I saw “Black Panther”

I saw “Black Panther” and am glad I did. I am a novice when it comes to action movies. I thought Marvel was only a paper comic book. I was not aware that “Black Panther” debuted in 1966. I belong to a Social Justice Arts Group that discusses films with a high racial content. To be honest, if members of that group had not suggested we next discuss “Black Panther,” I might not have ever known about it. Now I feel I am kewl (as kids said back in the 90’s) I feel like I now know about a secret world that everyone knew about but me.

I watched “Black Panther” early Sunday evening of Presidents Day weekend (opening weekend). The theatre had at least five other showings that day and my showing was packed: Blacks, whites, young and old, a few couples, more families, lots of guys. My biggest surprise was they all acted like they had been waiting for this move since 2014, when it was first announced. Moreover, they knew to stay seated after the first conclusion because more action would follow. They seemed to already know that there will be a sequel in two years.

I fully appreciate the significance of the first blockbuster Hollywood film with a black director but as an action-packed fantasy film, race was not the dominant lens for me. It wasn’t like “I am Not your Negro” or “Detroit.” I expect the box office success of “Black Panther” will boost many production and acting careers and may lead to more “culturally diverse” films. I am appalled, but should have expected, that anti-Black sentiments tried to sabotage the Rotten Tomatoes ratings (currently 97) in hopes of surprising enthusiasm for the film.

I enjoyed the technological wizardry but grew tired of some of the physical conflict. I know, I know—it is an action film. I personally liked the scenes short in Pusan, S. Korea, because I recognize them, but I don’t imagine most Americans particularly cared where they took place. There were at least five witty lines I appreciated and probably would have noticed more if I had not been enthralled by the cyber gymnastics.

Two quotes have returned to my thinking several times this week. They are:
1. One of the main characters (who had ancestors brought to America from Africa) says “throw me off the ship like my ancestors. It is better to be dead than in bondage.”
2. The ending—which I won’t spoil for you.

I am eagerly waiting our discussion group to learn about significant parts that I missed. I am proud of myself, however, that I noticed the ambiguity surrounding the fate of the main rival of the king.

Here are some links that may be of interest:
1. New York Times review https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/movies/black-panther-review-movie.html?

2. Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/black-panther-is-exhilarating-groundbreaking-and-more-than-worth-the-wait/2018/02/09/5bff1d4c-0916-11e8-94e8-e8b8600ade23_story.html?utm_term=.096b122cd7c4

3. An interesting analysis I found on Facebook (but it is a spoiler)
https://screenrant.com/black-panther-2-killmonger-death-return/

Why don’t homeless people go to shelters?

It is reported that three-quarters of Los Angeles’ homeless are in tents, vehicles and abandoned buildings. In New York City, more than 100 social workers are assigned to persuade the estimated 4,000 homeless to go to the city’s expanded Safe Haven rather than ride the subway throughout the night.

Volunteers and housed citizens alike often ask why don’t homeless people take advantage of shelter opportunities? Having asked myself the same question, I’ve listened very carefully over the past few years. Here is what I have learned.

Viewing the homeless as lazy freeloaders prevents a deeper understanding of their decisions. The freeloader perspective naturally predicts the homeless would use all the services available to them — but they don’t. Most homeless people are very short-term goal oriented. They are focused on getting through the day rather than where they will spend the night.

For most chronically homeless, there is no”normal” day. They often do not have routines, they usually do not need to know what day it is or what time it is. That’s why they miss appointments with their caseworkers and forget where they left stuff. Many homeless do not plan very well. Getting to a shelter by a specific time is an obstacle they can avoid by just sleeping at their campsite which is always open and for which they do not need a reservation.

Many homeless do not make good decisions. They intend to get an ID or go to the food pantry, but something comes up and gets them off track. In that way, they are like most of us who only stick with our New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, lose weight or save more money for a few weeks. People do not freely choose to continue alcohol, tobacco, opiate or chocolate addictions. Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous groups provide support for many housed students, housewives and business people. Some homeless, too, have addictions that prevent them from making it through the night without a cigarette, a toke or a drink, so they decide to stay outdoors.

Social workers and volunteers often say their guests “won’t follow the rules.” It is not that simple. Many homeless do not seem to really comprehend the rules or know what is expected of them. Social workers and volunteers sooner or later realize that raising one’s voice and repeating a request a dozen times doesn’t accomplish much. A frequent comment I have heard from those who choose not to go to an available shelter is, “I don’t want no problems.”

Humans seem to like their familiar comfort zones. Shelters that are here one week and there another don’t become familiar. Sleeping in your own bed, even if in a campsite, is your own bed. Shelters are noisy with no personal space. Many homeless follow their own clock. They are 24/7, not 9 to 5. Being required to be in at 7 p.m. and out at 7 a.m. doesn’t always fit well. Moreover, checking into a shelter means leaving one’s regular camp or space unoccupied, inviting ransacking or theft.

Personal safety and property security are issues facing the homeless, including those staying at shelters. Checking their bags at the door makes sense for program organizers but means a loss of control for a homeless guest. Most of us housed people don’t like having a purse, or pack, checked at a movie theater or sporting venue. The closest most of us come to feeling like a homeless person checking into a shelter is probably going through security at an airport. We don’t like it. We don’t like taking off our shoes and walking on that filthy floor, emptying our pockets in front of strangers and being told where to stand and when to move.

However well-intentioned they may be, caseworkers and volunteers sometimes seem more concerned with following their own rules than serving the needs of their homeless guests. Despite their good hearts, it is not unusual to hear volunteers and staff say, “They should be grateful for a warm place to stay.” Imagine overhearing a TSA inspector say, “They should be grateful that they will make it there safely,” as you wait in line fearing you will miss your flight.

Assisting the homeless in obtaining a standard apartment is a laudable goal but mini-houses, mobile homes, even storage sheds, may be a step up from the streets for some men and women who just don’t use existing shelters.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Matthes’ diversity speech provokes many reactions

David Webber   Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 24, 2018

A national conversation on race that so many call for, yearn for, must begin with local conversations on race. Meaningful conversations require honest dialogue accepting that people talk in different styles and use different words. City Manager Mike Matthes’ speech at the Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast can contribute to local conversation about racial differences in employment and economic well-being. Alternatively, it could spark a chilling effect on attempts to further community interaction and racial understanding.

Matthes’ breakfast speech was “bashed” by Race Matters, Friends for being “culturally and racially illiterate.” The speech would have been instructive in a college classroom because it demonstrated several truths about race in America. Among these are that media images make a difference in our perceptions of other people and that government and social programs can address “perception gaps” and biases.

The reaction also demonstrates that achieving the theme of the breakfast, “Forward in Unity: Embracing our Beloved Community,” is made more difficult by subsets of the community looking for political advantage rather than helping grow the local conversation.

Matthes set up his speech reporting on Columbia’s efforts at closing the job gap by illustrating how media images affect our perceptions. He recounted that during the protest in Ferguson in August 2014, the media was criticized for using unflattering images of Michael Brown as a thug rather than as a recent high school graduate who was college bound.

In response, protestors created a social media site where they posted photos of themselves in casual street dress and in more formal professional dress to illustrate that they are the same person that can project different images to society and the media.

To illustrate the importance of a job, Matthes’ showed two sets of images of five African-Americans. To be honest, as Matthes showed casual photos of the five Americans with comments such as, “The guy in the middle looks like he could rob a bank,” I squirmed in my seat a little and thought, “What the heck, where is he going?” I noticed some of the other people in the 1,000-person audience looking more closely at the images and shifting in their chairs. Matthes then went on to display and commenting on job-related photos of the same five people. For the guy in the middle he said, “The funny thing about the guy who looked like he was gonna rob a bank — he is a banker.” With that, I exhaled and thought, “Oh, I get it — ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’” and “clothes make the man (sic)” as our parents would say. We know this to be true, but we seldom admit it so publicly, especially before a crowd of well educated, racially sensitive people who bought, or were given, tickets to the event.

Matthes then went on to discuss a city youth internship called CARE — Career Awareness Related Experience — that provides at-risk 14-20 year olds with job readiness and internships in local businesses and organizations. Matthes said that it costs about $1,500 per participant and asked that we consider contributing. I had not been aware of the program but certainly see its value in closing the racial job gaps that exists across America.

Overall, Matthes’ choice of words and examples were startling but appropriate although it made me squirm a little. Personally, I would not have said “as a white man” because I have been educated to be an academic wimp and would have used the more vague “some people.” Secondly, rather than saying “it is good to be on time and to take a bath before a job interview,” it would be more politically hygienic to say “be punctual and dress for success.” Matthes seemed to be genuine and speaking “personally” so I accept his choice of words. Too often we repeat the same old socially acceptable slogans out of fear of being blasted for being “culturally and racially illiterate.”

Columbia has two race-oriented discussion programs this spring in which I will eagerly participate. The Inclusive Excellence program is a collection of city events focusing on promoting understanding of our diverse population. The second is book study of Jim Wallis’ “America’s Original Sin” involving 12 local churches supported by a reconciliation grant from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I hope all participants will speak frankly and honestly using their own words rather than repeating rhetorical platitudes that make us feel good but seldom result in change. I hope that if I say “take a bath” rather than “dress for success” that fellow participants either say “some people find that too personal to be polite” or say “oh, I know what you mean and I will cut you some slack.” Productive, genuine conversation about racial topics require us to persevere, be understanding, and not look for reasons to be disagreeable.

 

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Melissa Carr’s retirement marks end of career for exemplary public servant

Columbia MISSOURIAN

January 9, 2018

David Webber

Melissa Carr, presently the Director of the Danial Boone Regional Library, will retire next week after 46 years of service to our libraries, 21 years as director. Mid-Missouri was fortunate to have her all these years.

Melissa is an exemplary public servant whose likes we probably will not see again — not only in public libraries, but in education, social services and across many institutions of our society. Combined with the loss of local ownership of the Tribune, the sale of MBS, and rapid turnover of University of Missouri System and MU administrators, it feels like the passing of a generational torch.

Show me a leader in higher education, health care or public corporations who is likely to serve as the head of her organizations for the next 21 years. If Melissa had been a collegiate sports coach, we would name a sports facility after her.

It was my responsibility and pleasure to serve on the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board of Trustees from 2005-2013. From that vantage point, I observed Melissa through countless committee meetings, full board meetings, public functions and personal conversations. The board of trustees consisted of 19 appointed individuals with different personalities, familiarity with a public organization, verbal skills and inclinations to use them, and level of involvement in board decisions. Melissa could relate to all of them.

I served on the evaluation, finance and strategic planning committees watching Melissa interact with staff, other board members and the public. Melissa was always prepared, focused and patient. Over the years, I have heard many board members describe and comment about her integrity, her work habits, and her knowledge of library operations, library law, property tax levies and health care insurance.

Melissa, as everyone calls her, has a sixth sense for human relations. Several times I observed her gently nudging a stubborn, obstructionist board member along toward making a group decision. In one of my early years on the board, I met privately with her suggesting she take a stronger, quicker hand similar to what I observed by many public administrators. Her response was “David, I’ve tried it that way and it works out better if we take more time and let everybody be involved.” Repeatedly I found that Melissa could always give good reasons for her decisions.

Melissa was expert at keeping in touch with four different groups of people: her staff, the mid-Missouri public, local and state public officials and the national American library network. Professional positions at the local library did not become vacant very often. Melissa has a loyal and committed staff whose skills she uses and opinion she listens to. Melissa has won awards from local groups and the American Library Association. She always comes through.

Melissa was director of the library during an era of extraordinary change. Among these were re-opening of the Columbia library, building the Ashland branch, adding satellite lockers and drop boxes around two counties, and transitioning into the information technology age with ebooks and databases rather than just good ole books.

 

In the eight years I served on the library board, the trait that I kept noticing about Melissa was her openness to change in order to improve the library. Watching Melissa figuring out how to fund the Ashland branch and dealing with individual patron concerns was rather inspiring. The Daniel Boone Regional Library is an excellent organization devoted to improving library services to a diverse and changing population. Appropriately, one of her last achievements is the merging of the Boone County library district with the city of Columbia district. Few citizens will notice this legalistic change but it will streamline library governance, making library boundaries conform to the growing Columbia metro area. Melissa could have easily kicked this issue  down the road, passing it on to a future library director.

Melissa faced, and survived, several library and family health challenges. When she became director in 1996, she not only succeeded two icons of local library service — Virginia Young and Gene Taylor — but faced several board members skeptical about her selection. A few years later a proposal to expand library facilities was defeated at the polls. Melissa led the library in taking a step back, conducting a deep survey of public preferences, and launching a strategic plan that expanded services using present resources.

About five years ago, Melissa spoke to my MU senior capstone class of students who were getting ready to graduate. A student asked what was the most important trait for new employees to develop. Melissa told them “be a team player — do your part and share the credit.” This is the best single description of Melissa’s approach.

Politics may have never been normal, but this is ridiculous

Politics may have never been normal, but this is ridiculous

David Webber Columbia MISSOURIAN December 27, 2017

Politics has always been a messy business but the process for passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rose, or sank, to new levels of self-interest, chaos and irrationality. That nice orderly diagram of “how a bill becomes a law” (“regular order” as it is called on Capitol Hill) should be banned from school textbooks for being a long-lost fiction.

In a democracy, open, transparent policy deliberations are essential to reducing the uncertainty of alternatives because policy-makers are not experts. Political expediency seldom results in better policy decisions. In a democracy, as stated in our Constitution’s preamble, “we the people” established government to “establish justice and to promote the general welfare” not to further the private fortunes of the powerful.

President Trump and Congressional leaders last week compared the Tax Cuts Act with the Tax Reform Act of 1986 proclaiming the recent act was a broad sweeping reform and the biggest tax cut in history.

Bigness is not always better. It is almost certain that the Tax Cut Act of 2017 will result in the biggest federal deficit in history and the biggest reduction in Medicare in history. Hardly accomplishments. The recent tax act passed the Senate on a party line vote was formally introduced in the House Nov. 2.

Compare that to the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which was the second of two tax cuts in the Reagan Administration, that was subjected to more than five years of open debate. Moreover, its co-sponsors included Democratic House leader Richard Gephardt and Democratic Senator Bill Bradley.

The 1986 Act was more of a “reform” in that it increased compliance and reduced tax complicity compared with the most recent act which largely reduced corporate taxes and various income “pass thrus,”  ” The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was ironed-out on C-SPAN with members of Congress having copies of the bill on which they were debating and voting. Of course, that was before the Internet, texting and, and tweeting — all of which should have made us better informed rather than more quickly overwhelmed. Congress operated, mostly, in “regular order” in a bipartisan fashion.

The genesis of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was the “Kemp Roth Proposal” that was developed in the 1970s; the idea for the Tax Cuts Act of 2017 was evidently when Republican Leader Mitch McConnel decided there would be a first-year legislative success at any cost.

To be sure: Congress has operated outside of “regular order” for at least two decades. Two well-publicized examples at the time are the Prescription Part D expansion during the Bush Administration in 2003 and the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in 2009.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and the 1995 Republican House Majority during under Speaker Newt Gingrich are two pivotal events in the steady decline of Congressional legitimacy. NAFTA with its specialized trade provisions was too complex for the mere mortals in Washington, making it more acceptable for members of Congress to repeat things they did not understand. Before that, major public debates were simple and clear. Deciding about civil rights, Vietnam, abortion, and clean air and water is less complex than the incidence and impact of specific tax provisions. Political observers could differ on the desirability of different outcomes, but policy alternatives were clear and Congressional deliberations were open and more bipartisan.

Gingrich was the political czar who led the Republicans to take the majority in the 1994, and became speaker earlier than he would have had the man who would have been speaker, Bob Michael of Illinois, not retired that same year. Gingrich stayed in campaign mode and the Congress has been more partisan since as evidenced by having five different men take a turn as Speaker the years the Republicans have been in the majority.

The American public is not well-versed on public policy issues and its unlikely it understands the 2017 Tax Cuts. Even so, public opinion surveys in early December found that less than a third of citizens supported the Act. My hunch is that about a third of Congress and the news media understand the provisions of the Tax Cuts Act and its likely impact on society. Much of the media coverage focused more on when the House and the Senate would vote on the tax bill rather what was actually in the bill and the difference it would make.

Most troubling is the increase in the federal deficit that will contribute to “automatic spending cuts” in domestic programs and increased borrowing from international sources, mainly China. Both impacts will be gradual, practically invisible to the American public, and long-lasting.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994

Jenny’s Journal Brings Holiday Cheer

Jenny’s Journal Brings Holiday Cheer

Today’s mail brought one of the few paper Christmas cards I receive (it’s my own fault: I don’t send any) from a former MU student (circa 1995).  I opened it quickly knowing that inside would be her “Jenny’s Journal” –a two-page review of her year’s activities and highlights. I bet she has done this most years since graduating and getting her first job in Washington, D.C.  It is so her!  And so old-fashioned. She tells about her travels, her family and friends, the concerts she has heard, her involvement in her community. All in two pages mentioning people I do not know but who sound fascinating. I learn about authors and events of which I was unaware. Every now and then she has a quote or a reference to current events.  Her tone is happy and grateful even through sickness and job re-location.  It is delightful and reassuring. What a nice tradition she started for herself a long time ago.

Here is a national win-win: Turn up the political calendar to 2020

Here is a national win-win: Turn up the political calendar to 2020

               We are in national pickle: we have a delusional president who could do serious damage, an irresponsible Congress that is too partisan to serve us and save us, a crisis-crazed media that needs constant adrenaline rushes, and a special prosecutor who may soon be squeezing the president, and his family and staff, for the truth about their involvement with Russia. It seems hopeless, like we are trapped, bound to suffer thru three more years of an unpopular president.  But there is an easy solution that might get a good deal of support: turn the calendar to 2020.   Continue reading

It’s a Traffic Jungle Out There

DAVID WEBBER: It’s a traffic jungle out there

Columbia MISSOURIAN

Daily driving has gotten tougher over the past decade or two. More round-abouts to contend with, J-turns on Highway 63, U-turns confusion at any time, more bicyclists on the streets, sitting behind texting drivers waiting to turn left at a busy intersection and the light turns amber. Here in Columbia, the City Council will soon consider an ordinance to ban texting while driving by all drivers, not just those under 21 or commercial drivers as is the current ordinance. This is a necessary, but insufficient, to make Columbia’s roads safer and less stressful.

Forty-seven states ban texting while driving, all but five have primary enforcement, allowing officers to issue a citation when they see a driver texting regardless of other infractions. Missouri is not one of them, choosing instead to ban texting for drivers under 21.

In the Midwest, driving is essential to most people’s lives. For some, it is joy and escape, for others it is stress and anxiety. As the population grows so do the number of registered vehicles to nearly 270 million. Increased economic development may mean more jobs, but it also means more vehicles with more drivers. More of these drivers have cell phones, some use them while driving despite knowing it is not a wise social practice. We may have smartphones but we have a lot of not so many smart drivers. The American fatality rate is 40 percent higher than Canada and Australia. Americans still drive too fast and too many still resist seat belts.

With two decades worth of data, the facts support prohibiting cell use while driving. One insurance company estimated that in 2010 more than two-thirds of drivers use cell phones. A California Highway patrol study found that about 10 percent of drivers are using cell phones at any time. The National Highway Safety Administration reports that more than 3,000 fatalities in 2015 were due to distracted driving. That’s about 10 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Individuals who drive while sending or reading text messages are 23 more times likely to be involved in a car crash than other drivers. A crash typically happens within an average of three seconds after a driver is distracted.

Modern information technology can be tools for solving the problems it created. Two websites are useful for discouraging texting while driving. Itcanwait.com offers a pledge that you, the driver, will put your phone down while driving. The site also provides educational materials including a realistic simulation demonstrating the impact of distracted driving. DriveSafe.ly is a mobile application that reads text messages and emails aloud in real time and automatically responds without drivers touching their cellphone.

My own informal observation of local drivers is that a lot more than 10 percent use cellphones while driving. My eyes see that closer to 25 percent of drivers who pass through Stadium and Broadway are actively using a cellphone and that at least that many have a cellphone on the seat or console ready to go, if needed. There has been an epidemic of cellphone users and it is not limited to drivers 21 and under. In fact, I would venture that 21 and under drivers are probably no riskier than are older drivers.

The chief consequence of text while driving is distracted driving. Despite our desire to make it so, multi-tasking is a myth. The brain cannot not competently handle many tasks at once. A distraction is interrupted thought. Failure to see an object or another vehicle is a textbook example of distracted driving.

Driving patterns have changed over the past decade — most likely due to cellphones. Failure to signal, delayed passage through left hand-turns and four-way stops, and hogging the left lane are widespread driving practices due to cellphones. It is common practice, i.e. more than half, for vehicles leaving the University hospital or the MU sports complex via Stadium towards the Mall to go immediately into the left lane and stay there until they exit at Broadway, the mall or I-70. They prefer the left lane because it gives them more flexibility while checking their cellphone.

Running on city streets has become more hazardous as well. Running in the bike lane toward traffic is dangerous because of the vehicles that straddle the bike lane so the driver has a buffer on both sides. Similarly, running in subdivisions is dangerous due to the vehicles turning right at a stop sign without ever looking for oncoming runners or pedestrians.

Regulating distracting driving presents several challenges, including deciding between “primary” and “secondary’ enforcement and deciding how much surveillance is appropriate. Designating distracting driving as an illegal driving behavior is a deterrent in itself. Most citizens prefer to comply with the law. A local ordinance will serve as a little nudge to cause drivers to do what they know they should do, i.e. put down their phones and drive more safely.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/opinion/local_columnists/david-webber-it-s-a-traffic-jungle-out-there/article_6e0dceea-d309-11e7-aced-67b7b1dbd8d6.html