June 2021

June 30, 2021

Such a hot and sultry day. 

There really isn’t much to say about it. It came and it went. Too hot for the dogs to do much other than hang out. And that’s all that Max should be doing in any event. He had surgery yesterday to remove an adenoma on his backside and another growth on his leg.

He’s 13 and we didn’t put him through it without hesitation, but the ongoing problem of rupture, infection, and more, made clear his life would be better without the growths than with them. His health is good otherwise and I want to believe he’s got more years to share with us.

He’s feeling a bit needy though. So he’s getting a lot of petting and ear scratches which I think he appreciates, because he’s wearing an Elizabethan collar to keep him from worrying the wounds. He’s taking it more or less in stride. But it makes me wonder how Lo Khyi will respond when it’s his turn to wear the collar. 

I can’t believe that he’ll be amused. He’s a very self-aware dog and my guess is that he’s going to be miffed at the affront to his dignity. His self-image will demand serious reexamination and he’s not going to like it.

Our poor boys. Max now and Lo Khyi in about a month. They’ll both be fine but I still hate that they hurt. They can’t tell me how they feel. They don’t complain. They just look at me as if I’m supposed to make it right. And I’ll try. It’s the least I can do. But, there’s an Elizabethan collar in the Prince of the Mountain’s future and THAT he’s going to have to live with. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 29 2021

OK. Color me bemused.

So, the great Commonwealth of Virginia has some new laws taking effect on Thursday. The top story may be the legalization of recreational marijuana (sales are still a couple of years away). And already we’re getting stories about how worried AAA is about possible impaired drivers posing a menace on the roads. Ah, yes… reefer madness. We can already plan for those drug crazed pot smokers to flood the roadways bringing chaos and destruction. Except, I will wager that those who are inclined to indulge and drive are already doing so.

Yes, there may be an increase in the number of folks smoking. But that may also lead to a reduction in the number of folks drinking. Either folks are going to be irresponsible in their management of substance use or they’re not. I’d be surprised if we see a long-term surge. But time will tell.

Meanwhile, the same folks who are worrying about pot being legalized don’t seem to have qualms about the fact that another law also going into effect allows restaurants to continue to offer “to go” cocktails that became so popular during the pandemic. Sure… why not? Let’s get jazzed up about the risks that pot poses to road safety but we won’t worry about drunk drivers and we’re making it even easier to sip your libation of choice by just stopping at your favorite pub and grabbing a few margaritas to go! Anyone see a disconnect here? Anyone? 

I’m not saying that we don’t have to worry about folks under the influence of substances, but let’s tackle alcohol as vigorously as we do pot or any other drug. That makes sense. Starting a nonsensical debate about just one of the problems… and a lesser one than booze… does not. 

But then, I had to ask myself what drove the decision to pass a law criminalizing the intentional release of a balloon into the wild. OK… I added the last three words, but you can’t help but giggle a little at this one. There’s a lot of fodder there for the late night comics. That said, I felt compelled to ask why, and I learned it’s about litter, especially balloon debris that ended up on beaches and in the ocean, which has had an impact — and not a celebratory one — on wildlife from sea turtles to birds. So, although I might argue that we should be focusing more on education and awareness than legislation, perhaps the fine of $25 per released balloon will get folks to think.

I’m less bemused and more irritated by the political emails I keep getting from the Democrats. There’s been plenty to criticize on the other side of the aisle of late, but never ending rhetoric from Democratic fundraising makes me crazy too, and especially when that rhetoric is divisive and harmful to our values. When Republicans raise funds to support their candidates they are NOT trying to “steal” the Democrat’s majority. That majority isn’t something Democrats own. It was given to them by voters who put their trust in them.

We don’t do our nation favors when we make the other side the enemy. But every ad becomes about us vs. them. We cry shrilly about “disaster looming” or “terrible news” because an opponent is ahead in the polls. It all has become about competition for power but not about the competition of ideas.

I know that Trump is running around talking about the “stolen election” and plenty of Republican acolytes follow suit. But what is gained if others sink to their depths. I get tired of the noise. I get tired of the hysterical and alarmist messages that fill my inbox and I despair that we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other and seem unable to look beyond our anger and resentment to ask what is best for our nation. 

From pot to politics and booze to balloons. That’s enough for tonight. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 28, 2021

I am hard-pressed to find much to really complain about this Monday, except for the general suspicion that many of us have for the day that launches us so very unceremoniously back into the hubbub of daily life.  

At times I pretend I’m retired but I know I’m kidding myself. I’m as busy as ever. Right now I’m sitting in my office this afternoon after a busy day of work. And even if you get to do that work in flip flops and shorts while sitting at home and taking breaks to wander about, it is still work. And now I’m tired but am trying to convince myself to go workout. It is going on 6, however, and I’m just starting to write this blog post and a workout is not the only option on the table.  And that’s the challenge I keep facing lately. How to choose between competing priorities. Do I write? Do I work out? Do I go play the piano? Do I cook? Read? Answer emails? I can’t do them all. Which will ease my psyche the most? Soothe my soul?

Hell, I don’t know. I want to fit them all in. But I know that’s not happening. 

Ah well. I’ll figure it out.

What I really feel like doing is to just sit down and do some travel planning. I’ve got the bug and I’ve got it bad. We’re not sure what the future will look like or where travel will take us, but god knows, I’m ready to get back into the world. Last night I was looking at Galapagos and also at Africa, pondering how and when I could make them part of the travel cycle. I said recently, there’s fun in looking and planning no matter what and that’s true, but there’s even more fun in doing and going. And I’m ready.

But, these days as you plan you’re reminded again and again of how the world has changed. Every website has information on their social distancing rules, or on how they clean, or what their health protocols are. You encounter frequent reminders that there are countries in the world that still don’t want us visiting. Others where COVID testing is required in different ways and at different times. You want to believe that by the time next year rolls around it will be closer to normal but… you wonder. 

Sydney is shut down again due to another outbreak sparked in part by the failure to vaccinate. 

India and Nepal and most of South Asia are still at huge risk. Uganda is having huge challenges. This thing isn’t as over as I keep wanting to believe.

We’re seeing that here at home too. Communities with low vaccination rates are bearing the brunt of the newest wave of COVID cases driven by the Delta variant. We met someone yesterday who knew two separate people who had been fully vaccinated but who still ended up with Delta variant COVID. Mild cases, hopefully, but even vaccines can’t protect us from it entirely.

The mild cases may be just that… mild. But with all the craziness and uncertainty that has surrounded this virus can a mild case still leave you as a long-hauler? (Another new term that has become part of our lexicon in the past year!) Again, I don’t know. I don’t want to find out. But I also believe that armed with double vaccinations we can start to make some carefully informed choices.

Where does it make sense to go? I guess we’re going to find out. 

Just as it made so much sense to stay home and stay safe as the virus raged unchecked by vaccines, now the risk-benefit equation produces a different answer. I’m not ready to throw caution to the wind by any stretch, but I am more willing to take the calculated risks.  

André Gide said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” 

I like that. It’s time for courage and to set off for distant shores. Not a reckless courage but one that recognizes that some risks must be embraced to win the reward.

New adventures, new experiences, new understandings of the world… they’re all worth a bit of risk. So, I guess working out can wait until tomorrow. I’ve got some journeys to plan.

June 27, 2021

I really meant to sit down and write this morning. But the days seem to always get away from me.

Today it was a trip to Reston (a Virginia suburb of DC) where we visited a gallery in a community near Lake Anne. They are considering offering a space where Engage Nepal may be able to offer some art for sale to benefit folks in Nepal. We have plenty of art donated by wonderful artists in Uganda and Nepal we have other donated items as well. Great photographic prints of old Kathmandu, handicrafts from Africa and more. Hope we’ll have some success. Nepal needs the help. It truly does.

There was a stop at the grocery store on the way back and then at Nathan’s Dairy Bar in Manassas. An old school ice cream stand open during the summer months. They had dairy free chocolate hand-scooped cones on offer and, since I’ve had no luck finding vegan soft serve in the area this was an alternative worth checking out. I love ice cream and DQ soft serve was always a favorite and this was a nice treat on a hot summer’s day.

It topped 90 in our backyard and it looks like the week will be full of 90 degree days with some feeling like 100. Summer is only a week along but already we’ve had 16 days of 90 degree + heat. It’s not as bad, perhaps, as the heat dome making life difficult out west, Still, we aren’t even in July yet. Makes you wonder just what we’ll deal with for the balance of the season. 

If this is another record hot summer some will look at it and see it as more evidence of the shifting patterns we are seeing. Climate and weather are two different things, I know, but as the climate changes it does have an impact on weather cycles. Who wants to bet against me when I suggest that this may be another horrific fire season out west with fires bigger, more frequent, and more intense than ever? Who wants to bet that we won’t see yet another year with more and stronger hurricanes during the season, and perhaps we’ll see other challenges as well.

Drought in the western states has been prolonged and is ever more serious. I don’t recall a time when, as a nation, our citizens had to worry about having water to drink or to wash… but we could see things like this coming down the road. Climate refugees abroad. Crops at risk. Lives at risk. 

I can’t tell you that early heat waves are a harbinger of dire things to come. But they could be. But it breaks my heart when I see some politicians willfully dismiss climate change and try to turn it into a political football rather than an existential issue that threatens us in so many ways.

Add it to the long list of challenges that confront us. But that’s for a fresh week. For now it is Sunday night and I will appreciate the waning moments of the weekend. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 26, 2021 

It’s a lazy Saturday. It was rainy earlier and it’s still cloudy and uncertain at best. I should go workout and perhaps I will, but for now I’ve been browsing the web and chatting on the phone with son, Joe, who is celebrating his 41st birthday today! Happy Birthday, Joe! 

We had been sharing on our family group chat some photos the other day from a trip we took to Kenya when we lived in Pakistan. That was 30 years ago. I was a mere 38 years old. It seems so odd to look at them now and realize that the kids are that age (Tony) or older (Tjiama and Joe) than I was then. I don’t sit and reminisce a lot, there’s too much in the present to keep me busy and looking ahead. But looking back has its merits. It brings smiles, and it reminds us of who were and how we became who we are.

As I sit here, Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” is playing. It issued 50 years ago. It seems crazy. It was a powerful album then and it still resonates. It has endured like “Tapestry” and “Crosby Stills and Nash” and before those, “Retrospective” by Buffalo Springfield. I didn’t know that James Taylor played on some of the tracks. And I did’t know then that the song “Little Green” was about Mitchell’s daughter that she had given up for adoption as a young single mother who was struggling with poverty and finding her way in the world.

Songs like “My Old Man,” “All I Want,” “California,” and “Carey,” work even today. 

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times – “50 Reasons to Love Joni Mitchell’s Blue” – that’s a good read on the fiftieth anniversary.  So many great artists talk about how it touched them. From Graham Nash who was living with Joni Mitchell in the days leading up to her travels into the world formed part of the basis for the album, to Bonnie Raitt and David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Judy Collins. They talked about the music, the chord structures, the instrumentation. Things I never thought about specifically, but that you “felt” as you listened to the music.

She captured the feel of the times as well. The restlessness, the questioning the redefinition of roles for women — the social turmoil of the Vietnam era and the uncertainty of what the future would look like. Whether it’s the sad disillusionment of “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” the bittersweet “River” or “A Case of You” that was full of the fear and hope and challenges that relationships bring, the songs take me back to who I was as a boy coming to adulthood in those turbulent times. We were all confronting a changing world. Music didn’t give us the answers, but it certainly helped to express the concerns with which we grappled and “Blue” did just that.

So I’ll let the music take me back. Just another song or two. The workout can wait a little longer. It IS Saturday after all.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 25, 2021

Any of us who have lived long enough has experienced one of those moments when our lives changed in a heartbeat.

In the early hours of yesterday morning it was the collapse of the condo in Surfside, Florida for many. What a tragedy. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in those seconds as the building collapsed around you. What a frightening and horrific moment. How devastating as well for family members trying to imagine what their loved ones experienced.

It hits us harder when there is such a horrible disaster. The immediacy of it. The shock. Perhaps 150 lives lost. Time will tell. It’s so very sad.

Yet we are still losing double that or more every day to COVID. But, as has been true for so many months, those deaths are only numbers for us. Just statistics in a cycle of loss and tragedy. But unless it’s your family, unless someone you know and love was among the 603,000 deaths or is a long-hauler who still struggles to regain the life they knew, COVID resonates less for us than a collapsed condo. It is human nature, I guess, to respond more to a sudden and visible crisis we can get our heads around than an overwhelming but drawn-out crisis like the pandemic.

The day brought other news as well. The Justice Department is suing the state of Georgia over its bill that has, according to the Justice Department, sought to disenfranchise people of color and others in Georgia. So glad that this will be challenged. It will be fascinating to see how the courts respond. 

And in other developments that will keep some folks riveted, it appears as though the Manhattan District Attorney will be bringing criminal charges against the Trump Organization. Many anticipate that this may lead to further charges. It will spark controversy, no doubt, with the legal merits being shrouded in the inevitable claims of political vendetta and witch-hunt. We can already hear the mournful plaints of the ex-president who spent most of his term feeling aggrieved about something.

All the above pales for me though. As I said, we focus on those things that touch us most immediately and directly and today I am worrying about our pups. Max has surgery early next week to remove an adenoma on his backside. It should be straightforward but he’s 13 years old and surgery at his age is never a walk in the park. And sadly, surgery lies ahead for the Prince of the Mountains as well. Lo Khyi has a torn cranial cruciate ligament in his left stifle joint. It can be repaired and he should be fine, but it is heart breaking to see him hobble about. He can’t trust the leg to hold him and it’s more than a little painful as well.

The worst thing is the earliest we can get him scheduled, after calling half dozen or more veterinary surgical centers, is August 3. I hate the thought of him struggling for that long and there’s little we can do to make the path easier in the interim. 

We’ll get through it together though. We’re partners after all.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 24, 2021

There’s so much violence in our nation. It’s a challenge to get our heads around it all. It would be easy to lay the blame at the feet of Donald Trump and others whose messages encourage division and discord. And those messages certainly are a part of the problem as they offer implicit (if not explicit) support for racist tropes and the idea that the “other”  — those of different color, or faith, or political views — are deserving of scorn if not attack.

But it’s more than that. The easing of pandemic restrictions has brought a new wave of mass shootings. A new surge of gun violence in numerous cities. And crime has become more of an issue than it has in years. That’s not just about the politicians. Gun violence has been part of our culture for too long and it seems to grow worse every year. When is it going to be too much?

We talk about police violence and that is part of the problem too, but that’s not the root cause either, I think. And god knows, no matter the issues we may have with policing, the murder of a police officer in Miami — he was shot in the head as he approached a vehicle on foot — is appalling and unacceptable too.

But, instead of meaningful consideration of what this says about our society, it is likely to become a political football. Republicans will say this is all the fault of liberals who have criticized police and talked about defunding — a horribly misunderstood and politicized idea that has become a battle cry rather than a basis for conversation about fixing a system that isn’t working. 

Liberals will blame those Republicans unwilling to address gun control and who create a toxic atmosphere where “get what you can and the costs be damned” is the order of the day.

And both sides will fight to score political points and win elections but no one will say let’s set aside the bullshit and ask ourselves what we need to do as a society to transform our future. Because transformation is needed lest we continue on a path towards a Mad Max dystopian future.

I’m not going to pretend that I understand all the reasons that guns and violence and racism are so embedded in our nation. The neighbors I knew growing up weren’t that way. The folks I meet everyday day, the people I see at the grocery store, the kind and generous and decent men and women, who I believe make up the majority of our citizenry, aren’t that way.  So why is there this ugly undercurrent and why do we seem to be so resistant to acknowledging it or addressing it? 

It’s troubling. More cops? Almost certainly not the answer. Getting tough on crime? That’s addressing symptoms but not the causes. Better gun laws? That’s a start but with the number of guns in our society already and with the mindset of some of those on the extremes it will be a long term effort to end the scourge of fund violence. So what do we do? Damned if I know… but I wish our leaders were more interested in talking about these issues than pushing wild conspiracy theories and advancing lies and limiting political rights on the one side, while on the other, progressives are so determined to pursue their vision that they disregard the vast majority in the middle in our country for whom the sweeping changes the progressives seek seem frightening and destructive of the lives they’ve known.  

I wonder where change will come from. Who will drive it? What will we become?

I mused on some of this as I walked this morning. It was just Gyptse and me. Lo Khyi’s arthritic knee is limiting his walks for now. She, of course, was free from such worries. She’s a machine on her walks… a beast. Determined to move, to march, to lead the way. She’s single-minded. No meandering, no sniffing. Movement. Forward. I got into her rhythm and slowly the worries got pushed aside. Move. Forward. Two miles passed in a breeze. And it was good.  

I hope we move forward on other fronts as well, but I’ll settle for a good walk with a pup this morning as a reasonable effort for today.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

June 23, 2021

Every now and then you hear someone speak out and you just say, “Good for you!” That’s what I have to say to General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who spoke out today in the face of criticism from Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican from Florida, who a complained that West Point was including discussions of critical race theory in a course there. This came as Republican Matt Gaetz challenged Defense Secretary Austin, claiming that his efforts to combat racism and promote diversity have made the armed forces too “woke.”

Gaetz complained that Austin’s order for a military-wide stand down, where units took a day out of their normal duties earlier this year to discuss extremism in the military, was problematic.”the No. 1 issue” raised in his conversations with troops.

“Thanks for your anecdotal input,” was Austin’s response, “but I would say that I have gotten 10 times that amount of input, 50 times that amount of input, on the other side that has said, ‘Hey, we’re glad to have had the ability to have a conversation with ourselves and with our leadership.”

I’m glad he didn’t back down. And I’m glad that Milley, who Gaetz had declined to grant a chance to comment when Milley had asked earlier if he could respond to points Gaetz had made earlier, finally got his chance. 

Milley left no doubt about where he stood, and on the issue of discussing critical race theory at West Point he was “pointed” in response:

“I do think it’s important for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. The United States Military Academy is a university. It is important that we train and we understand. I want to understand white rage — and I’m white. 

“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. 

“I want to maintain an open mind. I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand it. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians — they come from the American people. 

“It’s important that the leaders, now and in the future, understand it. I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend? 

“I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — our general officers, our commissioned and non-commissioned — of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there… [including one] based on the idea that systemic racism exists in America…”

I find it almost inexplicable that we’d be criticizing our military universities for encouraging intellectual curiosity or asking our future leaders to think about issues that we all know to be central to the challenges our nation faces today. 

Yes, discussion of critical race theory makes some uncomfortable. Some of us don’t want to think about the racism that has been part of our history. Some want to deny it or get angry when the image they hold of our nation is challenged. But we can’t hide from the truth and we can’t lead our nation if we don’t understand it.

I worked with men and women in our armed forces for over three decades and I hold them in great respect. And, having had the chance to lecture at the Joint Forces War College, I have a sense of the intellectual rigor with which they engage. 

I applaud the military’s willingness to invest in the training of their people, and General Milley’s attitude is one that I saw displayed routinely by the senior officers with whom I worked. They were thoughtful, intellectually curious, and open-minded in a way that many in the political leadership are not.

So, thank you General, thank you Mr. Secretary, for sharing your truth. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 22, 2021

The sun is streaming into the family room this evening after a day of clouds and a pretty daunting rain storm. It’s a nice way to wind up the day.

I had started writing this daily blog as the pandemic began to take hold  I had no illusions that I’d be able to chronicle all that transpired or that I’d even make much sense of the medical and social and political issues that would come to the fore. I’m glad I didn’t try, because, for all of us, the events of the past 15 months have been overwhelming, appalling, frightening, uplifting, and often inconceivable.  At best I’ve offered my own personal impressions and allowed this to become a platform to share my fears and hopes and, at times my anger at the failed leadership that has led us to some pretty horrible places. 

The pandemic isn’t over… we know that… but for those of us who are vaccinated it feels like it is.  I can write about the remaining threat. I can highlight the county office in Florida where the Delta variant killed a couple of people who weren’t vaccinated while those who were vaccinated escaped unscathed. We know it’s happening and we know that risks remain but they increasingly feel distant. Something that might happen to others — to those unwilling to believe in science, unwilling to set aside political partisanship or to those who just don’t trust the government.

But now it’s time to reorient myself. I went into a Walgreens today to drop something at the FEDEX counter there and I realized I wasn’t wearing my mask. I still do when I’m in a public place but this morning I didn’t even realize I was maskless. The woman who scanned my package was too. And it all seemed so normal. 

I felt as though I coped fairly well during the worst days of the pandemic. I felt as though I took things in stride, but now… now I don’t really feel like even thinking about it. I want normal more than I expected I would I guess.  And perhaps that’s part of the reason I’m feeling uninspired about writing tonight.  

My rule with the blog has generally been to write about those things that capture my imagination on any given day. Today my imagination has been beggared. When I was called upon to speak publicly over the years, even if I did not have prepared remarks, I always found that, if I opened my mouth, words would came. Words that fit the moment and that were, if I was lucky, even meaningful.

Writing is a bit different. When I’m spun up by the latest political outrage, or heartened by an act of courage or compassion the words come, just as they did when I’d speak publicly.  But, tonight, I can’t generate the energy for outrage (don’t get me started, though, on the voter protection bill that not a single Republican Senator could see merit in) and there’s nothing in particular that has given me a warm glow.

So I guess I’ll just enjoy the evening, the setting sun, and the end of the day. And we’ll see what inspires me tomorrow. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 21, 2021

It’s a Monday. And it felt like it in some ways.  

Washington feels dysfunctional. No surprise. Republicans are not going to support the voting rights bill. No surprise. The states with the lowest vaccination rates are starting to experience a surge in COVID cases sparked by the Delta variant. Well… duh! That’s not a surprise either.

There is another story in the news too. A motorcyclist committed a traffic violation and then tried to flee the cops. He was reckless in his flight. Put folks in danger. He shouldn’t have done it.  But when he surrendered to a deputy and lay on the ground arms extended in surrender the deputy came up and kicked him twice, in the head, hard and fast. That, sadly, isn’t a surprise either. The CNN story didn’t mention race but the video is online. Sadly, I just assumed that the suspect was black. He was. And you can bet that had he been white the cop probably wouldn’t have kicked him so viciously and cavalierly. 

His action was captured on the surveillance cameras of the car lot where this happened.  Without the film I wonder if the story would have been told. Certainly I’m doubtful that the suspect’s complaints, if he made them, would have been heard. To the credit of the police leaders, they checked the tape, acted on it and have spoken out strongly against the officer’s actions. I am gratified that we have reached that point. 

But I’m still disturbed every time I see a story like that. They are far too common. Racism is far too common in our nation. And we are too quick to dismiss such actions as the bad apples not a reflection of a systemic problem I think we have to accept that this is more than just a few bad apples. It’s hard to believe otherwise. And the efforts by Republicans in Georgia, Texas, Florida, and in so many other states to make voting every more difficult and complex for voters of color just plays into the same narrative.

I’m tired of writing about it but we need to call it out when we see it. And maybe, with time we can change the picture. But we have to acknowledge it first.

Mondays. Check.

On a different subject though it has been fun to follow the cross-country journey of some dear friends as they make their way from east along the northern route seeing the remarkable natural beauty of our nation. For all our social turmoil, our nation is full of scenic wonders and beauty.  Their journey has given me even itchier feet. I want to follow their path. I want to make my own. A step at a time though. 

California next month will be one step. The trip includes visits with multiple friends along the way and travel to a part of the state I don’t know well. We’ll wander from Sebastopol to Healdsburg and then on to Mendocino and a very special vegan resort. And then we’ll head further north along the coast up to Trinidad and back to the bay area. Just thinking about it is an antidote to the Monday blahs.  

Less than a month to go. Let the countdown begin.\

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 20, 2021

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.

I could take the easy way out and repost my blog about my own Dad but I feel the need to do a bit more than that. My Dad is, unsurprisingly, on my mind this morning as I ponder fatherhood.

Part of what got me thinking was an early morning call from Tony and Gus to say happy Father’s Day, before his day got too hectic in Texas. But I also had a message this morning from our African “daughter” Suzanne. She said “Thank you for being a wonderful father figure to us all, wherever we come from…” I was touched. I thought of the times we would walk the dogs together and she and I would talk about life and faith and values and identity. I remember her asking me as we would work in the kitchen about leadership, and about how to overcome challenges. And it reminds me that “fatherhood” is more than just our biological ties. 

God knows there are many biological dads out there who you wouldn’t trust with a goldfish, much less expect them to nurture and love a child. Biology doesn’t make fathers. So why do some men embrace the role and others flee from it?  

I don’t know. 

I just know that it matters. That loving our kids matters. That being there for those you care about, blood ties or not, matters. And I know that the example we set, the time we take, the words we share… they all matter too.

I’m grateful beyond measure to be a father and to have Tjiama, Joe, and Tony as part of my life. And Joe S, Natalie, and Jessica too. And grandchildren Sofie, Leo, Luca, and Gus.  And the grandcats and granddogs too. Life is richer because of you all. I’m a lucky man.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 19th, 2021

It has been a lazy day. I futzed on the internet, researched recipes, did some email, and just… chilled. Finally I stirred myself enough to run to the grocery story. I needed rye flour, parsley, and coriander. The plan? Moroccan Harira and a rye/whole wheat flatbread with scallions.  Both needed up coming out incredibly easy. The flatbread recipe was really and Icelandic concoction but ir went so well with the Harira.  

The base for the Harira was onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. I threw in some peppers as well. Then there were the roma tomatoes that were perfectly ripe, and the garbanzo beans, green lentils and the broth. And there were the spices. Cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, I threw in a bit of smoked paprika, a touch of salt, and some Harissa to give it a bite, and a big handful of chopped parsley and cilantro.  After it cooked a while, I added some lemon juice and then near the end some chopped spinach. The flavors were deep and complex. Smoky and tantalizing. It was darn good. 

And the Nordic flatbread was fun too. I had to veganize the recipe. Oatmilk with lemon juice became the buttermilk, Just Egg (a pea protein egg substitute that is great) replaced the chicken egg, and vegan butter and honey played their role too as they combined with the rye and wheat flours, the yeast, and a bit of salt to make the dough. When I was almost done kneading it I added in chopped scallions and after letting it sit for a while rolled out eight flatbreads that cooked up great in the cast iron skillet with just a touch of spray oil. The two dishes together… my kind of meal.

That was the essence of my day. But as I sat and just eased into the morning and early afternoon there were not only emails but pictures. Pics of Gus in particular, that Tony sent on this his first Father’s Day weekend. I hope it’s a special one for him. The joy of fatherhood is balanced by the worry that comes with the job. Much as it is, I think, for motherhood. Will I be a good parent, will I be there when they need me, can I keep them safe, will they know how much I love them?  

I know our daughter, Tjiama, has navigated those challenges on her journey as a mother and I think Tony will too. 

One generation to another… the joys, the worries, the stories… they all continue. Tjiama gets that, I know. And now it’s Tony’s turn. The pic he posted today suggests that he gets it. A pic of four generations of DeLisi boys… 98 years from generation to generation. Now it’s up to Tony to give the youngest member of the family a sense of where he fits into this ever changing clan.

Happy 1st Father’s Day, Tony!

June 18, 2021

It’s a Friday night and only now am I getting the chance to sit down and write. It was a busy Juneteenth holiday. It included another trip to the vet for a laser treatment for Lo Khyi. 

The Prince of the Mountains is hanging in there, but so far laser therapy hasn’t given him the relief we hoped it would. We’ve added on a few more treatments, but, after talking with one of the doctors today, we might do an ortho consult and perhaps knee surgery to clean out the joint may be in order. It may be just what he needs and the Prince, who still has many good years ahead, would have a 90% chance of recovering full function — or so the vet thought.

He so loves his walks we really would love him to have the chance. It might be the cost of a business class ticket to Nepal, but he’s one of our pack and it’s a choice that isn’t too hard for us to make it it appears that it will work.

The pic below popped up as a memory today on Leija’s FB page. Nine years ago in Nepal when LoKhyi was still a pup… only four months old but already a big boy. And although he is not motivated by food, it was clear at an early age that he wouldn’t say no to popcorn. Which is what he was begging for that day. 

He doesn’t ask for much. I hope we can at least give him back those longs walks with his tale proudly curled over his back as he sniffs… and marks… his way along the paths we follow.

But, for now, I’ll let the day wind down and welcome the weekend. It has taken its own sweet time getting here!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 17, 2021

It has been a busy day. There’s a lot I could choose to write about. Jane Vance and I had a great conversation with Bhuchung Tsering of the International Campaign for Tibet. We spoke about “The Ambassador’s Dog,” Tibetan Buddhism, and the preservation of culture. We explored the power of art and it’s ability to empower and inform. We touched on human rights and human dignity, the need to empower youth and the challenges nations face as they grapple with the tension between advancing their interests while remaining true to their values. It was a great talk. 

I probably could build on this and turn it into a lengthy blog but then I wouldn’t be able to voice my true dismay that 21 Republican members of the House were actually so mean-spirited, so consumed by their commitment to their false narrative that they voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police officers who defended the Capitol and the legislators serving there on January 6. They apparently didn’t like calling those who attacked our nation’s democracy that day “insurrectionists.” They seemed to prefer the narrative of Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia who likened what happened that day to a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol.

The same Andrew Clyde refused to shake the hand of police officer Michael Fanone who was taz’ed, beaten unconscious, and suffered a concussion and mild heart attack that day. He turned his back on Fanone when he tried to talk to him about what happened and wordlessly rushed away “like a coward” when an elevator door opened according to Fanone.

Whatever you believe, January 6 was NOT like an ordinary tour and it seems to me that Officer Fanone has earned a right to be heard. But then folks might have to admit that the day was ugly and dangerous and the attackers have no love for the democracy that defines the essence of our nation. Clyde doesn’t care, nor Marjorie Taylor Greene (no surprise there), nor Paul Gosar who, I’m sure, brought a smile to Vladimir Putin’s face by repeating the Russian line that the police “executed” Ashli Babbit as she sought to breach a set of doors deep in the Capitol during the attack. The officer was cleared of wrongdoing, but Gosar would apparently rather spew Russian propaganda and attack the police officer than admit that the attackers were far from a law-abiding bunch. Twenty-one in all found some excuse. And it’s pretty disgusting if you ask me. But that’s what the Republican Party is becoming.

Today also offered one of the most ludicrous things I heard all day. The House Republican Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy actually declared that Biden gave Putin a “pass” in their Geneva meeting. This is the same McCarthy who was absolutely silent as Trump pandered to Putin and excused his attacks on his foes and dangerously aggressive International conduct. Does McCarthy really think we wouldn’t notice the hypocrisy? But then, of course, he doesn’t care. His audience isn’t folks like me. It’s Donald Trump and his followers. I hope they appreciate McCarthy’s willingness to be ridiculous. Me? Not impressed.

Finally, I was really struck today by the reporting on the heat dome plaguing the west and now the midwest. It was accompanied by stories of the mega drought of reservoirs dropping, lakes drying up, water supplies in jeopardy, and risks of blackouts as power systems are stressed to the max. Experts say that all this is exacerbated by climate change. We can’t deny what is before our eyes, but you have to wonder… will we look back on this in a few years and see this news as the beginning of a true climate crisis.

It IS coming if we don’t dramatically change direction. It may come even if we do change our policies given how far the deleterious impact of irresponsible climate policies have taken us. Oh… and those Republicans who thought that January 6 was a walk in the park? They don’t believe that any of this really is a problem. I wonder what other fairy tales they’ll tell their grandkids someday in a world devastated by climate change.  

Yep… lots of food for thought today. But that’s enough. I’m going to read to the grandkids tonight. The Hobbit awaits.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 16, 2021

Joe Biden vs. Vladimir Putin.  Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Coca Cola.  Two headline-making confrontations. Both worth noting.

Biden’s meeting didn’t produce major breakthroughs but we didn’t expect that it would. But Joe knew what he needed to do. The message, as captured in one headline, was clear… the adults are back in charge. That was all he really needed to do. And it seems that that is exactly what he did. 

He didn’t need to ride a stallion bare-chested across the plains like Vladimir.  He didn’t have to match brutality with brutality, deceit with deceit, or murder with murder. He didn’t have to descend to his level. He just needed to be Joe. And he was.

There was no slavish fawning. No praising Putin’s strength. Not accepting Putin’s word over those of our own intelligence professionals. Biden looked relaxed and he looked confident.  Over the past week, Joe spent his days reaffirming our commitment to our democratic values and our international partnerships,  He very clearly highlighted the differences between the democracies of the west, and the dangers posed by brutal and failing authoritarian states.

Putin, in his press conference, was defensive and deflecting. He looked uncomfortable and ill at ease and he should have. And in what has to be a shocking blow to the former President who seemed to be Putin’s puppy for four years, Putin said that he respects Biden and called him “an experienced statesman… very different from President Trump.”

It was a good day for Joe. It was a good day for America. It was a good day for us all.

And then there was another compelling story. The Portuguese soccer star, Cristiano Ronaldo, at his after-match press conference, very emphatically moved the two bottles of coke sitting in front of him far to the side and out of sight. He made it clear that he wasn’t going to let them create the impression that he endorsed Coke. He doesn’t. He wasn’t going to endorse sugary drinks, he wasn’t going to give children the wrong impression, he wasn’t going to be the wrong kind of role model.

Coke is a huge sponsor for the EuroCup. And, unsurprisingly, companies selling what we all know essentially to be junk food, are the preeminent advertisers for major sporting events that kids watch. I won’t say that Cristiano Ronaldo is a hero or a perfect role model in every way, but he made a choice the other day to make a point that is worth considering. The power and the influence that companies like Coca Cola wield shouldn’t be unchallenged. And we need to ask ourselves just how desperately we really need the products that they convince us we can’t live without. 

My own dietary choices have changed so much over the years and so Ronaldo’s statement about water being his drink of choice resonated with me. It won’t with others. But I won’t feel sorry for Coke if he decided to bite the hand the feeds the EuroCup tourney. Coke is worth a quarter of a trillion dollars. They can stand to lose a few billion (their stock price dropped by about 4 billion after Ronaldo’s statement). And, of course, Ronaldo’s remarks will soon be yesterday’s news. But he took a stand on principle and good for him.

As for Coke, not all their products are loaded with sugar, or questionable sugar substitutes. And they are probably no more socially irresponsible in peddling sugary drinks than are tobacco companies, or donut houses, or liquor companies. And no one says we have to buy into their narrative, though we are certainly conditioned to do so by years of advertising and exposure.

I’m not on a crusade, but wouldn’t it be nice if we reach a day when our businesses are responsible citizens who care as much for our health as they do for their profits, who care as much for our environment as they do for their bottom lines, and who care as much for our democracy as well as Joe Biden does?

So good for Ronaldo and good for Joe, and I hope that maybe, just maybe, both Coke and Vladimir, will learn something… even a little… from their encounters.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 15, 2021

It’s funny to think that the COVID pandemic is no longer front of mind for most of us after so many months when we couldn’t help but be aware of the shadow it cast over our lives in so many different ways. We can’t yet dismiss it completely but, in America at least, we have much to be hopeful about. That’s not true elsewhere in the world, sadly, but we can hope that our assistance with vaccines will begin to change that picture as well.

Still, this virus has shown itself to be resilient and opportunistic so we have to remain vigilant and thoughtful about the choices we make as a nation and as individuals. Today we passed a milestone no one ever imagined 15 months ago. Over 600,000 of our fellow citizens have now died from COVID and almost 4 million people globally. It is worth taking a moment, at least, to remember the price we have paid and to remember as well that there is a huge cost when our leaders fail us, when science is ignored in favor of ideology, and when self-serving actors seek to politicize a health crisis that found us all at risk.

It’s a sign of how far things have shifted though that I find myself once again planning a trip to Iceland. The last one we had to cancel — and rightfully so. We also had to cancel a trip to Nepal last year, and again this year, sadly. But the wheel is starting to turn. Travel to California next month doesn’t even cause a moment’s hesitation and travel to Iceland next March seems like it should be fine. We’re even toying with other adventures abroad as well as more travel here in the US. Those itchy feet that became so pronounced during a year of isolation and social distancing need to get back on the road. And we will. 

It’s exciting to think about. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I take a huge amount of pleasure in just planning the trips. Thinking through the options, getting the most out of the adventure, finding the best deals and the coolest things to do that will work for us and make each day memorable. I know that there are plenty of possible pitfalls and a dream trip can become a nightmare if you don’t exercise care. The planning matters and I’m a planner. Always have been… always will be. 

That doesn’t mean we have to rigidly adhere to a minute by minute schedule. Far from it. But good planning can make it easier to be spontaneous and to seize the moment. Knowing the options and resources you can call on makes it easier to shift gears on a moment’s notice. But you have to start with a plan… it’s all about the plan.  

So I’ve been a planning fool the past few days and, if the pandemic and the rest of the world just do as they should, the plan will come to life. Fingers crossed that I get both the joy of creating a plan and then executing it!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

\June 14, 2021

I was just out in the backyard. The humidity feels as though it has dropped from earlier in the day. The sky is still blue though clouds are moving in from the northwest and supposedly will bring rain yet tonight. I wasn’t alone out back, Gyptse Jane and Gracie came with me, hoping against hope that I was going to grab a couple of squeaky balls. I did, of course. Frolicking and racing about ensued.

Gracie will race up the hill to go after a ball and Gyptse will step back and let her older sister have the first dibs. But then Gracie will meander about with the ball in her mouth squeezing it and making is squeak and feeling quite satisfied. Periodically she’ll wander back to me and we’ll start the dance all over again.

Gyptse on the other hand is unrelenting in her pursuit of the ball. Racing up the hill, across the yard, ready to respond to the movement of my arm. Watching to see if I’d shift my feet, knowing it foretold a toss in a new direction. She accelerates, timing her leap to catch the ball as it reaches the apex of the first bounce or, if I delay my throw for a moment or two, leaping into the air to grab it on the fly. She has moves that would make a pro-ball outfielder jealous.

She’ll run and run and run. Throw after throw. Until, finally, even her insatiable appetite to play catch can’t fuel her legs for one more trip across the yard. She drops down, panting, with the ball at her feet and looks at me with a satisfied grin. Her backyard ballet is finished for now. Tomorrow she’ll be ready to go again. Eager. And so grateful for those few moments of play. 

It doesn’t take much to satisfy her or any of the pups.  A walk.  A short game of catch. A snuggle at night. It’s the simple things that matter. Life’s little pleasures.  

And now, it’s the pleasure of knowing that we’re all dry and safe as the thunder rumbles and the hail rattles the windows.

It takes so little to make those pups happy. Like I said. The simple things. There’s a lesson to be learned from that. 

Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

June 13, 2021

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is on tonight. I’m watching the working group at the moment. It includes the Tibetan Mastiff. I have to say I’m a bit partial to them, though they usually don’t seem to do well in these shows. Maybe it has something to do with their independent spirit. They don’t need to prove themselves to anyone. They know who they are. Lo Khyi certainly does. 

But I have to admit, all four of our pups are pretty incredible. Each unique in their personalities and styles. Today, they were all pretty chill. It was a cloudy and somewhat uninspiring day. I spent much of it working on travel plans. Trying to put together a trip to Iceland. It’s many months away yet – not until next March – but I’m hopeful that the trip we had to defer 15 months ago because of the pandemic will happen next time around. And as I sat and did research and online investigations, the pups draped themselves on the sofas, or curled up along side our chairs, just content to be together.  

Beyond that there’s not so much to report. I didn’t pay a much attention to the news. I didn’t work out, though I should have. I didn’t do much of anything except plan for trips to come. I have to admit it made me long for the days to come.

I just got off a 90-minute call with partners who are working on Nepal. Several were young members of the Nepali diaspora community and they impress me so much. They care, they are committed, and they bring an energy and vision that inspires me.

And shortly I will jump on another call to watch as food distribution Engage Nepal has funded  begins. I’m proud we’ve been able to help, and to make a difference, and there’s so much more to do. 

Meanwhile, the pups are waiting patiently for me to finish up. And when the day ends they’ll wait for me to climb the stairs with them. They’ll settle into the bedroom. On the bed, the bedside chair or, in the case of Lo Khyi, on the floor alongside the bed where he’ll quietly keep watch through the night. He’ll be quick to rouse and voice his concern at any noise from outside. And he’ll be equally slow to rouse in the morning, preferring a leisurely start to the day.

Our pets comfort us, calm us, heal us. Can’t ask for more than that. Now, off to join my call. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 12, 2021

Some days are just better than others. Today is one of those.

It is too busy, given that it’s a Saturday. It’s cloudy (though the rain has stopped after giving us almost 4 inches in 24 hours. But none of that matters… the sun is shining in Minnesota where this morning our son Joe proposed to his partner, Jessica Briggs.  And, she said…. YES.

We’re so excited that Jessica will be part of the family. She already is, of course, and has had a place in our hearts since she first came with Joe for a Christmas gathering in 2018. It’s been clear that they have been committed to each other since Jess moved to Minnesota in early 2019. Making it formal doesn’t change or strengthen that commitment but still… it feels right. They’re a wonderful couple and we couldn’t be happier for them.

Joe proposed at Como Park – a place I remember well from growing up in Minnesota. He had the ring specially designed and the stone is a beautiful sapphire that was in a ring he got when we lived in Sri Lanka (which was a posting that captured Joe’s heart). A nice touch if you ask me.

As a parent, there’s such joy when you look at your children and you see that they are happy.  And seeing Joe and Jess so happy today just warms our hearts.  

The work of parenting never really ends even when all your kids are happy in their lives, even when they make you proud in every way and even when they are pretty sure they don’t need parenting any more. They may not need to be told what to do — they’ve got that figured out. They may not need much in the way of advice (though it’s always gratifying when they ask your opinion). But, a parent’s job includes the giving of unlimited and unconditional love and that is something we all can use throughout our lives.

I often think of my folks and wish they were still with us. And today I wish they could share in Jess and Joe’s joy as much as we do. I like to think that somehow they are. 

In any event, this news trumped (god… I still cringe at using that word… lol) any other news, today. It even topped the latest Gus pictures (as cute as they are) and it was even more exciting than the first full day of summer vacation for Sofie and Leo.  

Families grow and evolve and change. Ours is not the exception. But the ties that hold us together seem to strengthen the bigger the circle grows. So welcome to la famiglia, Jess, and we wish you both “cento anni” -100 years.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 11, 2021

She: “Look at all the stars. Aren’t they beautiful?”

He: “They’re amazing. Did you know that 20% of stars have planets capable of supporting life?”

She: “Wow. How do you know all that? You must read a ton!”

He: “Not at all. I do Blinkist”

That’s how the add for Blinkist begins. They tell you that you don’t have to read at all! Blinkist is an app that will take all the great non-fiction books, all the thoughtful discussion, all the big ideas, and give you a digest of them. A complex book like Yuval Harari’s “21 Ideas for the 21st Century” will be yours in 19 minutes. 

“From leadership to psychology, we’ve blinked it for you.” That’s what their webpage tells you.  You don’t have to struggle with complicated and complex lines of reasoning — Blinkist will do it for you. 

You don’t have to read. Blinkist will do it for you. You don’t have to think. Blinkist will do it for you. 

I’m no old curmudgeon resistant to change and railing against some “new fangled idea” that will disrupt the order of the universe as I’ve known it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the very idea of Blinkist offends my sensibilities.

It strips away the joy of reading. Of hearing the author’s “voice” and following their reasoning and feeling their passion and joy or pain. It strips away the satisfaction that comes from struggling with and grasping new concepts. It steals away your opportunity to diverge paths with the author as she or he expounds, and form your own opinions and make your own choice about just what the words you’re reading really mean.

Throughout my life reading has been one of my greatest joys. Non-fiction as well as fiction. And I am appalled at the answer of “not at all” to the question of whether someone reads a lot. “Not at all.” I’d be embarrassed for the person who answers that way and appalled that they do so with pride.  

I know that we live in a busy world and that time is at a premium, but I refuse to accept that this is an acceptable shortcut to knowledge. There’s a reason that Stephen Hawkings’ “A Brief History of Time” filled 212 pages or that Yuval Harari’s twenty-essays in his book covered 400 pages. A 7-page synopsis isn’t going to bring you understanding — just sound bites and random facts you can throw around to try and sound smart. 

The world is changing and technology is driving it. We rely on Alexa to solve math problems or to provide quick spell check. There are a lot of shortcuts and different approaches that work better or more quickly than those we once relied on. But this path, I fear will lead to lazy brains, unchallenged minds, and the enshrining of the superficial over the substantive.

I generally embrace change and adopt new technology with enthusiasm but this one sticks in my craw. 

Reading transported me, inspired me, and transformed me. It still does. So you can keep Blinkist. I’ll do it the old-fashioned way. It’s worth it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

June 10, 2021

President Biden announced today that our nation will buy 500,000,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine to share with desperate nations that lack the resources to procure this lifesaving assistance. THAT is the America I served. That is the spirit that President George W. Bush displayed as well when he launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program on which I worked. I saw how our commitment to humanitarian engagement transformed societies facing existential threats. I was so proud of all that we did. And I’m proud  of what the Biden administration announced today.

The PEPFAR program enjoyed considerable bipartisan support. It was a reflection of the decency and compassion that were part of our national ethos. Is it still? I don’t know. I really don’t. IF Republicans had to vote on this procurement and distribution of vaccines would they?  Or would they balk because it was being proposed by President Biden? I’m so tired of them opposing everything and anything — mindlessly and reflexively. We have to be able to do better than that. 

But as I write this, while watching the evening news, there’s breaking news about a possible bipartisan deal on infrastructure among a group of Senators. It offers a glimmer of hope. God, I hope that it’s true. I hope it signals a new direction. It’s limited in scope… there’s far more to do. But it is a start. And if that leads somewhere maybe there can be an agreement on legislation on police reform, or on voting rights, or on climate change — all of which have been topics that Republicans have so far seemed determined to ignore. 

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the First Lady today was wearing a jacket that had a single word on the back. “LOVE.” What a change from “I Don’t Really Care, Do You?” for which Melania Trump garnered so much attention. The fact that Jill Biden chose to send such a different message isn’t surprising but it was welcome nonetheless.

So I’ll settle today for vaccine diplomacy and love. That’s good enough for a Thursday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 9, 2021

The past two days I’ve written a bit about the political environment. That wasn’t my intent for today and I won’t spend much time on it, but I was bemused to see this FB “memory” from a post I did five years ago today. At that point my political comments were few (I was only recently retired and the habits of years of internalizing my views while actively serving was still engrained) and because of that I felt the need — then — to even add a warning for those who might want to skip such commentary. These days, though, the need for such warnings seems an almost quaint throwback to a political environment that was, by comparison to today, less fraught and polarized.  

That was just five years ago. But we were seeing the signs of the issues we confront today — we’ve been seeing them build almost since the turn of the century — and sadly, what I was concerned about in 2016 is even more of a worry to me in 2021. Here’s what I wrote then: 


June 9, 2016

“(Warning:  political content.  Rating:  mild — compared to most of what we hear these days.) 

In recent months I have been dismayed by the lack of leadership and moral courage in the Republican party.  I understand the desire to advance a political agenda, but the question is at what cost?  Speaker Ryan — a man that many people respect even if they disagree with his policy vision — acknowledged that Donald Trump’s recent remarks were “textbook” racist; but then said folks should still support him as the best bet for advancing the GOP agenda. It  apparently doesn’t matter to him, or others in the GOP, if a leader is a bully and a demagogue, and spews vitriolic and racist rhetoric… they just want to win.  Sigh.  Not my definition of leadership nor a reflection of the values I grew up believing defined our nation.”


Sound familiar?  It’s now five years later and is it seems as though those words still apply — “It doesn’t matter… if a leader is a bully and a demagogue and spews vitriolic and racist rhetoric… they just want to win.”  Today we might add that it doesn’t matter if conspiracy theories and bald-faced lies are preferred to honest dialogue and policy debate as long as they win.

Ugh. This has been our fare and it is getting worse. 

As I wrote yesterday, our democracy is not guaranteed to us. And there are those who seem determined to replace it with something that is feels more like the sort of dysfunctional state portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale or the world of 1984 where truth was what the leader decreed it to be.  

What was originally on my mind, before my FB memory distracted me, was the pandemic. On the one hand, the news here at home really looks good and we all see how relieved folks are feeling. The number of daily infections has dropped to levels we haven’t seen since March of 2020. We are moving in the right direction, no doubt. 

But Dr. Fauci is warning that we can’t let up on vaccination efforts lest the even more contagious and dangerous variants that are ravaging India and Nepal and other countries take hold here. And, given that we don’t know for sure how long our vaccinations will continue to be effective or whether there will be further mutations that overcome our immunities, we are well served to keep the pandemic contained here at home. And even as we relish the good news here, we are seeing dangerous new surges in Africa, Latin America, and the Western Pacific.  

Of course this raises concerns about vaccine equity on a global scale. That becomes yet another set of considerations to challenge policy makers.  

There’s a lot for us to think about. Lots of issues. Lots of challenges. 

That will be enough to keep us busy for another day or two or three at least, right? 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 8, 2021

I’m not sure what to write about today. 

My mind’s distracted. I think part of my mind is still in Texas. I’m not quite ready to reorient myself completely to being back in the day-to-day world. It was easy in Austin to be so focused on Gus… to narrow the focus of my world onto connecting with him over the few days we were there… that you could forget about the rest of the nonsense.

So today I started back on the path to normal. I worked — pretty efficiently actually — on my tasks for State. I spent time focusing on Engage Nepal, sending thank you notes to donors, transferring funds to partner organizations in Nepal, and trying to get the latest on the situation on the ground.

We took Lo Khyi for his laser therapy on his knees and hips. mailed a few books out, went to the dry cleaner, and then we voted in the Virginia Democratic Primary elections — we were among the few who even bothered to turn out. 

And that made me more unsettled than any other aspect of reentering the day to day. It was disappointing and disconcerting to see how few took the time to vote. I know it was a single-party primary. I know it wasn’t all that consequential perhaps in the big scheme of things. But it worries me that it seems so easy for many to just shrug, to not pay attention, and to assume it will all turn out right. 

But that’s the thing. It may not. It may not be right at all. 

I wrote yesterday about Joe Manchin. I won’t bother to go there again. But President Obama cut to the heart of it the other day when he told Anderson Cooper that “this experiment in democracy is not self-executing. It doesn’t happen just automatically.” 

Amen to that. He was spot on. I said things like that often as an Ambassador. I can remember telling folks in Uganda that they needed to remember that there are no guarantees in any democracy… including the USA’s. As citizens we have to care. We have to hold on to our rights. We have to exercise our voices and our power. We have to be visible and be counted and engaged and we have to vote. 

We have to care. 

Apathy and indifference are as great a threat to our nation’s future as Trump and those who traffic in lies and conspiracy theories. We can’t just dismiss them. We can’t just assume their lies will fall on fallow ground and not take root. They will — if we let them. If we don’t speak out and if we don’t stand firm.

Unfortunately, a turnout of less than 10 percent for the Democratic Party primary doesn’t signal a depth of commitment to supporting the process and standing firm. It doesn’t send the signal that we care. 

And meanwhile, those who believe in the big lie, those who believe in Jewish space lasers, those who believe that there is a conspiracy of satanists and pedophiles leading our nation, those who believe that Donald Trump is about to be restored to office — all of them are heartened when we don’t come out in numbers to make a difference.

I know that an off-year party primary in Virginia isn’t a great measure of things to come, but still… we can’t afford to lose sight of the struggle taking place in our nation or be indifferent to it. I don’t want our grandkids to inherit a failed experiment. I want to leave them something better than that. I want to leave them the America of our dreams and not of our nightmares.

It’s the least we can do.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 7 2021

“Senator Manchin,

As someone who served our nation for 40 years under both Republican and Democratic Presidents I’m dismayed by your failure to support legislation intended to protect the democratic norms that have made us the nation we are… or were. Your principled stand decrying partisan legislation legislation would be far more laudable if you were willing to offer us a solution to the wildly partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression that is is going on in Republican-controlled legislatures across the nation.  

The For the People Act may not be perfect. But you offer no alternatives to counter the uncontrolled assault on democracy by a party that has no other way to hold onto power than to disenfranchise voters of color and make the participation in the democratic process a privilege that is enjoyed far more readily by the affluent and the white than the least served, the least privileged, and who, by no surprise, are black or brown-skinned. 

I hope the DNC decides that your future campaigns should not be funded by those who support the Democratic party. I intend to write to the DNC and voice my concern that my donations go to support a candidate whose values are so far removed from those for which President Biden and those who voted for him stand. 

This is a time to choose. There isn’t a perfect answer. But no answer and no action is not an acceptable choice no matter how much you try to dress it up in claims that you seek to be evenhanded. 

I am sorry you have chosen the path you have along with your Republican colleagues. Our nation will continue to diminish if we do not find an alternative path to your choice of clinging to a dangerous status quo.”

That’s what I wrote to Joe Manchin today. He won’t care, of course. I’m not one of his constituents and, even if I was, I’m still not sure how much these guys care about our views. Or… let me rephrase this. They care about voter views — even if they are misguided — if their political future hinges on giving those voters what they want.

So if the majority of your voters are white, if they’re conservative and 

  • if they believe in the lies about the threats posed to our nation by letting people vote freely,
  • if they believe the lies about immigration, 
  • if they believe that BLM is code for being anti-white or anti-police, 
  • if they believe liberals don’t love America; 
  • if they believe that people like me want to see our nation fail…

We’ll, that’s when you get Joe Manchin double-talking his way through his explanation for why he won’t support the For the People Act.  Because he wants to get reelected.

For too many politicians their service seems to have become more about keeping your job or about wielding power and influence (and, I worry, about making money) than it is about principles or making good choices about governance and policy. It’s about profiles in preservation rather than profiles in courage.

All things considered, it’s really hard to take issue with young people who feel disillusioned with the political process. I’m feeling that way myself. And as much as I want to be optimistic about the future of our nation, and as much as I have hope for the changes that young people will drive, I still worry about these deeply entrenched forces that are fighting so vigorously against change and equality. They wield their power and their wealth like weapons against those they see as threats.  

So I wrote to Joe Manchin and I write here and I’ll write to the DNC. And I’ll support candidates who believe in meaningful change and I’ll pray that enough of us recognize that next year’s elections are every bit as critical — if not more so — than those we were so impassioned about last year. 

It wasn’t just about Trump. It is about our future and the kind of nation we want to be.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.   

June 6, 2021

There’s power in music. I think back on all the songs my mother sang to me. The albums she played. The music to which I was exposed. Sinatra and Darin. Nat King Cole.  Andy Williams and Tony Bennett. The Ray Conniff Orchestra. Barbara Streisand. Countless show tunes. The Music Man, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, the Sound of Music. So many more.  

And somehow things stuck. Brother Can You Spare a Dime, Seems Like Old Times, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Harvest Moon… the list is long… very long. All those lyrics just come forth almost unbidden. Where in that incredible organ that is the brain are they all stored?  How is it that they are not just deleted as the “drive” becomes too full?

They’re still there. Ready to be summoned. And summoned they were again today with Gus.  Raise your hand if you can’t do the full rendition from Little Man You’re Crying, Puddin’ Head Jones, 16 Tons, Side by Side, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Would You Like to Swing on a Star and If I Only Had a Brain. Gus fell asleep part what through but I kept going to keep him that way. I think that the combination of warm arms holding him close and the vibrations of Papa’s voice kept him him relaxed.

When he woke up, we went and sat outside for bit as Tony worked in his garden (like father, like son — we can guess what’s in Gus’ future!) And as we sat, Papa pulled out all the silliness that lurks beneath the surface. I surrendered any pretense at dignity, sticking out my tongue, making faces, and babbling right back at him — anything to win the reward of a smile and a giggle and an excited string of commentary right back at me from the youngest member of the clan.

I’m glad that the songs seem to calm Gus. I’m glad to have him fall asleep in my arms. These little ones grow way to quickly and our time with them always seems so fleeting. As he grows bigger we’ll find other ways to connect, as we have with Sofie, Leo, and Luca and those will be special too.  

But still… there’s something about these moments when you hold them as they sleep that touch you deeply. You want to protect them from any harm and any sadness they may ever confront. And, at least for that brief moment in time, as you cuddle them and look down on their face so peaceful in sleep, you feel as though you can. That’s what Papas are for, right? 

Tomorrow we’ll be flying home but the connections we’re building with Gus won’t be lost. We’re laying the groundwork for memories to come and for more special moments. 

I used to say that fatherhood was one of the best gigs out there. But being a grandpa might just top it. Sofie, Leo, Luca, and now Gus are all a part of us… part of our story. And we love them all so much. How lucky are we?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

June 5

We’ve had a relaxed day here in Austin.

I just spent about three hours playing gin rummy with son Tony. The trash talk was hot and heavy. All the tricks I learned from watching my folks play over the years — and playing with them — were brought to bear. I remember how my Dad would try to get into your head. He’d never admit defeat. Even if you beat him he assured you he was just giving you a moment to enjoy the “idea” of beating him.

He was pretty clear, though, he had full confidence that he’d ultimately prevail. That’s what Dads do.

And what we learn as kids stays with us. I remember playing gin, first with my mom. She was always a great partner to play with. She was probably the most gracious loser in the family, but make no mistake — she didn’t like to lose any more than my dad or my older sister and brother who I played with as well. My sister in particular was a frequent partner. Our sibling rivalry had moved to the kitchen table and our weapons were the decks of cards we brought to the battle.

Actually, though, our games never became too heated. There was a bit of banter but also a lot of conversation over the course of those numerous games of gin… or backgammon, or cribbage, or casino, or spite and malice. Thinking back, those games were a rite of passage in the family. And they were a time to share and to create memories that are with me even today.

I played some of those same games with our own kids when they were younger and still today — as our marathon gin match today demonstrates. And it’s not just Tony. I’ve played with all the kids, and still do. And whenever we all come together at the holidays or any other gathering we play Zioncheck, a multi-hand rummy game that is good for five or six players or more. That’s another game I played as a kid and I loved passing it along to my own children.

Yes, they relish beating their father (if they’re able) whether it’s at gin, or Zioncheck, or anything else, every bit as much as I enjoyed beating my Dad. And yes… I can be cocky and annoying when we play. I try to get into their heads just a much as my Dad did. We are, after all, a pretty competitive bunch. But it’s the fact that we play that I relish the most. I can live with losing. I don’t like it, lol, but I can live with it.

And when we play, as was true with my parents, it’s not just trash talk and competition. It’s also about building memories.

Today, as Tony and I played, I smiled to remember my Dad when he sat across from me over a game of gin. I remembered playing him at the dining room table when they visited us in Sri Lanka with the kids giggling at Grandpa and Dad going at it. And I’d remember the grin he’d get on his face as he caught you with a mitt-full of points. He was pretty insufferable. But I loved playing him. There were special moments

I still use his lines and his banter… he lives on every time I pick up a deck of cards.

So, if my kids read this today, I’ll just say thank you for playing, thank you for letting me relive those days with my own father and mother. Thank you for building memories with me. I love those moments… trash talking and all. And I love you too.

But you have to know… whether it’s in Austin, or St. Paul, or Haymarket, I’ll make you earn your victories. That’s what makes it fun.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 4, 2021

It’s a humid Friday afternoon in Texas. Gus is taking a nap and it’s a good time to sit and write. It’s one of those days where I don’t necessarily have a lot to say and that’s OK.

I worked a few hours remotely today for State (the only way I work these days) and even though I’m writing now because it has become so ingrained, and otherwise, waking up in a new place and being outside of your normal routine lets you hit the reset button. Kind of like rebooting the computer.

Today doesn’t have to be about much of anything at all. The news is what we might expect. COVID, the benefits of vaccines, the challenges in Europe because they didn’t act on vaccines, Trumps reinstatement fantasy, and — get this — Republicans balking at compromise with Biden on infrastructure. What a shock, huh? For eight years they were the party that focused on obstruction at every turn when Obama was in office and then when Trump was President and they controlled Congress they still couldn’t find a way to do much of anything except pass a tax bill that benefited the wealthy, but did little, that I can see, for the majority of Americans.  

Nope… not much new. 

It puts me in mind of a song by Pat Donahue of Prairie Home Companion fame. I knew Pat back in high school and who knew that I’d be stealing his lyrics today 50 years later. His song was titled “Nothing,” and I’ll shamelessly use a version of it today to fill the final bit of my blog…

So here’s a little blog about nothin’

Cuz nothin’s what it’s about

I tried to write about something 

But nothin’s all that came out

I try to write about the world around 

And my place in it but all comes down to nothin’, nothin’,

Cuz nothin’s what it’s about

And it all comes down to nothin’ 

and that’s just fine with me, uh huh,

Nothin’s guaranteed.

Here’s another little verse about nothin’, 

But I don’t know what to say,

Cuz I’ve not got a single idea

To sustain my writing today,

I had an idea start somewhere 

But now I’ve lost it and I don’t care

Because today I don’t care about nothin’

And nothin’s fine with me.

There are days when life is spinning,

And it’s just too hard to think,

Hard to find the connections, 

As events pass by in a blink,

So if that fast life gets you down

Just come on over and we’ll sit around

And do nothin’, nothin’, 

Cuz nothin’s fine with me.

They say that something’s better than nothin’ 

But I guess I’d disagree,

If you got a little too much of something, 

Then nothin’ is just what you need.

There’s people crying cuz they ain’t got any

I’m just fine cuz I’ve got plenty 

Of nothin’, nothin’,

And nothin’s fine with me, oh yeah. 

Nothin’s fine with me.

I’m sure Pat will forgive what I did to his song (its far better with his guitar and vocals). It was easier today to think about ‘Nothing’ than worry about the challenges of the world while I wait for Gus to wake up. You see, Gus is a master of the art of nothing. He knows what it is to be in the moment and see the wonder that each new day offers him. So I’ll learn about nothing from the young master today, and that may just be the perfect answer on a muggy Friday afternoon in Austin.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 3, 2021

Once again, we’re on board a plane, masked up, and ready to go. This time it’s a return trip to Texas. A chance to see Tony and Nat and Gus.  It has been good to reconnect with our kids in Texas and Minnesota and to have the chance to hug and be close to our gang in Virginia as well. It almost feels like the world we remember from before. Before the pandemic, before the masks, before distancing became a survival strategy and not just something you did when you were upset with someone.  

The power of connection cannot be denied. Eye contact, touch, body language all mean so much. Zoom and FaceTime and all the other substitutes have been life savers but they aren’t the real deal. The real deal is pretty darn good.

With a little one like Gus, who is 100 days old today, the power of that connection matters all the more. You wonder what he may remember. Do these engagements with him as a baby imprint somewhere in his subconscious memories? Will the sound of our voices, the feel of our arms wrapped around him, the melody of the songs I sing, stay with him? I don’t know, but I like to think so. But for us, the connection is there. And as much as I love seeing his photos or watching his “dance” videos, it can’t compare to being there in person. 

I’ve thought a lot about connections of late.  I like to think that writing daily and sharing it is another form of connection.  Art is another powerful medium for connection as our friend Jane Vance can attest when she sees the impact of her work on the lives of those around here.   And  we don’t just connect with other people. Our book “The Ambassador’s Dog” uses both the written word and art to tell a tale about connections too. For those among you who have fallen for a dog, or a cat, or a gerbil, or a tortoise or a bird, (you see where I’m going with this right?) — you know what I mean. We had to stop and say goodbye to each of our four pups before heading to the airport. We left the pet sitter more notes than I can count. 

They’re part of our lives. They don’t have to talk — though some of them do speak to us as clear as a bell — for us to understand them. There is just something special that occurs, something magical when we connect. 

Our youngest grandson in Virginia, Luca, is a ball of fire. He has far more energy than any one child should ever be allowed. He’s that whirling dervish that you know you can’t pin down no matter what. But when he comes to visit he always seems to have time for Gracie… our smallest, and one of our oldest, pups. There’s something there. A connection. And the little boy who’s in perpetual motion will sit quietly, and stroke her head, and she’ll look up into his eyes, and sits quietly by his side. The power of connection.

Looking forward to more of it in Austin. We’re taxiing… soon to be wheels up. So that’s all folks.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 2, 2021

OK… today’s quiz. It’s kind of the new IQ test.

True or False: Donald Trump will be reinstated as President by August?

I am pretty sure I know the answer. How about you? But it says something that the man who once led our nation as the 45th president apparently believes that this is possible. It is what he is telling some of his supporters apparently. It seems that he has been told by some of his loyalists it is possible. And… oh yeah… it’s an idea that is batshit crazy. 

I know that might not be the most eloquent way to describe this, but it seems to capture the moment. It seems to capture the essence of Trumpworld. 

But what worries me is that there are some Americans whose answer to that question is different than my own. There are some who believe that Donald Trump will be reinstated because they also believe the big lies that he has posited for months and months. They believe that the election was fraudulent, because Trump tells them it was. They believe it was stolen from Trump, because Trump tells them it was, and they believe that Trump will be reinstated because Trump tells them he will be.

And because there are so many who know better, supposedly responsible leaders, Senators and Representatives and Governors and others, who pretend that it’s true and perpetrate the lie. They pass laws based on the lie and that makes it seem even more credible to those who have invested themselves in the story. 

So they believe the lie and think the problems will be solved if only we change the rules. The leaders on the right are cynically telling Trump’s followers that they are protecting the system but they know what why are doing. They are stripping away the fundamental democratic rights of countless citizens. They are making it harder to vote, harder for their voices to be heard.  

Anyway, this is where batshit crazy leads us. I heard Colin Powell do an interview today. He is dismayed by the crazy too. He was appalled that Mike Flynn, a former three star general, a man who once led the Defense Intelligence Agency and even briefly held the position of the National Security Advisor before being forced to resign in disgrace, is now advocating for a military coup in the United States.  

This is what crazy becomes. Sedition. Violence. Assaults on democracy by those who know that they won’t be chosen in an honest election.

Secretary Powell opined that the nation has not been this divided since the Civil War. He may be right. It’s scary.  

What a time it is in America. I don’t know what will come next, but I still know the answer to the question of the day.  Do you?

And so it goes.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 1, 2021

Today I learned of the death of a young man I knew in Nepal. Ujwal Thapa was 44 years old when he lost his battle with COVID-19. It was another heartbreak amid many heartbreaks. 

Ujwal was in his mid-30s when I met him. He was a dedicated and committed social entrepreneur who new that the world was changing and he wanted to be part of that change. He networked, he used social media, and as a web designer he championed new technologies and new approaches to business and social engagement. He wanted to see young Nepalis become part of the commercial and political life of the nation in a way that we have never seen. 

He organized a series of conversations called Last Thursday (held the last Thursday of the month) under the auspices of Entrepreneurs for Nepal. He brought in speakers to discuss their perspectives on life, on business, on leadership and on governance. I was honored when he asked me to be one of those speakers. I already saw Ujwal as a force, as someone who could and would drive change. He was that kind of guy. But he never sat on his laurels.

Ujwal helped to inspire and lead a new political movement in Nepal in the years after I left. It wasn’t a surprise. He was determined to make a difference and to act on the values he espoused. 

We last saw each other in Washington a couple of years ago. He was in town and we met for coffee and we talked about his vision for the future. His Bibeksheel movement was just getting off the ground. It was about holding leaders accountable and creating a new future in politics. He was dismayed by the corruption and rent-seeking behaviors of political leaders who put themselves above those they served. He wanted youth to engage, to be heard and to lead. He wanted to create a new force in Nepali politics.

I had the sense that Ujwal was less interested in being a personality than he was in the ideas he advanced. Unlike many in politics, it wasn’t about him. It was about the vision. It was about the dream.

The other day I talked about the young men and women I worked with in Nepal and Uganda and about how much they inspired me and how much I valued the engagement. Ujwal was one. I talked abut how I believed that many of them would become the leaders of the future.  Ujwal was one. And over the past months we have spoken again and again about those folks who have been taken from us far too early by this deadly pandemic. Ujwal was one of them too. 

For so many, this pandemic has been about personal tragedies and families suffering heartbreaking loss. But we are also losing leaders, and thinkers, and visionaries. The costs are greater than we realize and this pandemic will reverberate long after we return to whatever counts as the new “normal.” 

Ujwal won’t have the chance to experience that future, but, as a friend in Nepal wrote, his light will shine on. And for that, at least, we can be grateful. May his memory be a blessing to all he touched.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.