Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ticker Column 2: Red, White, and Tahoe Blue and Crystal Bay

As recent articles in the Tahoe Ticker have made clear, it's a pretty tough time for a great many people in the Tahoe Basin. The winter has been slow due to the economy, and then made worse by the sparse snowfall. Christmas week was a teaser – we really thought it might be a great season, but then we didn't see any real snow until March, and while it helped it was, economically, too little too late. The simple fact is that once Spring comes and the weather gets warm here and elsewhere, people's thoughts turn to golf and tennis, even if the snow is good.

Still, there are a lot of people here who, to put it charitably, have enough money that they don't have to worry. Unfortunately many of them do worry – about themselves and their own narrow interests. There are a few people in Crystal Bay, and I do believe it's just a very few, who have made it their lives' work to gain access to the beaches in Incline Village, even if that means that the private beaches become public. They have the unmitigated gall to frame their quixotic crusade as a civil rights issue and to compare their "plight" to the situation of African-Americans in days before the Civil Rights Movement. If that weren't so arrogant, it would be laughable.

These individuals' latest crusade is against Red, White, and Tahoe Blue, the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Independence Day celebration that is coming into its third year. By way of full disclosure, I'm one of the founding members of RWTB and on its Board. The Board is composed entirely of volunteers who are committed to a community celebration and to raising money for local charities. In the first two years of RWTB thousands of dollars went to local causes and the celebration consisted of entertainment, community fun (a rubber duck race, an ice cream social), a parade, and a tribute to local veterans.

Some of these events take place on the beach – the rubber duck race, the fireworks, and one barbecue. Actually, while the fireworks take place on the lake, they are widely visible. Last year a very popular event entailed watching the fireworks from the Village Green, across the street from the beach, while the Reno Philharmonic played, and the view was great. The Village Green is open to anyone, by the way.

Each year members of the RWTB Board have quietly purchased extra punch cards and made sure that no one was excluded from the events on the beach. Individual Board members have gone out of their way to invite Incline and Crystal Bay residents who don't have beach access to be their guests on the beach, but that apparently isn't good enough for the Crystal Bay few. They will settle for nothing less than full access and have instituted legal action to that effect. Well, this is America where anyone can sue anyone for anything, so I guess that's their right (or Wright), but it's going to cost the District, and therefore the residents, a lot of money and in the end there's a strong likelihood that the courts could open the beaches to the public. For those of you keeping score at home, the residents-only policy is a significant contributor to home values here, and if the beaches go public the values will go down. Great timing, eh?

I'm not going to debate the merits of private vs public beaches. The salient point here is, I think, that the Incline beaches have been residents only from the beginning of the community and everyone who purchased a home without beach access knew that when they bought. Their rec fees are lower as a result, and it doesn't make sense to me to now say "no fair." If you thought it wasn't fair, you shouldn't have bought that house.

With all that, to call RWTB discriminatory is sheer demagoguery. Don't make the mistake of buying in to it. Come to RWTB, give to RWTB, and have a great time. I know I will.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bonanza Column 151 – Will No One Rid Us of this Noisome Governor?

Will No One Rid Us of this Noisome Governor?

Next Friday, May 8th, Governor Jim Gibbons will be coming to Incline for a town hall-type meeting. The venue is not determined at this writing, but the D.W. Reynolds Building is a good bet. I imagine Gibbons thinks that a trip to Incline will be a friendly affair. Our community has the reputation of being pretty conservative Republican town (despite having gone for Obama in the election) and it's predictable that a lot of those who turn out will support Gibbons in a knee-jerk conservative kind of way.

Maybe the rest of us should turn out also. As I've said before in this space, this is one of the worst governors in the United States and, just a couple of weeks ago, he got a new title:

Our winner... Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the FBI is investigating him for having allegedly accepted unreported gifts or payments from a military contractor, while the Governor was a U.S. Congressman.

But he has an explanation. "I have heard," he says, "that the Democrats have paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written."

Governor, don't you think, if the Democrats could get good coverage out of the Wall Street Journal by paying for it, they might spend the money on a little higher-value target than the Governor of Nevada?

The Wall Street Journal, for cryin' out loud!

Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada... Today's Worst Person In The World!"

That was Keith Olbermann on his TV show on April 10th. Now despite Keith's side-shot at Nevada, we have further evidence that our governor's train is leaving the tracks. The news reporting of the Wall Street Journal, unlike its editorial pages, is among the best in the country. Gibbons' allegation (he later backed off, but it's on the record) that somehow this Republican paper was bribed by unnamed Democrats to malign him borders on paranoid psychosis. This comes on the heels of the latest episode in the ongoing saga of the Governor's divorce with new accusations of infidelity by his wife.

Of course we also have Gibbons' demonstrated incompetence in dealing with the state's budget crisis and his predilection for cutting education, presumably on the assumption that an uneducated electorate is his and his party's best insurance. Then there are the allegations of questionable contributions that are continuing as he raises money for a reelection campaign.

Sooner or later Nevada voters need to wise up. Harry Reid has made a big contribution toward our state not being seen nationally as a two-bit operation supported by gambling and prostitution, but as long as we have a governor who spouts paranoid nonsense, can't manage his domestic relationship with any honor or integrity, and is plagued by allegations of corruption that touch both him and his estranged wife (a Google search on "Gibbons Nevada" and "scandal OR accused" yields 489,000 hits in less than a second and includes names like InTreppid, Ozmen, and others), and as long as we are in the bottom tier of the 50 states in education and in the top tier in things like alcoholism and suicide, we're unlikely to be respected or seen as respectable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TT Column 1: Susan Boyle and Mexicans

Let me introduce myself – I'm a business consultant and freelance writer. I've had a political column in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza for the past several years in which I've attempted to bring some liberal/progressive balance to the largely conservative North Shore. In addition to politics I write on religious/spiritual topics and have a forthcoming book in that area. In this column on Tahoe Ticker I hope to bring some of both to readers both in the Tahoe basin and elsewhere. Now to business:

Unless you live in a cave, you have probably been exposed to Susan Boyle over the past couple of weeks. She's the 47-year old English woman who went on "Britain's Got Talent," the UK version of American Idol and wowed the whole world. What's interesting about this to me is that if she had just submitted a tape or sung with only the audio on, you would have thought "great voice." What made her such a sensation is that she is a rather ordinary looking middle-aged woman who was visibly nervous and at the same time, to use a Britishism, "cheeky." In the US we use a different anatomical reference, but mean the same – gutsy, a little brash, and a dash of impudence.

No matter how often we hear and say "you can't judge a book by its cover," we still do. If you watch the clip on YouTube, the judges and the audience are laughing at her until she opens her mouth to sing, and then they're astonished, as if age or looks or dress or anything else had anything to do with musical ability.

Now expand that out – we prejudge everyone and everything we encounter, and unlike a TV show that is set up for moments of high drama, mostly our prejudgments determine not only our behavior but the fate of those we judge. Since the 1960's there have been numerous studies that show that if you give teachers classes of equal ability but tell one teacher the students are bright and the other that the students are slow, the expectation set by the description has enormous power in determining the students' performance. What's remarkable about our first African-American President is not that he got there but that we had to go through 43 white men, many of them unexceptional, to finally elect an exceptional black man.

People who live at Tahoe have an extraordinary record of charitable giving – there are foundations, individual donors, fundraisers, etc. that account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable giving every year. Unfortunately a lot of that giving is going to support programs and institutions that look a lot like the donors. A private school for the children of the privileged raises a hundred thousand dollars to fund its programs while the public schools are laying off teachers and cutting programs, and programs that benefit those who need it most go underfunded and under the radar of people who could support them.

One such program is called ARC – Adventure, Risk, Challenge. ARC is a non-profit program that, for several years now, has worked with English Language Learner (read Mexican-American) high school students in a year-round program that combines a 40 day summer program of outdoor leadership and academic education with ongoing work that turns out college students and community leaders. ARC has programs on the North Shore at the UC Berkeley Sagehen Field Research Center, in Yosemite in conjunction with the UC Merced Science Research Institute, and has had (and will have again) a program in Santa Barbara with UCSB. ARC has an amazing young staff in both centers, and is, like many programs of its ilk, massively underfunded. Maybe a program that starts with the Hispanic equivalent of Susan Boyles and turns out extraordinary human beings deserves at least as much financial support as do prep schools and animal rescue efforts. Or we could just figure what the hell – they're Mexicans.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Column 151 - Optimism

Tough times notwithstanding, it's hard not to be optimistic after attending Star Follies.

It's silly – an amateur hour of of local people in outlandish costumes, dancing with varying degrees of imprecision and lip-synching to loud music in a showroom that is a shadow of its former self.

It's a group of people – adults and children – having the time of their lives working their tails off to support our schools, and having such an infectious good time that you can't help but enjoy it.

This being Incline, I'm sure there are people who subscribe wholeheartedly to the first view – fortunately those folks don't come to the show and spoil it for the rest of us.

I think Star Follies has an importance to this community that goes beyond what it does for the schools. Since the early 90s, a group of writers, researchers and educators has been re-examining the profession of Psychology's focus on pathology and trying out the study of what can go right with people and institutions. These thinkers don't claim to have invented anything new or created a new profession, rather they distinguish themselves by their perspective. The value of positive psychology lies in its uniting of what had been scattered and disparate lines of theory and research about what makes life most worth living, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, a leader of the movement.

This research suggests that optimism actually affects the quality of our lives. Not an unquestioning, "glass half-full" positive thinking, but a healthy optimism, grounded in reality. Not being Pollyanna and thinking everything is wonderful, but making the best of things that happen. To use Star Follies as an example, we can bemoan funding cuts to the schools, blame the government and the economy, and be unhappy or we can seize the opportunity to create a great community event, have a lot of fun, make new friends, and raise a bunch of money in the process. Does that make it right or OK that the schools are underfunded? Of course not. But it gives us something positive we can do in the face of an unpleasant situation.

To use a formula developed by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a positive psychologist at Harvard, we can give ourselves Permission to be human – to be unhappy about the situation, to feel powerless, then we can Reconstruct the situation – glean learnings from it and search it for opportunities – and then keep it in Perspective – look at how the problem fits into the great scheme of things with respect to the quality of our lives and, in the case of Star Follies, shift our perspective from "the State and Federal Governments should do something" to "we as a community can do something on our own." PRP – Permission, Reconstruction, Perspective – is at the heart of positive psychology.

I think we're ripe for a revolution in our perspective. Whatever the economic factors, one thing that got us through the Great Depression was American optimism. Optimism became unfashionable after that, for some reason. It came to be called boosterism and cheerleading. As the country got more "sophisticated" after World War II, as the pseudo-sophistication of pessimism came into vogue, optimism came to be seen as naïve and "Midwestern,". As much as we may make fun of the French with their veneer of boredom and existential angst, their relationship to the world became our model, at least for those of us who wanted to appear "smart." Optimism was relegated to the realm of the quaint and as early as 1949 in South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein poked fun at the "cockeyed optimist, immature and incurably green"

Well, maybe we lost something in "growing up" as a country, and maybe a lot of the ills and malaise of our culture are the national equivalent of a depressive neurosis. Maybe being "stuck like a dope with a thing called hope" is not such a bad thing. In fact, research in positive psychology shows that pessimism may put people at risk for chronic physical and mental illnesses and an earlier death than their optimistic counterparts.

So let's give ourselves permission to be human – scared, worried, discouraged, let's reconstruct - rather than hoping against hope that things will get back to where they were, let's look for a reset to a more reasonable, sane level, and let's keep things in perspective – we live in the most beautiful place on earth, we are alive and thriving, and we have in our midst people like the producers, directors, cast, and crew of Star Follies who are working to make our community a better place and not waiting for "them" to fix it.