The Disadvantages of Advantages in Life

This subject runs the serious risk of being seen as elitist. But, it is important enough to surface in a way that makes clear that is not the case and to turn it to the advantage of the disadvantaged.

Advantages in life come randomly through baby nurseries in hospitals in various ways. While we all come into life without a stich of cloth, moments later advantages and disadvantages begin to appear and tend to grow as time passes.

Some babies go home to rudimentary housing, filth, inadequate sanitation and parents [if there are two] who are struggling to stay afloat and know far too little about how to properly care for a baby.

Other babies go home to their own room with a crib and frilly dresses for girls and a baby nurse or Nanny with fawning parents who have been preparing for the big day for at least 9 months.

From that point on things keep diverging. Where those babies go for day care, for preschool and beyond spells out the future of those children long before they have any chance to know it or do anything about it.

Let’s jump ahead a bunch of years and look at when those exemplar babies are 20 years old
An unlucky kid is probably stuck in a vicious circle of poverty and lack of opportunity. This could be worse in many cases because that the kid may have already been in jail.

A lucky kid may already be in college and getting ready to be independent and developing a career.

If another unlucky kid has really exceptional drive, she may have begun discovering how to overcome all the disadvantages she was born into.

If another lucky kid is normal, he may be taking for granted all his built in advantages and coasting toward a life of mediocrity.

The disadvantage of advantage is that in a child’s formative years the challenges that build character, strength [grit] and values of focus are not automatically there unless the parents work hard to create the right kind of different challenges that young people need to be able to grow strong enough to deal with the real challenges of modern life.

The advantage of disadvantage is that when a child has the innate capacity to rise to the challenges, the growth potential is bound to be ever greater than for the advantaged child.

The question is how to blend the two different environments. As we watch Baltimore and all the other current sites of racial problems, it is clearer than ever that this problem is at the root of both sides of this equation.

In Baltimore of the six police persons recently charged with crimes were one black woman and two black men and three white men. Those people likely had come more from disadvantaged environments, than advantaged, yet they all are being held partially accountable for serious misdeeds related to someone who surely was quite obviously even more disadvantaged.

If more advantaged people come to see this dilemma in their environment, perhaps they might be even more sympathetic to the plight of the kind of people they did not know well, if at all, as they grew up.

As a society we need to remember the irony of this inversion of disadvantage and advantage in approaching solutions to urban youth. It will not be enough to simply put more resources into disadvantaged youth; we need to get more advantaged kids into the process as well.

A blend may not be easy to achieve. But, it can be possible. In the past in the South when black and white children were allowed, even encouraged, to know each other, close friendships often ensued and endured into adulthood. The result more often than not was better children -black and white — in many ways all around.

Perhaps that history can be resurrected and studied for new ideas applicable today?


No Crocodile Tears

A piece of advice. Do not try too hard to outlive your teeth.

Yes, you want to live as long as you can think straight and enjoy what you can do. But, if you live longer than your teeth can serve you, you are in for a couple of unexpected ‘treats.’

Treat one is more drilling, jerking and probing in your mouth than you probably had in all your previous years.

Treat two is you have to pay for it. And, at an average of about $5000 a tooth, even if you are lucky financially, you will notice the dent in your bank account.

How is all that possible?

First, we have come a long way from George Washington’s wooden teeth. Now they know how to drill into your jaw bone and put in a steel pin on which they build a porcelain tooth better than nature’s own.

Second, it used to be that good dentists did everything necessary. Now there are periodontists, orthodontists, endodontics, oral surgeons and they hand people around like passing the hat in church. As you open their doors you do not hear a chime but the ring of a cash register.

Do not get me wrong, I really like the people who work in my mouth. But, I have begun to wonder how the relative value of their services has risen so rapidly in recent years that a lot of them are now working 3-day weeks and 6-hour days.

Indeed, I favor gifted and well trained professionals being highly valued in modern society. That applies to lawyers, medical doctors, dentists and other practicing professionals.

And, indeed there are various forms of competition in those professions. One can almost always find a cheaper person. But, the risk of the uncertainty related to saving a little money outweighs risks to your health and welfare. That reality crimps the effect of competition on prices in the medical world.

While I do not expect or want crocodile tears from anyone, I do wonder if there may have slowly and subtly been something like antitrust activities at professional gatherings where the crocodile teeth have chewed their way into the numbers that are being attached to removing teeth, implants and creating new teeth.

I have no complaints; just questions.

To begin with for some unexplainable reasons very little reasonable insurance covers our mouths. Why are our mouths less precious medically than the rest of our bodies, ex purely cosmetic help? If we cannot chew and eat properly, we become less health overall.

What harm would come from more transparency.

I grant that it is important that those professions need to earn enough to continue to attract coming generations of young talent and that factor must be central to these issues.

Please take this message only as a light hearted but gentle nudge to our professional friends to beware possible challenges from government lawyers, despite the fact that these issues have stayed under the radar for a very long time.

A View of the Presidential election in 2008 as observed from 2030

As  the  nation  gathered  its  skirts to make a choice in November 2008 about who would lead the nation after 8 years of national security  mistakes, economic  and financial problems resulting from tax  and financial policy miscalculations , and stasis on most domestic  issues including healthcare and education  in addition to fears about  selection of Supreme Court Justices, the American population began to firm up its views.

This was not the first such crossroads of such vital importance in American history. The elections in 1860 and 1940 were crucial- but this crossroads appeared to have more serious and complex issues occurring at the same time than in the past. Almost everyone in the country in some way wished those problems would “just go away” and take care of themselves. But rational thought made clear that the problems were not going to be wished away because they were amazingly complicated and difficult and would require the very best in America to have an even chance of success over time.

The Democratic Party had an 18 month debate between two very smart, experienced contenders and although their “policy “differences were slight, the winner was seen to be the more articulate, better organized candidate.

The Republican Party also had long, and at times, contentious primaries and the person, who emerged, interestingly enough, was a person whose reputation cast him as a maverick, but who also sought to pose run against the problems that his own party leaders had been creating.

The race between the two  initially shaped up to be between a young, extremely smart, articulate Senator and an old politically experienced maverick, fighter pilot, hero. The contest looked like it would be between opposing political views of national and economic security and youth vs. experience.

Without warning a new element was parachuted into the race.  A young, attractive, spirited woman with energy, charm and pizzazz was made VP candidate to run with the old political maverick. It was a recipe for excitement and the political picture changed, suddenly and dramatically.

Yet, nothing substantive had changed. The problems of the country remained the same, the ideas of how, or how not, to proceed with the problems of the future remained the same, but much of the electorate was seized by emotions about personality and the issues seemed to fade away.

The challenge became how the country could be brought back to its senses and make rational electoral judgments not personalized emotional choices.

For several weeks the young Senator clung to his belief that the hot flames of passion for the young opposing VP candidate would burn out under an intense spotlight and serious questioning. For a brief time it seemed that strategy might work.

As the election drew closer, it became apparent that something more and different was required to break the emotional hold the young VP had over a growing portion of the electorate.

Then things started to get interesting. The young senator commissioned a series of brilliant ads that gently, humorously but pointedly exposed the reality that the country was about to fall for a fantasy in a sexy box. Next, the young Senator boldly broke with tradition and began to announce some of his selection of major cabinet choices, which represented the most powerful, experienced, prestigious collection of people the country had ever seen in one cabinet. It was a game changing move and helped bring the electorate’s attention back to the basic problems and issues which needed tackling.

It was a scary time but, in the end it turned out all right. The young Senator was elected and he along with his cabinet performed exceptionally well over the next 8 years. The maverick senator sadly died not too long after after the election and his attractive running mate went back to her state and was ultimately defeated for reelection as Governor because of allegations of misconduct while she was in office.

Character in Politics?

Is there anyone alive who could honestly answer “no” to the question “Have you ever in your life lied?”

Of course, if the answer is “no,” they are most likely lying, or they are deficient in their memory process (which raises its own doubts about them).

The portrait of politicians as “congenital liars” is deeply ingrained in our political consciousness, part stereotype, part cliché, part the hook for a million stand-up routines. So why do or should voters care? The answer is that there are various characteristics (derived, you will note, from the word “character”) which are essential to leadership in general and particularly in politics. And basic character is, of course, truly the mother of all characteristics.

Other important characteristics include: intelligence, education, experience, temperament, judgment, humor, energy, ambition, and common sense.

If someone is well equipped with most of the characteristics in that list but is believed to lack character, should they ever be seen as qualified for a serious leadership role, including President of the U.S.?

The answer to that question most surely is, or should be, “NO.”

Today polls show that two-thirds of Americans distrust Hillary Clinton for lack of character over a long public history. The same polls show that two-thirds of Americans see Hillary as qualified to be president.

That apparent disconnect gives rise to questions about Americans’ view of the importance of character.

A somewhat similar disconnect was evident in 1984 when two-thirds of America polled said they loved Reagan but disagreed with most of his important policies. He was easily reelected, and Americans got what they asked for but did not want.

Perhaps the type, extent and continuous nature of examples of distrust are the crucial factors in judging a person. One puff of a joint at age sixteen, perhaps later denied but ultimately proven, is not by itself a basis for disqualification as a serious character deficiency.

On the other hand if someone is known to have been a regular expense account fiddler, to have received significant freebies in connection with their many positions in a long public life, to have lied openly in conflict with matters of public record to the contrary and taken clear and obvious steps to hide matters of obvious public interest–are they someone whose character suggests that they can/should be trusted always to put the public interest ahead of their own?

Most folks would easily answer NO!

I am not suggesting that Hillary Clinton does not pass this test at this moment in time.

But polling and common sense suggest that there is sufficient evidence for some serious concern. Democrats should demand a more extensive vetting process of her–now–to either put to rest assertions that will surely be raised extensively by Republicans through election day in 2016, and/or while there is still time to find and put forward an alternative candidate.

The worst possible outcome for most Democrats in 2016 would be for Clinton to fail to be elected because these issues had been dismissed as history or not worthy of concern.

There are far too many serious issues awaiting the next president to take anything for granted. The make-up of the Supreme Court is perhaps the most important, with our political system on the verge of a crisis from the tsunami of cash flooding the campaign system in the wake of the Citizens United decision.

The message today is Democrats, YES DEMOCRATS, should put Clinton through the wringer–to either clear the record or clear the field for another candidate. Perhaps the best way for that to happen would be for Hillary herself to ask for a group of elder Democratic statespersons, well beyond fear or favor, to create a task force to review her whole history and opine on her fitness for the presidency.

While some say it’s already too late to entertain possibilities other than the ordination of the first female nominee for president, there are many well-qualified people who could step into the breach. John Kerry, Joe Biden, and many others are seasoned politicians with broad networks and strong public recognition. Neither would be starting from scratch.

There are lots of reasons why Clinton appears to be poised to cruise through the nomination untouched. But, unless enough people can be persuaded that she is trustworthy (in the true meaning of that word) the risk that Democrats and the country might fall into the wrong hands remains unacceptably high.