Fly the friendly skies of United…

This morning – like most other folks – I saw this video of United Airlines’ forced removal of a passenger for being on an overbooked flight.

It reminded me of two stand-out experiences I had had with United…among many.  It seems like a good time to revisit them.

The more recent took place a few years ago.  I was boarding a plane and saw a short older woman struggling to lift her bag into the overhead compartment.  She was a couple of passengers ahead of me and I couldn’t reach her to help.  There was a flight attendant directly in front of her, watching her.  I called out and said, “Can you help her?”  She looked at me calmly and said, “That’s not my job.”  I replied, “A perfect motto for United” while closer passengers realized the woman’s problem and began to help.

Below is an earlier letter to United, following a crew “mutiny”.  I should mention that United’s response union response and government response were minimal to non-existent.
Continue reading “Fly the friendly skies of United…”

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The interdependence of us all…

Many years ago, while I was living off-campus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I became friendly with the woman who ran the commuter services office. One day, she gave me a quote that I carried in my wallet for many years. I’m embarrassed to say I remember neither the exact words nor the name of the person who wrote them…but the message continues to ring clear.

It was this: As societies grow in population and become more complex, people tend to stumble into one another more often. That is, the actions of one person or group – often unintentionally – impact the lives of others, sometimes with great consequence. Continue reading “The interdependence of us all…”

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Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…


Adrienne Dern was the first vice-president I hired at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.  PHA was much smaller when she joined us but had grown to the point that Pathlight, our newsletter, needed to move to a staff-edited publication.   The patient volunteers who had edited it since it was launched in 1991 had done a remarkable job in creating a quarterly that made a difference in people’s lives.  They gave news how others were living with this rare and incurable disease….and, from that, they gave hope.  Adrienne knew that transitioning the publication in-house had peril.  Pathlight was the soul of the organization and if patients were no longer editing it, their lives needed to be reflected.  It could not be abstract.  During her six years at PHA, Adrienne accomplished that task through the editors she hired and the thoughtful way she trained and supervised them.

Today, I’m pleased to post a brief but pointed guest blog from Adrienne.  I have also included a recording of the speech from which Adrienne quotes as a reminder to us all of how the President of a great nation, the United States of America, used to speak and inspire and move us toward each other, rather than apart.

Adrienne writes… Continue reading “Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…”

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Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3

 

Filmed in 1939 and directed by John Ford, Stagecoach is a wonderful character study of 9 people – mostly unconnected to each other – traveling together from Tonto, Arizona Territory in 1880. They are on a dangerous journey through hostile Apache territory. They range from poor outcasts to society’s elites.

Mr. Gatewood (played by Berton Churchill), is one of the elites. He is the town banker who meets the departing Stagecoach on the outskirts of town. Since his bank is on Main Street, the drivers are surprised. He says he had a last minute telegraph message causing him to rush home and pack a bag.

As the passengers ride in the close quarters of the coach, Gatewood pontificates a message that sounds eerily familiar… Continue reading “Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3”

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Admiral: At the Movies, Part 2

 

 

My last blog post, Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies Part 1, looked at the struggle between a republic and a totalitarian state in ancient Rome…and its relevance to today.

Today I’m back to the movies, looking at the same issues through the 2015 Dutch historical film, Admiral (Dutch with English subtitles).

The Admiral opens with these words…

In the 1600’s the Netherlands is the only republic in the world.

The surrounding monarchies see the young republic as a threat to their own political and economic power.

The Dutch country divided between Republicans, currently in power, and Orangists who want the country to become a monarchy.

In the midst of this internal struggle and the external dangers, Johan de Witt – a Republican – becomes the new prime minister.

In his opening address to his contentious legislators, divided between the Republican Holland and the provinces supporting the Prince of Orange. de Witt says…

I understand your concerns. I do.

There is no one in this country who understands you more than I do.

My father was imprisoned for disagreeing with the Orangists.

I found out what it means to live in a country where you cannot say what you are thinking.

Do you want to live in such a country? I don’t.

I don’t think you do, either.

Let me pose you a question.

We’re a nation of merchants. We sail the seas with 20,000 ships. In trade we all work together…to get better prices and to help each other. And what do you think? Does this work or not?

It does.

Some members became so successful they hardly fit in the benches.

When you do business in the East or the West do you do so as Orangists or Republicans? And why are the English trying to block our shipping routes? To disrupt trade.

Is that because you’re an Orangist or a Republican?

No, the English want to wage war against us because we’re Dutch. Free Dutchmen.

Large monarchies consider our small nation too rich. and too free. and on top of that, we’re a republic. In which all men are free to live their own lives. We decide how we worship God.

No leader is more important than the country itself.

The English begrudge us our freedom. Our freedom frightens them. Because we’re prepared to die for our freedom. Because we paid for our freedom with our own blood.

And I’m asking you. Haven’t you lost a relative to the Spanish or the English? And was that Republican blood or Orangist blood?

No. It was Dutch blood. It was our blood.

Your freedom is my freedom.

I’ll defend this freedom until my last breath.

As the movie progresses, the Orangists who seek to make the Prince of Orange the monarchist head of state, distribute lies to weaken de Witt and make him the enemy of the people, who eventually murder him and his brother. It is left to the king to send The Admiral – the brilliant strategist Michiel de Ruyter – on a suicide mission. After defeating the English and the French, he Admiral’s crime was becoming more loved than the King. The King describes his act as leadership.

Admiral is a film worth watching (it’s on Netflix) as we go through our own crisis of leadership in the U.S.

At the Movies, Part 3: Stagecoach, a 1939 movie with a message for today is next.

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Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1

Image result for eMPEROR COMMODUS

As I continue to try to understand Donald Trump’s assault on the country I love, I find myself exploring many sources. This blog and the next I will post are about moments in movies I have seen.

You can judge their relevance to today.

Gladiator was released in 2000. Directed by Ridley Scott, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. Russell Crowe won Best Actor for his role as Maximus, a Roman General whose family was destroyed by the Emperor Commodus, a disruptive and demented figure.

The struggle in the Gladiator is for the soul of Rome, whether it will be governed by a Senate cleansed of corruption, as representatives of the people or by an emperor.

After killing his own father, the great Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, who has told him he does not have the qualities to rule Rome, Commodus, having just become Caesar speaks to his sister, Lucilla… Continue reading “Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1”

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Matteotti and the Despot…

[translates: You can kill me but my ideas will never die.]

Many years ago, I took a college course on the rise of fascism in Italy.

It was a particular interest to me since my father grew up in that nation during that period and I had visited Italy three times in the early to mid-1960’s. It was hard for me to understand how fascism could rise among those I saw as a good people.

As discussed in the course, a turning point toward Italian fascism was the murder of Giacomo Matteotti.

In 1922, Benito Mussolini became the Italian Premier. This followed The March on Rome.

The March was the result of dissatisfaction with the socialist and moderate coalitions that had been democratically governing the nation. The middle class feared a socialist revolution. There was also anger at being badly treated, despite promises from their allies on the winning side, during the World War I peace settlement. Their economy was severely damaged.

In the face of the Fascist Blackshirts who were preparing to enter and take over Rome, the king and parliament lacked the strength to stand up to the threat. Fearing civil war, they offered Mussolini leadership of a coalition government. By the time they realized that wasn’t enough, it was too late.

As the Encyclopedia Brittanica describes it…

Continue reading “Matteotti and the Despot…”

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This way to the egress…

P.T. Barnum was the showman of the 19th Century.

As he was building his reputation, he created his own, more interesting reality. In other words, he lied…but in a way that got people really excited and made him a lot of money.

One of his early profitable hustles was his purchase of a slave, Joice Heth, who he presented as 161 years old, claiming she was George Washington’s nurse. When she died, he arranged for a public autopsy, charging 50 cents per ticket.

During a recent interview with Chuck Todd, Trump said that he took comparisons to Barnum as a compliment. After all, people need showmanship or, as Barnum put it, “The people like to be humbugged.” Continue reading “This way to the egress…”

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An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President

I have stepped away from this blog for the past few weeks to see how you might change as you approach your presidency.

You haven’t.

I could have supported your presidency if only you had said, “U.S. intelligence showed me the facts. Putin tried to destroy our election and our democracy and he will pay a price so this will not continue.”

But, you didn’t. You didn’t come close.

Instead, you attacked our intelligence community. They gave you inconvenient facts. You minimized them before the world. You said other countries hack, too. True but nowhere near the point.

You didn’t stop there. You told us Putin liked you “and isn’t that a good thing”. Your being Our President is not about you or your Brand. It’s about the good of the nation. They are not the same thing.
Continue reading “An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President”

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Joshua Griffis: an appreciation

Josh Griffis died yesterday.

While working at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association for more than a decade and a half, I observed that one of two things generally happens when people get a serious and incurable illness. They are either destroyed or they become heroes.

Josh was one of the heroes.

I first heard about him when he had taken on leadership of PHA’s Omaha support group. Our staffer who worked with him, Debbie Drell, told me how the group was growing and how he was reaching out to the larger support group network to learn and to help.

Shortly after that Josh’s name came up again.  PHA was having a hard time engaging young patients.  Josh and several other became part of an advisory – and later leadership – group that defined Generation Hope.  PHA’s program for patients in their 20’s and 30’s quickly became wildly successful.  The model he helped develop was later used to build seven more special (hard to reach) population groups within our community.

When one of Debbie’s staff left, Josh applied. We knew hiring him would not be easy. Besides his pulmonary hypertension, Josh had a second illness…so rare that it was unnamed…one that caused aneurisms to develop in his body.

We did hire Josh – and never regretted it.   He was deeply respected by PHA’s support group leader network and his fellow staff and fully committed to helping other patients and their families.

One evening, Josh and I were talking about the days before we met and he told me that he had gone to Europe and lived in a monastery for six months, so that he could study their texts in the original language. I realized that, while PH shifted the path of Josh’s life journey, he did not let it change who he was…a bright, intense and committed human being.

Over time, it became clear to Josh and his doctors that the same medicines that were keeping his PH at bay were accelerating the progression of his unnamed disease.

He came to my office to tell me he had made a decision.
Continue reading “Joshua Griffis: an appreciation”

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