so if that is all we consume, we can quickly form a world view that does not acknowledge the good things that are happening all around us.

Conversely, some people worry that only focusing on good things means you are ignorant and unprepared for the real world.  By my way of thinking, the world is what we make of it.  If consuming good news gives me hope, optimism, and energy, these are things I think will help me make my bit of the world a better place.

The great thing about Social Media is that it is a tool.  It is one way in which we can experience the world, and we can set our filters, use our privacy settings and be largely in control of what we see.  We must remember that we have control.  Facebook, for example has some amazing tools that let you see more of what you want, less of who you don’t, or let’s you begin and end friendships every day.

Social Media Rule #2:  Friends.  How many do you need?  Let’s be honest that social media is a popularity contest.  That is what drives you to have 500 friends on Facebook, 1000s on Twitter and Insta.  We have an innate desire to be well-liked.  Although social media can be a powerful tool to connect, there are few personal, intimate, and meaningful connections we actually make online.  We certainly can’t be good friends to hundreds or thousands.  I can sit on my feed and like posts all day long trying to honor every acquaintance I’ve ever made hoping that out of a hundred likes, they see mine, and that they appreciate how I’m cultivating that relationship, but it does nothing to strengthen the deep connections I have with my closest friends.

Don’t be friends on social media with people who upset you on a regular basis by what they post.  Unfriend.  It is simple.  If this person a) notices and b) is offended enough to ask why, you can honestly say that your posts upset me and I found I was no longer enjoying my feed because of you.  Sometimes it’s what someone needs to hear, and if they can’t accept the criticism and become abusive, it is time to cut that person from your life.

On the other end of this argument are the connections we choose to make online that are good for us.  For example I have a friend I went to college with who lives far away.  I don’t know if I will ever see him again or talk to him on the phone for that matter, but our beliefs and interests are such that we find a lot in common and online it is a wonderful friendship that I find worth cultivating.  He also makes me laugh.  Humor is an important component of my friendships and that’s what makes me want to get out of bed in the morning.

Social Media Rule #3:  Comments.  Nothing more than a few sentences at most.  What an incredible tool we have to start conversations, but it is fairly easy to get drawn into arguments, name-calling, and again feeling terrible.  I try to limit my comments to something brief, because it is really easy if you disagree with something to start typing a letter.  The problem with this type of rant is that you aren’t composing an email to send, but are immediately responding to something usually from a very emotional place.  So again, if I start to get a couple paragraphs deep, I know that it is something I’m passionate about and that I need to reconsider my response.

Often what I will do is copy and paste my comment into a blog post, and then if someone wants to read it later they can after the emotion of the moment is spent.  The comment is usually for my benefit anyway.  And sometimes writing it out in something I’m going to edit allows me to carefully think about what I want to say and sometimes I will delete, leave for later editing, or find a more succinct way to say what I want to say.

I still believe that conversations of a serious nature in order to be productive should be had in person, or on the phone at least.  There is so much room to interpret tone and meaning in the written word.  I break this rule from time to time and almost always regret it.  If a long response starts a contentious conversation, you can always ignore additional responses.  As tempting as it is to tell someone how wrong they are and point out their inconsistent arguments, it is almost always fruitless.

Social Media Rule #4: Post Frequency.  Have you ever experienced the dreaded anxiety of wondering whether someone is reading your post?  Did they click the video?  Do they understand the essential you-ness of you?  If you look to social media for all of your validation, it may be time to get out of the house a little.

I follow a rule of three most often.  I can easily find more than 3 things I want to say or share in a row, but I know that frequent posting is a turn-off for many, so I try and distill my posting to once a day, two to three times if I can’t help myself.  Now, if you are blogger or make your living by cultivating an online audience, you might follow different rules, but for most of us, this is a good rule not to turn off the people who already like you and appreciate your insights and informative posts, pictures of family and food, the memes, the humorous articles.

There is so much to consume, but it is good to stop and take stock from time to time about how beneficial it is to us and get back in control of our social media diet.

 

We Have Nothing To Fear…

I have a passage I have tried to memorize known as the Litany Against Fear. It is from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune.  It is a mantra repeated by a group of very wise sisterhood in the book called the Bene Gesserit.
It reminds me of how many different aspects of our lives might be governed by our fears. Our careers, family, friendships, community, our dreams, desires and distractions. And it reminds me not to let fear overcome my thoughts.
It goes like this:

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

In Dune, for the people of the desert known as the Fremen they had two great fears.  One was the Coriolis storm, a sandstorm of such strength that there were stories it would kill a man and leave nothing but bones behind.  The other great fear was the great Worm or Maker, giant sand-worms that burrowed through the desert and were attracted to the sounds of machinery or human activity.  They too would destroy anything in their path and leave nothing behind.  These were the fears they faced.

Our real fears are a trifle less fantastic, but no less significant and can metaphorically consume us if we allow them.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of difference, fear of letting your guard down, these are all very natural and common fears we face every day.  My hope is that we each find courage whether in a mantra, a litany, faith, or other means to face our fears and overcome them, and can witness our own potential.

The only other thing I can say about overcoming fear is that it is easier if you can share it with others.  Bringing your fears into the light of a shared kindness and understanding makes them shrivel like raisins in the sun.

Personal note:  I say this to myself as I run.

To Combat Distress.           A Top Ten List.

1.  Sleep.  Take a nap.  Fall asleep on the couch.  Get as much uninterrupted sleep as you possibly can.

2. Laugh.  Watch a comedy, a romcom, or a stand-up special.  Humor is the antidote.

3.  Eat.  Unless this is a hang-up, a decent meal or satisfying a craving or a special treat is a balm for the stressors in your life.

4.  Water, part I.  Take a shower (or bath).  Baths are not my thing, but some people find great pleasure relaxing in the tub.  The shower has a similar effect.  Immerse yourself in water and let your worries recede.

5. Exercise.  Running, biking, hiking, or walking get you out of your house and take you someplace.  Use distress as a motivator to propel you off the couch…after that nap.

6. Travel.  Whether to the shop around the corner, the next city, or another country, the successful completion of a trip can give you a sense of accomplishment.

7. Water, part II.  Ice-cold water.  There is a great bot on Twitter @hydratebot that reminds you to drink water.  Dehydration can effect mood tremendously.  Get that water so cold it hurts.

8.  Hugs.  Hug a human or animal.  If you don’t know another human willing to make physical contact, animals are less picky and appreciate affection.

9.  Create.  Write poetry, a story, paint a picture, sing, play your instrument, do some macrame.  Having a creative outlet is a way to express emotion in a healthy way.

10.  Read.  Reading takes you out of your yourself and into a different place and time.  It requires a concentration and immersion that at times is an escape and at times is an enrichment of the soul.

Affording Middle Class

In my career as a banker, I have been privy to a large number of tax returns over the years, W-2s, 1099s, K-1 Statements and every other form of taxable and non-taxable income.  I have seen almost every trick in the book to legally avoid taxes, which always makes me wonder about income statistics reported and collected by various agencies including the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median Household Income is the most popular stat I see when we talk about the health of the American middle class.  So we hover at $51,000 for a household as a gross figure, and no I don’t mean disgusting.  Out of that gross income you would expect to take 15% in income taxes, although someone with that gross and a couple kids could seriously reduce their income tax burden.  Outside of income tax, you have to pay for Medicare and Social Security if you’re a W-2 employee.

“What is a household?” you ask.  Well, a household is everyone living at the same address.  It could be one, two, three, four or a dozen.  Many of you know someone down the street that has about 6 cars in the driveway and you know there are three generations under one roof.  So the measure of income there seems a bit skewed.

Cost of living for a single person averages $2731 a month, or $28,458 annually (1).  For a married couple with two kids it goes up to $5466 or $65,597.  Average rent in the US is $934 (2).  With a 30-year mortgage at today’s rates, that payment would probably get you a $150,000 house if you include the escrow, but the average home price in US today is closer to $190,000.

If you take into account cost of living for a family of four of $65,000 and median income of $51,000, there’s a bit of a shortfall.  Now granted, there are adjustments that can be made in any budget, but overall middle class America doesn’t make enough money to afford the middle class.

As healthcare costs continue to rise in the US, incomes have failed to keep pace.  We can also look at trends in education costs as well and see that it isn’t productivity or a spike in welfare recipients, it is the huge increases of cost in these two areas primarily combined with regular rise in housing and other comestibles.  Thank god the $5 gas gallon never materialized!

All the evidence would point to a squeeze on the middle class, but I often wonder how many are masquerading in the middle class because of how self-employment or business ownership income is reported and recorded by labor statisticians.  An S-Corp filing is required to pay owners a “reasonable” salary, but that is probably not often challenged, and so owners have little incentive to pay themselves a high W-2 income.  So say I pay myself $30K in wages, but the company makes $200K in a good year and I pay taxes on that money, but does it get measured as wages? No.  At least not by labor statisticians.  Self-employed or business owners make up about 10% of the labor pool and employ another 20% of it (3).

So how can we bring middle class more within reach and easier to afford?  Follow the money.  Healthcare spending continues to tick upwards and despite the gains at the lower end under Obamacare, the middle class cannot receive a subsidy and must bear the market cost or do without and be penalized.  Healthcare must be fixed on the insurance side or become a government entitlement.  Insurance follows a pretty basic principle generally speaking:  the lower the risk, the lower the cost.  When we insure regular visits to the doctor, it is akin to insuring an oil change at the auto shop.  Free market capitalists want government out of health insurance to encourage competition and innovation.  Progressives socialists want government spending to fund and manage healthcare.

Education spending is at an all-time high and why shouldn’t it be?  Anecdotally, I talk with very few people whose undergraduate college experience has led directly to a job.  I often question why we spend 13 years in public education in order to spend another 2-4 years matriculating before we join the middle class.  You can spend 19-21 years in school and still not attain that upper class life we are told education will bring!  When you consider that less than half of the US gets a bachelors or associates (4), it means to me that we need to make that education more attainable or more meaningful.  When I was a kid, my parents sold me on the tale that you go to college and you get a job and Bob’s your uncle.  The dream Boomers grew up with has changed.  Most Millenials will never walk down the street and get hired on the spot, nor will they get a pension, and their employer may not subsidize their healthcare or offer other benefits.

What can the middle class do to reduce cost of living?  Major metro cities have a higher cost of living based on housing, transportation, taxes, and other factors, and a minimum wage in rural Hiram, GA looks much different than the ATL.  The idea of raising the minimum wage to $15, more than doubling the national standard some would argue would put small business owners out of business.  It would certainly increase income, but may have the effect of reducing employment especially at entry level positions. Some research has been done by the Federal Reserve in San Fransisco on the effects of raising minimum wage and the evidence points to a negligible but measurable decrease in employment on the lower end of the income spectrum.

For a more reasonable cost of living, flee to the suburbs, flee to the smaller towns.  Many companies looking to relocate or add a new location are very conscious of their costs, and like Caterpillar did in Athens, GA, many large corporations want to keep their wage and other costs down by keeping them out of major metro areas.  If finding gainful employment discourages you from small town life, start your own business.  Business owners have several advantages.  First, working for yourself means never having to suck up to a supervisor, not having to punch a clock, and your success is entirely in your own hands.  Second, depending on how you are structured, your income taxes should be lower because you now have very legitimate business expenses that will reduce your taxable income.

Don’t over-educate.  Many jobs can be done without a bachelors or associates.  Most of my friends in IT have bachelors in a different field but got into IT with certificates in different programming languages or by understanding networking architecture.  Also, don’t spend $30,000 on a degree that makes you $30,000 a year.

Oh yeah, and don’t get sick.  There is virtually nothing you can do to reduce your healthcare cost besides going uninsured and not getting sick.

 

The Cabinet of Inescapable Entitlement 

Here’s my question. I put it to you. Do you see how instead of answering questions there he shifts blame to others? It is a tactic that he’s used all his life.

Email hacks of US officials-where did they come from?  

Intelligence community- all signs point to Russia

But instead of acknowledging that the revelation of compromising emails may have won him the election, he shifts the blame to dubious rampant voter fraud. When over a third of your eligible voters sit out the general election the problem isn’t fraud, it’s voter turnout and easier access to voting.

Tax returns-full financial disclosure is not forthcoming any time soon from this President. The first reason for this is his financials are probably a complicated mess probably involving 100s of LLCs, partnerships and other structures designed to legally avoid taxes and shield him from any personal liability.  
A man whose main business is casinos and resorts and has international locations is inevitably going to have ties to other foreign governments and organized crime. Trump in business is more a Gordon Gekko than a Warren Buffet and we should expect him to run government the same.

Tillerson, Trump, and Devos regardless of what kind of people they are to their family and friends will not suddenly abandon their history and the natural biases. Tillerson may be savvy in communicating with other governments, but will always have energy on his mind in those dealings and his history doesn’t lead me to believe he will advocate for more solar and wind to power our grid or to reduce pollution internationally.

Trump may advocate for a stronger US economy by trying to encourage more manufacturing in country. So far it is definitely a nationalist trend in policy toward the economy. He wants to abandon old trade deals and re-evaluate treaties and memberships. He is effectively withdrawing a good bit of US leadership in the global economy. We’re having our own Brexit.

So why is the stock market reacting so strongly to this break in tradition and the potential for turmoil in international trade?  Some economists have put forth the notion that the market is underperforming the possibility of a 15% cut in corporate taxes by only rising 10%.  Others would say that the market is still rallying on the possibility of lower corporate taxes and policies that favor deregulation that will benefit large corporations.

Devos may actually want to help children.  It seems unlikely that a billionaire heiress with experience in private and religious school is going to have the perspective to represent the majority of Americans who don’t send their kids to private school.  Unless she can address access for poorer families with vouchers she will in effect further de facto segregation in schools.

The Unbearable Bias of Being

From Breitbart News to the Huffington Post, Fox News and CNN, media bias is inescapable. Fair and balanced is an illusion. As much as we want to be impartial, we cannot remove self-interest from our lives. Look at how we fight about our Supreme Court justices. If the law is infallible and judges are impartial, why does it matter who serves?  A judge based on her own personal and professional experience and deeply held values may interpret the law differently.  No judge can remove his own bias from decision. The best she can do is recognize it.

 From the journalist, to the editor, to the owner, every single person has a bias. This is not to say that bias is necessarily bad, but it is important to recognize and disclose that bias if we want to be honest with our audience.  If we don’t want to be honest then by all means we should declare our truths the only ones that matter and fight anyone who says different.

Bias forms the basis on which we make friends, choose a partner, a career, the kind of car we drive, where we live and so on.  Removing bias is akin to a lobotomy. So forget unbiased.  It does not exist I tell you!

If we want a better informed citizenry, Snopes is about as good as I’ve found for analyzing media and separating fact from fiction, but even they show a percentage scale of mostly true or mostly false and it is questionable where their bias lies or how well they analyze the stories they try and debunk.

Get your news from different sources if you want to be well rounded.  Compare, contrast, and use your critical thinking skills to examine the information available to you.  It is amazing with the proliferation of information on the internet that our views still remain so narrow.  Known as confirmation bias, we tend to gravitate toward the news and views that confirm what we want to believe.

Right and wrong, fact and fiction, truth and lies are rarely black and white.  We desperately want clear lines and infallible truths, but the reality is that the human eye can detect more than 500 shades of gray between black and white.  This is a fact that I highly recommend you use your critical thinking and a google search to verify my claim.  I could just as easily say 50,000 shades and who would dispute me except someone who studies color and vision.

Peeling Off Labels

Chicquita and Dole are the stickers I find most often on bananas.  Bananas are found in the produce section of the grocery store.  I often wonder how they get to Georgia via Panama without turning black in the process, but once they make it home with me, they are going to turn spotted and brown.  Unless you are me, you are quickly going to find the banana inedible.  For us, that banana peel becomes compost, soil, and starts the cycle over again.  When someone says banana, though, what we picture is a curved yellow exterior peel.  Rarely do we picture the white fruit inside, the green peel as it grows on the trees, the browning outside and in as it decays.  They are all banana, but saying banana doesn’t do the banana justice.  We casually and carelessly wear labels we are not conscious of.  And like a grocery store clerk with a price gun, we label everything and everyone around us.

Our brains naturally categorize everything we see and feel and think.  This is food.  That is a coffee mug.  Pens go in this drawer.  We do this with people automatically.  Black, white, Asian, Australian albino.  Liberal, conservative, libertarian, egalitarian, socialist, Marxist, anarchist.

Like the Sorting hat, once our brains have sorted we think, “That’s that!”  Slytherin!  Well obviously you are a terrible person who only thinks of personal gain.  Gryffindor!  Brave and loyal and true.  Hufflepuff!  Awkward and studious, unnoticed, unimportant.  Ravenclaw!  So smart and intellectual.

But take those heroes of Gryffindor and they couldn’t be more different.  Harry chose to be Gryffindor, but might have been better suited to Slytherin.  Hermione might have been better suited to Ravenclaw. Neville might have been Hufflepuff.  They chose to wear the label of Gryffindor.

Once they’re sorted it makes it easier for the brain to relax and not see their differences.

Sometimes we wear these labels proudly. Proud to be an American!  Doctor!  Farmer!  Hunter!  Sometimes we use labels to denigrate.  Libtard!  SJW! Millenial! Our brains instinctively accept labels and classifications.  It makes life easier to see the world in black and white.  Survival is hard-wired into our own sorting system and really what we are doing is protecting ourselves from views, opinions and people we think are bad or keeping at arms length things we think are dangerous to understand.  The truth is that we are more than our labels, and that in order to build better communities we need to try and see deeper than the labels we wear and that we give other people.

How strongly we identify with a label  doesn’t come from any strict code we adhere to, but as the result of a deeply personal experience or loyalty to a community or by following someone we admire.

When someone talks about standing for family values I always wonder what that is code for.  Do you mean family values that just mean marriage between a man and a woman?  Do you mean anti-abortion?  Do you mean women should submit to their husbands?  We use labels that mean different things to different people and assuming our meaning is the only meaning is cause for confusion and conflict.

There are some people who will hear that label of family values and they will automatically feel comforted and believe it applies to their own family values without understanding that different families have different values.  One thing we can say with some degree of certainty about family values, is that people who have family values value their families.  Beyond that, ascribing any certain moral code, behavior or configuration to the term family values cannot help but be divisive.  Oh, I see you care about your family, but it sounds like you don’t care about mine and would like to see mine disappear from the face of the earth.  A label can divide as easily as unite.

The media or the liberal media is another label we use too often.  Does that include CNN?  NBC? 60 Minutes? NYT? WaPO? The Guardian?  The label is used mainly negatively as if the press were a single organism bent on the destruction of the world.  There are thousands of individual reporters, editors, owners and so forth within THE MEDIA (dun, dun, dun!).  It is a safe and uncomplicated way of viewing our news outlets. The problem being that when we allow that negative and generalizing label to take hold we are guided toward a more narrow view seeking the one outlet of “truth” as if there is no bias.  The best we can do with news is to use the internet to view multiple outlets and consider stories from different angles and points of view.  The worst we can do is to seek a single source that continually validates our own biases.

Speaking of truth, let’s talk about fact, opinion, truth and lies.  I hear a lot being reported or argued about “blatant lies” or “he’s a liar” and again this is another comfortable label that can obscure a better understanding.  I believe it is better to identify the questionable information before labeling the person or at least identify the evidence for the label alongside it.

Instead of “he is a liar” you can say “he said X which is incorrect according to Y evidence” and for emphasis with something pathological say “this is in addition to A, B, C” which supports a pattern of lying.  The audience can determine from evidence what label they want to use and at least the label you want to assign someone has a contextual foundation.  The inaccuracies in news reporting come from a desire to get the “scoop.”  There is a rush to report in the daily papers.  There is a sensationalism driven by a need for ratings in the 24-hour news channels.  Anyone who believes this is a relatively new phenomena should spend some time going through news throughout history.  Yellow journalism has been around for quite some time.

The great thing about the “Information Age” is how many different sources we can find for a single subject.  A critical thinker can read about an issue or an event from many different perspectives.  We are more than our labels.  The issues of our times demand a deeper and more complex understanding than our politicians and leaders can express in a sound byte.  As a country, for our communities, for our world, we must be able to look beyond our surface impressions and easy judgments to gain better knowledge and to build a better world.

Credit: iHeart Organizing for the pic

 

 

Password Pandemonium

At last count, for work, I have over 30 passwords.  I know I’m not the only person to think that password protocols are out of control.  I have over 30 unique passwords, not because I’m a freak about security, but because each site has it’s own password protocol.

  • Must be 8 characters or longer
  • Must contain a special character
  • Must have one upper case and one lower case
  • Must have at least one number or one letter
  • Must be a sentence describing something cryptic that is a reflection of your inner child in 20 characters or less.
  • Must be in the WingDings font copied and pasted from Word 97 and accessed on the night of a harvest moon.

Then you have sites that require you to frequently change your password, every 30 days, every 90 days, every year.  These are usually the ones that require you to never use the same password twice and that new passwords cannot contain any part of an old password, so you are left with 30 plus unique passwords that you couldn’t possibly remember if you tried.

Number one rule about password security:  don’t write down your passwords.  But it’s okay to use a password protected password app, as long as you can remember that password and sync up all the changing passwords to the program.  So true confessions, I have some passwords written down, but there is a Captain Crunch decoder ring that is required to decipher the abstruse legend of my written password log.  This is about as secure as I can make it.  If the hackers can figure it out, we are all screwed.

Is there a better solution than the draconian practices of password protocol for online security?

Biometrics.  Facial recognition and fingerprints are some of the developing protections for online security.  Facial recognition is only as good as the camera doing the recognizing as I have seen family members with similar facial features gain access to a smartphone.  Fingerprints seem the safest personalized protection we can get, but hackers have already developed methods of skirting this issue.

Pass Phrase.  The newest iteration of password security seems to be the passphrase.  A short sentence can more easily incorporate most of the above requirements and is harder for a decryption program to hack.  “The significant owl hoots in the night!1” is supposed to be a harder phrase to crack than “EyeH8p@s$w0rd5!”  Don’t ask me.  I am not a computer expert or hacker by any stretch of the imagination.

Don’t ask me how many personal passwords I have because none of them are written down, unless I managed to remember to write them on a statement and filed them in a filing cabinet.  The problem is that many sites I may only have a use for looking at once a year or several times a year, and I have to think back to my state of mind at the creation of the password, and I have three or four that I can easily remember, but if anything is different like a capital letter or a special character, I am screwed and locked into the “Forgot Password” loop.

The worst loop I got lost in was with a state revenue entity that was requiring additional security.  They sent me a confirmation code that was time sensitive that didn’t make it’s way out through my email filter until after the time had expired.  The worst is having to spend a half hour of your day on the phone to change a password, or confirm identity when online access is supposed to be more convenient.

That’s the heart of the issue for me, convenience vs. security.  If a client has never had fraud occur or identity theft, they can only see the inconvenience because of your conservative security measures.  Conversely, someone who has dealt with ID theft or fraud will blame the security measures in place for not being strong enough.