Emilio Estefan

emilio estefanWith all the rhetoric surrounding immigration in recent years, I found myself drawn to a story of one of the most successful immigrants of my generation – Emilio Estefan. Founder of the Miami Sound Machine, he and his wife Gloria orchestrated the group’s ascent to the top of popular music while establishing themselves as icons in the entertainment industry. He captures his impressive journey from rags-to-riches in The Rhythm of Success: How an Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream.

Here are aspects of his life that I found inspiring.

He left Cuba with his father at age 11 with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Emilio and his father hoped to reach America and establish a base from which they could send for the rest of their family. However, in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, Cubans could not travel to the United States directly. Emilio and his father had to spend 18 months in Spain before gaining admission to this country. They were unable to secure employment and lived on meager resources supplied by relatives who’d escaped Cuba.

He took responsibility to secure freedom for his family. That desire fueled a stellar work ethic and ferocious desire to succeed. He learned the language, excelled at school, and worked multiple jobs to support the family. Throughout his teens and twenties, Emilio’s “north star” was getting his extended family out of Cuba – a goal he reached 15 years after his arrival in Miami.

He built a career doing work that he truly loved. Music was Emlio’s passion from an early age. He found the Latin beat contagious and took solace in making music with others. He formed the Miami Latin Boys as a teenager and booked gigs in the area to feed his passion and generate supplemental income. With the addition of a female lead singer, Gloria Fajardo (Emilio’s future wife), the group changed its name to the Miami Sound Machine. Emilio eventually stopped performing and took over the group’s business affairs.

Emilio, Gloria, and the Miami Sound Machine changed the face of popular music with their distinctive fusion of Latin, pop, salsa, and disco. Emilio branched out into music publishing, producing, and recording. His Crescent Moon studios became the center of Miami’s “Motown.” Their success paved the way for the artistry of Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Shakira, among others.

He is a visionary entrepreneur with a lengthy track record of successful ventures. Emilio formed Estefan Enterprises in May 1986 through which he managed a music publishing company, a recording studio, restaurants, hotels, and commercial property investments. He has collaborated with some of the giants in the recording industry (Quincy Jones, Tommy Motolla, Sean Coombs). He and his wife are part owners in the Miami Dolphins.

He commits himself to being a great boss. Emilio speaks to the importance of working shoulder-to-shoulder with his employees and treating them with respect. He takes responsibility for their livelihoods and provides opportunities for them to grow personally and professionally. He challenges them to do their best work and feel a sense of ownership to the business and clientele they support. He is loyal to his co-workers and values loyalty in return.

He adopted a conservative approach to fiscal management. From the moment he arrived in America, he never spent money he didn’t have or wasted it on things he didn’t need. He kept his “day job” during the Miami Sound Machine’s early years to ensure a steady source of income. He leaned heavily on his own resources to finance new business ventures rather than go into debt. He manages all of his business enterprises frugally, thereby promoting their longevity even when unforeseen disasters strike.

He’s an optimist. He makes a habit of finding the positive in any given situation. He works toward his goals tenaciously even when faced with sizable headwinds. He sees opportunity amidst adversity and has proven time and again that he can achieve what he sets out to accomplish.

He remains a committed family man. He and wife Gloria have been married for over 40 years and have raised two exceptional children. They live and work with their extended family. Despite a very public lifestyle, their names have never been associated with scandal. They’ve maintained humility and grace in the wake of astonishing success and a heap of international accolades.

Self-Esteem

Gloria Steinem was an iconic figure during my formative years. A pillar of second wave feminism, she made headlines as a speaker, writer, editor, advocate, and community organizer. She embodied the winning trifecta of bold, brilliant, and beautiful. It would never have occurred to me that she ever experienced self-doubt. Yet in Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, she reminded me that even superachievers aren’t superhuman.

For each of us, the communities of which we are a part exert a profound influence on our sense of self. The dominant culture establishes social hierarchies and normative behavior based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation. In particular, Western civilization teems with disempowering messages for women:

  • Aristotle’s Politics shaped gender relations for centuries with such assertions as: “A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children… For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature.”
  • A majority of U.S.-based Christian churches continue to place women in a subordinate role by virtue of their interpretation of Genesis 2.
  • Our history books assign power and agency to men. Even today, there are relatively few female role models in positions of authority.
  • Women are regularly chided for being “subjective” or “emotional” in their commentary and analyses rather than “objective” and “rational.”
  • Women are encouraged to be gentle, nice, and agreeable, never bold, powerful, and decisive.

Given the power of these external influences, it’s easy to quash an inner spirit. We become some version of what society expects of us or face substantial headwinds when charting a different course. Gloria’s root thesis: “Systems of authority undermine our self-authority to secure obedience; thus, self-esteem becomes the root of revolution.”

Gloria makes a distinction between core self-esteem and situational self-esteem. Core self-esteem entails a conviction that we are loved and lovable, valued and valuable as we are, no matter what we do. Situational self-esteem ties to evidence of being good at something, praised for something, overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, and/or aligned with the “right people.” The former confers a sense of inner peace and equanimity with which to engage the outer world. The latter places the outer world in control and tells us that we are never enough.

self-esteemSo how does the revolution begin? Gloria encourages us to go on a journey of self-discovery through which we:

  • See through our own eyes rather than those of the dominant culture
  • Give voice to our deepest thoughts, dreams, secrets, and desires and recognize that there is nothing shameful in owning them
  • Call out attitudes and patterns of behavior that have been treated as normal and dare to set different expectations
  • Bond with others who share similar experiences and are traveling on the same path to enlightenment
  • Achieve empowerment and self-governance
  • Find a balance of independence and interdependence

When we come into our own, we gain new eyes with which to see ourselves and a new perspective when looking outward. We experience an inner energy that is ours alone yet connects us with everything else. Core self-esteem becomes a self-reinforcing fountainhead of positive action for one’s self, one’s friends and family, and the world.

As one who has lived for over six decades, I’m not the least bit surprised that this work emerged as Gloria entered her 60s. There’s something wonderful about having a lifetime of experiences when settling in to who and what one will become in the final chapters of life. One feels less of a need to prove anything to anyone else and more of a determination to be fully authentic and fully alive. For me, these parting thoughts say it all:

“Our brains are ever subject to improving, diversifying, and sharpening, if we will only believe in them enough to stimulate them… When our talents are required and rewarded, we can stretch our abilities, use the energy of self-esteem to activate the unique mix of universal human traits we each possess, and uncover a microcosm of the universe within ourselves.”

Watch Your Mouth!

I grew up in a household with zero tolerance for profanity. Dad may have used colorful language away from home, but it wasn’t countenanced within earshot of Mom. Of course, I still managed to add these terms to my vocabulary and have been known to use them from time to time. But I kept a lid on them in my mother’s presence to her dying day.

I just finished reading Dr. Benjamin K. Bergen’s book entitled What the F?: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. Dr. Bergen teaches at UC San Diego and serves as the Director of its Language and Cognition Lab. He’s also the nephew of one of my brother’s closest high school friends.

watch your mouthThe book explores the cognitive and social science of swearing. Dr. Bergen tells us that profane word origins have their roots in religion (e.g., taking the Lord’s name in vain), sexual acts, other bodily functions, and insults/curses. Every culture has its own collective of taboo words that are deemed unsuited for polite company. Yet such words typically have synonyms and/or “sound alike” words which we feel free to use without reproach. Our “bad words” change over time. Some become so commonplace that they are no longer considered offensive. Erstwhile innocuous words can be transformed into something taboo. (I’ll forego the concrete examples and assume that you can use your imagination.)

Here are a few “fun facts” about the blue side of language.

Survey data suggests that Americans do not agree on what constitutes acceptable levels of swearing in common discourse, on the airwaves, or in other forms of media. We still regulate language usage via the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Yet even these bodies do not have well-documented guidelines to govern how ratings get assigned to content.

Arguments for restrictive use of language focus on a supposed link to aggressive or violent behavior. Dr. Bergen discusses attempts at proving this thesis scientifically and notes that a definitive correlation cannot be asserted. Likewise, some argue that we encourage lazy use of language by tolerating profanity in public forums. The evidence does not support that thesis either. In fact, it would appear that masters of profanity have above average language skills across the board.

However much we disagree on the use of profanity, body scans reveal that we all seem to know which words are inbounds versus out-of-bounds. When we swear, our pores tend to open up and increase sweating. We evince an emotional response when we see a swear word. We also use extra brain cycles to self-monitor should we run the risk of blurting out some colorful tidbit when we feel it would be inappropriate. Thank you pre-frontal cortex!

Of course, if you bang your finger with a hammer, stub your toe, or watch yourself careening into another car while sitting behind the wheel, you may experience a lapse in linguistic control. Spontaneous eruptions of 4-letter words frequently occur when we are highly agitated, frustrated, angry, or in pain. Scientists deem such usage healthy in that it relieves tension and facilitates rapid recovery. Brain scans suggest that the limbic system (a.k.a., our “lizard brain”) may be a repository for foul language.

As a correlate to the excited profane utterance, persons who suffer brain damage to the primary language centers of the brain often retain use of swear words. Such words are the most difficult for persons with Tourette’s syndrome to control. And folks who suffer the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease may continue to retain access to excited utterances that are reactive, impulsive, and spontaneous.

Slurs fall into a separate category from other swear words, taking their place atop the offensiveness leaderboard. They aren’t merely crass language forms that could be represented by more genteel ones; they are built to hurt. They are used to dehumanize members of a race, ethnic group, class, gender, or sexual orientation. They’re intended to elevate the “in group” and force the defamed group out. Exposure to slurs carries adverse psychological, social, and financial consequences. They should not be used. Period.

I’ve been party to conversations where acquaintances attempt to defend their use of slurs because: (a) their intentions were honorable, (b) they didn’t realize that a word ruffled feathers, (c) the word never used to be a problem in the past, and/or (d) folks shouldn’t be so sensitive. It’s easy to espouse such claims when speaking from the dominant group. And, yes, language use changes over time, and it takes some effort to stay on top of things. My suggestion: Thank whomever brought it to your attention and update your language filter for next time. Why be defensive when you can choose to be respectful and gracious?

Language and the Brain

I’ve never really given much thought to how we learn and store language. If pressed, I’d have guessed that we had a language database somewhere in the neocortex that pairs words with meanings. I’d also have envisioning this cerebral dictionary growing over time as we learn new words, new uses for existing words, and foreign languages. As it turns out, our brains are a lot more sophisticated than that.

neocortexOur neocortex assumes responsibility for the higher-order brain functions of sensory perception, cognition, motor control, spatial reasoning, and language. It is divided into four pairs of cerebral lobes:

The frontal lobes engage in planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and behavioral control. They provide an awareness of our own thought processes as well as our ability to predict what others will be thinking or doing.

The parietal lobes process somatic (pertaining to the body) sensory information including touch, pressure, pain, heart, cold, and tension.

The occipital lobes are the main centers for visual processing (size, depth, texture, spatial orientation, color).

The temporal lobes engage in long term memory processing, audio processing (hearing), language comprehension, and emotional responses. Visual areas interpret sensory input – i.e., identifying objects (including facial expressions and body language) and anticipating what they might do.

These descriptions make it appear as though the brain supports a clear delineation of responsibilities for the various functions it performs. Science tells us otherwise. As a case in point, the cortical premotor areas of the frontal lobes and the parietal lobes work together to understand actions, objects acted upon, and locations toward which actions are directed. This collective of perception/action circuits also form a crucial role in language processing.

Through the wonders of brain imaging technologies, neuroscientists have been able to measure activity in various regions of the brain when we use language. In one experiment, subjects were asked to observe, name silently, and imagine using various man-made objects – e.g., hammers, screwdrivers, etc. In all cases, the brain regions that would be employed using these tools fired when the subjects simply called them to mind. This neural circuitry gives us a richer sense of meaning for our otherwise spartan vocabulary. Here’s a simple illustration.

Suppose a pro-business commentator decried government regulation for putting a chokehold on investment. Upon hearing or reading this assertion, our brains would ignite circuitry that would be used to execute a chokehold, visualize a chokehold, and experience a chokehold, even though the original sentence has nothing to do with cutting off air supplies. It’s simply how we’re wired. We imagine or simulate the words we speak or hear in a sensory way.

Great authors and orators understand this dynamic. Their words leap off the page/podium and create vibrant imagery in the minds of their readers/listeners. For example, when Toni Morrison describes a little girl’s dress as “lemon drop yellow,” I not only see the color, but I’m firing off taste buds that give me an extra measure of freshness for that Spring fashion choice. Cognitive scientists refer to this construct as embodied language.

Why might our brains work that way? Words underspecify meaning. By themselves, a simple word-meaning pair doesn’t provide enough information to capture what we’re seeing, doing, or experiencing. They don’t help us predict what comes next, what might be expected of us, or what we might be necessary for survival. We recruit resources from across our cerebral spectrum to fill in the blanks.

Of course, not all words evoke multisensory reactions. The pro-business commentator mentioned earlier could have stated that government regulation discouraged investment or limited funds available for investment. We’d come away with the same general meaning. By evoking the imagery of strangulation, the speaker created a much more powerful literary imprint and very likely induced an emotional response.

As we move into the final stages of the upcoming election cycle, I’m playing close attention to the rhetoric employed by candidates for political office and their handlers. While they may not have been trained on embodied language, they’re certainly availing themselves of its precepts. There’s quite a lot of trafficking in words and imagery that engender fear and anxiety. Those emotions play upon our survival instincts. I hope and pray that the electorate separates their visceral reactions to this onslaught and makes informed choices based on facts and reasoned arguments regarding what’s in the best interest of the nation and the world going forward.

Source:

  • Jerome Feldman and Srinivas Narayanan, Embodied meaning in neural theory of language, August 2003 (published by Science Direct)

Dispelling COVID-19 Myths

The pandemic regularly takes center stage in Zoom calls with friends and family. As I’ve heard varying claims about the disease and its treatment, I decided to consult with the experts to dispel some common myths. My chief sources are the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Myth #1: Since young people aren’t hurt by the disease, they don’t have to worry about getting infected.

Young people generally have immune systems that function better than older folks. As such, they are far less likely to develop symptoms or risk severe consequences or death when infected by COVID-19. HOWEVER, they can become efficient carriers of the disease for weeks and months after exposure. Moreover, the folks with whom they interact also participate in spreading the disease. Somewhere along the line, this chain of infection will reach people who will become seriously ill and/or die. As Dr. Fauci reminds us, we cannot stop the spread of the disease unless we all pull together and do our parts.

Myth #2: The only people who really need to be worry about COVID-19 are those with pre-existing conditions.

The CDC evaluated data on 1.3 million laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the period between January 22 and May 30. They looked at differences in hospitalization rates, ICU admissions, and deaths for patients with and without underlying conditions (e.g., heart disease, hypertension, pulmonary disease, diabetes, renal disease, immunosuppression, obesity). Here’s what they found:

COVID-19 hospitalization and death

Patients with underlying conditions are six times more likely to be hospitalized and twelve times more likely to die from the coronavirus than healthy individuals.

A report from Los Angeles County confirms this data. Over 90 percent of their COVID-19 deaths tied to patients with chronic medical conditions. The report noted that these conditions are commonplace across all age groups. While the majority of deaths were patients over the age of 65, nearly one-fourth were aged 41-64, and three percent were between 18 and 40.

Myth #3: Once we get vaccinated, we won’t have to worry about getting infected with COVID-19.

It is too early to render commentary on either the efficacy or durability of COVID-19 vaccines under development. That data will not be available until the completion of Phase III trials at the earliest. Even then, it will take widespread usage to validate results. As of this writing, Dr. Fauci expressed the following expectation regarding a vaccine’s ability to prevent infection:

“I would be very happy with 70, 75 percent, and I would be accepting of 50 to 60 percent, because that would be value added, superimposed upon, and complementary, to public health measures.”

Stated differently: Even after getting vaccinated, I may still have upwards of a 50% chance of getting infected if exposed to the virus.

Dr. Fauci also noted that scientists do not know how long the protection will last. Like the flu shot, it may simply get us through the worst of the seasonal infection rates. We may need to get booster shots to bolster our immune systems thereafter. Even if we are among the fortunate ones whose bodies respond favorably to inflection, we will still need to implement public health measures to protect those who aren’t so fortunate. Those measures include:

  • Visiting family and friends outdoors whenever possible (although virtual contact is preferred).
  • Wearing masks over the nose and mouth when interacting or sharing space with people who do not live in our households.
  • Maintaining at least 6 feet in social distance from others.
  • Avoiding large gatherings, especially those held indoors.
  • Washing hands thoroughly and often while still avoiding touching our faces.
  • Limiting contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items and using disinfectant to sanitize them.

Myth #4: With accelerated vaccine development, it may not be safe to get inoculated.

Dr. Fauci lays this concern to rest. The vaccines in the current pipeline follow the same safety protocols that have been in effect for decades. Today’s technology enables vaccine development to proceed at a much faster rate than the past. Moreover, the government has made preemptive investment in manufacturing capability to shorten the time between the completion of Phase III trials and availability to the general public.

Sources:

Gloria Steinem

With this week marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, it seems fitting to pay tribute to a modern day feminist icon.

Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934 to Leo and Ruth Steinem. Along with an older sister (Susanna), the family lived an itinerant life during Gloria’s early childhood. They spent summers at a lakeside Michigan resort operating a dance hall, and passed the remainder of the year buying, selling, and bartering antiques from coast-to-coast. Both girls were home-schooled and developed a love of reading.

gloria steinemAfter her parents’ divorce in 1944, Gloria moved with her Mom to Amherst, MA to be close to her older sister during Susanna’s last year of college. Thereafter, they returned to Toledo where Gloria completed elementary school, junior high school, and her first 3 years of high school. She joined her sister in Washington DC to finish high school at a college prep institution.

In Fall 1952, Gloria enrolled at Smith College where she focused on her academic studies. She spend her junior year at the University of Geneva and studied at Oxford University that summer. Upon graduation, she secured a two-year fellowship to study in India. She immersed herself in the culture and was influenced powerfully by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. She marched in protest of the caste system and visited villages torn by violence. She also learned a powerful lesson in community organizing from an Indian teacher:

If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them.
If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live.
If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.

Upon her return to the United States, Gloria had difficulty finding a job. She worked briefly for the Independent Research Service in Washington DC before deciding to become a freelance writer in New York City. The available writing assignments for “girl reporters” in the early 1960s centered around celebrity profiles and style pieces. Though she felt little emotional connection to the subject matter, Gloria was content to do the work and pay her bills.

A novel opportunity arose in 1963 when she was asked to go undercover as a Playboy Bunny. The resulting piece revealed a work environment that was grueling, demeaning, and poorly compensated – jobs that no man would consent to do were the roles reversed. While the assignment should have drawn praise for the insightful exposé, it became a noose around Gloria’s neck. She was derided for “not being a serious journalist.”

Meanwhile, Gloria remained attentive to the issues of the day. In August 1963, she participated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington and was struck by the absence of African American women on the podium. As with the civil rights movement in India, the leadership muted the female voice. She wrote: “More than ever, I found myself wanting to report on this new view of the world as if everyone mattered.”

With the founding of New York Magazine in 1968, Gloria gained the opportunity to cover important stories as a featured columnist. Her investigative reporting on women’s issues elevated her awareness of the depth and breadth of gender inequality. A feature story on the nascent feminist group Redstockings garnered the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award.

Though never aspiring to be a public speaker, Gloria shared the stage with African American feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes at the Women’s National Democratic Club in 1969. The two hit it off and made regular appearances together as community organizers. For Gloria, sexism and racism were intertwined, and the feminist tent needed to be big enough for women of all creeds and colors to find a home.

Now firmly entrenched in the movement, Gloria founded MS Magazine in 1972 as a place for women to read about women’s issues. As with most publications, she bolstered subscription funding with advertising revenue. Nonetheless, she would not countenance print ads that would exclude women who were not thin, young, pretty, able-bodied, well-to-do, or heterosexual. She courted gender-neutral advertisers – e.g., car companies, financial institutions, insurance carriers – and convinced them that women were prime decision makers in these product and service selections. Over time, she changed the advertising industry’s imagery, positioning, and understanding of the female half of the country.

Gloria was a delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention and was invited to serve as its feminist spokesperson. In 1977, she served a pivotal role in the inaugural National Women’s Conference in Houston, a product of 56 “massively oversubscribed” regional conferences. This convocation developed planks on a broad range of women’s issues to which Gloria lent her listening, mediating, and writing skills to the “Minority Women’s Plank.” It was a life-changing experience, brimming with issues, possibilities, and a new sense of connection. In the words of Coretta Scott King: “There is a new force, a new understanding, a new sisterhood against all injustice that has been born here. We will not be divided and defeated again.”

Beyond her work with MS Magazine and the MS Foundation for Women, Gloria has traveled extensively as a guest lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. She particularly relishes opportunities to speak on college campuses where she never fails to learn something new. She also remains a prolific author having realized the power of the written word to shape the public discourse.

References:

  • Sarah Fabriny, Who is Gloria Steinem?, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, ©2014
  • Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, New York: Random House, ©2015, 2016
  • Gloria Steinem, Passion, Politics, and Everyday Activism, New York: Open Road Integrated Media, ©2017

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader GinsburgTwenty-seven years ago this week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Her candidacy came on the heels of a stellar legal career as an academic proceduralist, a proven litigator and advocate for gender equality, and a thoughtful federal appellate judge.

Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn Heights to hard-working immigrant parents, Nathan and Celia. Older sister Marilyn dubbed her “Kiki” for being such a kicky baby, and the nickname stuck. Kiki never got the chance to know her only sibling. Marilyn died of spinal meningitis in June 1934.

Given an abundance of Joans in Brooklyn Public School 238, Kiki started using her middle name, Ruth, to avoid confusion. She earned straight As at PS238 while also attending Hebrew school, taking piano lessons, and feeding a voracious literary appetite. At James Madison High School, Ruth was an honor student, played cello in the school orchestra, and twirled baton.

Ruth entered Cornell University in Fall 1950 on a full scholarship. She was a dedicated student who aspired to achieve good grades and become successful upon graduation. Having excelled in a constitutional law class, her professor encouraged her to pursue law school and legal activism as a means of making the world better.

After graduation, Ruth married her college sweetheart, Marty Ginsburg. The couple spent two years in Oklahoma while Marty dispatched his military service obligation before both went to the Harvard Law School. As one of 8 women in a class of 552, Ruth stood out in the male-dominated culture and committed herself to a high standard of preparation and excellence.

After Marty’s graduation, the couple moved to New York City where he established a practice as a tax attorney. Ruth transferred to Columbia University as one of 12 women in a class of 341. She earned a place on the Columbia Law Review and tied for first in class upon graduation.

Post-graduation, Ruth secured a position as a law clerk for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. While there, she accepted an assignment to research Swedish jurisprudence as part of a larger project on international procedures. Mentor Hans Smit bolstered her confidence and helped her establish a name for herself.

In September 1963, Ruth took on a teaching position at Rutgers University in civil procedure and comparative law. She also taught courses at New York University and volunteered her time at the New Jersey branch of the ACLU. The latter fueled her desire to participate actively in the civil rights movement and accorded her the opportunity to gain litigation experience. Rutgers made her a full tenured professor in 1969.

At the dawn of a new decade, Ruth was invited to teach a symposium on Women and the Law at Yale University. She researched the subject thoroughly and was disturbed by the law’s pervasive gender discrimination. It reflected the “separate spheres” mentality that assigned the roles of breadwinning and decision making to males and homemaking and child rearing to females. This construct was clearly out of step with increased participation of women in the workforce and a changing social consciousness toward the sexes. She decided to make sex-based discrimination her research specialty.

As the soon-to-be foremost litigator for gender equality, Ruth devised a strategy for presenting cases that would move the character of the prevailing courts. She used individual victories to set up favorable precedents. She was careful not to leap too far ahead of the political process and to align her cases with the weight of public opinion. Examples of cases that bear her fingerprints:

  • Reed v. Reed overturned an Idaho statute that privileged fathers as the executors of their children’s estates.
  • Frontiero v. Richardson determined that housing and medical benefits apportioned by the United States military could not be denied to the male dependent of a female officer.
  • Struck v. Secretary of Defense challenged the military’s right to discharge a member of the armed services due to pregnancy.

During the 1970s, Ruth co-authored a book entitled Sex-Based Discrimination: Texts, Cases, and Materials and published 25 legal articles. She crafted 24 briefs in Supreme Court cases (9 for litigants and 15 as a friend of the court) and presented 6 oral arguments.

Upon the recommendation of President Jimmy Carter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as a Judge of DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980. Deemed a “paragon of judicial restraint,” she was a moderating influence on a fractious court and garnered respect for her intellectual rigor, caution, and collegiality.

With the retirement of Associate Justice Byron White in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to serve as the 107th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate endorsed her candidacy in a 96-3 vote, and she was sworn in as an Associate Justice on August 10, 1993.

In recent years, Justice Ginsburg has been cast in the role of the chief dissenter. Her opinions frequently land in the minority on civil rights, immigration, wage equality, women’s reproductive rights, faith-based programs, campaign finances, gun control, and the death penalty. Yet she soldiers on and lets her meticulously crafted dissents spur legislative action or appeal “to the intelligence of a future day.”

References

  • Jane Sherron DeHart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life, New York: Vintage Books, ©2018
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Own Words, New York: Simon & Shuster, ©2016
  • Jeffrey Rosen, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, New York: Henry Hilt and Company, ©2019

Meal Planning During the Pandemic

It has been nearly 5 months since our household went into quarantine as a function of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve left the house for walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, prescription refills, and medical appointments. Otherwise, we’re doing our best to remain socially distanced from our fellow humans to the extent possible.

I’ll freely admit that I’ve been spoiled during the eleven-and-a-half years that we’ve lived in Beaverton food-wise. I never had to engage in meal planning because we live a very short walk from a really good grocery store. Pre-pandemic, I made a habit of going up there every other day or so, often making food choices in the spur of the moment. We were also blessed with weekly trips to the Beaverton Farmer’s Market for fresh produce and the joy of mingling with our fellow residents in the various stalls. And I never worried about things being out of stock. Worst case, I’d just have to visit a second grocer.

grocery shoppingThere were quite a few shortages during the first month of the pandemic, and yours truly had to figure out how to meal plan and cook to keep our fresh fruits and vegetables from going bad. With a bit of practice, I’ve got a system down that limits grocery shopping to one big trip every other week plus a weekly outdoor drop-in to our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick-up. There are still shortages, but I’m really impressed by how well our grocers have stepped up to the plate and worked toward keeping their environments safe.

Here are a few short-cuts that we’ve developed to simplify meal planning and procurement:

FIRST: We’ve standardized on two of the three major meals per day. Breakfast consists of cereal (or oatmeal), protein shakes, and fresh fruit. We always make a big salad for dinner with lots of colorful vegetables, beans, nuts, and blueberries. I keep fruit, snack bars, and hummus and crackers on hand for late afternoon snacks.

SECOND: We eat our big meal of the day between 1 and 2 in the afternoon. That’s where I add variety to the line-up and make decent-sized quantities to allow for left-overs. (I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking every day!) Each 2-week period generally contains a big vegetable stew (or curry) with rice, a tortilla dish (e.g., enchiladas, tacos, or casserole), a chili or bean stew, a grain-based dish (e.g., risotto, polenta), and stir-fried greens with either marinated tofu or tempeh. Having spent nearly 5 years cooking my way through 10 cookbooks, I have a lot of great recipes from which to choose.

THIRD: I created a standardized shopping list for the stuff we eat all the time and then customize it for the variable luncheon fare. It’s set up according to the layout of the store so that I can make efficient use of my time while there. When I get home, we spend a chunk of time washing and prepping the fresh produce for storage in airtight containers. That helps keep things fresh for as long as possible. I also cook with the least hardy materials in the first few days after the big shopping trip so they won’t go soft or bad on me. Grocery day has become a time-consuming affair, but we’re set-up nicely for the ensuring two weeks thereafter.

FOURTH: I’ve stocked up on nonperishable basics – e.g., protein powder, beans, grains, oil, vinegar, cereal, crackers, canned goods (which we use sparingly), condiments, dried fruit, nuts, spices, coffee, tea, V-8 juice (my husband’s favorite), and dog food. I’ve also loaded up the freezer with leftover stews, vegetables, and fruits. I’m prepared in the event we see some shortages and/or our household has to batten down the hatches due to illness. We’ll eat it all eventually, but it provides a measure of comfort to have a slightly elevated food inventory.

FIFTH: I keep track of “Best By” dates for our food inventory and make sure we use the stuff closest to expiration first. For the most part, we’ve got plenty of time to deal with it all. However, I’m sensitized to the issue having cleaned out my parents’ stores and tossed a lot of canned goods that were years past their useful lives.

We’ve been a predominantly home-cooked-meals household for several years now. As such, our adjustment to the quarantine food-wise has been quite easy. I will confess, however, that I miss the occasional nights out to local restaurants and look forward to the time when we can frequent them again.

A Code Blue for Healthcare

According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic disease is the leading driver of the nation’s $3.5 trillion annual healthcare costs. Such conditions include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and others. Six in 10 adults have a chronic disease; four in 10 have two or more. Risk factors include tobacco use (and exposure to secondhand smoke), poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol or drug abuse.

hospital roomToday’s healthcare system largely treats these conditions with procedures and prescriptions. Unfortunately, it’s not really working. As a society, we keep getting sicker and sicker while we continue expanding our waistlines. Today, two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. Excess body fat is another risk factor for chronic disease.

A new documentary sounds the alarm for our “misguided healthcare system” and “antiquated medical education model.” It’s entitled Code Blue: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Will SHOCK You.

The film’s producer and principal narrator has a vested interest in overhauling our medical care model. Dr. Satay Stancic was a third year resident when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s a disease for which there is no cure; doctors simply hope to slow its progression. With a prognosis of life in a wheelchair within 20 years, Dr. Stancic started a nightly regimen of injections along with up to 12 prescription drugs. She felt lousy and had flu-like symptoms. She decided to pursue lifestyle changes to quell the disease. She adopted a whole food, plant-based diet in 2003 and started exercising. She was able to get off her medications entirely by 2010. In a follow-up visit 21 years into the disease process, she remained asymptomatic, and her MRIs showed no material progression of the disease.

An avalanche of scientific evidence makes the connection between lifestyle choices and disease. In the 1950s, Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s China Study explored the dietary habits of 6,500 Chinese citizens across 130 villages. They consumed 1/10th the animal protein of their U.S. counterparts, and heart disease was almost non-existent. In the 1960s, North Karelia Finland had the highest incidence of heart disease in the world. They changed their dietary patterns. From 1972 to 2012, they saw an 82% reduction in coronary death and a 10-year extension to their lives. Dr. Michael Greger, MD has dedicated an entire website to the presentation of scientific data on nutrition. It overwhelming extols the virtues of a whole food, plant-based diet supplemented with exercise and avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

And yet, we aren’t listening. Every decade since the 1950s, we’re been eating more fat, more sugar, more meat, and more calories. Most Americans get twice the protein that they really need. Moreover, 65% of our food is processed, robbing us of vital nutrients to sustain healthy bodies. In fact, the World Health Organization declared processed meats a carcinogen in 2015!

open heart surgeryUnfortunately, the institutions that could take a stand for our health haven’t taken up that mantle. The USDA promotes the health and well-being of American agriculture – that is, the business side of the equation. So, they are hardly anxious to point the finger at the deleterious impact of our current food production. Big Pharma makes gazillions of dollars selling prescription drugs and channels its profits into the kind of medical research and practice that perpetuates the status quo. While cardiovascular disease has been the #1 killer for years, open heart surgery remains one of the most profitable procedures in modern hospitals. That’s a strong financial disincentive to effect a cure! Medical schools continue to train physicians in the identification of disease and the procedures and prescription drugs used to treat them. The filmmakers tell us that:

  • Only 1 in 4 medical schools has a dedicated nutrition course.
  • 73% of medical schools fail to meet the minimum recommended education in nutrition – 25 hours over 4 years.
  • 72% of first year medical students think nutrition is important; by graduation, that figure drops to 46%. It’s as if medical school washes away common sense!

Fortunately, physicians like Dr. Stancic are endeavoring to turn the tide. They’re all about prevention before chronic disease has the chance to take root. Their mission: To change medical culture for doctors, patients, and academia. A few medical schools are also starting to get with the program. The University of South Carolina teaches Lifestyle Medicine across all 4 years. Rutgers has a Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group. Stanford offers a non-credit course. And a medical practice in the Lone Star State – Houston Cardiac Associates – provides a course on “culinary medicine”!

I’m on board with the practice of lifestyle medicine as mediated through my naturopath and the gaggle of books that I’ve been reading. We exercise, and our diet is predominantly whole food, plant based. But it has not been a cake walk to sustain it. I spend a lot of time cooking, and I’ve had to teach myself how to create savory meals without meat, poultry, or fish. But the proof is in the proverbial pudding: we’re in great shape with stellar blood work and no disabling conditions. So, we’ll stick with it!

What I Want from Elected Leaders

I started this series on leadership with an eye toward to upcoming election cycle. Admittedly, most of the commentary provides guidance on how leaders best serve their organizations and team members. But let me get back to my original motivation and speak directly to expectations of our elected officials.

elected leaderBe an honest, forthright candidate. Provide solid evidence on the campaign trail about who you are, what you believe in, and what you plan to do in office. Don’t serve up empty platitudes and euphemisms. Don’t promise the stars and the moon unless you can demonstrate how you’ll pay for them and how it will affect the economy. Be open about who funds your campaign and how that will influence your decision-making.

If elected, act in integrity. What was promised during the campaign should find expression while in office. Speak the truth. Let everyone know that your word is your bond. Show your constituents that you care more about their interests and the good of the nation than you do about getting re-elected. Live into your oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Let each branch of government attend to the tasks for which it has a clear mandate. Work effectively and cohesively with State and local governments. Let our system of checks and balances serve the American people as they were intended. Be transparent in all your affairs. Obey the law and make sure your associates do the same.

Leverage subject matter experts to educate the public and make important decisions. Scientists render crucial commentary on environmental considerations and changing weather patterns. Epidemiologists and public health professionals can tell us how to combat the current pandemic and protect ourselves from future threats. Economists can weigh in on the financial impact of policy initiatives. Diplomats have spent their lifetimes understanding complex geopolitical relationships. Career military officers have the training and experience necessary to assess the efficacy of military presence on foreign soil or in armed conflict. Surround yourself with the best and brightest. Listen attentively to their commentary and recommendations. Do enough of your own homework to engage them effectively. And when you’ve reached a decision, tell us why we’re pursuing a particular course of action and what we need to do to support it.

Keep a watchful eye on impending threats that could affect our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and take action accordingly. Nuclear arsenals. Global warming. Pollution. Pandemics. Income inequality. Racial strife. Teetering economies. To name a few. Much of the work that will keep us safe won’t make headlines or garner acclaim. Do it anyway. Some of it will put a crimp on our lifestyles and make us grumpy. Take a stand for what’s in our best long-term interests anyway. Bring us on board with your reasoning so that we can all leave the country and the planet in good shape for the generations to come.

Be fiscally responsible. Assess taxes sensibly and fairly. Make sure we’re spending money on the right things in the right amounts. Hire good people and hold their feet to the fire on assigned deliverables. Trim the fat out of the government payroll. Curtail the national debt by balancing the budget and working toward generating a surplus to pay it down. Be an example of fiscal restraint and call upon your colleagues to join you.

Take seriously the mandate to serve all of the people, not just the folks who support your political agenda. According to Gallup polling data, registered Democrats and Republicans each lay claim to roughly 30% of registered voters with Independents, other party affiliations, and “none of the above” accounting for the remaining 40%. It makes no sense to pursue an aggressive agenda that delights 30% of voters, aggravates 30% of others, and leaves a burgeoning group of folks in the middle who find fault with both extremes. It makes no sense for one party to hold power and enact legislation that the other party rips apart 4 or 8 years later. And it does not make sense for uncompromising deadlock between House of Representatives and Senate, or Congress and the President. Do what all the rest of us out in the real world have to do. Compromise. Carve out some livable space in the middle that will persist across administrations.

Be a peacemaker. Stretch your hand across the political aisle to build relationships. Listen deeply to folks whose views are very different from your own. Model the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Find the shared humanity on which we can build a strong, unified nation.