Super Heroes and The Rest of Us – The Goldilocks Rule

Popular culture is inundated with Super Heroes. D.C. comic re-writes abound. Most Super Heroes emerged as a result of some societal trauma. WWII brought Captain America.

All of the Super Heroes have one thing in common. In one fell swoop they are able to solve problems we, as typical, weak, humans are incapable of solving. The current crop of Super Heroes has evolved to explore “flawed” Super Heroes. What would happen if a Super Hero switched sides and championed evil instead of good? There is even a new TV program this season in the US simply entitled “Evil”.

Too much focus on Super heroes can be toxic. It misleads us into thinking that the picture of everyday people as weak, fearful and incompetent is true.

I have a solution for that tendency – apply the Goldilocks Rule to your viewing and reading habits.

It goes like this:

TOO LITTLE: The complete absence of Super Heroes results in a dull world, devoid of inspiration.

TOO MUCH: The over abundance of Super Heroes and their adversaries leads to despair and a feeling of being unable to cope with even daily problems.

JUST RIGHT: Results in inspiration, minimizes despair, encourages seeing the possibilities rather than focusing on failures. It builds confidence rather than paralyzing fear.

Goldi had it right.



If you are like me, you probably have things you say when you don’t know what to say. For example, I went through a phase where I commented “It is what it is” to almost everything. Of course it is what it is, it can’t be what it isn’t. I realize the phrase has a deeper meaning, but in the shorthand of today, that deeper meaning is usually not conveyed nor understood. We’re left with a shallow saying rather than true communication.

Language is always changing and evolving. Context changes rapidly and that affects meaning. One of my ‘favorite’ sayings illustrates that point- ‘the exception proves the rule.” On the face of it, the phrase is not logical. But, the meaning of the word ‘proves’ has morphed over time. It used to mean ‘tests’, but now we tend to use it to mean ‘support’.

Maybe next time I don’t know what to say, I should remember that “Silence is golden” – and offer a sympathetic nod or hand pat.



My husband, William B. James, a talented thinker, teacher and writer, passed away on September 2, 2014. For the past five years, I’ve left his now ten-year-old laptop computer on the desk in the room he used as an office. The computer could not be linked to the wi fi printer, the programs could no longer be updated and the screen was beginning to show that watery look that indicates it will not last much longer. Most of the time, Bill chose to write on yellow legal tablets. I have placed those in storage, but there was one short draft that was on his computer. I saved it to a flash drive. It appears below. It was good to hear his voice again.


For me, liberal means that we are committed to meeting the basic needs of life for our citizens. This means food on the table and a roof over our heads and then a civil society where education, work and free communication is valued as a way of life. If your first interest is your racial or ethnic group’s advancement, then you are not a liberal; you are a conservative. You are retreating back to your racialized group for comfort and support. Usually it is similar to your family in culture, religion and language. There is a predictable loyalty transference especially if your family has been good to you. This is understandable in hard times but it is not liberal. A liberal is more bold. Liberalism requires that you reach out beyond your ethnic or racial group and make alliances for a better society.

It may make sense to retreat to ones’ own racial group in hard times. New immigrants groups have a long history of racializing their identity and grouping together but this, once again, is not liberalism.

It requires you to be able to think of the citizens of your society as a family when it comes to basic human needs. if you see them as only competing individuals, then liberalism is impossible for you.

William B. James April 15,1942- September 2, 2014

Words Matter- Agreements and Picture Books

Agreement vs Deal

If I were given the power to delete one word from public discussion it would be “Deal”. The dictionary definitions of deal are fairly straight forward. In addition to “distribute”, “to have to do”, “to administer” , “to consider or attend to”, there is “to do business, to trade”. It is this last definition that concerns me. Not everything should be monetized.

In addition to the dictionary definition, words have connotations – in effect a word reputation.

In American English, deal’s reputation is not all that great. “Deal” brings forth the cartoon image of two cigar-smoking older men shaking hands to close a deal made for some nefarious purpose. We talk about “double dealing”, “shaky deals”, “raw deals” and “dirty deals”. The connotation of a “deal” is that one party wins and one loses.

In diplomatic language we speak of “agreements” rather than deals. An agreement is reached through discussion. It can allow both parties some wins some and some losses. This is how our very diverse world, at best, avoids wars and other armed conflicts and provides a reasonable chance of human survival

Picture Books

A picture book (pb) is a story book, usually of not more than thirty-two pages, well illustrated, designed for an adult to read to a child. One of the purposes of a pb, is to help children develop vocabulary and understand the world around them by interacting with adults. The rhythm of the language, sometimes the use of rhyme and word play all add to the experience. Wonderful illustrations help expand the story. Consider the power of the Dr. Seuss books.

There is a current trend in pbs to limit the number of words to five hundred. Recently, a book was published with one ‘word’ – La. This syllable is repeated on every page. I understand the illustrations are beautiful, and I have no doubt this is true, but as a parent, I’m not sure I would want to spend much time “reading” this story to my child. I have heard that the rationale for limiting the text in pbs is that today’s parents really don’t have the time to read a longer story to their child. I hope this is not true. Words matter, even in picture books.


The Family – 3rd in a series of Those who inspire

Mr. Nguyen and his family arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1988. After a long wait in a refugee camp, Mr. Nguyen, his wife and children were given visas to relocate in the United States. Mr. Nguyen had served in the South Vietnam Army and this permitted him and his immediate family to go to the United States. Other members of his extended family went to Canada and Australia where they joined family members who had immigrated earlier and were able to sponsor them.

The Nguyen family had been fishermen in Vietnam. Not likely to make enough money to support a family by fishing as they did in Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen and his family formed a gardening service. That business has lasted over thirty years.

In spite of the family being scattered over two continents, they were determined to be true to their culture and family traditions. Mr. Nguyen’s parents remained in Vietnam after all five sons and their families emigrated. The brothers worked hard to arrange visits to their ageing parents. When the parents passed away, the brothers pooled their resources and time to build a memorial to their parents in Vietnam.

Life has not been easy for the family. They are hard working and resourceful. Family members support each other. Living in Canada, Australia and the U.S. has given them a better life than they would have had in Vietnam. Their presence has enriched us as well.


A Not-So Modest Proposal

(With apologies to Jonathon Swift 1667-1745)

Vigils, comforting words, support and speeches decrying the terrible loss of life have become common place in the United States. So much so, that they are in danger of losing meaning. What would be meaningful is taking action to stop the violence. In spite of the official claims of ‘helplessness’, there are steps that can be taken:

  1. Outlaw the hunting of people. Babies, mothers, fathers, grandparents, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts; people of all kinds, should be put on a national endangered species list. What turns people into prey is the easy availability of weapons that are sold for the sole purpose of killing. A deer hunter would not use this type of weapon for hunting because it mangles the prey. The shooter in Gilroy, California, used a weapon purchased legally in neighboring Nevada. That weapon was outlawed in California. A federal law against the manufacture and selling of such weapons to the general public is necessary
  2. Stop electing people to public office who are warped and miss-informed, such as the state representative who blamed the horrific increase in mass shootings on gay marriage and drag queens. Unlike disaffected loners, these people are pretty easy to spot.
  3. Watch your mouth in public and private and demand your elected officials do the same. Recall those who don’t.

Perhaps we could have those officials who feel that freedom can be found at the end of a weapon, wear yellow vests with red targets painted on them as they shop at Walmart, attend concerts, go to a house of worship and otherwise go about their usual weekend affairs with the rest of us.

In memory of the latest mass shooting victims. Gilroy, California, El paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio

“Over-tourism” or Opportunity?

If you have traveled outside the U.S. within the last five years, you may have realized that you need to develop some new travel skills. While this is particularly true of visits to more well-known places such as Paris, Vienna and New York (Yes – coming from California, I do consider New York a foreign country), those are not the only places where new skills can come in handy.

The skills? 1) Wait and stand and 2) Body Blocking 1A

I recently had the privilege of going on a fourteen-day tour of seven Baltic countries. The area has a long, rich, history and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. There were three destinations where the new skills came in handy. We visited the Hermitage and the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg as well as the museum in Gdansk, Poland. This was my first experience with “over-tourism” on such a grand scale. We employed the “Wait and Stand” strategy as we waited for the long line at the entrance gate to snake its way through the entry and in to the building. Next, we employed “Body Blocking”.

I was reluctant to employ “Body Blocking” at first. After all, one should wait patiently, say excuse me, and above all take turns. But when I discovered that this strategy resulted in an elbow in my stomach and the inability to keep my feet under me, I reconsidered. My elbow came out, I stepped down even though someone else’s foot occupied the area, and I never said “excuse me”.

Although we toured these sites during national holidays in Poland and Russia, most of the people employing the ‘new skills’ were fellow tourists from countries all over the world.

The last few days, the press has been discussing “Over-tourism.” Plagued by tourists in Vienna who jump into the canals from the bridges and tourists who dress “inappropriately,” Vienna is considering levying a fine for such behavior. In an interview, an airline steward remarked that tourist seem to forget common courtesy when traveling. Another commentator blamed “Over-tourism” on the availability of “cheap flights.”

I don’t have a solution to this situation. It would be a great loss if people stopped traveling. Travel is an eye-opener. It can makes us more tolerant, more informed and better world citizens.

ST. Stephens in Riga, Latvia – it has been a Catholic church and is now a Lutheran Church.
Ruins at Visby, Sweden. Visby was part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trade organization. When the Hanseatic League disintegrated, Visby lost its economic base. The Ruins remain because the town was too poor to rebuild. It is a rich source for understanding the past.


Paradise – The Aftermath

This is second in the series People Who Inspire

Kathy is smart, pretty, talented and tough. She is also a genuine-dyed-in-the-wool heroine. She survived the infamous Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise. California. The  fire burned one hundred ninety-two acres and took the lives of eight-five people.

While driving her grand-daughter and her friend to school, Kathy noticed the black smoke moving in from the east. Wildfires are not uncommon in this rural area,  but even so, the smoke was alarming. The school was not being evacuated, but Kathy returned to her home, gathered a few papers, her dog, grand-daughter and friend, and began the drive down The Skyway toward Chico in the valley below.

She didn’t get far. By now, the smoke had turned day into night. The fire moved incredibly fast. After several years of drought, the dead trees provided ample fuel for the fire. Fire-generated winds and the rugged topography made fire-fighting impossible. The first responders focused on saving lives.

Kathy and her passengers follow the instructions of the fire-fighters. They parked the car and went to a parking area where almost one hundred people were gathered to shelter in place. They lay on the tarmac, covering themselves with blankets and clothing. They would not be able to leave the area for eight hours.

At one point, fire-fighters asked if anyone had food in their car. A man with diabetes needed help. Always prepared, my sister had cookies in the car in addition to the bottled water she had shared.

Paradise and Magalia often used propane to fuel their homes. The parking area they were in had propane tanks on the edge. At one point, the flames reached this area and exploded the tanks. Those on the tarmac were moved to a metal building to shelter from the fumes of the propane.

The evacuation plan was dependent upon bulldozers clearing the burned cars from the Skyway so that caravans of evacuees could moved out of the area and down to Chico. The bulldozers arrived and the caravans began.

The scenery was frightening. Local business were on fire. The hospital burned and all familiar landmarks were gone. Flames licked both sides of the road.

Eventually, Kathy and her passengers made it out of the area and to the home of a friend. All this time, Kathy focused on keeping her grand-daughter, her friend and her dog, calm and secure. It was not an easy task. Later, Kathy described the area as looking like a war zone.

Kathy’s story could have easily ended differently. She was one of the fortunate ones. Her car was not damaged and her family survived. When I asked her how she got through this experience, she said she did it by focusing on what she had to do at that moment to keep everyone safe.

The damage from the Camp Fire will not be repaired for many years to come. Some homes may never be rebuilt. The trauma suffered by many, including Kathy, is immeasureable.





People Who Inspire

This post is the first in a series about people who inspire others. They are not celebrities, just real people who make a difference in our communities every day, simply by being themselves.  

My friend, Bob Schneider, has been many things in his life: husband, father, restorer of vintage cars and one wonderful Victorian home, an antique dealer, and a world traveler, just to name a few.

He has always shown his concern for his country and community. He enlisted in the Navy just after high school and is justifiably proud of being a Navy Veteran.

Many years later, Bob retired from SMUD, the local utility district. Both he and his wife, Louise. continued their service to the community by volunteering at Kaiser hospital.  Bob volunteered for fourteen years.

He ‘retired’ as a Kaiser volunteer, but that wasn’t the end of his service to the community. For the past nine years, he has been on patrol as a volunteer for the Roseville Police Department. Recently, he announced he will retire as of April 23, 2019.

He has volunteered numerous hours over a twenty-three-year period. Thank you for being such an inspiration.