Sunday, January 15, 2017

First 2017 Film

I enjoyed my Friday evening watching a movie that I should've seen long ago, The Iron Giant. That was one of the more meaningful movie experiences I've had with Sam.

The Iron Giant Movie Poster Image

Unfortunately it wasn't Caroline's cup of tea, and she had to excuse herself after the scene in which the title character witnessed a the death of a deer at the hand of hunters. She's a sensitive sort.

Sam, however, paid rapt attention throughout the film. And as we neared the climactic battle, Sam and I both predicted what we thought was coming. Sam sadly said to me, "I think I know what's going to happen." I replied that "It ain't going to be happy." Those of you who have seen the movie know of the twist at the very end, though, a twist that seems almost unrealistic. But it's a twist that makes the movie glorious, rather than just deep. I'm glad we stuck around for it.

I was prompted to watch this movie for a few reasons. One of these reasons was the advice of students at school who saw it in a film class last year. One of my colleagues does a wonderful job with that elective and she features The Iron Giant as part of her curriculum. A review of it, also, in Common Sense Media put the bug in my ear for it some time ago. That website has become something of a touchstone for me as a father, convincing me of some good films I might have missed, like Millions and My Neighbor Totoro, as well as advice I should've heeded (like for Hook). The website also stresses the importance of talking with your kids when the film is over, which Sam modeled for me when he asked what I thought the film was trying to teach when it was over.

The Iron Giant is a bit dated. It was made in 1999. It lacks the production values Disney films typically offer. The story isn't as brooding as we've come to expect films to be. But that was in part why I enjoyed it. Yes, it did get heavy. But it gave us that chance to not stay there after it was over.

And the lessons it was imparting were so important. We're not predestined to be bad or good. Children, liberated from adults' temptations to be judgmental, can be powerful agents of redemption. Grown ups can ascribe their worst fears to things they don't understand. I loved how it borrowed from the spirit of other wonderful tales for children like E.T. and Wreck It Ralph. And I'm most glad it gave me an evening to share with my son.

Leading with Inquiry, Week 2

Question for our political leaders: Is access to affordable healthcare coverage a right for Americans?

There's a somewhat confused rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which I get to a certain extent. At one time I opposed it quite heartily. Though I've come to think of it as legislation that has done more good than harm, I certainly acknowledge that it has many shortcomings. And the process by which the Democrats rammed it through Congress was regrettable. It's no wonder that Republicans, now enjoying unified government and one of their own (I guess) in the White House, the time seems right to them to remove this legislation.

There is a big however. They don't necessarily have any replacement legislation.

Catherine Rampell's recent blog post on the ACA is worth a read (link). Apparently the majority of Americans like nearly all the major provisions of the legislation except for, wait for it, the individual mandate. In other words, we wants the protections and affordability, but we don't want to share the costs with sicker Americans.

Until we're one of those sicker Americans.

So I'm curious as to how the leaders in Washington are going to solve this riddle. Essentially this comes down to a very old dilemma for Americans: whether equality or liberty is more important. And when it comes to health coverage, there seems to be a mandate to address liberty more than equality. But there might be more support for equality of access than meets the eye.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Leading with Inquiry, Week 1

This week's biggest dust-up concerning our political leadership in Washington was the further clarification of Russia's meddling in our most recent presidential election.

Here a few questions I'd like to pose:

1) Why was Russia so interested in having Donald Trump win the presidential election?

The president-elect and his acolytes contended this week that any Russian meddling didn't have an impact on the results of the election. I'm not sure I agree. But even if one concedes that point, it's important to explain why the government of Russia wanted Trump to win. Is there influence that they hope to gain with a Trump White House? Do they predict a Trump administration to be more friendly to Russian interests? More gullible? Or was it merely payback to Hillary Clinton and the political party of Barack Obama.  It's debatable that Russia's meddling tipped the scales in Trump's favor. What's clear, though, is that they wanted him to be president.

2) To what extent was the Trump campaign aware of Russia's attempts to influence the election in Trump's favor?

Given the means by which the Russians set up phony websites and online personalities, it's not beyond reason to suggest someone in Mr. Trump's campaign was aware of Russia's attempts to put a thumb on the electoral scales? We would learn a great deal from knowing how many, and how far up the food chain, such in-the-know individuals were.

3) Did the director of the FBI, James Comey, consider the Russians' influence in the election when he announced that he was reopening his office's investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server in October?

News that the FBI was opening an election that had been closed in the summer might have been the tipping point against Ms. Clinton this fall. The tone of the FBI director in the summer when he announced he was closing the probe didn't help Ms. Clinton either. At many points it seemed like Mr. Comey was failing to exercise caution against injecting his agency into the election. We should be concerned about the motivations of FBI officials who acted more recklessly in this election cycle than in any others in recent memory.

I leave it to people more qualified than me to find answers to these questions, and by that I mean the press. Something that sets us apart from Russia, and many other regimes, is our Constitutionally protected freedom of the press. It's up to us to support that press in its attempts to question and answer questions during this administration, an administration that seems challenged to operate in an ethical and honest way.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lead with Questions

There's a good chance 2017 will be an angry year for me. In 19 days a man is being inaugurated whose candidacy I opposed from the very beginning. I quit the political party to which I had always belonged and for which I had always rooted over that man. I fully expect that in his first year in office, Donald Trump will give me reasons to fulminate. After all, his political capital will have not yet been spent, his party is in control of both houses of Congress. The winds are at his back.

I think about angry voices from the past. For instance, William Lloyd Garrison, who once said that "I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - and I will be heard!" There was also Norman Beale, famous for proclaiming, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" For as thunderously wonderful as these sentiments might be, that's not my style.

In fact, when I was in graduate school for educational leadership, the best advice I got was to lead with inquiry. Question, don't assume. Start a conversation with a question but also lead people and move institutions with questions. Leading with inquiry is also more consistent with giving a new president a chance to make policy and be effective rather than just assuming they'll meet with failure.

So, the top political questions on my mind for the incoming Trump administration and Republican Congress are as follows:

1) What will you do to safeguard and promote the freedom of speech and of the press?

2) What policies will you put in place to counter the structural unemployment that will result from automation?

3) What measures will you implement to maintain the solvency of Social Security?

4) What steps will we take to strengthen and reassure critical allies throughout the world?

5) What measures will be taken to prevent foreigners' interference in American elections?

6) What will the administration do to promote growth of productivity?

7) What policies will you put in place to expand access to medical care?

8) What policies will you put in place to contain the cost of medical care?

9) What policies will you put in place to extend access to credit for lower-income Americans?

10) What measures will you take the guarantee all Americans equal treatment under the law?

That's it for now.


This blog has been largely quiet for the latter part of this year. This is my normal outlet for expression on political and cultural issues. The news has given me more reasons to be frustrated, to be humbled, to be contemplative than it has offered me opportunities to express. I had been hoping to build up toward a profound end-of-the-year post, but the momentum fizzled.

On a bright side, David Barry wrote in today's Washington Post, summarizing 2016 far better than I could. You might find his points of interest here.

If the news gave me little to be happy about, virtually everything else in life made me sing. The past year gave me great times with family and friends, the joy of watching our kids grow, the thrill of doing so with the wonderful companion who is my wife, excellent health, and safe travels. In those respects, 2016 was a great year. Perhaps this is an invitation to me to update the blog where I focus on those matters.