(Note: For Women’s History Month I’m sharing the story of a pioneering woman journalist, written by her son, Jay Hamilton, a talented writer-producer.) His mother also pioneered multi-tasking, a trait we talked about last week.)
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, who along with my father were my inspirations. My current company, Hamilton Media DC, is an offshoot of Hamilton Productions, which my mother co-founded in the early 1980s. She was the driving force.
Looking back on her life, it’s hard to believe that a young woman raised by a single mother in the small town of Salisbury, NC, “took her shot” and landed in the “bright lights, big city” TV studios of Manhattan. There, she hosted numerous programs. Her pioneering journalism career included raising me and my sister. Looking back, I now realize that she epitomized the modern multitasker well before that term entered today’s lexicon.
This Women’s History Month you hear numerous women’s stories about their key influencers, also female. But I dare say, for each successful man, there is also a woman who inspired his success, too. Afterall, most men are unabashedly “mama’s boys.” I’m a member of that club.
Nancy Bradsher wrote a dairy entry in 1953, when she joined the staff of the women’s department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was a Depression baby born bald September 7, 1929 at Mercy Hospital, Charlotte, North Carolina.” She went on to grow hair and become the Women’s Club Editor. Back then the only jobs for women in journalism were in the “women’s departments.” Journalism was a male dominated world.
Throughout the years, mom worked as a reporter on the Salisbury Post, The New York Journal American and as a correspondent for The New York Times before co-founding Hamilton Productions and stepping in front of the camera. Mom had the “looks” and the smarts for TV and thrived in New York City with her sweet-sounding southern drawl.
Most of this was happening during my formative years. I knew her simply as “mom” and never gave it a thought about how she successfully balanced family and career. One of her favorite playwrights was Shakespeare. This Women’s History Month, I am reminded of one of my mom’s favorite lines from “As You Like It.”
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.
So, too, one woman in her time can play many parts. My mom proved it as a pioneering journalist…wife…mother…grandmother. For her to play these many parts vindicates Shakespeare. I am enormously proud of all she accomplished and her contribution to women’s equality.
Jay Hamilton is founder of Hamilton Media DC and Chief Media Strategist of Story Squad.
Note: I met Jay when he wrote and produced a Telly Award-winning safety training video backed by the Department of Transportation with Operation Lifesaver after students were killed at Fox River Grove, IL in a school bus-train crash. Jay led us to Dalton, Georgia, during a very warm summer to work with the city’s school bus drivers. By using actual drivers and students, the video captured the attention of school bus drivers from coast-to-coast, which saved lives.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis
Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.
Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.
It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.
WHEN? The Universal Question
We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN? When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?
No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.
There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.
Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:
“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:
Acknowledge Your Stress
Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.
Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.
Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.
Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?
Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this? Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?
Own Your Stress
Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.
Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”
Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!
If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.
Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow. Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.
On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.
Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)
Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020
Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733
A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!
Establishing the Critical Goal
Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.
Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.
Jousting with Journalists
Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).
Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851.
Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.
Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse
Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.
In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.
Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”
Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.
No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)
Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Who Was the Greater Martyr?
The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.
Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.
Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough. (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)
Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:
” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”
After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)
In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting.
Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)
Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?
If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!
The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.
The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.
The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Inside the Lincoln Shrine
Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.
Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead. Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.
The World Sweated After His Final Speech
Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”
Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”
Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.
Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:
“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.”
The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.
Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.
You decide: Who was the greater martyr?
Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47
Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013
David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017
Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862
Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862
Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)
Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014
National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.
Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12
NOTE: Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.
In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.
Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.
“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.
If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.
Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.
As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:
“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862
Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:
Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.
Winston Churchill December 30, 1941
Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.
Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.
Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.
Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie to his first inaugural. Not red, not blue, not yellow, but gray. the color set out for formal occasions in 1980. See his Vice President, George Bush, wears gray, too. Nancy proudly wore her trademark red coatdress with a red pillbox.
We forget Americans didn’t get caught up in the red is for Republicans and blue is for Democrats until 1992 when NBC selected those colors as an easy way to show TV viewers how voting progressed across the country on election eve. This January Joe Biden carried on the tradition with a pale, powder blue tie with a sheen amplified in his wife Jill’s shiny aqua dress and coat, more a statement of joy than a political marker.
Some may forget the phrase “Make America Great Again” came as a near direct swipe from the Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again,” though his version gave the impression we would ALL take part, not just those with red MEGA hats standing in crowds or waving out-sized banners off the back of pickup trucks.
The 40th President’s response to the events of January 6 can never be assured, he being long dead. But he opened his remarks in 1981 by thanking President Carter for “how much he did” to guarantee a smooth transition, continuing in the American tradition. He noted “in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence—the orderly transfer of authority, as called for in the Constitution.” Reagan said with some pride that it “routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries.” He also pointed out that then, in 1981, “few of us stop to think how unique we really are in the eyes of the world—this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”
Until it wasn’t.
Some who call themselves Republicans, who might think they are traveling along as Ronald Reagan would have wanted—in his path—aren’t. I was in the crowd that cold January day as a slightly idealistic congressional staffer. I didn’t agree with everything Reagan said that day, particularly about government, of which I was a servant. Reagan strongly believed in reducing the size of government (going so far as to fire unionized Air Traffic Controllers, a loss of trained personnel and postponing the replacement of antequated equipment that hampers American’s air safety to this today). I believe government has an important role in providing safe operations for the American public (and still refer to it as National Airport).
But he did believe in We the People, that we were all in this together, for better or worse. He didn’t divide the nation into his Red Coats and the other Blue Coats. Reagan didn’t believe you were either with him or you were against him.
One of his buddies, a fellow Irishman, you can see standing above him in the photo, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. The two men disagreed on many issues, but they could sit down and talk about it. America was a different country then for sure, simpler, if not at times slightly simplistic. But the founding principles of the nation still remain. That’s how Reagan began his Inaugural Address.
He did believe in smaller government and focused in reducing it. To me the health and safety of all Americans is the essential job of government. And cannot be ignored. More than half of the internal divisive battles raging like wildfire in America today address these issues, not the traditional policy issues of the 1980s and before. I have no wand to return the nation to LOGICAL thinkers, focused on problem solving, not finger pointing. This hyperventilation on both sides is leading to the destruction of critical infrastructure and precarious health and safety issues, as critical decisions are pushed off. Many of these issues are reaching a dangerous tipping point.
Will we realize demonizing the “other” has accomplished nothing but a sicker population (and the death of half a million Americans) and a crumbling infrastructure? It seems the resolution so necessary today is impossible to achieve. Could we not tiptoe towards the other side for a moment of silence? There are good minds in both camps. We just cannot hear their thoughts over the roar of selfish megaphones, spouting cultural divisiveness, not solving a single issue. The loudest seem to be the ones who most want to run for President in 2024. Let us solve some problems and try to set out a future for all our children before we even think about who is up next. Then we’ll talk.
Women’s role in helping the world fly right, progress, and assist in our successes may be too much to bite off this holiday season of spring break, basketball championships, and holy services. But would that stop us?
Two authors of “Making Yourself Indispensable” in HBR October 2011: Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and President, respectively, of a leadership/development consultancy, refer to the “glass cliff,” something new to me.
The idea behind the “glass cliff” is that when a company is in trouble, a female leader is put in charge to save it, as opposed to a “glass ceiling,” the invisible barrier to advancement that woman often face when they are up for promotion to the highest levels.
The glass cliff comes to mind in thinking of Vice President Harris being sent to visit leaders on our southern borders to impact the record number of immigrants, primarily children and teens, coming across the border. Whew! That is a tall order. She is from California, where similar, but not as pressing problems have occurred for years. But the magnitude and the immediacy of the issue now, in the opening 100 days of her position in the White House, makes it a bit more critical. Operating without a net.
As discussed in an earlier blog, there are just 38 female CEOs at work in America today. Some took on the big job when the company already faced severe challenges. Some gambled that they could resolve whatever mess they inherited. Thirty-eight percent of those women who gambled were forced out.. Just 27% of the men who gambled were forced out.). Often the women are followed by male CEOs. But at Xerox, Ursula Burns, the first African American woman at a Fortune 500 company, seceded Anne Mulcahny, who took the helm when Xerox faced financial challenges during mergers and acquisitions and near bankruptcy.
Marisa Mayer came in at Yahoo when the company had wolves at the door. When Patricia Russo, former CEO of Lucent Technologies, came onboard the company had three years of negative shareholder returns. Board members were drawn to her upbeat nature and her warmth to motivate employees—the “savior effect” is what some call it. Some analysts say women are more willing to accept these long-shot jobs as their “only chance” to break into a CEO position. Others say the challenge to show what they can do in a crisis pulls them into these positions.
Opportunities lie ahead for women
It is a big shift from 1977 when the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress. But the women who stayed at home, some of the homemakers, feared the ERA with an assist from Phyllis Schlafly, the mother of five, trained as a lawyer, and married to a politician. She told them they were losing their “status” as more younger women chose to work first before getting married/having children, or always working, even after marriage and children. In the end, enough men and women in key states voted against the ERA to deep six it when the time limit for ratification by the states ran out.
Ironically, the things these “no-ERA-not-ever” folks feared would rock the country happened without the ERA ever becoming law. A good portion of the change came naturally as more women went to work for economic or career-positive reasons. Others looked at issues like same-sex marriage and decided it was a personal decision.
In the intervening years from 1970s to the 2020s, particularly the last year, a lot of changes have taken place as each of us determine how to maintain our lives in a Pandemic. Those of us who did not know already learned that you do not need to be working in an office along side your colleages or your boss in order to get many jobs done. Many of the jobs that don’t require a computer are blue collar jobs that pay less, some have been at greater risk than before the Pandemic.
Lessons learned—some came hard, and some were easier than we expected.
In December 2020, Zenger and Folkman issued a report about the impact of women as leaders. They used an analysis of 360-degree assessments by people who worked with the women leaders (conducted between March and June 2020). The survey addressed how leaders performed in the crisis that was 2020. The team pulled from the assessments of over 60,000 leaders (22,603 women and 40,187 men) and compared the results. Women were rated more positively on 13 out of 19 areas that comprise overall leadership effectiveness. Men took the lead in technical/professional expertise.
Based on an analysis of 360-degree reviews during the pandemic, competencies in key areas were:
Takes initiative 60 50
Inspires and motivates others 59 52
Develops others 58 49
Builds relationships 58 51
Displays high integrity and honesty 57 49
Communicates powerfully & prolifically 57 52
Champions change 56 51
Makes decisions 56 49
Innovates 56 53
Solves problems/analyzes issues 56 53
Drives for results 55 48
Values diversity 55 45
Establishes stretch goals 55 50
Takes risks 52 51
Source: Zenger-Folkman 2020
Each leader assessed by the group received an employee engagement score based on their direct reports’ responses to questions about how satisfied and committed they felt. The engagement scores for direct reports of female leaders were significantly higher. The overall average for both male and female leaders was the 51st percentile. Respondents put greater importance on interpersonal skills, such as “inspires and motivates,” “collaboration/teamwork,” and “relationship building.”
The survey team believed the most valuable part of the data collected during the crisis is hearing from direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Direct reports were looking for leaders able to pivot and learn new skills, who emphasize employee development and understand the stress, anxiety, and frustration that workers feel.
Leadership traits do not know a gender. We all have areas where we thrive and expertise we’ve struggled to acquire. But learning more about the traits that help a team work together can only be beneficial as we move forward, building our way out of the Pandemic. Many of the traits that were found to be a distraction in the previous world of leadership, now are realized as assets that help build a team, nurturing success. Breathe!
At 59, General Motor’s CEO Mary Barra doesn’t worry about childcare for her own children, but it is likely earlier in her career the needs of her two children intersected with her business responsibilities as a woman rising the corporate ladder. She sees how it can influence her workforce. It is an issue for American women, whether they operate in blue collar, white collar, nonprofit, or corporate positions. The only difference is that women further up the ladder have more money to manage these challenges.
Particularly now during the Pandemic, as school and childcare options are spotty at best, women are feeling the pinch. Men are too, but since we haven’t as yet evened up the home workload in most households, many women are feeling the pinch more than their spouses.
Barra has led the largest American auto manufacturer since 2014. Like other business leaders, she faces tremendous COVID-19 challenges. She responded by trimming unproductive business lines, like the European and Indian markets, and bet large on electric vehicles, playing catch up with a $27 billion investment over the next five years.
She follows the pattern of many other American female CEOs. Barra joined GM early and stayed. She learned the business from the ground up. Her father, a car buff and 39-year die-maker for GM, stoked her interest in automobiles.
At 18 she became the closest thing to a legacy at GM, interning with the GM Institute (now Kettering University). Berra went on to Stanford University for an MBA to build the academic foundation for her next 15 positions at GM, including Executive Vice President Global Product Development, Purchasing, Global Human Resources, Global Manufacturing Engineering, and Supply Chain. She took the time to learn the business from her father’s garage up, gaining the respect from all sectors of the company and earning a seat on the Business Roundtable.
The Pandemic has stolen the time women need to repeat her success across other industries. Rising to become a CEO is the last thing on most women’s minds today. They want to be able to accomplish their job often from the dining room table, to feed the family and see to it their children are educated and receive excellent care. Completing the housework to manage their home becomes a bone of contention that can sour their relationship with a spouse or partner and go to the bottom of the pile of priorities.
As a result of this pressure on working women, more than 600,000 have thrown in the towel during the Pandemic—they just cannot stretch themselves across the work at home, online education for their kids, and balancing essential cooking and cleaning. Some women without family to help them, struggle to find affordable care for their children while doing jobs outside the home that are essential to their communities–cleaning, caring for others old and young, running buses and subways, removing trash, delivering products ordered online. They’ve quit. Not because they can afford to, but because they can’t endure the mental and physical pressure.
America’s Budget Director in the Biden Administration and Former Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, discussed the impact this loss of workers has on the U.S. economy in The Economist, May 2020: “The History of Women’s Work and Wages and How it has Created Success for Us All.” “This is squandering a resource,” Yellen noted. “And a substantial loss to the productive capacity of an economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth.”
Yellen points out the economy’s need for people to do these jobs, whether women find a comfortable role that fits their current needs and responsibilities, or whether they eventually move up the line to utilize their strengths. This is how we build wealth and a productive economy.
Women do not automatically jump from front-line worker to CEO. Years of experience working through the chairs, as you see Bara did, precede a move to the C-suite. Today there are 36 other women in American companies who, like Barra, have risen to lead corporations. For every female CEO in America there are 24.2 male CEOs, according to Forbes.
The lack of women at what business refers to as Level 2 and Level 3 positions, creates a dirth of talent from which to groom and then select female executives prepared to ascend. Other areas of leadership exist, but CEOs are the roles that open a path for others to follow. These are the women on whose shoulders the next generation of leaders will stand. Roles that when completed with finesse show that leadership traits exist across the gender line.
Then there’s the broader issue of “who will handle the very important aspects of life” once women achieve equal participation in the workforce. Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote this as an issue to be solved in her epilogue for the 1965 Report on the Status of Women, a commission created by John F. Kennedy.
She noted the growing division between the advancement of educated women and the poverty and stagnation of the women who work for them. Striving to create a community that values the contributions of all, limits the opportunities of none, and offers prosperity without prejudice, will define any lasting renewal of American democracy today.
Next week we will look at the unique capabilities that women bring to the workplace. What will America miss if we cannot find ways to address the complex balancing act women perform at work and at home in ways that may lure many of these women back to work? An end to the Pandemic will be a start, but it may not completely solve the problem.
Much of the U.S. got hit this week with a mixture of slippery roads and multiple inches of snowfall. Here in Central Texas and points south, where a light dusting is expected maybe once a year (and it melts by dinnertime), we were shocked! Quickly followed by power outages, frozen pipes, water shortages, and NO water at all.
I was unprepared–no gloves, no bottled water in the frig, no meals not requiring the microwave or the stove–just whole wheat bread, hard-boiled eggs, and tuna. Oh, and the milk in the frig managed somehow to stay cold for breakfast the second morning. HEB’s Raisin, Nuts and Oats cereal sustained me as long as I had water and electricity for coffee.
I’d planned this week to write about a less personal topic, but what happened in response to four million Texans losing power warmed my heart, even if the temp hovered in the teens at night. Austin is thought of as the “liberal” center of a very large state, but recently it has felt like the center of a divided country. Political leaders have believed it to be in their own self-interest to keep the state deeply torn asunder. This has me worried. I understand people have different opinions, but do we need to get ugly about it?
Here the seeds of goodness were sewn before my son-in-law and his family left the country for work. He cut some sort of deal with his “brother by another mother” who lives a few doors down. He’s been here to check when my Internet went down and flip the circuit when I forgot and ran the Foreman Grill and the microwave together. Then the smoke alarm began to chirp as the battery lapsed, , , and then another one. Unlike me, he has no trouble reaching the alarms, being 6’4,” an inch above my son-in-law, no doubt a source of one-ups between them.
Happily I’ve found that goodness can be contagious or maybe its just being without power for five days! Better being together than to be a powerless island on your own. (Of course still in the midst of a Pandemic, masks were part of our attire).
Actually for me this crazy weather and power breakdown started a full week ago on Thursday afternoon. We were hopeful when power was restored later on Friday but sporadic on Saturday. Gone by Saturday night. From Sunday on until this Wednesday Natta. Water pipes froze and the faucets were empty from late Sunday until this Friday, yesterday, when barely a trickle came out. Orders were to boil even that tiny flow for safety. So Austinites were in a pickle–not everyone at once, but our neighborhood had more of the black-out and less of the “rolling blackout” we were promised.
But rather than being ugly about it, we got resourceful. While many of my neighbors were eager to help from the beginning, this weather brought out the best in us. The stove here is gas but activated by electricity, so neighbors bring in syncopation: chicken and rice, potato soup, an amazing elk meat stew. This last meal came from a woman who only knew me because I’d purchased two boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter. She came by with a broom and a shovel. Oh, sweeping off the walk would be great, I told her. When she completed the walk, she cleared the driveway and swept the car. Then she recruited her sons to help her clear the walk and driveway of the 80-year-old couple next door. Energizer lady!
The helpful men in the neighborhood became their own A Team focused on the elderly here. Checking to see if anyone needed help, water, or food. They wrapped outdoor spickets to prevent them from leaking inside the walls or freezing the lines. Several of the men have their own job at home–warming babies less than a year old. I’ve kept track and knit individual baby blankets for each of them.
By Tuesday night when a PR friend I’d worked with on a project in 2019 invited me to stay with her family, I said tentatively, “yes.” Concerned about the roads, she said, “Don’t worry, my husband drives an F250.” Honestly, I didn’t know what that was until I thought I saw a snowplow come down the street and turned into my drive. (But Austin doesn’t have any snowplows!) Certainly, no trouble in the snow or ice. She lives close enough to an essential water plant that her house is spared any outages.
I felt like I was abandoning the neighborhood, but earlier on Tuesday at 2 and 4 am, I woke up thinking I might never be warm again. I went upstairs to my grandson’s beds and swiped the thick Batman and Superman blankets. I swore I would leave if anyone invited me. I came back Thursday when the power was restored. Water followed on Friday afternoon.
I know this wasn’t just an exceptional neighborhood when I heard about other events around Texas. Just north of us in Leander, an HEB, the major grocery chain,had a run on bottled water, diapers, batteries, and nonperishables Friday, February 19. The lights went out when the checkout lines filled with carts 20 deep. The cashiers just waved the shoppers ahead when their registers went dark. The Houston Chronicle noted HEB’s generosity.
Another joyful story came from grocery delivery driver Chelsea Timmons. A week ago Sunday she figured she could make one more delivery in Austin, where the pay was slightly better than where she lived in Houston. She had trouble getting traction in the ice and snow to get up the driveway to finish her delivery.
Her Toyota Rav4 slid down the drive and got stuck in the flower garden as she prayed it would not run into the house. She called a tow truck and thought it would be there in an hour. Eventually the company said they would not be able to tow her that night. The couple, who’d ordered steaks for Valentine’s Day, invited Chelsea in while she waited for a tow. As it became obvious no truck would come, they invited her to stay. Thursday, five days later, she made her way back to Houston. But not before she baked them a bakery-window-ready coconut cake!
The circle continues. Hope we will hold onto the warm feelings that good deeds brought to Texans despite the frigid February temps. Warmer weather and the spring thaw doesn’t need to bring an end to thoughtful deeds!
“Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” – Plato
Today’s woman may cringe when they think it took 51 years from the first Suffragette Convention in Cleveland in 1869 until women got the vote in 1920. Then it took another 100 years before women’s votes helped elect a female vice president—U.S. Senator and former California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris.
President Woodrow Wilson spoke to Congress on September 30, 1918: “We have made partners of women in the war. . . Shall we admit them to a partnership of suffering, sacrifice, and toil and not to a partnership of privilege, and right?” Eventually Congress voted affirmative.
Since then, women’s progress has moved at a snail’s pace. Some women believed they had achieved status hitched to their spouses. Others were brainwashed. In the 1970s, sociologist David Riesman surveyed women under 45, who had been or were currently married, and found that 80 percent believed “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” (Reisman, “Two Generations,” in The Woman in America.) Then the average salary for a female teacher was $4,680, while a man straight out of college could make $5,400.
The fact that there were housewives working to support their families did not register with the male politicians, business executives, editors, and scriptwriters who set the tone for public discussion. They were better paid, their wives worked at home, and “of course, it was better to have women at home.”
My first year at the newspaper in 1972, I did better than the teachers at $8,500/annually. I worked some 16-hour days but felt happy to have a job at a newspaper. That same year women protested women going into the workplace, fearing they were taking a job that belonged to a man. I did not see those women in Fort Wayne, but I am quite sure they were lurking. I was the only woman reporter in the newsroom.
“Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”
Maybe it is no surprise that the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed in 1923, written to end legal distinctions between men and women in divorce, property, and employment. This was how the 1972 legislation read in its entirety:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or any state on account of sex.” – Equal Rights Amendment
When the ERA passed Congress in 1972, it glided through the House 354-24, but 51 Members did not vote. The Senate tally was 84-8. Thirty of the required 38 states ratified it in the first year, but then the pace slowed considerably. Phyllis Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum, a ‘pro-family” socially conservative organization, organized specifically to defeat passage of the ERA. Schlafly’s STOP ERA stood for “Stop Taking Our Privileges,” which might now be seen as White Privilege, but she linked the ERA to every liberal cause the Forum stood against.
Result: the ERA was not ratified I 1979, although the deadline was extended to 1982. But after Schlafly died in 2016 at 92, the Illinois Legislature, which was her home base, ratified it as the 37th state in 2018.
Albert Einstein might have had a saying for that: “Failure is success in progress.”
Women have marched forward without the ERA.
Example: Vice President Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to California from India to complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Kamala’s father, Donald Harris. He had come from Jamaica to Berkeley to study for a PhD in economics. While achieving doctorates, they took time from their studies to participate in the civil rights campaign and married in 1963. They encouraged their daughters to aim high, but they divorced in the 1970s.
Dr. Gopalan became well known as a biomedical scientist completing successful breast cancer research. Her daughters went with her to Canada to continue her research at McGill University in Montreal. Kamala Harris returned to California after she completed high school. Her mother died of colon cancer in 2009 but had built strong shoulders for her daughters to stand.
Abraham Lincoln, speaking 160-years before her inauguration in his 1864 State of the Union, addressed the future role of immigrants like Dr. Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris:
“Immigrants are the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.” – Abraham Lincoln
Since her swearing in, Vice President Harris has repeated her mother’s words: “You may be the first to do many things—don’t be the last.” A mantra for women to repeat until we have pulled up the next generation to lead.
I have “Ghostbusters” in my mind. This is a serious matter, but I don’t want to think these people are real. Can we absolve the nation of a scourge that has opened gaping wounds of misunderstanding, fear, animosity, disbelief, and selfishness?
I see the ghosts of 1860 floating above the U.S. House and Senate, as members refuse to admit to the damage 147 of them have inflicted against democracy by thinking they are advancing their own political ambitions. Or because they fear going against a failed leader just a few days before his replacement. His successor will be sworn in Wednesday above the very steps where a mob carried the Confederate banner along with the American flag. These invaders used the pole carrying the flag to batter down the door to the U.S. Capitol and seriously injure one officer and kill another. Reporters, who have been verbally bashed for four years as the source of “fake news,” were threatened with bodily harm. An Associated Press news team covering the Capitol had their camera smashed and escaped before experiencing a similar fate.
Now 25,000 National Guardsmen are camped out in and around the U.S. Capitol to insure there is no repeat of January 6 mob-rule there. As a nation we have experienced ongoing political disagreements. Americans upset over the decisions of the President or Congress have come to Washington many times in the past. Think about the WW I veterans who camped out on the Mall demanding their promised bonus pay during the early days of the Depression. But they did not batter down the doors of the Capitol, create mayhem inside, force Members of Congress to hide in the tunnels, or kill or maim Capitol Police Officers.
Beat the Drum for Discontent
This time the one who had beat the drum for discontent for four years had molded those fearful of the loss of blue-collar jobs and a changing world into a movement to take the nation backward—Make America Great Again. Red hats of the GOP right-wing flutter all over the Washington Mall and State Capitols where followers refuse to believe political decisions are tipping towards the Democrats, who want to boldly walk into the future to attempt to solve the nation’s problems.
What we have never had before is a leader elected as President who was willing to lie repeatedly to followers, whose critical thinking skills were relaxed by the words they wanted to hear. Lies repeated by such a leader can easily incite brain-washed followers to riot, as they did two weeks ago. The MAGA crowd that flocked to his speeches in 2020 became “true believers” during the first three years of his administration. Then in the fourth were trained to disbelieve the risk of COVID, shun mask-wearing and infect others at their events, including the President.
From “Fake News” to the “Big Lie”
Next he laid the groundwork for his biggest lie: “The only way I can lose this election is if the Democrats steal it from me.” And what was the chant outside and inside the Capitol on January 6? “Stop the Steal.” Then he planted the seeds of “fraud” and “evil” done by the opposition and repeated the lie over and over and over again, until it became unrefutable among the MAGA. Critically thinking people might consider whether he would say that if he were not afraid of losing.
The mob he called to Washington for the final counting of the Electoral College votes and confirmation of the 2020 Election Jan. 6, he then recruited to go up to the Capitol to attack the people who had denied him “another four years.” (He lied again telling them he would be going with them, of course he did not, being only the one who incites.)
306 to 232 – Final Tally
He conviently forgot that it is the American people’s votes who decide who will sit in the Oval Office in 2021, not the Congress. The final tally after all the millions of dollars and personal hours spent on recounting in PA, GA, MI, and WI resulted in the same final outcome. Joe Biden won, receiving 81,281,891 popular votes to Donld Trump’s 74,223,254 and the electoral votes were 306 for Biden to 232 for Trump. When Trump received 306 electoral votes in 2016, he called it a “landslide.” He doesn’t see the number that way now.
There will be no voting system that could satisfy people who fail to trust any organization other than MAGA, particularly if the system doesn’t consistently yield a win for their leader.
The Rolling Stones put it this way, “You Don’t Always Get What You Want” in politics or in life. John Adams in1800 felt he got a raw deal in his second term election against Thomas Jefferson. He didn’t attend Jefferson’s Inauguration, but he didn’t draw a mob to battle inside the Capitol. More recently, 200 years later, Gore and Bush came down to the “falling chads” in Florida that some argue to this day, but Gore, being the out-going Vice President, stood as did Vice President Pence, and gracefully and methodically certified Bush’s win without a temper tandrum. We work with what IS, not with what we’d like it to be.
The current President’s response to this election sets a bad precedent for Little Leaguers who REALLY want to win their games, same for high school football players, one of whom tackled a referee on the sidelines this year when he didn’t like a penalty called against him. We need to walk this back so we can begin to play the entire game fairly—down to the handshake at the end that is customary in baseball and was in politics, even when we lose.
America, its politicians, and its people have a huge job ahead, slowly beginning to look at each situation to establish fairness as a standard. To begin to reestablish that facts DO exist and to work towards trust by listening to other views. Maybe it will take more than four years to unravel the mind-numbing double-think of the last four years, but we must start the process now.
If we can do that, we won’t need Ghostbusters. We’ll begin to whittle away at the ghosts of the past who are haunting our present and threatening our future.
January 7, 2021. As a former Congressional staffer early in my career, I am particularly shocked by the invasion of the U.S. Capitol and loss of life we saw yesterday. In earlier blogs I have discussed the importance of finding “common ground” and treating each other with civility. This is a serious wound to our democracy that will take a concerted effort to repair. To move forward, I continue to address issues of importance to the nation. Here relying on science to help tame critical problems like Covid-19 here and around the globe.
Thanks to Thomas Edison’s initial electrical genius our neighborhoods and homes twinkled with electric red, green, blue and white bulbs for the holidays, providing a brief respite from the Pandemic. Putting the light bulb within financial reach of everyone was just one of Edison’s inventions. Over a lifetime he received 2,332 patents in 34 countries.
Yet none of Edison’s 19th century inventions solved the puzzles we’re grappling with in the 21st century—a virus that has killed over 330,000 Americans, flooding ICUs and leaving millions with lasting heart, lung, and brain traumas growing out of COVID-19.
Menlo Park “Factory”
Can today’s researchers glean anything from Edison’s “Factory of Innovation”? How does his body of work compare with modern scientific discovery? Having the mind of a genius aided his cause, but his wisdom also led him to assemble a group of well-trained, top-drawer scientists in Menlo Park, outside Newark, NJ. Edison realized he needed a village of scientists to be productive and prolific. Edison hired 25 young scientists from colleges and tech schools to carry out his experiments—several at a time. They toiled for “workmen’s wages,” but as one said: “The privilege which I had being with this great man for six years was the greatest inspiration of my life.” Others did privately complain about the 55-hour week, six-days-a-week that could expand into overnight stints when an experiment demanded it.
Many of those scientists, who Edison called “Muckers,” began at New Jersey’s Menlo Park or the West Orange lab complex and went on to continue working with him for great chunks of their lives. The cadre grew to 200, developing specialization along the way, working on batteries, the telegraph or phonograph, a prototype of an electric railway, the motion picture cylinder, and an electrographic vote recorder.
Their efforts took communication and entertainment to levels never anticipated. While Edison lived into the 20th century (1931), he was a man of a wired world. Heck, he made the wires possible that sped the 19th century far forward into the digital, wireless world we embody today. A new raft of scientists and inventive dreamers followed him to bridge the gap between.
Areas of Discovery 2020
The 21st century scientists are branching well beyond “wires” or define them more as “branches” on DNA trees and cultured viruses in laboratories filled with computerized test tubes and syringes and a raft of supplies unfamiliar to Edison. He built his initial 25 X 100 laboratory filled with every apparatus, including a 10-horsepower engine, and chemicals on every shelf for 19th century “scientific research.” He promised to produce a minor invention every ten days and a “big thing” every six months.
Such promises are nonsensical in today’s world of modern biological research, COVID-19 earnest push behind the 21st century work at biotech firms like AbCellera, Abbott, OxGene TESSA, Codex DNA, GIGAGen, 10X Genomics, and countless others. All those mentioned have been selected to be among the Top 10 Innovations of 2020, reported in The Scientist.
While my knowledge of their work can barely meet the task of describing it, I will rely on The Scientist, a publication “exploring life, inspiring innovation,” that selected esteemed judges, who determined the awaredees. As beings alive in this century, we should be aware of the achievements and the trials of these tireless workers.
Are these “factories of invention”? Since necessity is the mother of invention, in 2020-21 the science of biology has become one essential tool to address the international concern with COVID-19. So rather than look to electricity and electronics, two areas of burgeoning success beginning in the 18th century, attention now turns to laboratory technologies.
Companies and laboratories focused on pharmaceuticals, genetics, and building the tools they need to discover COVID vaccines are the winners. Scientists, who focus their efforts on medicines and the lengthy search for cures, are on the front lines—some of them just as hidden from the public as the “muckers.” Here are a few winners among the Top 10 scientific discoveries in 2020 in core laboratory technologies: single-cell proteome (a system’s collection of protein) analyzer and a desktop gene synthesizer and Pandemic-focused products.
AbCellera Celium TMThe Scientist reported in late March this biotech firm hosted a call with 40 researchers to review the data they’d collected on potential antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. The company deciphered the genetic sequences encoding hundreds of antibodies that might treat COVID-19. They fed their results into Celium, a data visualization tool that intersects more than a million high-quality data points to those antibodies to reveal which ones might work best in a potential therapy. This process helped them focus on the LY-CoV555 antibody, which later entered into clinical trials as a potential treatment, according to Maia Smith, lead of data visualization at Celium, “I think that kind of says it all.”
Fernando Cortea, a protein engineer at Kodiak Sciences in Palo Alto, who partners with AbCellera to identify antibodies to treat retinal diseases, says the company’s package of microfluidics, single-cell analysis, and the data visualization tool “streamlines the process of antibody discovery in a user-friendly manner.” One of the contest judges praised the “power of the Celium platform as being at the intersection of biology and AI to make new antibody discoveries at a blazing speed.”
Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 Test For six years, Abbott has helped physicians detect influenza A and B. strep, respiratory syncyt virus (RSV) and more recently SARS-CoV-2, in less than 15 minutes. The toaster-sized device heats samples in an acidic solution that cracks open the viruses, exposing their RNA. This was one of the first tests accessible to the US public in the COVID crisis and its quick response “is critical to stopping viral spread,” according to Normal Moore, Abbott’s director of scientific affairs for infectious diseases. He explained “you’re most infectious early on—and we don’t have that result in that timely fashion, what does it help if a molecular test comes back two weeks later?” In January 2020, there were more than 23,000 ID NOW machines in use in the US, mainly in urgent care clinics and pharmacies. The ID NOW platform costs $4,500 and each COVID-19 test costs $40.
Contest Judge Charmion Cruickshank-Quinn, a scientist at Agilent Technologies, pointed to the ease of the throat or nasal tests using the mobile platform in the field at drive-thru testing locations.
BioLegend TotalSeq TM Human Universal Cocktail v1.0 allows researchers to analyze blood samples from nearly 300 patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. “I actually know a lot of colleagues across the United States and Europe that have used this same panel to analyze their COVID cohorts. . .which means we’ll be able to combine all of our data and compare. And that’s incredible.” It also builds an international online laboratory, expanding the size and speed of virus investigations and testing.
Judge Robert Meagher, Sandia National Laboratories, technical staff: “This is a really nice merging of next-gen sequencing as a digital readout for sequence barcodes and single-cell barcoding technology to enable single-cell quantitative proteomics (the entire set of proteins produced by an organism).”
Codex DNA BioXp TM 3250 System released in August 2020 , following a 2014 platform for on-demand DNA assembly and amplification, allowing researchers to synthesize genes and genomes faster than ever before to accelerate the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments, according to Peter Duncan, director of produce management at Codex DNA. The equipment can be used on cancer cells or a variety of infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2.
Prior to this platform, researchers needed to send out samples to be processed, taking weeks or months. This system sequences up to 7,000 base pairs in length can be assembled in a matter of days with the push of a button. Mark Tornetta, Biologics Discovery at Tavotek Biotherapeutics told The Scientist: “All of these methods (that are on the run)on the BioXP save us time and cost to perform.”
Factories of Invention, where researchers work to answer our pressing needs, drawing together science talent and the latest tools to serve society—whether it’s the 18th century or the 21st. To learn more about the other outstanding innovations in 2021, check out the bottom URL below.
Although 2020 may seem a time when the heavens plotted against each living soul on the earth, a little reflection will show we are not the only afflicted humans and stars still come out to light the year ahead.
“Joy, prayers and gratitude are the three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way,” Pope Francis noted in 2017 in his traditional prayer of thanksgiving. Two years earlier, visiting New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he said: “It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. . .to grow in spiritual gratitude.”
You could say that was easy for him to say three years ago, but today 80 million people in 217 countries have been affected with the virus and 1.75 million around the globe have died, most of them alone without family. Here in the U.S. we’ve had 18.8 million cases and 330,000 deaths.
Yet a little light at the end of the tunnel is shining. While this crisis isn’t over, parts of the country are still in the middle of a vicious fight, but the approval of a vaccine gives hope that by spring or early summer enough Americans will be vaccinated against Covid to free us from its scourge. Plans are underway to open elementary classrooms by late Spring, giving parents more time to earn a living while teachers teach.
We’re getting accustomed to cooking our own food, trying new recipes, polishing our own nails, cutting our own hair, washing our own cars (or letting them be)—it’s a do-it-yourself world—as we maintain social distancing while serving human activities. Have you developed a new appreciation for the people who have served you throughout your day?
That’s gratitude and this year we shouldn’t wait until Thanksgiving to offer words of appreciation to those around us. Your words and generosity can encourage your family and friends and may lift-up those discouraged in the value of their work at this most enlightened time of year. Waste not a moment in reaching out in earned praise, to share comfort, and joy in being alive—to fight another day!
A wise friend of mine shared words of gratitude with me that I try, and sometimes fail, to model:
“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” Rumi
Stay tuned: – Thomas Edison’s Factory of Invention applied to 2021 next week.
Get lost in the beauty of an unending horizon, either sunset or sunrise. Wild and wonderful and more than 100 miles from any transportation hub—so you will not be inundated with tourists. (Obviously during a Pandemic, this probably is not a concern, but isolation is increasing the park’s popularity.)
Now is a good time to find a solitary spot of beauty, right? And wild wilderness among 1200 square miles, featuring the soaring, forested Chisos Mountains (8,000 feet), the summer’s torrid desert is winter’s special treat, surrounded by the curvy Rio Grande that names the park. (Reservations are required if you become adventurous and are thinking about hijacking your holiday plans for a trip to Texas’s Southwest desert.)
What could be better than a long tromp in the woods? Not just anywhere but seemingly at the edge of the world where red canyons and soaring mountains meet. The Lost Mine Trail exists thanks to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, composed mainly of local Hispanic workers who toiled from 1933 to 1942 to cut that path and build the road up the side of the Chisos Mountains, which allowed the park to open in 1944, as World War II still raged in Europe. Big Bend officially opened a week after the Normandy Invasion—D-Day, June 6.
Today there is nothing like gazing at the stars in nature’s beauty to renew the spirit and to remind us that this, too, will pass. Do not know about you, but my spirit could use a bit of levitation about now. At Big Bend the natural beauty speaks of the continuity of life—cycle after cycle—lifting the mind to a higher plain.
Timeless nature can renew the soul–civilization has made it through this before. Well, maybe not exactly THIS, but plenty of struggles and mankind managed to wiggle out only to emerge again.
If the stars hold a fascination for you, this is the place to come. It is a paradise away from city lights. See the canopy of stars as you have never seen it before stretching out before you in all directions—from the valley floor to the top of Chisos, 8,000 feet closer to the sky!
Perhaps you are drawn to the flora and fauna of the desert and the mountains. Here the cycles of light and dark are perfect for these delicate marvels. Ocotillo (Oh-co-TEE-yo) captured my attention, featuring limestone-toned spikes 20 to 30 feet tall growing sharps where others feature flowers—nothing to capture your attention, except particularly in spring, red-orange, tubular flowers burst forth in late March or early April. Some refer to them as living rock cactus.
“Don’t Fence Me In”
The year Big Bend opened Gene Autry caught America’s attention with the tune, “Don’t Fence Me In,” which seemed to be the theme of the park early on and Texas forever. 1944 proved to be a productive year. A Harvard professor developed the first automatic digital computer, which would go through many, many renovations before it reduced to the 13-inch marvel on my desk. Oswald Avery isolated DNA and FDR began his fourth term as President. And the Rio Grand just kept on flowing and bending to the southwest, then the northwest, rolling on, providing continuity in 1944 as it does today, nearly 80 years later. The pictures tell the story. I will leave the link, so you can “visit” with your eyes if the multi-hour car trip is not in your Christmas schedule this year. Enjoy and rest your mind. 2021 will come quickly enough.