Musings from George


Politics, primaries, and the world
July 8, 2016, 10:45 am
Filed under: Charity, Politics, Uncategorized

It is somewhat surreal to follow our presidential election, which will offer us the choice between a very experienced and qualified candidate that many do not like and an inexperienced and spectacularly unqualified candidate that does not seem to like anyone except himself. When did experience become a liability, and when did nastiness become a qualification?

While some think it is inappropriate to talk politics with children (lest they go off to school and share your opinions), the Donald has given us some remarkable opportunities to talk about important topics. Racism, misogyny, religious discrimination, “pants on fire” lies and exaggerations … topics that ordinarily do not come up in our quiet daily lives. I joke that the Donald gives us a chance to broaden our vocabulary (see the definition of buffoon) while realizing how much hate there is out there today, and hopefully we will all recoil and reconsider when this election dust settles. Every day is another offense to the Donald, and generates another offensive from the Donald, perplexing friend and foe alike.

It is a pity that the world is on fire and we cannot give it our full attention because our focus is inward, proposing walls between friends and threatening treaties with friends rather than trying to address the emergencies that are so real in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. If Canada can accept and integrate 25,000 refugees why can’t the US do the same for 250,000? We cry about the 6,000 who have come here, and we pay other countries to turn back children fleeing war zones in Central America because we are afraid of foreigners … the very people who build America.

It is useful to have a broader perspective. Learn about the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, which reduced the population of that county by more than two million people in five years … a million of them moved to the US, which at the time had a population of only fourteen million. Those immigrants became our policemen, our firemen, our teachers and our ancestors. Newer immigrants are trying to do the same, and we would all be better off if the world’s best engineers came to the US and the world’s hardest-working people joined us here. Let’s open the door wide, and make an effort to integrate them rather than isolating them. Let’s meet them and welcome them, rather than persecuting them.

Vote. However you choose to vote, it is a cherished right that our forebears fought and died to give us. Exercise it and celebrate democracy. Even if we disagree, we should all support the democratic process — vote against someone if you have to, but vote nonetheless.

Give. One of the things that distinguishes the US from the rest of the world is personal giving, not government giving. Some countries give more per capita, but most of that is given by the state — the US government gives less, but US citizens give more (not just the real wealthy, but the average American too). Celebrate charity. Embrace a non-profit. Encourage your friends to do the same.

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A Short Random Walk Through Topics I Never Covered
January 18, 2014, 6:10 pm
Filed under: Charity, Nonprofit, Random walk, Uncategorized, Volunteering

Every so often I am notified that someone found and read my blog, which is a little like hearing from a high school friend after many years. My first reaction is “really? they must be horribly bored” and the second reaction is a twinge of guilt that I have not stayed in touch and indeed feel guilty that they had to take the first step because I am too self-involved to go back and check in with old friends. I know that I stay in touch with many more people than your average engineer, but I also wish I could see Nick and Katie more often and could squeeze in an adult play date with Mike and Michelle. There are about two dozen people on my “wish I could spend time with” list that I haven’t connected with in a year, and that just makes me sad. So, the random walk that was promised in the title… questions and topics that I think are worthy of discussion, even worthy of monologuing (watch The Incredibles for an awesome example from Jason Lee of monologuing). Herewith:

  • When is a white lie simply a lie? When are you shielding someone else from pain they don’t need to experience, and when are you just being a coward because you don’t want to tell the truth?
  • When is it wrong to invest in your own children, when there are others that are in much more need? When your elementary school PTA asks for a voluntary donation, if you don’t give are you a free-loader? If you give the same amount to a school across town in the poor neighborhood, is that an equivalence? Should you feel obliged to give to both?
  • When you are asked to keep a secret, what obligations come with that request? You may be thrust into a position of knowledge you did not see, which can put you in the uncomfortable position of  having to lie about your knowledge to keep that secret. Why should someone be empowered to pull you into their world?
  • Euthanasia and end of life decisions. Since most of us avoid hard decisions and hard realities, many of us end up in a terrible health care crisis late in life. When should the government (or some other power) be enabled to end someone’s life because there is no upside left (dementia, without family, in an unheated homestead house without plumbing… yes, it is real).
  • Money. If you have some, and people you love do not, how much should you share? When should it be a gift, and when a loan?
  • Alcoholism. Runs in may families (we famously have an alcoholic lumberjack in the family, which just makes Monty Python a MUST SEE for our generation), and is difficult to manage and almost impossible to stop. Yet it is easy to buy alcohol, parties are better with an Open Bar, and we accept the drunken idiots, sloppy drunks (“I love you man!”), and dangerous drunks (so many deserving DUIs, so few cops!) as part of society.

Let me know if you have written something insightful on any of these topics, and I promise to read it (caveat: no books, just blogs!) Let me know if you want to hear my perspective on any of these things. Today’s rant: volunteering and non-profits. I have volunteered my entire life, crossing many different organizations targeting education, homelessness, animal welfare, hunger, micro-lending, sports, international poverty and health conditions, I have given for breast cancer research, for rebuilding in the Philippines and  in Honduras, to Doctors Without Borders without restraints, to MIT and for stroke victim recovery. I have also volunteered many many hours as a coach and as board member for sports organizations. The challenge — almost all of the money comes from a few donors, and the same 10% of the people do all the volunteer work. If Karma is real, most people are negative. How does a modern Mother Teresa volunteer at the PTA *without* recognizing that the same few people do everything, and why don’t we have some obligation to give back? Our current approach enables freeloaders to skate (voluntary contributions are, of course, voluntary) and doesn’t give any advantage to those who do the work (the 10%). So why don’t those of us in the 10% just give up and stay home? Why do I keep coaching, and reffing, and writing checks? Maybe *I* am the stupid one… What do you do for others that they could do for themselves? When do you find yourself frustrated with your volunteer efforts (e.g. delivering presents through a charity to a family with a TV bigger than yours, because they filled out the forms…)? When have you STOPPED helping a charity because you took issue with something they did or didn’t do? That’s all for now. Let me know what to read, and what to write, that would be interesting to both of us. George