Saturday, September 16, 2017

Beauty is NOT in the Eye of the Driver

The City of Calgary has ensured that public works projects include a component for public art. The formula starts with a far-from-indulgent 1% of a project's total cost to a maximum of $4 million. The city has been enhanced by the additions of these elements and they have significantly contributed to the atmosphere of the neighbourhoods where these projects have occurred and art has been added. During my first visit to Enmax Park this morning, I was greeted by an installation of a multicoloured fish. There are, as Calgarians well know, similar installations throughout the city at our LRT platforms, public buildings and other infrastructure that has been added to the city.

Collectively these pieces of art contribute to the life of the community and have met with little controversy or criticism.  There are, however, two notorious pieces which continue to provoke bewilderment if not the ire of Calgarians.  The Big Blue Ring and the more recently installed Bowfort Towers have been the most controversial of the installations and it is probably not a coincidence that these two pieces were installed near new highway construction. The scale and complexity of pieces in such large spaces is going to be far more problematic than pieces located in more walkable areas of the city where the interaction with the art can be more casual, intimate and less time-sensitive.  The larger scale art along the highways needs to be bold (or blatant) rather than nuanced, at least in visual complexity.  Factor in the significant budgets for both installations -- which has amounted to $470,000 and $500,000, respectively, -- and you have projects that are going to provoke criticism. 

Drivers, the notorious lot that they are, are difficult to satisfy.  If they are asked how their drive is, there is rare mention of a pleasant or mind-clearing drive.  You know, the wide open roads of the Pacific Coast Highway or the Cabot Trail did not emerge during their tedious, tree-lined trip from Calgary to Edmonton and back.  If they happen to have the opportunity to drive the Icefields Parkway, they will complain about getting stuck behind some acrophobic driver from Saskatchewan who was terrified of the heights during the drive, overlooking the chance that said tourist might be soaking in the sights.  A driver wants nothing more than to get from point A to point B with the minimum hassle and fuss and the lowest risk possible of getting caught by photo radar.  They will happily screech to a halt at the first fluorescent or neon beacon offering burgers, donuts, soda and or coffee no matter how little of the drive is left, but they want to be alone and have the road to themselves.

It is disappointing that the expense of the art gets the ridicule that it does but the investment in the highway infrastructure is regarded as a requirement, even though research shows again and again, even in Calgary, that such spending on cars and highway infrastructure is futile.  

Part of the problem with these public art projects is that regardless of where the funding is coming from, they are projects that are ultimately regarded as private space by those who use them.  These highway projects raise the expectation, wrongly, that they will ease congestion for people travelling in these parts of the city and fail to do so. In the face of that failure, drivers' sense of entitlement regarding the roads they drive on escalates.  The City of Calgary's policy regarding public art ought to maintained rather than suspended and reviewed. The issue with the Big Blue Ring and Bowfort Towers is the disconnect that is evident when trying to put public art into a space that people want to regard as private.  The aesthetics and budget for the art aside, the main provocation may be the assertion that this highway infrastructure is not a simple slab of concrete and asphalt than appeared pricelessly from the heavens but the reminder that it is ultimately a public space.  Installing art in these areas, despite the controversy, has been a noble effort to assert that these spaces are, indeed, public.

If the suspension of Calgary's current public art policy prompts a retreat from adding the public enhancements that have helped beautify and revitalize the city as it has over the decade or so since the policy was introduced, it would be a significant failure of will and sound thinking at City Hall.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Attaining the Unicorn

To start by totally burying the lede, I happened to get a high-five from Andrew Ference - recently-retired former captain of the Edmonton Oilers and Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins.

I ran a personal best today, beating my previous by 4:40. At 50! Today's 3:25:29 lanced a summer of frustration and reiterated what I learned earlier this year about the mental aspects of the marathon. More significantly, it qualified me for the Boston Marathon, a goal I missed by an oh-so-close, c'mon-round-it-up 9 seconds last November. That result is one that I remain grateful for and now it glows so much brighter without the what-if hanging over it.

Throughout the summer I have had a sense of being disconnected from my running and not enjoying the races as much as I normally did.  Where in other races there was this sense of connection with the runners I've been with, even if I did not get a chance to talk to them, the summer races had seemed more isolated for one reason or another.  Even if I was grinding the miles with the same group of runners for a long stretch, I did not send out any energy to them to support them or acknowledge what they were up to during the race.  I was a little less a part of the running community, I felt, when I joined in the chute on race day.

So last Sunday, after a rough summer that included several disappointing results and a DNF, where I didn't even finish 10K of a half-marathon, I decided to test my mettle one last time.  Last year's PB was run in the US in the fall and while the coming cooler weather holds some promise of improved results, I did not want to sink a lot of money into registration and travel if my head and body weren't up to it. Running Edmonton was a low cost, low risk, FLAT, course that would be a sufficient indicator of where I could be at if my head was a little clearer.  Running two days after changing jobs might have cleared my head, but my emotions were running rather high (ha, rather) so it was hard to tell where my head was going to be.  I pondered running without the watch and just staying comfortable throughout rather than pushing or doing the finish time math for the duration of the race.

Despite waking up at 1:30am and again at 3am, I was going to make a point of enjoying it.  If results were off, I was going to dispose of them as a consequence of trying to enjoy the race. As I walked to the start before dawn, I thanked the cops I saw on Jasper Avenue, getting out of the isolation that may have kept me away from satisfying results me earlier during the summer. When walking the last few blocks to the start, I ran into a runner from the UK, who was bagging his last of the 10 provinces to go along with all 50 US states and a grand total of 887 marathons.  (I asked him, he told me.  I replied with a chuckle at my suddenly paltry 9.)  I was getting connected again.

In the chute, I wasn't sure if I was "there" for the race.  With "Life's What You Make It" cued to set the theme and the cadence for the first half-hour of the race, I was conscious of a concerning lack of nerves.  After the fiasco with the pacers at last year's Edmonton Marathon, I regarded this year's with some trepidation but they looked the part and I was relieved not to hear the 3:30 or 3:45 pacers declare, "I've never run this pace before!!" as was the case with last year's 3:45 pacer.

I was ready to bond with the pack.  After a K or so alongside one runner, I took my earbuds out and teased him about the barely perceptible fist-pump he made for canning his paper cup for two points after one of the water stations.  We had a bit of back and forth about races we've done.  He liked the Calgary Marathon.  I replied that I did not.  (I did hold off on talking about the Bataan Death March down Memorial Drive, however.)  I was prepared to keep up the banter for a while, but I slowly pulled away.

I checked my watch to find I was going a little "hot," (as my brother would put it.) I decided not panic about it.  Today was a day that it was okay to conk.  All I wanted to do was extend my senses to the battlefronts of chest and limbs and get a full report on what my body was willing and able to do.  The only adverse report was coming from my near-numb feet, which were a bit nerveless thanks to me tying my shoes too tight.  I think I got sensation there about 18K into the race.

My head was clear and furthermore focused on one thing.  I WANTED THE BQ TIME.  I had given some consideration to the strategy I would adopt if I was going to go for it and each time I thought about it, I did not want to go out easy and leave myself scrambling to close it near the end.  If the body was telling me no, then I'd take it easy and just take in the experience.  The body - at least from ankles up - was all in, and - with a friend's prediction that I'd just blow the BQ out of the water since I wasn't expecting much - I dropped the hammer.  Besides, I happened to be wearing a pair of shoes that I unintentionally wrote the area code for Boston on when I jotted the month of purchase on them. The talismans were with me.

I caught the 3:30 pacer around the 11K mark.  I had hung with that group and pondered the comfort and security of drafting off them for a while and making my break toward the end, but that risked the late scramble I was not keen on.  I ventured on. There were two other groups that I came upon a little further ahead, but I still felt confident and pushed through.

Around this point, it was clear that I was having a good back and forth push with a younger Asian runner, that I may just have seen and run with around the halfway mark when I did Edmonton in 2016.  We had probably started our back and forth around the 3K mark but as the pack spread, we were on our own each taking our turn to push the pace and keep us at the pace we set.  By the halfway mark, I had 4 minutes to spare in pursuit of the BQ. Throughout though, I was connected to those around me. Whenever I saw the 79-year-old gent who was achieving his goal of 100 marathons before age 80 -- 9's not so paltry now, huh? -- I gave him a high-five to power us both along.

My Asian friend and I went back and forth, pushing each other and pulling each other along throughout the race probably.  At the 28K mark I extended a fist bump to him and let me know that we just had to grind out the last bit.  At this point I just wanted to get to the 30K mark and assure myself that I could manage to get the last 12K in an hour at a 5 minute/K pace and I'd be in the clear. Eventually, a young female runner from the 3:30 pack caught and passed me and the Asian runner fell into step with her and pulled away.

From there, it was a matter of holding it together with the pace I needed to the finish.  I added another 30 seconds of cushion in the second half of the race and as I came to the finish, I actually raised my arms.  Yes, me.  Before the volunteer got my medal around my neck I gave her a huge hug and announced that I had qualified for Boston.

"It'll change your life!", she said with the authority of one who knows.

Today's did, too.

*BTW the unicorn reference is to the logo for the Boston Marathon.  I see it constantly out on the trails and now I can have one of my own.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Volkswagen's Meek Call to Storytelling

During Father's Day brunch Sunday morning, the muted broadcast on CNN drew my eye away from the table and my son's prodigious consumption of waffles. There was no disaster to report, at least not in the graphic trope of nighttime pandemonium lit by the passing strobe of red and blue flashers. No, the talking heads were merely parsing "presidential" Tweets from what I could discern.

What caught my eye was a Volkswagen commercial that featured a scene on some outcrop along the Pacific Coast Highway; as with many a car commercial Big Sur provides the rugged, ragged, horizon-laden metaphor of west coast freedom of space, thought and the open road. Unlike countless other commercials set there, the theme was not complemented by the openness of a cruising convertible.  Instead, the commercial ended with the spreading of a lost patriarch's ashes into the Pacific waters and a child attempting to frame the setting sun in her fingers.

What I saw on CNN was an abbreviated version of "America," a commercial for a new seven-seater that VW has introduced. Without the soundtrack, the ad seemed downbeat - as bleak and self-destructive as the EV-1 ads GM did when introducing and distancing itself from its first electric car. A visit to YouTube to watch the ad with the soundtrack gave more context.  Simon and Garfunkel's "America," is deployed to accompany a family's coast to coast journey through America's rural landscapes to evoke an attachment or some nostalgia for a nation that was once held together by its highways and its fondness for the open road and the promise that it held of there being enough space for everyone.

The longer version of the commercial begins with the matriarch urging her kin to see the country she wanted to see and doing it together, phrasing that struck me as awkwardly on the nose with its reference to the spacious car. However, when she says,"there is enough room for everyone" she is not talking about the car, but the country and echoing the same tone as the more positive commercials that were featured during the Super Bowl in February.  VW's spot tries to reiterate the need for the country to hold together, but there is a meekness about that message.  The journey starts in New York City with a drive across one of the city's bridges but that is the lone image of urban American life throughout the journey.  The family passes through countryside, stops to reminisce at the type of diner that is used in Iowa by aspiring presidential candidates to play the man-of-the-people role as campaign stagecraft unfolds every fourth January.

Each of the rural settings evokes the reminders of the wide open spaces and the purity of the landscape but with each shot in the sequence, the is an insistent reminder that these are the flyover states that turned Red last November. The efforts at quaint nostalgia around an old abandoned sedan just as easily remind people of the decay in the Rust Belt as they do the peak of the Greatest Generation.  Rather than stating the desire for diversity and defiance of Trump's myopic version of greatness as boldly as those Super Bowl ads did, this one come across as resigned and cautious in its assertion of what America ought to be and may still be.  If only...

The conventional symbols have morphed under the weight of pessimism and are now adulterated by the co-opting of the word "America" by the current president and the misplaced ennui that made him president. Through this lens, the comfort of these familiar tropes is lost and the Simon and Garfunkel tune now, even a year after Bernie Sanders' use of it, seems elegiac rather than aspirational.

Perhaps the images alone will carry that message with the caution and delicacy to win over the denizens of the flyover states.  Perhaps Americans will venture out once again on road trips and share stories such as the one that is the centre of this ad. The question that remains and does not evoke the most optimistic of answers, however, is whenever people will care enough to listen to one another's stories and let them unfold in the detail and richness of a few minutes and not 30 seconds or 140 characters.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Akulivik is Not Alone

On a sunny afternoon in late August 1992, if I recall correctly, five young women visited my home in Ivujivik, Quebec.  Actually, it was six young women if you want to count the three-month-old that one of those adolescents brought with her. 

For reference, today in 2017, Ivujivik is the next village past Akulivik if you happen to be flying Air Inuit up the west coast of Quebec toward the 60th parallel. I happened to have had a layover in Akulivik in 1991 when I was first heading north to begin my career as a teacher there.  These neighbouring villages vary only in topography and surroundings, the line of the shore and their orientation to the path of the sun or the routes of migrating caribou. Much else is the same. The government-designed housing that leaves me asking myself, "Is that Ivujivik...?" whenever I see a news report from the north, is the same. The isolation and reliance on Air Inuit and the late summer sealifts. The ineffable silence that can engulf you on the tundra, the prompt to stretch your ears for the slightest aeolian whistle of wind across the granite. The social challenges that have become so endemic that they only earned a shrug of resigned acknowledgement when anything less that these multiple stabbings transmits an echo from the North to the South.

North and on the reserve, the tragedies of indigenous communities only extend a ripple through the consciousness of the south when communities reach a breaking point that illuminates realities in the south. In a world as wired as ours is today, it is a testament to apathy that only the large-scale tragedy of an Akulivik merits our collective attention.  Since the stabbings occurred last Sunday (June 11) the people of the 14 communities of Nunavik (or Arctic Quebec) have made the effort to demonstrate their unity, their despair and their need for more comprehensive support from governments at the federal and provincial level. Makivik Corporation, a business entity that works in the region but has significant influence on the social capital of the Inuit of Nunavik, would also be a significant player in responding to the issues in Nunavik more meaningfully.

It has been clear for at least a generation that this community needs social services and support to deal with the changes that have occurred in their communities since they were established as fixed settlements and effectively began the dissolution of the traditions, culture and bonds that held those communities together and allowed them to survive in their environment for as successfully as they indeed did.

Let me turn back to that August afternoon. The five girls who visited me that afternoon were students that I taught.  A year earlier, one of their classmates, a 15 year-old-boy, turned that familiar despair on himself and took his own life. Another classmate took his life nine years later,  just as he was about to turn 20. And it did not end there.  It is common knowledge that the suicide rates in the north are haunting.  The numbers are ultimately ignored by those in the south.  Is it 6000% higher than the national average? Is it 250% higher? It does not matter because that number just does not seem to be enough to motivate decision makers and the stingy resource hoarders in government from directing the manpower, compassion or intelligence to address the suicide pandemic that is so prevalent in the south. The five girls who visited me that afternoon, not only lost two classmates.  Two of them, two of these five women, who are just crossing from their mid-30s to their late 30s, have lost their children to suicide.  One of those children was the three-month-old girl that I held for a few minutes that afternoon. I mused about asking the principal of my school if there would be an issue having her mother bring the baby to school if she wanted to continue her education, but I squashed the inquiry because I doubted there was an appetite for such an innovation. Those five women have been directly impacted by four suicides.  And those are just the suicides that I know of.  You can be certain there have been others.

Rather than waiting for a blip of multiple deaths to merit the attention of the south, perhaps it is time for the Canadian media to devote a week, a month, or a year to report each suicide that occurs among indigenous communities.  As it stands, those statistics are quietly accumulated and filed without any recognition of the detailed despair that suicide victims, their families and their communities go through.

Resource people need to be deployed to these communities to give the support that these people need. If one ponders social workers as an example, they need to be people from the community to support one another.  Better still, there might simply be a need for training to give people the knowledge to provide the support they already try to provide one another with more informed intention. Initiatives to give kids, and adults for that matter, more to do with their time and more opportunity to find their passions and things they can aspire to be.  Joe Juneau's efforts to organize hockey in the region as a means to give kids something else that they can divert their attention and time to.

If nothing is done to bring these resources to the region, and others like it, the suicides will continue, as will the alcohol and domestic abuse and other social problems that form a vicious, silent circle in the north and throughout indigenous communities everywhere.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Horizoned Management or Leading Without Limits

Twenty years ago, I was teaching English in a Japanese junior high school I worked with a number of Japanese English teachers and the contribution I made ranged from parroting pronunciation of English sounds or coming up with games to distinguish between the present perfect and the simple past. I had already been teaching in Japan for two years at that point and the time in the public school system was a chance to gain some insight about the obstacles or phobias for Japanese speakers that remained despite a minimum of six years of instruction in the language. Linguists could cite several barriers that stand in the way of Japanese learners. I could add to that discussion with an echo or two, but I wish to take this in a more metaphorical direction.

One of the instructors that I worked with was one I invariably had the following exchange with:

Me: Good morning.
Him: Fine thank you.

I do not wish to assert that he had a particularly inflexible or unmindful approach to English. Ironically, the Math teacher with the desk across from mine spoke more fluent English and had more innovative ideas for teaching English than my co-teacher.  In the classroom, it was clear that my co-teacher's limitations with the language immediately restricted what students could learn. He confined his students' growth to the parts of the language he was competent in. Discrete pronunciation of sounds over fluency. Grammar over vocabulary and so on.

He taught them, corrected them and tested them on only what he was capable of assessing. He was not unique among Japanese English teachers whose limited competency or fluency in English sets a low ceiling on students' language development.  English instruction in Japan, it could be argued, has even been institutionalized to allow teachers of low English proficiency to function in the classroom, despite the limits that imposes on the potential of the students. In that English classroom, Japanese is the prevailing medium of exchange and English is a remote object of observation, examined and theorized upon rather than practiced and cultivated.

For all that could be said about whether or not valuable learning could occur under such conditions, the same restrictions are imposed again and again by managers who operate from very small comfort zones that they do not allow their units to grow beyond.  Too many organizations are structured in a way that either managers or the organizational structures that they function in, restrain the potential of the individuals that comprise that organization or its discrete units.

When encountering the creativity or the autonomy of individuals able to come up with creative solution, a manager -- if uncomfortable with the uncertainty ahead -- may squelch that creativity for the comforts of safe confinement in the system or compliance with the rules.  Structure is intended to provide order and certainty to the work individuals do in large organizations.  However, the structure becomes confining if a manager, threatened by the uncertainties that may stem from individuals expressing their creativity or demonstrating ways to improvise and expand upon their roles.  The manager has the opportunity to be more response to the situation and the opportunities that an employee has identified and ought to support that growth the individual is proposing.  The choice to play it safe in those circumstances frequently becomes a cautionary tale because a manager refuses to stretch beyond a self-defined (or confined) measure of capacity.  Compliance is a cited as an excuse, but it is a poor one if the organization has a desire to maximize its potential and that of its employees. The problems that a staff cites and the solutions they offer could be the first indicators and responses to danger that an organization's central nervous system offers. Ignoring those signs will deaden that nerve and make the organization less responsive.

This inhibited, compliance-oriented and hierarchical approach to management imposes limits not only creativity, but ultimately competence.  It also takes energy and self-initiative out of the organization and inculcates an approach to work that is binary with a obedience to the punch clock and rules. The result is a passive defiance when the opportunity to create, contribute and expand roles is suddenly or urgently required.  Such cautious and limited vision helps avoid failure but only for the sake of keeping a manager in his or her comfort zone.  And this will occur at the long-term vibrancy of the organization. Jeff Bezos of Amazon said of his approaches to management, "If you only extend into places where your skill sets serve you, your skills become outmoded." If Amazon chose to remain an online bookstore, their share price would never have crested $1000.

If an organization allowed itself to get outmoded -- Kodak is a telling example -- then changes to business will loom to decimate or simply destroy your business.  For a manager, however, that threat is only as significant as an organization's interest in risk and innovation.  If there is no appetite for the possible rewards then that manager is safe and performance will be measured by fixed metrics of efficiency and return on investment.  That manager's performance will be well regarded, even if that individual and his or her organization has a sneaking suspicion on ineffable lack that will remain unnoticed until competitors out-innovate them into a smaller market share or the turnover of disengaged employees becomes something more pressing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Mental Marathon

There appears to be some preparation, but not enough mental prep.
I would not pretend that I am a great athlete, but with the most recent marathon I have run still looming large in the rearview mirror, I can say that each of those races has been a significant event and perhaps even a turning point.

At the very least, each has been a check in and an opportunity to gauge where I am at physically and mentally after a few hours of high demand performance.

There has been the initiation to the distance, the disappointing hobble to the finish and the enlightening near-miss of the Boston Qualifying time. Each of those races stands out as a highlight in my life and this week I add to that collection a race that in my kindest moments I can still only regard as metaphorical in light of my frustration. The result was decent but the mental race was easily the most difficult and demanding.  With the passage of a few days and a solid recovery run under my belt, I can now digest the disappointment and start to get it out of my system.

I can rifle off a range of factors that came to mind during Sunday and since that made the race a little better:
- I could have gotten to the race start a little earlier
- I could have warmed up a little more or a little differently
- I could have eaten less for breakfast or even nothing
- I ought to have chatted with a fellow runner for a while to idle a way a few K
- I could have been carrying a little less weight
- I might have trained too hard, I might

Each of these tiny things could have made some difference but the fact was not at a mental or emotional peak for the race.  Throughout 2017, I have found that the circumstances and conditions for a race need to be spot on in order for me to do what I was able to do as little as 18-24 months ago. The proper

When it came time to grapple with the hills and then the heat of the race whatever emotional reserves I needed for the race were tapped dry with about 10-11K to go. With the heat building on the unshaded asphalt of Memorial Drive at 10am, I gave into to a fury of frustration and trudged my way to the finish, petulant and taxed by the race and the outside factors that had made it as metaphorical as it was. For some reason I was unable to lock in on the reliable images, thoughts, mantras or other touchstones that push me along through other races. Even before I emotionally tapped out, I did not have the enthusiasm for the distance that I have had in the past. The solitude of this particular run was telling.  Apart from my silence, there were only a few brief moments where I drew anything from the company I was running with.  I can recall aspects of running in sight of them but I was not connecting with them, even with mere observation, the way I had in previous races.

This race, like the previous ones, marks a transition but I am uncertain of what it will be.  The solitude of other races may have morphed into loneliness and a sense of exposure on this one. For some time I have believed there is a reliable correlation between the marathon and the training for a marathon. You can't hide from a lack of preparation in the marathon.  The results will tell whether you did or you didn't. A marathon is not going to gift you a fluke 15 or 30 minutes in speed if you haven't put the time in, or if you happen to be naturally gifted and you are just giving it a try for curiosity sake.  If you fall short, the excuses ring pretty hollow with anyone who is in the know. The honesty of it and the direct correlation between efforts and results are a pretty reliable thing to behold. This time around it didn't feel that way throughout the race. Despite running about 200 more kilometres between January 1 and the Calgary Marathon in 2017 than I did in 2016, I was only 90 seconds better (officially) than the year before, when I ran on a bad leg as well. That amount of training, which amounted to a sluggish start to the race, left me particularly vulnerable to the accuracy of the lyric from "In a Big Country"...

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered,
but you can't stay here with every single hope you have shattered.  

While I've run to that song in previous races and accelerated to it, during this marathon, I nodded grim agreement to that sentiment.

So as the battered legs shed their tightness tonight as I blasted through a hill in the summer swelter of Calgary and rediscovered the form and speed that were nowhere to be seen four days ago, the lesson from this race, should I heed the advice is simple: I have to look after a lot more than my legs and cardio if I'm going to keep this up.  I have to look after me and restore the calm that I found tonight, when the run rejuvenated rather than fatigued me as I went along.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Blind Eye to the Self-Evident

A cynic might question the motivation for declaring, in the United States Declaration of Independence, that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The bare hypocrisy of slaveholders declaring all men equal would prove inconvenient, but a laziness may have been fostered when it comes to defending a truth that is declared "self-evident."  It seems in the United States that the self-evident can be acknowledged with platitudes rather than the courageous actions, integrity and a pursuit and protection of a truth that required more stalwart champions.

There have been champions at times who have strived to make their fellow Americans aware of this self-evident truth and often they have met with exceptional resistance. McCarthyism came and ultimately went, but it had a platform and institutional powers to wreak havoc on the lives and potential of a significant number of people before the witch hunt was brought to heel.  The Ku Klux Klan has had the opportunity to wax and wane in popularity rather than be ostracized for the bigotry they espouse and their violent sidebar in American history.

Meanwhile, those who strived to bring equality and justice where it was merely self-evident -- Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk to name far too brief a list to do justice to the dignity, defiance and integrity that have been demonstrated by so many for the simplest of causes -- and posed an inconvenience to a society that congratulated itself for overlooking the injustices that troubled it met daunting resistance before the institutions and American government and society acknowledged and included each newly-acknowledged minority.  Unfortunately, however, the obstacles facing minorities in the United States get erected again and again and the so-called inalienable rights get challenged by the favour that is given to collective rights over individual rights.

The country that has E Pluribus Unum - "out of many, one" as its motto is hobbled by an array of hyphenated diversities where only one ought to exist. Instead of a commitment to individual rights that extends to all, regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identification, or sexual orientation, there have been efforts nationally and at the state level to implement laws that restrict freedoms and rights of specific groups.  Some laws are obvious in their target, such as those bathroom laws aimed at transgendered individuals. Other laws and initiatives are subtler on first glance, but are aimed at repressing the right to vote among minority groups.  Over time, some of these initiatives to reduce the rights of minority groups may be fought back, emphasis on may.  Until the time when those initiatives are recognized as the efforts by those in power -- whether by virtue of political office, corporate advantage or being among the majority -- to retain or hoard more power, American society will fail to be the pluralistic society of individuals it brands itself to be.  

The slow, hard-won and begrudging inclusion of one minority group at a time only sustains the American power structure rather than open it to allow all, as the Declaration of Independence states, the pursuit of happiness.  I might be inclined to quibble about the merit of this of all goals or pursuits, but to turn it the other way people deserve the right an opportunity to avoid the devastation and misery that comes with gun violence, and for-profit health care that is limited to the very few. As the US is run today, people are denied the opportunity to pursue happiness.

Since the election of Donald Trump, collectives have become empowered to assert their intolerance against minorities or those weaker than themselves. Two executive orders aimed at the travel privileges of individuals from predominantly Muslim countries have been pushed back against by the US courts, but the moves have, "activated Trump's base." The base probably feels a sense of security or certainty thanks to the ban and may have felt secure enough in their inclusion amongst the privileged to act out against minorities. There is some uncertainty as to whether hate crimes have risen or fallen since the 2016 election but Trump's initiative to have Homeland Security establish a unit to respond to complaints of crimes committed by immigrants is an ominous step toward establishing further obstacles for minorities in the United States, despite the reality that they are less likely to commit crimes.

Given the President's knack for distraction from the real issues, it seems that the initiatives he and other Republicans have embarked on to target minorities provide ample smokescreen for the policies and programs that are actually denying more people, not just the minorities, their rights to their inalienable rights. As the collectivist (what a nasty communistic sounding word) distribution of rights and powers continues to be bestowed upon those who are from the groups already with the greatest privilege, more and more of the very people who see him as their champion will be left out in the cold.  The concern is that these people will not likely turn against Trump as their quality of life continues to erode.