A Snapshot of American Well-Being

I wish there was a dashboard that we all could look at that would actually tell us where America, or any country for that matter, stood on a variety of indicators at any given moment. That way it would be real easy to actually see how things are going on a large scale in our country. For my viewing pleasure, and I hope yours as well, here is a snapshot of what I would include. I’m not tech savvy enough to figure out how to embed all of these graphs into this page so that they update automatically. If someone out there can tell me how to do that, I’d be very grateful.

Above is the Average Happiness for Twitter, courtesy of hedonometer.org. This graph starts at the very beginning of Twitter, from 2009. Below is the same graph, but for the last 18 months. You can see that the happiness being expressed on twitter has a steady climb upwards in the last 18 months. I like how helpful these folks are, that they have put notable events on the graph as well. It’s also notable that we’re currently getting back up to the happiness levels that we were at pre-Trump.

Below is the Happiness Index for the United States. This data came from the World Happiness Report, but was plotted by TheGlobalEconomy.com. Most of the rest of the graphs on this post are going to be from TheGlobalEconomy.com, so I’ll only put the source if the graph isn’t from there.

Not the sexiest looking graph in the world, but we don’t make graphs to score sexy points! I should point out, that this is the page I’m using at TheGlobalEconomy.com to make these fine graphs.

Next is GDP per capita. That little dip at the end there is the dip from 2019 to 2020.

Next is the Labor Force Participation Rate. I haven’t read a lot about why this could be happening, I’d love to see some explanations. Here is a definition of Labor Force Participation Rate, from bls.gov “The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively looking for work. It is an important labor market measure because it represents the relative amount of labor resources available for the production of goods and services.”

For added context, I’m going to go back to the very beginning of this statistic being tracked on TheGlobalEconomy.com – 1990. You’ll see in 1990 that we had not hit the highest known peak yet, which we reached in 2000. We’ve been on our way down ever since.

Now to the unemployment rate, which is drastically different. This chart came directly from Google. According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, “In simple terms, the unemployment rate for any area is the number of area residents without a job and looking for work divided by the total number of area residents in the labor force.” It’s very interesting to me that the Labor Force Participation rate has been on such a steady decline since 2000, while the unemployment rate has fluctuated so drastically in the last 20 years. Could that be explained by the mass retirement of the baby boomer generation?

Here’s one that I would think would validate the experience of most Americans. The Government Effectiveness Index from the World Bank. Here is there definition: The index of Government Effectiveness captures perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.

The Control of Corruption Index, again from the World Bank. Definition: The index for Control of Corruption captures perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as capture of the state by elites and private interests.

The Voice and Accountability Index is also a notable one, again from the World Bank. Definition: The index for Voice and Accountability captures perceptions of the extent to which the citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

I was wondering why the downward trends on the last three graphs all seemed to start in 2004-2005, then I saw this graph. It’s the Political Stability Index from the World Bank. What the heck was going on in 2004? I don’t remember things being so crazy here then. Definition: The index of Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism measures perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically-motivated violence and terrorism. The index is an average of several other indexes from the Economist Intelligence Unit, the World Economic Forum, and the Political Risk Services, among others.

Below is the Maternal mortality rate, from UNICEF. I don’t know why we don’t have data after 2017. You can see that 2018 had a rate of 17.4 and 2019 had a rate 0f 20.1 if you go to the CDC. The rates for those years for Non-Hispanic Black people are eye popping. Like double.

Interestingly, the Percent Income Earned by the Top 10 Percent of Earners – published by the World Bank, does not seem crazy. Or maybe it is, and I’m just used to it?

The World Bank also has Dependent People as Percent of the Working Age Population. So all of us who are working have more dependents, apparently. Definition: Age dependency ratio is the ratio of dependents–people younger than 15 or older than 64–to the working-age population–those ages 15-64. Data are shown as the proportion of dependents per 100 working-age population.

Life Expectancy will be interesting to look at once the COVID years are included.

Here’s the birth rate, births per 1000 people.

Here’s the Suicide Mortality Rate, from the World Health Organization.

Hospital Beds have been in a steady decline, per OECD. Why we don’t have data after 2017 is curious, however.

Finally, a graph that isn’t going the wrong direction! Below is Doctors per 1000 people from OECD.

Funny enough, when it comes to crime we start to get data that looks good. First is the Robbery Rate. This is from Statista.

Apparently our imprisonment rate is going down… Though I have seen other sources that have the same overall curve but with higher numbers.

As is our theft rate. This is from Statista as well.

Our homicide rate is interesting. It looks like it started to go up in 2015 or so. This graph is from Pew. Interestingly, 2015-2016 is when our indicators for happiness at the top of this page started to go down. Pew wants us to note that the 2020 data is provisional, and that the data came from the CDC.

This is the estimated homelessness rate, I found it on Statista as well. Though it looks like it originally came from HUD. As someone who works with people who are homeless, I should tell you that these numbers are rough estimates at best.

Finally, how’s COVID going? Here is the chart Google provides.

What are my takeaways from all of this data? I’ll break it down.

What’s trending poorly?
-Happiness, but it is beginning to rebound
-Labor Force Participation Rate
-Government Effectiveness
-Control of Corruption
-Voice and Accountability
-Political Stability
-Maternal Mortality
-Our amount of dependents
-Birth Rate (or is this bad?)
-Suicide Rate
-Hospital Beds
-Homicide Rate
-COVID (we’re now in a true second wave)

What’s steady?
-Unemployment
-Percent of Income Earned by Top 10 Percent of Earners
-Homelessness

What’s trending well?
-GDP
-Life Expectancy
-Doctor Rate
-Robbery Rate
-Prisoner Rate
-Theft Rate

Overall, not good. One’s ability to be employed and avoid being the victim of property crime is trending well. But all of the indicators that are about quality of life look bad, and most of them have looked bad for a while. It’s no wonder that over the last few years some people have said that America is in decline. In some notable ways, it is. I’m tempted to link the sudden spike in our murder rate to a general feeling in our culture that there is a lack of trust and support – as illustrated by the other poorly trending indicators I have here… but that truly is just an opinion. I lean that way because there has been no corresponding spike in property crime – so the desperation that we think leads to property crime doesn’t seem to carry over to homicide.

I’m going to leave this here, all under the American Well Being category on this site. I expect I’ll only do updates once a year or so to this category, but it should continue to be easy to find when you come to my website. A big part of why I wanted to make this is so I could reference it when I need it – now it is here for you too.

Building A Veterans Village in Santa Cruz County

I am very excited that we are able to share the next step in this project that so many of us have been working on for so long. I’ll go ahead and post the press release here:

A proposal to purchase the former Jaye’s Timberlane Resort to provide permanent supportive housing for local veterans was accepted on November 10, 2021 in seemingly perfect preparation for the November 11th celebration of Veterans Day when the nation honors those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

This “Veterans Village,” a first for Santa Cruz County, will provide a permanent affordable housing solution for veterans and their families, complete with on-site support services, amenities, outdoor recreation, and a supportive community of peers.

The Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building Board of Trustees (Vets Hall) teamed up with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz County Bank to secure funding for the project. Community Foundation Santa Cruz County will provide low-interest financing for the project in conjunction with Santa Cruz County Bank. The Community Foundation has also launched the Veterans Village Fund with a $75,000 matching grant. All donations in November up to $75,000 will be matched by the Community Foundation in honor of Veterans and their service to our country. Donations can be made here: www.cfscc.org/vetsvillage

“Our veterans cannot afford to live in Santa Cruz and many struggle to get by on their current benefits. As we see more veterans come home from Afghanistan in need of support and community, the time is now to develop a solution for permanent supportive housing for our Santa Cruz County veterans,” said Chris Cottingham, Executive Director of the Vets Hall.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building (Vets Hall) hosted a 24/7 Emergency Shelter for 16 months through their C.A.R.E. (Community Aid Resource Effort) Program, funded in part by a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation. It was then that Cottingham discovered there are currently 179 veterans in Santa Cruz County that are eligible for supportive housing funds; many of whom are in poor temporary living situations or homeless.

The Jaye’s Timberlane property in Ben Lomond has a four bedroom, three bath home plus office with 10 additional cabins with their own kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms on nearly six acres of land. The turnkey property will be able to house 16 veterans and their families and Vets Hall will develop a phase two project to develop further housing capacity on the land for a total capacity of 40 veterans.

“This project is led by veterans for veterans,” said Cottingham. “And the village atmosphere will support community as well as self-sufficiency.” Cottingham explained that the project has been nearly two years in the planning and as it becomes a reality, “it will be a community effort, using local services, vendors, and workers.” 

“It takes a village to support the Vets Village,” said Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation. “Purchasing this property makes a significant step towards ending homelessness for our veterans and we’re honored to work with the Vets Hall, Santa Cruz County Bank, and generous community members to help solve local challenges together.”

Instrumental support on this project came from Veterans Village Committee members and supporters: Veterans of Forgeign Wars, American Legion, United Veterans Coalitions, and Support Services for Veteran Families; Santa Cruz Free Guide; Robert Ratner with the Housing for Health Division of Santa Cruz County; Front Street Paget Center; and Supervisors Manu Koenig & Bruce McPherson, realtor Paul Zech, Jack Tracey, Lynda Francis, David Pedley, Stoney Brooks, and Keith Collins.

About Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building

Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building is a 501(c)3 non-profit who since 1995 has committed to first supporting the Santa Cruz County Veterans and the community as a whole. In partnership with the County of Santa Cruz and the United Veterans Council, they operate the Veterans Memorial Building located in Downtown Santa Cruz. Their unique model of business allows them to use the Vets Hall facility and the revenue generated, to provide support and services for Veterans and their families in the Santa Cruz area. Learn more at https://www.veteranshall.org/  

About Community Foundation Santa Cruz County

Since 1982, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County has brought together people, ideas, and resources to inspire philanthropy and accomplish great things. The Community Foundation helps donors and their advisors invest wisely in causes they care about, to provide grants and resources to community organizations, and to offer leadership around key local issues. The Foundation manages more than $187 million in charitable assets and provides customized and tax-smart giving solutions that resulted in more than $21 million in grants in 2020. Thanks to generous donors, over $131 million in local grants and scholarships have been awarded locally since 1982. The Community Foundation seeks to make Santa Cruz County thrive for all who call it home, now and in the future. Learn more at www.cfscc.org

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This project has come this far because of a community effort. If you have time, effort or resources to donate please feel free to comment or email me directly at evan@thefreeguide.org

If you would like to donate money to this project, you can do so here: https://cfscc.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=3442

Press so far:

Sentinel: https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2021/11/10/santa-cruz-nonprofit-converting-san-lorenzo-valley-resort-into-vets-village/

Lookout: https://lookout.co/santacruz/civic-life/story/2021-11-11/homeless-veterans-village-santa-cruz-ben-lomond-community-foundation-veterans-day

KSBW: https://www.ksbw.com/article/santa-cruz-resort-homeless-veterans-support/38228232

SLV Press Banner: https://pressbanner.com/vets-village-provides-sustainable-housing-for-homeless-veterans/

Good Times:

The USA: A Nation at War

We’ve been at war for 206 of our 246 years.

We’ve been at war for 206 of or our 246 years of existence.

If you saw my last post, you know that I started looking at American wars as a way to see how many American Indian tribes we actually went to war with as a country. That led me further, however, to looking at all of our wars. Here is the data that I found, which I’m putting in the sort of overview that was certainly missing from my schooling when I was growing up.

We’ve engaged in 98 different conflicts. That’s one new war every two and a half years. At most, in 1918, we were in engaged in 8 conflicts at once. Many times, we’ve been engaged in seven different wars at once.

1855: Cayuse War, Apache Wars, Bleeding Kansas, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, Third Seminole War, Yakima War

1856: Apache Wars, Bleeding Kansas, Puget Sound War, Rogue River Wars, Third Seminole War, Yakima War, Second Opium War

1858: Apache Wars, Bleeding Kansas, Third Seminole War, Yakima War, Second Opium War, Utah War, Navajo Wars

1865: Apache Wars, Navajo Wars, American Civil War, Yavapai Wars, Colorado War, Snake War, Powder River War

1917: Apache Wars, Yaqui Wars, Border War, Occupation of Nicaragua, United States occupation of Haiti, United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), World War I

1918 (8): Apache Wars, Yaqui Wars, Border War, Occupation of Nicaragua, United States occupation of Haiti, United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), World War I, Russian Civil War

2015: War in Afghanistan, Second U.S. Intervention in the Somali Civil War, Operation Ocean Shield, Operation Observant Compass, American-led intervention in Iraq, American-led intervention in Syria, American intervention in Libya

2016 (same wars as 2015): War in Afghanistan, Second U.S. Intervention in the Somali Civil War, Operation Ocean Shield, Operation Observant Compass, American-led intervention in Iraq, American-led intervention in Syria, American intervention in Libya

I’m taking this list of wars from Wikipedia, so keep in mind it may not be definitive. Some people may want to argue that some of these weren’t “declared” wars, or that they weren’t very “hot” wars, I don’t have any interest in really touching that.

I must confess that I did not even know that we occupied Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the same time – while we were participating in World War I. The heavy war years of the 1800’s demonstrate how completely we were fighting against American Indian tribes of that time. The Apache Wars went from 1849-1924, though fighting had mostly stopped a few years before 1924. That’s still a 75 year conflict that I knew next to nothing about – that’s 30% of the entire life of America as a country that we were engaged in the Apache Wars. The list above also illustrates how war-heavy our recent years have been, though we often act as if we are not a country at war in modern times. But I suspect, except for the major wars, it has mostly been that way.

A snapshot of the most violent years of the 1800’s in America
The violent years of the early 1900’s
Our most recent era

When was the last year that America did not engage in war? 1985. Our last sustained peace was from 1976-1981. Since it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to view a spreadsheet like this in PDF format, I’ll give you all this link so you can scroll through if you like.

In terms of amount of wars over a relatively short period of time, 246 years, I don’t know how we compare to other nations of the world. I find it unlikely that I’ll make the time to put together spreadsheets like this for a lot of other countries. Knowing that we have engaged in some sort of war every 2.5 years of our existence is quite informative, in my view. In the 96 years since the final American Indian conflict ended (the final action of the Apache Wars) in 1924, the US has engaged in 31 conflicts. That’s a new conflict every 3.1 years. That’s certainly an improvement over our overall average, but it’s still 3 conflicts each decade. In the 149 years that we were fighting American Indians, we engaged in 69 wars in total. During that time, that was a new war every 2.2 years.

What are my takeaways here? The USA has been at war in one fashion or another for 84% of it’s existence. It’s no wonder that we became active in foreign interventions once the ongoing wars against American Indians came to an end – the public and our institutions were already accustomed to near constant war. That energy needed to go somewhere. This year we have been involved in 4 wars, currently we are still active in 3.

It does seem that it would take a sea change in the way America operates, and the realities of international politics, for America’s thirst for war to go away any time. It may morph, a notable short term improvement in the way our military operates would be to simply stop engaging in conflicts with insurrectionists in foreign countries, but I don’t see our politics changing so dramatically that we are going to significantly increase or decrease the pace at which we engage in war.

For Indigenous People’s Day, I Made A Spreadsheet

You know if I care enough to make a spreadsheet about it, I really care

Something I heard a while ago has stuck with me. I don’t remember the exact wording of what the person said, at all, but it was something like this: “Of course there was vibrant, established civilization in the Americas before white people showed up.” Like, the land here wasn’t free for the taking. It was conquered, nations were destroyed, people were displaced.

Growing up where and when I did, this reality was downplayed when I was taught history. People who subjugated Native Americans weren’t outright celebrated for the subjugation, but they were often excused or celebrated for other reasons. I remember my high school history teacher excusing Andrew Jackson‘s exploits before and during his presidency by saying that the American people would inevitably have pushed the Seminole out of Florida, he just tried to do it as humanely as possible. Of course, Columbus Day was still a thing when I was growing up as well. I guess it still is.

Anyway, I’ve been reading this book

Excuse my phrasing here, but reading about Indian war after Indian war after Indian war after Indian war just got to be so much. Like, how much did we do this?

So I went and looked at the list of American wars on Wikipedia. Somehow it never sank in for me the true extent of how much war our country engaged in with Native Americans.

Here’s an image of my first version of the spreadsheet

On the left, each tribe that was involved in an American war. That’s 70 tribes. Some tribes were allied with the US for some wars. Most weren’t. Some were allies sometimes, enemies others. I haven’t, and will not for this post, gone into depth on all the wars that the US engaged in with Native American tribes. What struck me is the sheer volume. The nonstop war. From the moment the USA first started to exist (which I’m marking at the beginning of the Revolutionary War) until 1924 – a 149 year span – I only counted 32 years where we weren’t engaged in some sort of military action against Native American tribes. That’s over one hundred years of conflict. There were times, especially in the 1850’s and 1860’s, where the US was fighting five or six conflicts against natives at once. I counted eight conflicts, some years-long, that took place during the Civil War. Our Civil War cost us hundreds of thousands of lives, yet we had the bandwidth to fight eight other conflicts with Native Americans?

I counted 69 wars that America engaged in between 1775 and 1924. 42 were exclusively against native tribes. That’s 61%. Also… with all the wars put together that’s a new war every 2.2 years. That’s a lot of war. Take out the wars against Native Americans, and we still engaged in a war every 5.5 years. That seems like a lot. But this stuff is for my next post, not this one…

We went to war with some tribes so many times. The Cheyenne? Seven times. Arapaho? Six times. Paiute? Five times. Comanche? Four times. Seminole? Four times (The Seminole apparently fought us in a First Seminole War, a Second Seminole War, and a Third Seminole War). Shoshone? Four times. Sioux? Six times.

The drip, drip, drip of war against many of these tribes was something I didn’t understand before. If we couldn’t or didn’t get a tribe to do what we wanted the first time we’d just keep coming back over and over again. No peace was a final peace, it seems, until finally the Native Americans took whatever we were willing to give them. It seemed that as soon as we were done with one tribe, or one area, we would go on to another tribe and go to war against them until we ground them down too. Until we ground them all down.

Here’s the PDF of my spreadsheet, if you’d like to browse it. I was only able to put one link in each cell, so if you want to read about a war that isn’t linked just look amongst the other tribes to find a link to the war.

Of course there was a vibrant civilization here, it was nearly 150 years after the start of our country before it was finally beaten. Before that, more than 150 years as well.

All this data is off of Wikipedia, so it is should all be considered approximate. However, I think the greater point still stands…

I Used to Write Poetry

I just emptied out my old storage shed, and amongst many things, I found my poetry from when I was in high school. Since the actual paper copies weren’t in a condition to keep, I scanned what I could. Assuming everything in our lives going forward is going to be digital, these seems as good a place as any to save them. Also, since this year marks 20 years since I graduated high school, the timing just feels right to visit these again.

Freshman year. I should note, I’m only posting the poems that were published in the yearly creative writing publication of my high school, called The Myriad.

Well, that’s a freshman poem. I don’t know what else to say about that. Let’s move on…

My freshman English class put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and I wrote this introduction to it. I mean, I can’t disagree with my point here – that Romeo and Juliet is actually a story about how hate poisons everything. The love that Shakespeare describes is just the catalyst that draws the hate out. Nicely done, me.

I think that’s all that was published from my freshman year. Let’s go on to sophomore year…

This is one of my favorite things I have ever written. It so well captures my feelings of walking the halls in my high school as a sixteen year old – with girls. GIRLS! Oh, the girls. You may see, that becomes a theme here.

Apparently all my life I’ve been re-writing songs with my own lyrics. Threw in a dig at the cold soullessness of corporate America at the end. Not that I had ever been to a Wal-Mart at this point in my life(!) but I guess one doesn’t always need to write what they know.

Geez, this is so frickin’ corny. It was when I discovered this poem that I re-considered my idea to make this blog post altogether, just because this poem is so corny. But you know what? I have a point here about “exuding compassion” actually being a thing. Being able to exude compassion is an invaluable ability. So, okay, not terrible… me.

On to junior year!

Part of me wants to say a lot about this poem. Part of me wants to say nothing at all. When Fiona Apple released Every Single Night in 2012, I thought “she knows this feeling.” I guess you either know this feeling or you don’t. I felt this a lot in my high school years.

Can our love survive the inevitable turbulence that life will bring? That’s a good question. First seeing this again made me think of In Each Other’s Arms by Amy Obenski, but maybe a more fitting song is Love Me Again by John Newman. Maybe this was a sentiment that simply fit the time for me; that we all knew that mistakes, misspoken words and mess ups were inevitable in this world of love that we were exploring. Would we make it?

No, we would not. But we learned on the way. To senior year…

Ugh. This brings back things I’d rather not remember. Remember when I said we learned along the way? Well, here I am… learning. It honestly took me years to learn to navigate the feelings behind the words in this poem.

I had completely forgotten that I had written this. This is as true for me today as it was when I wrote it. I am, honestly, gobsmacked at this poem. Holy moly. If I ever doubt that I can write, I need only look at this poem.

This seems to be inevitable after writing With You? a couple poems up. Yep.

What’s funny is that I’m posting these in the order that The Myriad published them. I don’t know that they are actually chronological. But it feels like it now. I mean, of course I would write this after writing Losing. Reading these poems again, it makes sense that I left high school feeling less confident than I was during high school.

I should point out in this next one that there are a couple of typos. “Ali” was supposed to be “Ah” and the “No” at the beginning of the next line was supposed to be “Not.” I don’t know if I turned this into them handwritten, or if they just made typos.

I can never claim that there was a time in my life that I was not bold. I was pretty fed up with school at the end.

That was another thing to learn, that when it’s over there is no going back. This reminds me of Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri, except from the other person’s point of view.

That’s the last of them. I seriously have no desire to write poetry ever again. I think it’s because I associate that sort of writing with the emotional turmoil of high school. I had never written poetry before my freshman english teacher assigned it to me, and after I got out of high school there wasn’t a structure to continue writing like that. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, dear reader, as I’ve enjoyed looking back on a previous version of myself.

The Satisfaction With Life Scale

I came across the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) in my general meanderings in life… as authored by Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen and Sharon Griffin in the Journal of Personality Assessment. It’s notable enough that I thought I would post it here:

No pressure to share how satisfied you are 🙂

Something’s Broken in Democracyland

A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.

Most folks who read this blog live in countries that attempt or claim to be democracies. If that is you, I have a question for you: How much say or choice do you feel like you have in the world that immediately surrounds you? If you want to be listened to by people that make decisions that affect you, are you able to speak to them and be sure that they will take you seriously?

I’m guessing that, for the great majority of us, the answer to that last question is no.

I’ve been thinking about a couple of psychological phenomenons that happen when humans don’t have control. One is relatively documented (though I’m having trouble thinking of the search terms to google it with) and that is when people engage in activities with a high rate of failure outside of their control, they create superstitions around success and failure. The best example I know of is baseball. People who are good at baseball will fail upwards of 70% of the time when they have an at-bat (for the sake of this conversation I’m going to ignore advanced metrics). A pitcher can strike out two batters in a row with the same pitch, then give up a home run to the next batter while still using that same pitch. The games are low scoring enough that what scientists call “statistical noise” can be the determining factor in winning or losing a game. Often. So often that whole team’s seasons can occasionally be chalked up to the equivalent of a fluke. So baseball players develop a wide array of superstitions about playing. They will have a lucky glove, lucky socks, lucky facial hair. If they wore a certain undershirt when they did really well, they’ll keep wearing that undershirt. On and on. I encountered this when I first started playing baseball when I was a kid at six years old, and it’s something that gets brought up in current broadcasts of professional games today featuring grown men.

But that is a vocation. What happens when people are left out of the decision making process for most of the issues that affect their daily life? What if there are some people out there somewhere making those decisions, and you don’t even know who they are? Why did that road get paved? I don’t know. Why did that bridge get built? I don’t know. Why is the local school’s curriculum the way it is? A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.

My hypothesis is that’s when people create conspiracy theories. In our current political climate, lots of people are writing about how conspiracy theories get disseminated. But why are people coming up with conspiracy theories in the first place? Why are people open to conspiracy theories at all? My own personal experience is that I’ve never heard a conspiracy theory come out of someone’s mouth who has also had a strong relationship with their local government and/or community. The more I’ve worked with local government in my career, the more absurd most conspiracy theories sound. I know that my own personal experience is not statistically significant, and my experience has me wondering about ways to test this hypothesis.

If my hypothesis were true, then that would mean that our current prevalence of conspiracy theories is a symptom of a greater problem. The problem of disconnection from our communities and our systems of power within our country. This dovetails nicely with my view that there is a severe lack of pro-social pro-community structures in our American society. Another hypothesis that I haven’t developed a test for.

A whole bunch of people I don’t know made some decisions, and I have absolutely no say in the situation. And I couldn’t if I tried.

This feels like the motto for modern democracy. Not that there isn’t a shortage of folks who say “but you can be heard if you try!” “You can be the change in the world you want to see!” In my view, thinking like that is thinking designed to overcome the problem. But it isn’t addressing the problem. The problem with modern democracy is that reality needs to be overcome by everyone, all the time. Very few people have the energy for that.

My own personal conspiracy brain says “it’s that way because that’s how they want it.” But I don’t actually think that’s true. I think this is an unhappy accident.

So what do we do about it? I’ll let you all think about that. I’m thinking about regular community gatherings, that are official in one way or another. I think we need to make sure that people have multiple connections with the community around them. I’m thinking of small government on a neighborhood or borough scale. I’m also thinking that these sort of things, and a lot more ideas that will strengthen our communities, will become more doable as we strengthen the middle class and address they systemized inequality within our country. I’m not thinking of social media. I think we’ve seen the ceiling for social media, and it’s considerably lower than everyone thought it would be.

How do we even begin to measure how connected a person is to their community and the systems of power that affect them?

Here’s what helped me understand Israel & Palestine

If you’re like me, you learned almost nothing about the ongoing conflict in school

Growing up in the United States in the 80’s and 90’s, everything around me was pro-Israel… without any real explanation of how or why. Nothing truly opened my eyes to the history of the region until I stumbled upon the incredible podcast series by MartyrMade: Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem.

Darryl Cooper does a great job of telling the history as well as dispelling many of the myths we’ve been hearing for years.

For those of you unaccustomed to history podcasts, spending hours listening to something like this can seem daunting. MartyrMade is one of the very best out there, and the time goes by fast. History podcasts are my jam, I listen to them while I’m commuting.

In Honor of Obstinacy

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I’ve been thinking about obstinacy. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of American politics, Middle Eastern politics, and everything else. I’ve been thinking about the stubborn unwillingness to question one’s beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that those beliefs are incorrect. I’ve been thinking about how it’s common, prevalent, in our world today. Yet, it’s always been with us, hasn’t it?

Is it new for a politician’s followers to assert that the politician won an election, when there is no evidence that they did? No. Is it new for one people to take land from another people and then act like it’s been their land the whole time? No. Is it new for people to ignore all reasonable advice that would keep them safe in the time of a global pandemic? No.

Yet, it’s one thing to know that these are historical truisms of humanity. It’s another thing to live it. It’s another thing to know that people are falling for the same old stuff they’ve always fallen for, and there probably isn’t anything you can do about it. There certainly isn’t anything I can do about it.

You and I, all of us, are subject to the whims of the people in our community. Relatively speaking, we are all just bits of water riding the waves of humanity. Sometimes, those waves take us in the wrong direction. None of this makes me feel better.

Yet, obstinacy serves it’s purpose. I’m sure there are many an entrepreneur who will tell you that they had to keep going in spite of all the evidence otherwise. I’m sure every person has their story of having to persevere in spite of all evidence pointing against them.

Maybe that entrepreneur thing is a myth. Maybe that is something we just tell ourselves, in America. It certainly seems like I’ve heard it everywhere. Part of my thinking on this, is that in America, I think we may have a collective mythology about obstinacy. Our heroes are people who stood up against the masses, who went against the long odds.

The statistical outliers.

So when we’re confronted with things that challenge our beliefs, why can’t we be the heroes to? Can’t we say; I know better than that? Doesn’t it feel good to zig when the rest of the world is zagging? Does it feel good to know that you know better than the masses who are just sheep?

A saying I find very relevant to our times is that; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Today it feels like a lot of folks are forgetting the evidence part.

Yet again, none of this makes me feel any better. For me, the challenge is forgiveness. The challenge is to forgive people even though they hold fast to beliefs that I find nonsensical. Even if my life is made harder or shortened by their behavior because they hold those beliefs.

How do you forgive someone who reinforces your suffering because they refuse to acknowledge the truths that are readily apparent to you?

Don’t get me wrong, my suffering is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. My suffering is just the suffering of someone who sees the pain of people living on this planet in the year 2021.

But you know what? I’m gonna give it a shot: I forgive you, humanity. I forgive you for hanging onto ideas long past when they’ve outlived their usefulness. I forgive you, for letting people suffer and die to achieve your own selfish ends. I forgive you for messing up. I forgive you for doing, and saying, the wrong thing at the wrong time. I forgive you for making things worse. I forgive you for abusing your power. I forgive you for disrespecting people’s sovereignty over their own lives. I forgive you for ignoring the impact you have on your community and your environment, so you can continue to enrich yourself. I forgive you…

…. now stop it.

🤪

For me, it’s not time for a retrospective

For months I have been planning to write this blog. I would look back at all the things that have happened in this year plus of covid. I would look at statistics, talk about all the little things. The big sufferings and the small sufferings.

But I just don’t want to. I don’t really want to think about the last year. I’m fully vaccinated. The adults in my family are fully vaccinated. I want to start the Hug Tour of 2021. I’ve missed so many hugs this year, I just want hugs.

I want to get together with friends. I want my kids to have play dates. I want to get a babysitter, so my wife and I can go on a date. I want to meet strangers.

I want to move on. I want to relish life again. There will undoubtedly be a time to process all that has happened, and all that hasn’t. But now is not that time. Now is the time to live again.

Let me know when you’re ready for a (vaccinated) hug 🙂