31 August 2013

How Stupid Do They Think We Are?

A few days ago there was a story on the news about the heat that Kitson, a Los Angeles boutique that celebutantes like Paris Hilton helped make famous, is getting for selling shirts with the drug names Adderall, Vicodin, and Xanax on the back with a number, like a football jersey. 
I don’t know which is worse: that a retailer thinks it’s appropriate to push shirts that glorify prescription drug addiction or someone thinks it’s hip to wear such apparel.
In spin doctoring that you know the Kitson director of operations spouting the words didn’t even believe, she told KTLA that the shop wasn't glamorizing drug use, it was simply "holding up a mirror to what already exists in our culture." It’s hard to believe she was able to say that without her nose growing a foot. How stupid do they think we are? To show how serious Kitson is about helping people who may have Adderall, Vicodin or Xanax addictions, a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the shirts goes to The Medicine Abuse Project, helmed by Drugfree.org.
Now the prescription drug companies who own the patents on the drugs are threatening to sue Kitson since it doesn’t appear that the boutique received permission to use the drug names. Do you know how stupefyingly wrong you have to be to actually have people rooting against you and instead on the side of the pharmaceutical company? 
Plus, The Medicine Abuse Project said it doesn’t want any donation from Kitson, “while they flagrantly, and without remorse, continue to see these products,” in a statement (leaving the question open as to whether they are open to a donation once Kitson, inevitably, is forced to or willingly decides to stop selling the shirts). Furthermore, The Medicine Abuse’s Project statement says, “These products make light of prescription drug abuse, a dangerous behavior that is responsible for more deaths in the United States each year than heroin and cocaine combined.”
In fact, a news report stated that on any given day 70,000 teens getting outpatient treatment for substance abuse.
Today’s $10 goes to The Partnership at Drugfree.org, which helps families dealing with teen substance issues. 
Aug. 31: Drugfree.org

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

30 August 2013

24 Hours Left To Help a New Mother

The United States ranks 50th in the world for maternal mortality rates. That means, as much as we pride ourselves on being the world’s leader when it come to healthcare, there are 49 countries that have fewer mothers die during childbirth than the U.S.
While some argue that it is because reporting procedures have changed, the U.S.’s maternal mortality rate has increased over the last 25 years: According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1987, the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. was 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2010, it was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. 
It seems incredible, doesn’t it?  And really horrible. At what is supposed to be the happiest of moments, a life can end as another is beginning. 
A friend posted a story on Facebook yesterday that reminds us how fragile we all are. 
What should have been Kathryn and Gabe’s Tigerman’s best day has turned into what feels like an ongoing nightmare. Following a long labor and subsequent C-section to deliver their daughter, Kathryn began hemorrhaging and went into septic shock. Her organs shut down. After 12 days of dialysis and other emergency procedures, Kathryn stabilized. Alice was in NICU for 10 days and is now home. 
Though she’s stable three months after Alice’s birth, Kathryn is far from back to normal. She was readmitted to the hospital in July for an infection and conquered that. A few weeks ago, she came off dialysis. But in an update a few days ago, it looks like Kathryn’s recover has some more dramatic twists. Doctors are now fighting to save her hands. When she went into septic shock, blood clots formed in her hands and have caused gangrene. Kathryn receives hyperbaric oxygen treatments and physical therapy and soon will begin a series of reconstructive surgery on her hands as doctors try to save as much of hands as they can. And if they can, she will be able to hold her baby, Alice. 
Friends of the Tigermans have started a GiveForward account to raise money for the family’s expenses and medical bills not covered by insurance.  The family is $115,898 toward the goal of $200,000, but there’s only 24 hours left to go. 

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

29 August 2013

Life During Wartime

It feels like the world could explode today, doesn’t it?  We have warships lining up to possibly take action in Syria as punishment for the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack on its own citizens last week. British Parliament voted against joining the U.S. and France in a potential cruise missile attack, but it’s looking pretty likely that the strikes will happen.
I've been trying to follow the developments, but it's a dense, complicated web that certainly isn't limited to Syrian borders. While I understand the desire to  show Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he can't attack his own people, I can't imagine a few missile strikes would make much difference to him and would more likely just hurt more innocent people. He clearly doesn't care what the U.S. thinks about any of this, nor does he seem like he'd stop just because we delivered a few shots over the bow. I don't know what the answer is, but this feels like a response because we feel like we have to do something after doing very little for two years, as opposed to believing the missile strikes will make him stop (I don't think anyone's that foolish).
According to a USA Today story, there are already one million Syrian children who are now refugees and it seems like whether the U.S. intervenes or not, that number is sure to rise. These children have lost the security of their homes and are most likely witnessing horrible atrocities. 
Unicef is on the ground, helping in ways that come with a crisis, in terms of health care for the wounded and water shortages, but also to aid with the necessary daily concerns that face children even during peaceful times, such as immunizations. 
Aug. 29: Unicef 

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

28 August 2013

I Have A Dream Today

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
-The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
His full "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.

27 August 2013

Robin Weaver Clark

My first mentor, Robin Weaver Clark, died 18 years ago this month. 
I met Robin when I was a senior in high school. He was a reporter at The Raleigh Times, my hometown’s evening paper (remember when cities had both a morning and nightly paper?) For Cat Talk, Millbrook High School’s student paper, I decided to shadow him for the day and find out what real reporters did. 
I don’t even remember how Robin drew the short straw. I know I didn’t call him directly, but through a great act of serendipity, I ended up with him. He wasn’t that much older than I was: He was 24 and I was 17, but that’s a huge gap when you’re 17. He was slight, with light brown hair and the brightest, twinkliest blue eyes I’d ever seen. I’d describe him as impish, but he was too sexy and too charismatic for that. He had a low voice and a southern drawl and a slow smile that suggested he knew something you didn't. We covered a funeral of a beloved music teacher who had been murdered in a 7-11 store hold up. He’d simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Robin was skittish as we zig-zagged through the graveyard at the burial, telling me later that his father had committed suicide when he 15 and he’d hated cemeteries ever since. He had an irrational fear of falling into an open grave.
Robin treated me like an adult, which isn’t something a lot of people do when you’re in high school. He answered all my questions and asked me a lot about myself. He took me seriously as a reporter. From the start, he acted like I was a colleague.I got home and I sat in my room quietly for a very long time, listening to music. Covering the funeral was intense and Robin masterfully handled the line between respect and getting what he needed for his story and it was a lot for me to take in.
We stayed in touch and sometimes I’d hang out at the drinking hole he and the other reporters went to after deadline, but that came to a pretty quick stop. I’m sure some of them weren’t so thrilled about having an underage girl around while they were guzzling beers and swapping stories. But Robin never seemed to mind. He always made me feel welcome.
My article on Robin won the North Carolina Scholastic Press Association’s feature story of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to make a phone call as I was to call Robin and tell him.  I wanted him to know his investment in me hadn’t been wasted. 
I went away to college and we didn’t see each other much for the next four years. He moved to Charlotte to write for the Charlotte Observer. My mom and I ran into him when I was home for Christmas one year because he’d written a series about the Hell’s Angels and they'd beaten him up and were still after him, so he came back to Raleigh for a cooling-off period. The series was nominated for a Pulitzer.
Right after college graduation, I worked for a magazine called Amusement Business, Billboard’s sister publication, in Nashville. AB covered all forms of live entertainment, including fairs, carnivals, theme parks, sporting events, and concerts. I was an editorial assistant, but was thrown into writing and traveling to cover events right away. My first byline was on a story about Victor the Wrestling Bear. Victor and his owner traveled from fair to fair and he wrestled men (it was always men), who were stupid enough to get into a ring with a bear. As you can imagine, Victor's record was all wins and no losses. After a victory, Victor's reward was a Coca-Cola (he was very specific about the brand). I sent Robin the article and asked him to critique it. He wrote back a serious, thoughtful letter, telling me which parts were good and which parts weren’t. And he gave me some of the best advice I ever got: Great writing isn’t what you leave in, it’s what you leave out. Even more important than the words was Robin's Invaluable support. It was unconditional. He believed in me and that made me believe in myself. 
A few years passed and I eventually landed at Billboard in New York. Around 1992, I called Robin to check in. By then he’d moved to Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He called back later that day from Laramie, Wyoming. The paper was going through an economic downturn and had offered a number of staffers the chance to take a year off. They wouldn’t get paid, but they’d keep all their benefits and have their jobs waiting for them. Robin had been going through a tough time: his first marriage had ended, one of his siblings had died of cancer, and another one was fighting it. He’d bought an old VW van and was driving across country for the year, stopping wherever he wanted. He had a guitar, his address book, some notepads— in case he came across a story he couldn’t resist—and that was all he needed. 
That phone call changed everything. It was the first time he’d talked that much about his life and, while he’d always treated me like an equal even when I clearly was not, for the first time I felt worthy of acting like one (not that I will ever construct a sentence as beautifully as he could; I still read his writing for inspiration). 
After his year off, the Inquirer transferred him to Los Angeles. After not seeing each other for six years, we went out to eat when I was in town on business in 1992. We went to Barney’s Beanery and drank way too much and ate way too much and we talked about writing. How magical it is. How lucky we felt that people let us into their lives. What a privilege it is to get to tell stories for a living.  We traded tale after tale. We also talked about life. My family was going through a very difficult and painful time and I told him everything as he listened quietly. And just like he did with my writing, he gave me advice that I still put into practice every day. And we laughed. A lot.
For the next few years, I’d try to see him when I came to Los Angeles. He lived in Manhattan Beach and on one visit, I spent the night there. We walked to his favorite Mexican restaurant for guacamole and lots of tequila.  He was catnip to women (something I clearly didn’t realize until I got older) and it was hilarious to hear his stories. I’d never met anyone before—or anyone since—who enjoyed himself so much and yet treated everyone with such respect and kindness. He could pick up a woman just from looking at her in his rearview mirror (true story) and yet he was the furthest thing from a cad.  We went back to his apartment, which was right on the beach, and played music. He adored Marcia Ball and Chris Smithers and he loved that I worked at Billboard and could turn him on to stuff that he might not already know about. 
In 1995, Robin was covering the O. J. Simpson trial. He hated it. He enjoyed the other reporters and had made close bonds with many of them, but he couldn’t stand being confined and not being able to find his own stories while the case dragged on. Plus, there were so many journalists and only a few could sit in the actual courtroom, so the rest had to camp out in a trailer and watch a closed circuit feed. He was looking so forward to when the trial was over. 
Then one day in August, 1995, my mother called me and told me she had horrible news. In the local Raleigh paper, she read that Robin had been killed the day before. His cousin and a friend were visiting and during his lunch break from the trial, he’d taken them up Pacific Coast Highway. A Mercedes hit his car. He still had the old VW bus, which had no seat belts, and he’d been thrown clear of the van and died instantly, as had the two women with him. 
Judge Lance Ito paid tribute to Robin. So did Dominick Dunne, who was covering the trial for Vanity Fair. In a loving salute, even though chairs were at a premium, one seat inside the reporters’ box in the courtroom was kept empty for the rest of the trial for Robin.
Even as I write this 18 years later, the loss still feels fresh, incalculable and insurmountable. He started as my mentor, but he became my dear friend. I don’t know if I have learned as much from any other person about what it meant to be a writer, and, more importantly, a human being, as I did from Robin. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1998, I thought, as I frequently do, about what fun it would have been to live in the same city as Robin again. Though I imagine his wanderlust would have carted him off to somewhere else by then in search of another story.
For years, UNC’s School of Journalism offered a scholarship in Robin’s name, but when I looked for it today, I couldn’t find it. Instead, I’m giving to a newly started journalism scholarship, this one at the University of Texas in Austin in honor of another great journalist, Chet Flippo (and started by artist manager Nancy Russell). Chet was my colleague at Billboard and a funny, graceful writer. He died earlier this year. Robin and Chet would have dug each other. 

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

26 August 2013

Love Wins... always

I wish I could bop the state of North Carolina on the nose. I’m not advocating violence. I mean like how you gently bop a puppy on the nose with a rolled up paper when you’re trying to house train it. Or I wish I could spritz it with water from a water bottle like you do your cat when it keeps jumping up where it doesn’t belong. Nothing to do any harm at all... I’d never, ever do that... but just something to express my irritation and the deep need to change its behavior since North Carolina is now riding the crazy train.
For today’s daily dose of N.C. insanity comes a report about Love Wins Ministries, an organization that has been feeding the homeless in downtown Raleigh for the past six years on Saturday and Sunday. However, this Saturday when the good volunteers showed up, the police stopped them from serving and said if they tried to hand out any food, they would be arrested.
So instead of handing out the 100 church biscuits and coffee to the 70 hungry, homeless people who were waiting in line, and could not doubt smell the deliciousness of both the biscuits and the coffee, the volunteers had to take their food and leave. Absolutely crazy. 
According to Love Wins, the organization’s relationship with the Raleigh Police had always been just fine until Saturday. They knew where they could or could not go without a permit and everyone was happy, especially the hungry people who got food. On Saturday, the police told them they would now need a permit, which cost $800/day (so $1,600 for the weekend), but not to worry, they probably wouldn’t get approved for the permit anyway. No one could tell them why the rules had arbitrarily changed. 
Smartly Love Wins took to social media and asked people to call the mayor and city council members. And apparently, they did in big numbers. By today, Mayor Nancy McFarlane has suspended any threat of arrest for Love Wins and that the organization could continue to serve people as long as it stayed outside of the park, which is does. However, there’s been no explanation as to why this happened on Saturday. 
As I’ve written this blog for eight months now, I’m continually shocked at how hard it can be to do good. There are random roadblocks thrown up that can derail a perfectly fine plan. This is one of those cases. Yes, it looks like it’s been worked out, but for a weekend, these homeless people had nothing to eat. Love Wins points out that there is no county or city soup kitchen operating on the weekend (I don’t know if there are private non-profits doing so), so Love Wins may be the homeless people’s only chance for a meal. 
Shouldn’t we be making it easier for organizations like Love Wins to do their job instead of harder? 
Aug. 26: Love Wins

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

25 August 2013

Alan Alda, actor, science lover...

Since the new year started, I’ve been watching “The West Wing” on Netflix. I’ve just finished, so it’s clear I took my time working through the seven seasons; in part because I wanted to savor them. The show definitely took a dip after Aaron Sorkin left following season four, but it finished really strong (and yes, I cried during the last two episodes. I’d lived with these characters for eight concentrated months).
The last two seasons run the cycle of the presidential election with Alan Alda playing the Republican candidate and Jimmy Smits the Democratic candidate. 
It’s impossible to overstate how strong Alda is as Arnie Vinick. I grew up watching him on “M*A*S*H,” and Vinick is the opposite of Hawkeye Pierce. It’s been so much fun to watch him play a character that gets by on his substance, not his charm. 
The other night, “California Suite” was on AMC. The 1978 movie is based on Neil Simon’s play. Alda plays a divorced writer whose relationship with his ex, played by Jane Fonda, is brittle to say the least. He’s great in that too. I’m pretty sure he’s never been bad in anything. 
I think I had a little bit of a crush on him when he was on “M*A*S*H,” that changed to a feeling of respect as I became an adult. He seems to be on the side of right on most issues (or maybe we just agree), whether it was women’s issues or the environment, and I love that he’s been married to the same woman for 56 years. 
He’s also managed to have a life outside of acting, including indulging his fascination with science. In fact, Stony Brook University houses the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.  According to its website, the center “works to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media and others outside their own discipline.... We believe that scientists have a responsibility to share the meaning and implications of their work and that an engaged public encourages sound public decision-making.” The Center also offer traveling workshops.  I’m a big fan of simplifying what seems complicated. For me that’s science and math. That’s why I loved how Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted and explained what it was like to be in space. It’s also why I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson. They understand that they could speak in language that none of us lay people ever understand, but that want to share their knowledge with us. So does Alda.
Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

24 August 2013

The Beloved Community

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington and his “I Have A Dream” speech, perhaps the most important speech delivered in the history of the civil rights movement.  One of the today’s highlights was Rep. John Lewis’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; he also spoke at the 1963 march.  

Since marching with King 50 years ago, Lewis has never quit fighting for civil rights for all.  He must be exhausted, but he never gives up the fight. He’s such an inspiration and he knows how far we’ve come, yet how far we still have to go, especially in this chilling time when voters’ rights are under attack and we seem to be moving backwards in some ways. Lewis’s own history with voter suppression is well-documented. Because of his race, he couldn’t register in his native Alabama, so he waited until he went to Tennessee for college. He’s spoken eloquently about his family members having to take literacy tests. 

“I’m not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us,” Lewis said, exhorting the next generation to “push and pull to make America what it should be for all of us.”

Everyone who marched with MLK Jr. has stood in his shadow, but Lewis has made remarks that are just as powerful as MLK’s. Here are a few of my favorite over the decades: 

My favorite one is a short, pointed call to action. It’s only 10 words, but it speaks volumes. 

“If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?”
Simple, and yet so hard to put into practice... 

I’ve given to many civil rights organizations already, including the MLK Center, the NAACP, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several others, and since I don't want to repeat myself, I think my searching led me to another good one that I’d never heard of before: The A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, which has be promoting non-violence and social justice since 1974. Muste, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church,  was a pacifist and civil rights leader. He worked with, according to the Institute’s website, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), as well as the War Resisters League. According to his biography, near his death at age 82 in 1967, he was still fighting the good fight, standing outside the White House every day with a candle to protest the Vietnam War. 

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

23 August 2013

What's Better: Teach a man to fish or just give him bread?

There’s the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” But what if you just give him cold hard cash, instead? 

That’s what a charity called GiveDirectly is doing. My friend and fellow writer Steve Hochman sent me an NPR story today, based on a larger New York Times story, about a non-profit that is distributing money to poverty-stricken people in Kenya. 

They get up to $1,000, the equivalent of one year’s wages, in two installments over the course of a year and they can do whatever they like with it. There are no strings, no directives, no follow-up. They don’t have to plan to start a business with the money.The one-time gift is theirs to do with what that will.

My friend wanted to know what I thought about it since I’ve spent the better part of the year giving money to charities that have a  much more clearly defined mission. I likened it to how I feel when I give the daily $10 away to a homeless person. After that money leaves my hand, I don’t consider it mine anymore. Therefore, it’s none of my business if the person uses it for food or shelter or for drugs or liquor. It’s none of my concern and I don’t want to place any judgment on whatever decision the person may make. 

GiveDirectly takes the same approach, but in following up, the NPR reporter found that most people used the money for essentials, such as replacing their thatched roof with a metal one that would last for 10 years. They could find no one who squandered it away. Apparently, there’s an economic theory that poor people know what they need, so the point is to give the money so they can purchase it. I took Econ 101 in college, but I don’t remember anything other than guns, widgets and butter. 

The “teach a man to fish” tactic certainly seems to have more merit when it comes to sustainability. There does not seem to be any indication that any of the people who have received funds from GiveDirectly have used the money to train themselves in a new field or better themselves in some long-term way (although a new roof that you don’t have to replace every few months sounds pretty good to me). Many of them live in areas to poor that there isn’t a way out of the poverty. It isn’t as if the ground is fertile and they aren’t planting or there is work to be found and they are lazy. They’re just trapped. 

Here’s how it works, according to GiveDirectly’s website: 1) you donate through our webpage; 2) We locate poor households in Kenya; 3) We transfer your donation electronically to a recipient’s cell phone 4) The recipient uses the transfer to pursue his or her own goals. 

According to a May report on by GiveWell, GiveDirectly has distributed $616,000 in 2013. It now plans to expand into another country, as well as begin to distribute funds to all residents of a village instead of only selected ones (we could see how that could be an issue). 

It’s a fascinating theory. It seems to be there’s room for both models. But if someone is poor, it’s clear to me that he or she needs help and “help” can come in many different forms. It can come in sustainable assistance or it can come via ways that alleviate the suffering momentarily. Both seem like fine goals to me. 

Aug. 23: GiveDirectly.org

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

22 August 2013

Antoinette Tuff, Hero...

Is there anyone you want to send a bouquet of flowers to or buy a drink more right now than Antoinette Tuff? 

As you know, earlier this week, the front office worker singlehandedly disarmed a gunman, Michael Brandon Hill, who had entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an assault rifle. 

We’ve gotten, sadly, so used to hearing this kind of story have a very different ending. 

Mustering a bravery that I can’t imagine having, she talking to Hill, who expressed his own difficulties with life and needing to go to a mental hospital, and opened up and told him about her struggles too. She humanized him by humanizing herself and making him feel like he wasn’t so alone. And it worked.

It’s hard not to get emotional when you read the story of how Tuff told him she loved him, told him she was proud of him for surrendering, and even offered to walk outside with him so the police wouldn’t shoot him. She confessed that she’d tried to commit suicide last year when her husband of 33 years left her last year. She developed a sense of kinship with him that whether it was simply to talk him out of shooting her and the children or because she had such tremendous empathy for someone else’s pain or a bit of both, the results were extraordinary. 

Hill was clearly troubled. At 20, he already had an arrest record, and had been ordered to attend anger management classes but had not, according to CNN. He responded to Tuff’s warmth and compassion. On a day that could have had a very different outcome —and has at other schools— clearheadedness, kindness, and an insane amount of courage and self sacrifice saved the day. 

More than 850 kids attend the elementary school. They all got to go home to their parents yesterday. And we have Antoinette Tuff to thank for that. 

Tuff is a true protector of children, so in her honor, I found an Atlanta charity that also helps keep children safe: Georgia Center For Child Advocacy. The Atlanta-based GGCA treats physically and sexually-abused children through education, intervention, and therapy. In its 25 years, it has helped more than 7,500 children. 

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

21 August 2013

My pal, Derek Sivers...

Tonight I had a fascinating discussion with one of my favorite people in the world, Derek Sivers.

Derek started CD Baby, an online music distributor for independent artists. He then sold it for a bunch of money, and is now living in New Zealand with his wife and baby, developing new companies and just making the world a better place. 

Derek is a Big Think guy. His mind honestly works differently than anyone's I know.  He’s a sponge for information and he processes it in a way that is never mundane or conventional. He’s one of those people whose brain you want to pick and he’s popular on the lecture circuit for ideas-oriented conferences, like TED Talks. That's, in part, because he believes information is meant to be shared freely. He sees no value in hoarding ideas with some notion of proprietary ownership. One of his gurus is Seth Godin and now he’s become a guru to lots of people. He’s spontaneous and measured at the same time. If a decision doesn’t pan out the way he'd hoped, he always seems to take something from the experience with no regrets. Until he had a kid, he was also the lightest packer I'd ever met. Material possessions mean absolutely nothing to him. I don't want to go too much into his personal business here, but he really proved that when he sold his company (the details of which are easy to find if you want to). He lives in the moment in a way that is admirable. He's very present and I always find myself energized after my time with him and refueled, ready to take on the day.

We were talking about my Causes & Effect blog and he brought up a blog post he’d read on a site called lesswrong.com. The site defines itself as “a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality,” which is a pretty tall order. Or at least I think it is. I’m not sure I understand the concept. But as Derek explained, it tries to use rational thought to explore issues. He’d read a blog about philanthropic giving on lesswrong.com and the (rational) thought process was that if the goal was to help as many people as possible, shouldn’t you only give to charities that have the best results and are proven to help? The blogger wrote about how a million British pounds were raised, 10 pounds at a time, to repair a British tapestry. The blogger felt this was one million pounds that could have gone to help actual humans and that money was now out of the charity pool, never to be used to help breathing souls. And the blogger felt that was wrong.

I feel there’s plenty of money to go around, but last month I did write that I was slowing down my giving to four-legged creatures to give to more two-legged ones because that felt marginally more important to me, so part of me gets where this blogger was coming from. 
In the spirit of giving to proven charities that deliver maximum bang for their buck, I went to Charity Navigator, which rates charities.  The site doesn’t have an overall ranking of charities, but it features several top 10 lists, including 10 Most Followed Charities or 10 Supersized Charities or even 10 Charities in Deep Financial Trouble. I picked a category called 10 Charities with the Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings and decided I would give to that charity no matter what it was since, in the lesswrong.com school of thought, it should be able to do the most good.

The No 1 charity in that category is Energy Outreach Colorado, a non-profit dedicated to helping all Coloradans afford home energy. That means they help folks on a limited income pay their utility bills and make sure they don’t have their heat cut off in the winter. They also help educate Coloradans about energy efficiency measures. 

Out of Charity Navigator’s highest possible score of 70, Energy Outreach Colorado scores a 69.78. Wow. So in my most random donation yet, today’s $10 goes to them. Man, I got lucky. They sound absolutely great.

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

20 August 2013

Just Wanted To Kill Somebody

What can go so wrong in a teenager’s development that he murders another person just because he can?

Like many of you, I’ve been haunted by the story coming out of Duncan, Okla., today about Australian basketball player Christopher Lane, who was gunned down by 3 teenagers while out for a jog. 

According to police reports, the boys, ages 15-17, "just wanted to kill somebody" and Lane was in the unfortunate position to be that somebody. How chilling is that? 

How do you just decide to kill somebody? What has happened to you that you have become so desensitized that going out and murdering someone, ending someone’s life, seems like a viable option?

Does it feel like a video game? You’ve killed so many people in “Call Of Duty” or some other game that it doesn’t feel real? (Trust me, I don’t think anything like that happens in a void. There are millions of people who play violent video games and they totally understand the difference between killing someone in a game and killing someone in real life.)

My trying to get into these kids’ heads isn’t an attempt to justify their actions by any means. It’s an attempt to figure out where we have gone so off the rails as a society that anyone can think popping off a round of gunfire at an innocent, random person on a lark is OK. Deciding that they’re sociopaths seems too easy. It sounds so trite, but when I read the story, Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" popped into my head and the line, "But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." Did these kids just want to watch someone die? 

It’s been interesting to read message boards today. Many folks instantly called for greater gun control, while others took the old (and very tired) tact of you can't stop someone who's crazy from committing a crazy act and  “Guns don’t kill people, people do."  Well, actually, cowards with guns kill people. Who knows if these kids had not had guns if they would have hopped out of their car and randomly beaten Lane to death. Somehow I doubt it.

I watched an Oklahoma television news report today that brought up “the younger generation’s lack of moral values.” Really? I have lots of friends with teenagers and none of those kids “lack moral values” because of their age. I’m not so sure that “lack of moral values” coincides with someone’s birth date. 

We don’t know what the deeper issue was that caused these children to drive around looking for someone to shoot and maybe it doesn’t matter. It won’t bring Lane back.  But I know I’d feel a lot better if kids who have killing on their minds (or anyone of any age, for that matter) didn’t find it so easy to grab a gun. 

Today’s $10 goes to Stop Handgun Violence, a Boston-based non-profit committed to, according to its website, “the prevention of gun violence through education, public awareness, effective law enforcement and common sense gun laws.”  Stop Handgun Violence flashes some stats across its home page and they’re daunting (though I’m not aware of the source): More than 150 people in America are shot every day, 83 of them die.  One child dies from gunfire ever 3 hours. 

Aug. 20: Stop Handgun Violence  

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.

19 August 2013

Head Stop

Remember the Sequester? It continues to make its effects known in ugly ways. Today, CNN’s Money section ran a story about how 57,000 children will not be entering Head Start and Early Head Start pre-school programs in a few weeks, due to the $85 billion in federal budget cuts. Head Start provides children from low-income families with early education opportunities. 

That makes me mad. The whole sequestration fiasco infuriated me and everyone I know. It was the most damaging example ever of Congress saying, “Hey! We’ll put in this draconian marker that will remind us that we have to hit this deadline because we would never, ever want the results of this marker to actually take effect.”  D’oh.

The short term thinking is maddening. So now, nearly 60,000 little kids will likely never be able to catch up and will spend their whole lives behind in school. Then when they drop out because they can’t keep up with the other kids who started to learn how to read in pre-school, and can’t get anything above minimum wage jobs, if that, we'll call them lazy and say it was their fault for not applying themselves more.

All politicians talk about how investing in education and children are the priority, but when push comes to shove, their words are simply empty rhetoric. 

If there’s a silver lining, the 57,000 is better than the original projection of 70,000 kids. Head Start cut back the days the program is offered to save money as a measure to keep fewer children from being cut, according to CNN.

Roughly 1 million children attend Head Start programs.  

Today’s $10 goes to Jumpstart, a “national supplemental program,” according to its website, that encourages children from low-income families to love language and reading. Over the past 20 years, Jumpstart has trained more than 28,000 volunteers (many of them college students) to work with pre-school kids nationwide. 
According to Jumpstart, children from low-income backgrounds start kindergarden 60% behind children from affluent backgrounds. Head Start and Jumpstart help make up that gap. 

Jumpstart has many great partners: for example, Ben & Jerry’s pacted with Jumpstart by donating some proceeds from its Liz Lemon Greek Frozen yogurt to the early education program because “30 Rock” creator Tina Fey was a longtime supporter. 

Aug. 19: Jumpstart

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.