Author Archives: Warren J. Ludlow

And Justice For All

My drama teacher in high school required us to read An Enemy of the People, a play by Henrik Ibsen. My teacher kept harping on the play’s theme: the majority is not always correct. I never fully understood what she meant by that until years later as an adult.

As humans, we like to form groups, which leads to in-crowds and out-crowds. If you are part of the group, you are part of the in-crowd; if you are not in the group, you are part of the out-crowd. And those in-crowds we are part of can sometimes make us irrational. If we are football fans, for example, we put wild make-up on our faces and hair and dress in ways we wouldn’t anywhere other than at a football game. And we don’t just love our team; we hate the opposing team and every person supporting that team. That love-hate relationship is carried out not only on the field but sometimes in the stands. I smile at those photos showing a single person wearing a red jersey in a sea of blue jerseys and think of the Southwest Airlines ad line: “Want to get away?”

But it’s not just in sports. My parents raised me in a religion that taught it was the only true and living church on earth, and according to its founder, all others were an abomination in the sight of God. Little wonder I grew up with a bias against anyone who was not a member of my church. But fortunately, as a teenager, I started to see things differently. There are good people in all religions, and mine had no monopoly on the truth. And everyone, even those who disagree with us, is entitled to respect and understanding.

But what do you do if you are not a member of the predominant in-crowd? At the very least, you hope those in the in-crowd will treat you justly, despite being in the out-crowd. Alexander Hamilton once said, “I think the first duty of society is justice.” I believe all the Founding Fathers of this country saw it that same way and tried to set up a government that protected everyone, even those in the out-crowd.

In law school, I often thought about the symbol of legal justice—a woman holding a balancing scale with a blindfold over her eyes. In other words, justice should be blind to whether the person on trial is part of the in-crowd or the out-crowd. Said another way, we should decide all legal matters solely on their merits.

Sadly, reality does not always follow that ideal. Or, as Monica Piper once quipped, “Juries scare me. I don’t want to put my fate in the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”

One of my favorite movies at the recent Austin Film Festival was American: An Odyssey to 1947. In part, it told the story of Isaac Woodard. An African-American veteran of World War II, Woodard was a victim of racial violence that left him completely blind. After being discharged from the army and still in uniform, Woodard boarded a Greyhound bus from Augusta, Georgia, to his home in North Carolina. But at a bus stop in South Carolina, for no reason other than he was an African-American, local police forcibly removed Woodard from the bus and repeatedly beat him with nightsticks. The officers then arrested Woodard for disorderly conduct. During his night in jail, the local sheriff walloped Woodard and repeatedly stabbed his eyes with his billy club, leaving him permanently blind. The following day, police sent Woodard before the local judge, who found him guilty and fined him fifty dollars.

Slowly, Woodard’s story spread, primarily due to the efforts of the NAACP. When Orson Welles heard of the beating, he made it the focus of his national weekly radio broadcast for five straight weeks. Those broadcasts prompted the Justice Department to investigate and bring charges against those involved. But after thirty minutes of deliberation, the all-white jury acquitted all the defendants, including the sheriff.

From all appearances, Isaac Woodard received no justice. But maybe he did in another way. Shortly after the verdict, President Harry S. Truman established the Civil Rights Commission, and in a speech on civil rights made a short time later, President Truman said, in part:

“It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens. Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to ensure that all Americans enjoy these rights. When I say all Americans—I mean all Americans.”

The following year, President Truman sent the first comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress and later banned segregation in the armed forces. And thus, thanks to Isaac Woodard’s experience, the civil rights movement began earnestly in America.

But it would be a long road that still has not reached its destination.

The recent film, Till,[i] tells the true story of Emmitt Till’s mother, who, after the brutal lynching of her son in 1955, vows to expose the racism behind it and find justice for her son. Here is the trailer for the movie:   

While Isaac Woodard became the catalyst behind America’s civil rights movement, Emmitt Till became its icon. Although the details are unclear, Till, a 14-year-old African-American visiting his cousins in Mississippi from Chicago, allegedly talked to, flirted with, or whistled at a 21-year-old white woman in a grocery store. A few nights after the incident, the woman’s husband and others abducted Till, then beat and mutilated him before shooting him in the head and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River.

A month later, an all-white jury found Till’s murderers not guilty. Protected now by the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy (not being tried for the same crime twice), the attackers later confessed to the murder. Like Isaac Woodard, there appeared to be no justice for Emmitt Till.

But Emmitt’s mother, Mamie, received justice in another way. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Justice is truth in action.” And Mamie took action. She insisted on a public funeral with an open casket so the world could see what those white Southerners did to her son. And see it, the world did. Tens of thousands attended the funeral or viewed his open casket. Black-oriented newspapers and magazines published the image of his bloated, mutilated body, again heightening awareness of the lack of civil rights in the South. Three months after the trial, the Montgomery bus boycott began, resulting in the Supreme Court ruling that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Finally, on March 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. And in 2018, the government finally vacated Isaac Woodard’s disorderly conduct charge.

Race minorities are not the only out-crowds fighting for justice. LGBTQ+ have been openly battling discrimination for decades, even though society has made significant progress with the legalization of same-sex marriages and anti-discrimination laws in housing and lending. But the world remains far from perfect if you are LGBTQ+. All you need to do is point to the recent mass shooting at a gay-friendly bar in Colorado Springs. But such discrimination is more systemic. A current Center for American Progress study found 36 percent of all LGBTQ+ Americans said they experienced discrimination over the past year, and 69 percent of non-binary people reported discrimination during that period. The rate of discrimination against transgender Americans was 60 percent. And for young adults, it was even worse—two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youths reported discrimination during the past year.

Another of my favorite movies shown at the Austin Film Festival was The Inspection,[ii] a film inspired by the life of its director, Elegance Bratton. In the movie, a young, gay African-American, rejected by his mom, joins the Marines. But in that world of “manly men,” the young man battles deep-seated prejudice. But through it all, he finds camaraderie and support despite his sexual preferences and a new sense of belonging—which brings hope to all of us that the world will improve. Here is the trailer:

Fifty years ago, if someone told me the Supreme Court would legalize same-sex marriages, I would have told them they were living in a fantasy world. But dreams sometimes come true. The Supreme Court did just that in 2015. And Congress recently passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The Act also requires states to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. President Biden, who we expect will sign the bill, said, ”The United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right o marry the person they love.”

The Senate, however, added provisions bolstering religious liberty protections. As amended, the Act now states that religious organizations (including churches and religious schools) will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for same-sex marriages. It also ensures the IRS cannot use the Act to deny or alter benefits or the tax-exempt status of such organizations.

Opponents of these amendments claim they allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ under the guise of religious belief. And so, the battle for complete justice for these members of many people’s out-crowd continues.

Even women often find themselves as part of the out-crowd. For example, a 2018 survey found that 77 percent of women have experienced verbal sexual harassment, and 51 percent had been sexually touched without their permission. The recently released film, She Said[iii] is the true story of how New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor broke the story of the constant sexual harassment of women by Harvey Weinstein. Here is the trailer for the movie:

These women received some justice when the courts sentenced Weinstein to 23 years in prison. After the initial three women came forward, a total of 82 victims made claims against Weinstein. But more importantly, the actions of these women sparked the #MeToo movement that toppled many prominent sexual harassers, both in Hollywood and elsewhere. And recently, New York City, for the first time in its history, has women heading its fire department and police department. Perhaps women are finally getting their due. As someone once said, “All things come to him [her] who waits—even justice.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Therefore, when we see injustice, we must speak out until those wrongs are righted. By taking a stand, we can make the world a happier and more just place.

Let’s do our part to ensure justice for all is a reality, for as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.”

[i] Till:

  • Production Companies: Eon Productions, Frederick Zollo Productions, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Director: Chinonye Chukwu
  • Screenwriters: Michael Reily, Keith Beauchamp, and Chinonye Chukwu
  • Starring: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, and Frankie Faison
  • Release date: October 28, 2022

[ii] The Inspection:

  • Production Companies: Freedom Principle and Gamechanger Films
  • Director: Elegance Bratton
  • Screenwriter: Elegence Bratton
  • Starring: Jeremy Pope, Gabrrielle Union, and Bokeem Woodbine
  • Release date: October 14, 2022

[iii] She Said:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Annapurna Pictures,. And Plan B Entertainment
  • Director: Maria Schrader
  • Screenwriter: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Jodi Kantor, and Megan Twohey
  • Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, and Patricia Clarkson
  • Release date: November 18, 2022

Fun at the Festival

If you are one of the few folks following my blog religiously, you might wonder why I didn’t post on the first of the month, as usual. That’s because my wife and I just returned from the Austin Film Festival, where we watched 21 movies in eight days. Sadly, there were several others we wanted to see but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I admit it; I’m a film junkie.

There is nothing like watching a film with movie people. They cry unashamedly, laugh boisterously, and cheer loudly when someone rights a wrong. They applaud at the end of every movie and stay to watch the credits.

Perhaps the best part of the Festival was listening to insiders from a film. At the end of most movies, someone (often several people) connected to the film, such as the writer, director, producer, or star, held a question-and-answer session about the film. In these sessions, you learned what inspired the people to make the film, insights about the characters and plot, and even some of the technical aspects of making the movie.

Films at the Festival fall into several categories. First, there are the shorts, usually made by young, aspiring filmmakers who use shorts to demonstrate their yet unrecognized talent. Then there are the independent films hoping to convince distributors to pay for the rights to the movie. And then there are those films with distributors who use the Festival to generate buzz before they release the film. And in each category, there are narrative films and documentaries. I usually prefer narrative films to documentaries, but the documentaries outshined the narratives at this year’s Festival.

Overall, I didn’t think this year’s Festival was as good as it has been in the past. Still, there were several films that I recommend as being well worth your time. Here’s a recap of the four movies I recommend you see:

Good Night Oppy[i] tells the inspirational story of Mars rovers, Opportunity, and Spirit. NASA sent the rovers to the red planet on a 90-day mission. But Opportunity roved Mars’ surface for 15 years sending back data confirming that, at one time. Mars had enough water to sustain life. But the documentary’s best part is the relationship between Oppy and its handlers. Who knew you could get teary-eyed over a machine? Here is the trailer:

You can watch Good Night Oppy in theaters now or wait and watch it on Amazon Prime starting November 23.

Who Invited Charlie?[ii] follows a New York family holed up in the Hamptons during the pandemic whose bubble is popped by oddball Charlie, who is much wiser than he appears. The film again proves the tired cliché that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Here is the trailer:

The best thing about The Lost King[iii] is that it is a true story. It tells how an amateur historian takes on all the experts to find the missing remains of King Richard III of England. Here is the trailer:

Sam & Kate[iv] had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival. Dustin Hoffman plays Sam’s father, and Sissy Spacek plays Kate’s mother. The best thing about the film is that Jake Hoffman plays Sam, who happens to be Dustin Hoffman’s real-life son, and Schuyler Fisk plays Kate, Sissy Spacek’s real-life daughter. If you like romantic comedies, you will love Sam & Kate. Here’s the trailer:

Sam & Kate hits theaters on November 11.

Here are two other movies of note:

The Whale stars Brendan Fraser. His performance garnered him a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. I found the characters in The Whale hard to like, but watching Fraser’s performance in an unusual role for him might be worth the price of admission. The film opens in theaters on December 11.

My favorite movie of the Festival was American: An Odyssey to 1947. It is a documentary that tracks three interconnecting stories: the rise and fall in America of actor and director Orson Welles, a Japanese American who survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, and Isaac Woodward, an African American soldier beaten by police in South Carolina. The beating galvanized the civil rights movement. The film, independently made, is looking for a distributor. I hope it finds one, as everyone should see it.

There was no official theme at this year’s Festival, but as one attendee pointed out, most of the films dealt with the importance of relationships. Our relationships bring us our greatest happiness and sometimes our biggest frustrations. In closing, please remember these words of the late Paul Walker: “You know, all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy. Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae.”

See you at the movies!

[i] Good Night Oppy:

  • Production Companies: Amazon Studios, Amblin Entertainment, and Amblin Television
  • Director: Ryan White
  • Screenwriters: Ryan White and Helen Kearns
  • Starring: Angela Bassett (narrator)
  • Release Date: November 23, 2022

[ii] Who Invited Charlie?:

  • Production Companies: Perry Street Films and Blind Bulldog Films
  • Director: Xavier Manrique
  • Screenwriter: Nicholas Schutt
  • Starring: Jordana Brewster, Adam Pally, Rhys Coiro
  • Release Date: October 8, 2022

[iii] The Lost King:

  • Production Companies: BBC Films, Baby Cow Films, and Ingenious Media
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Screenwriters: Steve Coogan and Bill Pope
  • Starring: Sally Hawkins, Shonagh Price, and Helen Katamba
  • Release Date: October 7, 2022 (United Kingdom)

[iv] Sam & Kate:

  • Production Companies: Story in the Sky, Volition Media Partners, and Thomasville Pictures
  • Director: Darren Le Gallo
  • Screenwriter: Darren Le Gallo
  • Starring: Henry Thomas, Dustin Hoffman, and Sissy Spacek
  • Release Date:  October 28, 2022

Punching Up

It was Grandparents’ week at school a couple of weeks ago. That meant Janene and I could go to school and have lunch with our grandkids—or, more accurately, bring them lunch from their favorite fast-food restaurant.

We sat at a table at one of those lunches, waiting for our grandchild’s lunch period to begin. So, looking around during the previous lunch period, I saw something that hurt my heart. Two kids, a boy and a girl, were eating alone. Sure, other kids surrounded them, but they ate alone without any friends to talk to.

My first thought was at least they were not being actively bullied by the other kids. But my second thought was, which is worse? Being bullied or being totally ignored? Or, as Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Unfortunately, too many of us are walking alone in the light.

Recently, I listened to a podcast featuring John Larsen. Here is his definition of bullying: “Bullies punch down. What that means is they attack populations or people or races, ethnicities, religions that have less social status, less power, less money, less influence than they do.” I like that. The next time you feel like saying something critical or cutting about someone who is transgender, gay, of a different race, less educated, or poorer than you, ask yourself first, what has this person or group taken away from me? How have they diminished my privilege? If you are honest with yourself, you will probably answer they have not affected my life in any meaningful way. Under those circumstances, does it make sense to say anything at all? 

In the film Mean Girls, the clique known as the plastics had prestige and influence in high school and let those around them know they were at the top of the social hierarchy. In short, they punched down. But Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan), who once had worked her way into the clique, said it best: “Calling someone fat doesn’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. All you can do in life is try and solve the problem in front of you.”

Of course, the opposite of punching down is punching up—pushing back against the powers that be. That’s what Cady did to the Mean Girls. So we must punch up repeatedly to ensure that marginalized groups and individuals are protected.

In Where the Crawdads Sing,[i] the townsfolk bullied a “marsh girl” because of her poverty and resulting lifestyle. Here is the trailer for the film:

The marsh girl learned from the marsh, “Every creature does what it must to survive.” So if someone is punching down upon us, let’s figure out what we must do to survive. Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Or, as I like to tell myself, “Go ahead, bully me, but in 30 years, the only thing people will remember is that I am your boss.”

One of my favorite films about bullying is Wonder.[ii] Auggie suffers from a disease that has left his face and head deformed. Accordingly, the school could be rough on him. One bad day, when someone Auggie thought was his friend betrayed him, Auggie has this conversation with his sister:

Sometimes, as a victim of someone punching down on us, we feel like Auggie did—that there are no nice people in the world. But his friend, Jack Will, redeems himself in this scene:

Jack Will learned this valuable lesson: Strong people stick up for themselves, but the strongest stick up for others. Or said a different way, if you turn and face the other way when someone is being bullied, you might as well be the bully.

At the recent Wyoming versus BYU college football game, BYU honored a group of black athletes known as the Wyoming Black 14. Although I grew up in Utah and am not a BYU fan, I remember the circumstances well. In 1969, 14 black members of the University of Wyoming football team wanted to wear black armbands to protest the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “Church”) ban on African Americans holding the priesthood. (The Church removed that ban in 1978.) These athletes went to their coach, Lloyd Eaton, to ask permission to wear the armbands. If the coach said no, they would accept that decision. But Coach Eaton, without discussion, dismissed all 14 from the school’s football team. Then for two hours, the coach punched down on these young men, berating them with such statements as:

“Most of you don’t even know who your fathers are.”

“You’re going to be on subsistence programs for the rest of your lives.”

“I got you off the streets … picking up cigarette butts.”

“There’s no other university that will invite you to play football for them.”

 The University of Wyoming kept the story buried for forty years. But these young men were tough on and off the football field. They ended up living successful lives. Or, as one of them, John Griffin, said, “Never be defined by an incident.”

To the University’s credit, it recognized they had bullied the Black 14. So, in 2016, the University reunited the Black 14, presented them with the letter jackets they would have received in 1969, and, more importantly, issued a letter of apology, which said, in part: “As an institution, we believe we have learned and grown from what you had to endure.”

But as John Griffin described it, the Black 14 decided to turn “a tragedy into philanthropy.” They developed a partnership with the Church to distribute food to those in need. Over the past three years, the Black 14 and the Church delivered 800,000 pounds of food to the hungry near the homes of the Black 14.

If we have punched down on someone, I hope we can realize our mistake and apologize. And genuine apologies include restitution for the wrong. And if we see someone punch down upon another, let’s stand up for those victims. And let us be brave and punch up when necessary, speaking truth to power to help make this a better world for all of us.  

In closing, here are the lyrics to my favorite anti-bullying song, Don’t Laugh at Me.[iii] The daughter of the songwriter inspired the song when she confided in her dad that her classmates teased her because of her freckles. Mark Wills first recorded the song in 1968, but Peter, Paul, and Mary have also recorded it. The song helped inspire Peter Yarrow to found the non-profit organization Operation Respect, promoting tolerance and civility programs in education. The version below is the one recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary:

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek

A little girl who never smiles ’cause I’ve got braces on my teeth

And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep

I’m the kid on every playground Who’s always chosen last

A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past

You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names

Don’t get your pleasure from my pain

In God’s eyes we’re all the same

Someday we’ll all have perfect wings

Don’t laugh at me

I’m the beggar on the corner, you’ve passed me on the street

And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat

And don’t think I don’t notice that our eyes never meet

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names

Don’t get your pleasure from my pain

In God’s eyes we’re all the same

Someday we’ll all have perfect wings

Don’t laugh at me

I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m short, I’m tall

I’m deaf, I’m blind, hey aren’t we all

I’m black, I’m white, and I am brown

I’m Christian, I’m Jewish, and I am Muslim

I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m American Indian

I’m very, very young, I’m quite aged

I’m quite wealthy, I’m very, very poor

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names

Don’t get your pleasure from my pain

In God’s eyes we’re all the same

Someday we’ll all have perfect wings

Don’t laugh at me

My country ’tis of thee

Oh, sweet land of liberty

It is of thee I sing.

I hope we can challenge those with more power than us, when appropriate, and defend those with less power every chance we get.

[i] Where the Crawdads Sing:

  • Production Companies: 3000 Pictures and Hello Sunshine
  • Director: Olivia Newman
  • Screenwriter: Delia Owens (based on the book by Lucy Alibar)
  • Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, and Harris Dickenson
  • Release date: July 15, 2022

[ii] Wonder:

  • Production Companies: Lionsgate, Participant, Walden Media
  • Director: Stephen Chbosky
  • Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne
  • Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, and Izabela Vidovic
  • Release date: November 17, 2017

[iii] Words and music by Allen Shamblin and Steve Seskin

   Copyright by Sony/ATV Tunes LLC/David Aaron Music/Built on Rock Music

   All rights on behalf of Sony/ATV Tunes LLC/David Aaron Music administered by Sony/ATV Music           Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203

Lady Luck

Someone once said, “It’s the good luck of other people that makes us dissatisfied with our own.”  I have never considered myself to be lucky. I have always thought, “A little more drive, a little more pluck, a little more work—that’s luck.” But that kind of luck will never help me win the lottery.

The other day, I went to our local convenience store and noticed it sold 35 different lottery tickets. And that didn’t even count the Texas Lotto, the mega million, or power ball lotteries. As I looked at the various tickets I could buy, I realized I had never purchased a lottery ticket. The closest I came was, for a while, my work group decided to form a consortium of lottery participants to increase the odds of winning the Texas Lotto. And then we would share the wealth when we won. So, with all 20 of us contributing a dollar, our odds would decrease from one in 25,827,165 to 20 in 25,827,165. I contributed to the pot for a couple of weeks, but with those long odds, I decided I would rather spend my dollar on a Diet Mountain Dew. But my assistant worried I would be stuck working alone after the group won the grand prize, and she and the other 18 quit their day jobs. So, for several months, without my knowledge, she threw an extra dollar in the pot for me. Shocking, I know, but the work group never won a thing.

I have often heard the phrase about the lottery: “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Well, even though I don’t play, I still fantasize about what I would do if I did win the Texas Lotto or the mega million jackpot. I even wrote a short story about it once. Because of those fantasies, I have enjoyed several movies about the lottery and have learned a few lessons from them.

Here are three movies about winning the lottery, all based on actual events, and the lessons I learned from them (what follows has spoilers, so consider watching the films first!):

Lesson One: The maxim, “I’d rather be lucky than good,” is not always true. 29th Street[i](now streaming on YouTube) tells the true story of Frank Pesce, who was born lucky and remained so. He was lucky when his mother went into labor with Frank and went to the wrong hospital; the one she was supposed to go to burned down that night. He avoided the draft because of luck. And Frank had great success playing craps. Even bad luck turned to good when he was stabbed in his chest by his girlfriend’s overprotective brother, and the doctor sewing him up found he had a cancerous tumor that was curable because they had found it so soon. And so, no one who knew Frank was surprised when he was one of 50 finalists for the first New York state lottery.

But Frank worried his dad, who saw him getting involved with the mob as dangerous. He wanted Frank to enjoy an everyday life:

But Frank’s dad’s life was not as simple as a small patch of Kentucky bluegrass. His dad got in trouble with the mob and owed them $10,000. When Frank heard about the debt, he agreed with the mob leader to exchange his lottery ticket to cancel the debt.

And like the rest of his life, Frank’s luck continued, as his ticket won $6.2 million. But a fun twist at the end of the film resulted in canceling the debt and Frank being able to keep the winnings. So maybe being lucky is not so bad!

Lesson Two: It’s better to give (and more fun) than to receive. In It Could Happen to You[ii] (now streaming on HBO Max), Charlie Lang, a New York police officer, buys a single lottery ticket at his wife’s insistence. Later, he buys a cup of coffee at a local diner. Charlie had enough money to pay for the coffee but no money for a tip. So, he promises the waitress, Yvonne, half of any winnings from his lottery ticket. And if he doesn’t win, he will still return the following day with a tip.

Incredibly, Charlie’s ticket garners him and his wife $4 million. But, much to Charlie’s wife’s chagrin, Charlie still intends to give Yvonne half—two million dollars. He always wants to do the right thing, he reasons, and “a promise is a promise.”

While Muriel, Charlie’s wife, begins acquiring more things, Charlie and Yvonne give away much of what they won and have fun doing it. But unfortunately, the lottery eventually breaks up Charlie’s and Muriel’s marriage. And as part of the divorce proceedings, Muriel sues Charlie and Yvonne for the entire $4 million. Ultimately, the jury agrees with Muriel, leaving Charlie and Yvonne with nothing. But during all this, Charlie and Yvonne fall in love. In this scene, Charlie and Yvonne realize that money means nothing now that they have each other:

But like good karma, what goes around often comes around. When Charlie and Yvonne are at their lowest, a reporter masquerades as a homeless person, and they feed him dinner and give him some money to help him on his way, wishing they could give him more. Because of their caring, the reporter asks the paper’s readers to give Charlie and Yvonne a tip of even a dollar or two. Ultimately, the good people of New York reward Charlie and Yvonne with donations of over $600,000. Charlie and Yvonne learned what Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Oh, and what happened to Muriel? Karma caught up with her, too. She married a man who drained her bank account and fled the country. Muriel spent the rest of her days living with her mother and working in a nail salon.

 Lesson Three: Money doesn’t guarantee happiness; relationships do. In Jerry and Marge Go Large[iii] (now streaming on Paramount+), Jerry lives in a small, dying town and has always been good at numbers. One day, he looks at the odds on an ad for the “WinFall” lottery and discovers a flaw that assures him of winning. He starts small to test his formula ($2000) but loses $327. But he realizes he needs to increase his sample size to take luck out of the equation. So, he buys 8,000 lottery tickets the next time and wins $15,700.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

Jerry tries to keep his lottery activity from Marge, but she soon notices something is up. I love this conversation between Jerry and Marge, as they realize playing the lottery, for them, is more than just making money:

Jerry: We barely have enough money to retire on as it is, and this is no time to risk it.

Marge: Yes, it is.

Jerry: What?

Marge: It’s time to risk it because right now, we’re losing something that matters even more. I’ve waited 40 years for it to be just us, and so far, we kind of suck at it.

Jerry: We have Jeopardy.

Marge: Oh, that’s not a thing. Jerry! I wanna have fun. I wanna have fun. Let’s be a little stupid. Huh? We got married when we were 17, so we know how to do it.

Jerry: Well, that’s true.

Marge: We need something for us.

Soon Jerry and Marge are making tens of thousands each time they play. But instead of keeping the winnings for themselves, Jerry forms an investment company and lets all the townspeople participate. And the townspeople take their winnings, and instead of just buying things, they use them to improve the town and help those down on their luck.

Soon, though, an intelligent Harvard student figures out the lottery flaw and discovers Jerry and Marge. So the student tries to force Jerry out of playing the lottery, leading to this conversation:

Jerry: I realized that I wasn’t angry at you. I’m disappointed.

Student: Ah, you’re disappointed in me?

Jerry: No, not you. You’re insignificant. No, I was disappointed that I let a selfish kid like you get to me. I was always good at math, but it took a long time for me to figure people out.   

Student: So, tell us, Jerry, what did you figure out?

Jerry: That the solution isn’t numbers. You told me that I was playing the lottery because I had nothing else. But the reason you won’t share the pot is because you have nothing else. You think being the smartest guy in the room is all that matters. But it turns out it’s this room that matters. All these bright, young people helping you get rich. How are you helping them? Guess you haven’t run the math on that.

When the lottery flaw becomes public, the state lottery commission is forced to discontinue the WinFall game, but not before Jerry, Marge, and their neighbors pulled in a cool $27 million.

Marge sums up the theme of Jerry and Marge Go Large: “It’s more than just a game to him. He finally got to use his gift to connect with people.”

All of us are fortunate to have talents and gifts. But their best use would be, like Jerry, to connect with others.

[i] 29th Street:

  • Production Companies: JVC Entertainment Networks, Largo Entertainment, and Permut Presentations
  • Director: George Gallo
  • Screenwriter: George Gallo (based on the story by Frank Pesce and James Franciscus
  • Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Danny Aiello, and Lainie Kazan
  • Release Date: November 1, 1991

[ii] It Could Happen to You:

  • Production Company: TriStar Pictures
  • Director: Andrew Bergman
  • Screenwriter: Jane Anderson 
  • Starring: Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez
  • Release Date: July 29, 1994

[iii] Jerry and Marge Go Large:

  • Production Companies: Landline Pictures, Levantine Films, and Media Rights Capital (MRC)
  • Director: David Frankel
  • Screenwriter:  Brad Copeland (based on the article by Jason Fagone)
  • Starring: Bryan Cranston, Annette Benning, and Rainn Wilson
  • Release Date: June 17, 2022

A Dull, Dreary Affair

Somerset Maugham once wrote, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” If only we could.

Over the past few years, I have thought a lot about death, even though I have tried not to. It began with the death of my sister-in-law and, later, my brother-in-law. Then, last Christmas, I published a sappy little novel called Angels Are Waiting,[i] dealing with death during the COVID pandemic, which has claimed more than a million American lives. After that, I witnessed a person close to me repeatedly attempt death by suicide (fortunately, he was unsuccessful). And then, earlier this month, a close friend died from cancer. And that’s not even considering the constant stories of deaths we hear in the news each day, from Russia bombing civilians in Ukraine to sick people killing school children and others with assault weapons in a country that is supposed to be at peace.

My first experience with death was when my grandpa died. I was only five years old and didn’t understand it. I only remember sitting by my cousin, watching my grandma, and wondering why she kept crying.

When I was twelve, death hit me much harder. My sister died of a heart condition when she was 17. She was Exhibit A of the saying, “Only the good die young.” She was intelligent, talented, loved life, and died too soon. A friend who lived across the street from me died a few years later in a car accident. His death, along with my sister’s, taught me that the saddest deaths are those who die suddenly and whose lives end much sooner than they should.

Fred Rogers, the star of the children’s show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, was not one to shy away from challenging issues. In this scene from the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,[ii] Mr. Rogers (played by Tom Hanks) teaches us that death is a part of being human:

Although we try to put death out of our minds, many have at least some fear of it. Will the act of dying be painful? Will my family and friends remember me after I’m gone? Is there life after death, and if so, what will it be like? Both of my parents died the right way. My dad died in his sleep at the age of 97. My mom made it to 100 and died peacefully in the arms of her favorite caregiver. They both had long and mostly happy lives and outlived almost all of their friends. And although those of us left behind miss them still, we knew they were ready to move on. I keep hoping one of them will tell me what life after death might be like, but I continue to wait.

My parents’ deaths taught me that it doesn’t have to be painful. People who have had near-death experiences—flatlined but later resuscitated—generally describe the experience as peaceful. And in some cases, death might be a good thing. In this scene from the film, The Life of David Gale,[iii] a death-row inmate (played by Kevin Spacey) tells a reporter (played by Kate Winslet) that death—including his own—is sometimes a gift:

What happens to us after death is difficult for me to answer. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know. Does God exist, and will we live after death? I hope so, but I do not know. Regardless of our beliefs, though, we should be focused on life before death, and whether we believe in God or life after death should not matter to how we live our lives. So, the Christian and the atheist should want the same thing—to make each day special. For believers, to ensure their status in the next life. For non-believers, because this day might be their last. We should not want to be one of those people Benjamin Franklin spoke of when he said, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”

So, how do we manage death? More specifically, how do we handle the deaths of loved ones around us? Fred Rogers gives us an excellent example in the clip from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Here is another example from the movie Lars and Real Girl:[iv]

When dealing with those who have lost a loved one, I suggest the four H’s:

Hug it up – you don’t need to say anything, just a simple gesture of love, like a hug will do. And remember, real men hug.

Hang out – This is what the women in Lars and the Real Girl did. They just hung out. Or, as they explained to Lars: “We came over to sit. That’s what people do when tragedy strikes.” People in mourning or crisis need to be around others, but they don’t always need or want to interact with them.

Hush up – Offering hollow platitudes doesn’t help. For example, a person who suddenly dies, leaving behind a stay-at-home mom with three children, one of them battling cancer and a stroke, does not care to hear that “God must have needed him more on the other side.” Whether statements like that are factual or not (as if we know anyway) are not particularly comforting to the person wondering how God could have taken her husband at a time when she needed him most.

Help out– When you see something that needs doing, step in and do it. Don’t ask if there is anything you can do to help; just do it. So often, a person in crisis or tragedy is paralyzed. They know many things need to be done, but they can’t remember most of them or even how to do them, if they remember them at all. For example, I have seen persons in times of crisis who can’t remember even how to use the phone. So make the calls for them. Arrange for food. Cut the lawn. Do something.

A final thought. When my sister suddenly died at 17, my mother was devastated. For about three weeks, extended family, friends, neighbors, and church members rallied around us. Then their own lives took precedence again, and they essentially disappeared. We were left alone. We don’t blame them, for life does go on. But that was the most challenging part for Mom—the time after the initial shock of the tragedy wore off. So go over and sit with friends in need. Just remember, people need us throughout the entire grieving process., which, in some ways, never ends.

I wish no one had to face death—either their own or that of a loved one. But my wishes are seldom granted, and I know this one will not be. As to our own deaths, let’s remember the words of Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man [or woman] who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” As a comfort when a loved one dies, let’s remember these words of George Eliot: “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.” So, let’s tell their stories and pass them down through the generations, so we never forget.

In the final analysis, I like this philosophy of David Gerrold: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”

[i] Angels Are Waiting (and all my other books) can be purchased on Just search “Warren J. Ludlow.”

[ii] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood:

  • Production Companies: Big Beach Films, Tencent Pictures, and TriStar Pictures
  • Director: Marielle Heller
  • Screenwriters: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, and Tom Junod
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, and Chris Cooper
  • Release Date: November 22, 2019

[iii] The Life of David Gale:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Intermedia Films, and Dirty Hands Productions
  • Director: Alan Parker
  • Screenwriter: Charles Randolph
  • Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, and Laura Linney
  • Release Date: February 21, 2003

[iv] Lars and Real Girl:

  • Production Companies: MGM, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and Lars Productions
  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Screenwriter: Nancy Oliver
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider and Patricia Clarkson
  • Release Date: November 2, 2007

Living Life Authentically

I watched the 75th annual Tony Awards a few weeks back (yes, I am a musical theater geek).  Part of the acceptance speech of Matt Doyle, this year’s winner for best actor in a featured role in a musical, impressed me when he said, “Thank you to my family … who believed in me pursuing my passion and … believed that the only way I’d be happy is to live my life authentically.”

What does it mean to live your life authentically? If you are LGBTQIA, it means, at least in part, acknowledging your sexual preference, and having the courage to tell others about it. To have that kind of courage, you must have enough pride in who you are to not care what others think when you tell them you are different from what much of society considers to be the norm. But we have come a long way during my lifetime. Thanks to so many brave and vulnerable individuals, “coming out” is now almost commonplace. But that is not to say it is now easy.  So, in honor of June being Pride Month, I am revisiting and updating two previous blog posts dealing with LGBTQIA.

The first time I thought seriously about LGBTQIA (or homosexuals, as we referred to them back then) was in the early 1980s. I sat in a church leadership meeting listening to a therapist who explained that homosexuality is a perversion, and a young man becomes homosexual due to the lack of a strong father. Even back then I wondered how true that was. Did that mean every son of a single mother was destined to be gay? If that were true, why did one son turn out gay while another son in the same family did not? But worse, I wondered how that teaching made fathers feel if one of their sons turned out to be gay.

Back then, I didn’t know anyone who was LGBTQIA – at least that I knew of. My first face-to-face experience with a gay person occurred when we moved to Houston in 1986. Two men lived next door to us. They were young professionals, sharp in their appearance, and two of the nicest neighbors we have ever had. They were gay men in a committed relationship. After learning of their sexual preferences, thankfully, my opinion of them did not diminish in the least. The film, Love, Simon,[i] emphasizes this point where Simon comes out to his parents, but tells them “I’m still me”:

Since those days in the early 80s, I have discovered that one of my best friends is gay, one of my best friends in high school is gay (although I didn’t know it at the time), three daughters of other good friends are lesbian, two sons of high school friends are gay, my nephew is gay, one of the top executives of my former employer is gay, and my son’s in-laws have two lesbian daughters, both of which have married their lesbian sweethearts.

And I love each and every one of them.

As the world has more readily accepted those who have come out of the closet, I discovered that Shakespeare was only partly right. It isn’t just absence that makes the heart grow fonder, so does familiarity.

When my good friend came out to us, he struggled to find the courage to do so. How sad is that? Isn’t that what best friends are for – having someone to confide in who won’t judge us? And like Simon, he can breathe a little easier now, with his secret out. After that experience, I now laugh at this next clip from Love, Simon which reverses the roles: 

I watched Love, Simon in a packed movie house, and I am glad I did. The audience laughed and cried along with Simon and his friends and family. I shed more than my share of tears, not just because of what was happening on screen, but I felt the love and acceptance of this audience of all ages, different genders, and ethnicities toward Simon, and indirectly toward all LGBTQIA, and I realized how far we have come since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, many continue to campaign against same-sex marriage and teach that being LGBTQIA is a choice because God would never make a mistake. In discussing this with my good friend, he remarked, “Why would I ever choose to be gay?” He then explained that the way society has treated gays throughout the years, he would have to be a masochist to choose such a lifestyle. And he would know, as he went through destructive conversion therapy, and listened to the counsel of church leaders who told him if he married a woman and played the part of a heterosexual, God would remove the feelings of same-sex attraction from him. Instead, like many other gays, he tried it and found it just doesn’t work that way.

Pastor and writer, John Pavlovitz, said it this way: “Yes, LGBT people are absolutely making a choice. They are choosing to be the most honest, authentic versions of themselves. They are choosing to be led by the unfiltered direction of their hearts, just as you and I are. They are choosing to relent to the things that in all of our lives, never can be chosen. The only relevant choices for straight Christians are whether or not we will treat the LGBT community as fully complex, intelligent, emotionally intricate human beings; and whether or not we will be willing to examine both our personal opinions and our theology accordingly. The choice is ours.”

The burden of being authentic is not just on LGBTQIA; it is vital that those of us who are straight do our part. How do we react when someone comes out to us? Notice how Simon’s dad reacted in the clip above. Do we act like it’s a joke or look at them questioningly and ask, “Are you sure? It might just be a phase.” From my limited experience, a person has thought long and hard about it before coming out; it’s not a spur of the moment decision.

In this scene from Rocketman,[ii] Elton John has finally summoned enough courage to admit to his mum he is gay:

I realize that sometimes we are caught off guard when someone shares with us their sexual preference. But most of the time, we have at least an inkling. So, when someone becomes vulnerable enough to share with us this intimate part of themselves, I hope we can listen unquestioningly and return only love and understanding.

But it is not just LGBTQIA who need to live authentic lives to be happy. Each of us have phobias, quirks, or destructive thoughts that we often don’t share with others. Or maybe we have a mental illness that we keep secret because we worry about being labeled by our illness. But we are not our diseases, mental illnesses, or our phobias, although admittedly they influence us. While I don’t necessarily believe we should air all our vulnerabilities on Facebook or Instagram, we should consider sharing our authentic selves with those we love.

While in my early 20s, my girlfriend at the time tried to break up with me. But I wouldn’t let her. She told me all the reasons why we were not good for each other, but I wouldn’t listen. I told her I would be better. Frustrated with me, she finally agreed to go out with me again. During that next date I was the perfect gentleman. I did everything I thought she would want me to do, and said all the things I thought she would want me to say. And at the end of the date, she complimented me on being so nice—and that maybe we had a future after all.

But at some point during that date I realized I could act like the person she wanted me to be but I also knew that person wasn’t me, and ultimately, I would never be happy being with her. And so, I responded, no, we didn’t have a future together. Neither her way nor my way was right; we were just different. And neither of us could live authentic lives with each other.

C.S. Lewis said, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who could love the person you hide.” I believe those who show their authentic selves—who don’t let others define them—are the smartest, most successful and happiest among us. Ashton Kutcher, playing Steve Jobs in the movie Jobs, says it better than I can: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I’ll end with my favorite quote from Audrey Hepburn. She calls it her greatest beauty tip: “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”

[i] Love, Simon:

  • Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, New Leaf Literary & Media, and Temple Hill Entertainment
  • Director: Greg Berlanti
  • Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (based on the novel by Becky Albertalli)
  • Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel
  • Release date: March 16, 2018

[ii] Rocketman:

  • Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, and Marv Films
  • Director: Dexter Fletcher
  • Screenwriter: Lee Hall
  • Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, and Bryce Dallas Howard
  • Release date: May 31, 2019

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

Yesterday marked the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. Did anyone notice? With two mass shootings in America during May which killed at least 31 people (most of them children), mental health has been in the news lately. Some blame those killings on mental illness, although neither shooter had been diagnosed with one. Persons diagnosed with a mental illness cause only four percent of violent crimes in America. It is more common for those with a mental illness to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator of it. But I will leave gun control for another blog post.

I believe we are all crazy in our own way, as most of us have some form of mental illness. But most of us live everyday, productive lives despite our craziness. Somehow, we can manage it. For example, I am claustrophobic. Put me in a stuck, crowded elevator, and I will start to panic immediately. A plane trip becomes almost unbearable if I don‘t get an aisle seat. When I read a news report several years ago of a man killed on a plane by fellow passengers when he went crazy and rushed the cockpit, I thought that could have been me—and might be someday. As I have often said, claustrophobia is irrational, but the fear is real. I also have tinnitus—a constant ringing in my ear. When I first came down with it, I couldn’t sleep and could barely function. The only thing I could focus on was that constant ringing. It took over a month to “make friends with the ringing,” where I could focus on something other than the noise in my head. And it didn’t help to know that there is no cure, meaning the ringing would stay with me forever. But some are not so lucky. I recently read that the CEO of Texas Roadhouse restaurants died by suicide because he could no longer handle his tinnitus.

But living with tinnitus and claustrophobia is easy compared to what some people have to live with. So, in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to make us more aware of three forms of mental illness that some of my family and friends suffer with. And to help that awareness become more accurate, I will use only documentary films to discuss them.

Bipolar Disorder:

Also known as manic depression, a person with bipolar disorder will have extreme shifts in mood—cycles over time, ranging from deep depression to extremely elevated mania. While people with bipolar disorder may have difficulty managing everyday life or maintaining relationships, many afflicted individuals live outstandingly successful lives, particularly between their episodes of depression and mania.

More than 10 million Americans have bipolar disorder. It affects men and women equally and all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes. Although bipolar disorder more commonly develops in older teenagers and young adults, it can appear in children as young as six. You might recognize many of these people with bipolar disorder: Mariah Carey, Carrie Fisher, Mel Gibson, Brian Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Turner, Frank Sinatra, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Patty Duke, Winston Churchill, Kanye West, Selma Gomez, Sting, Florence Nightingale, Buzz Aldrin, and Virginia Woolf.

The episodes of both depression and mania are dangerous. During the depression, death by suicide is a constant worry, as the person sees their lives as hopeless. But the mania can be even worse. The person has inflated self-esteem or grandiosity. They rarely sleep more than a few hours at night—if at all. They talk a mile a minute with racing thoughts and are easily distracted, often by unimportant details. In addition, the person usually has an increase in goal-directed activity as they attempt to make millions of dollars, save the poor, and resolve all social injustices. Some persons turn hyper-religious and might have “visions” of God, Christ, or departed loved ones. But with such thoughts and goals comes excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences, such as engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments. You could read all the books written about bipolar disorder, but you will not fully understand it until you see it yourself.

Sadly, under current laws (at least in Texas), mental help for a person with bipolar is limited. The person can be involuntarily placed in a behavioral facility only if they are a danger to themselves or others. And being stupid (e.g., unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments) does not qualify. On the depression side, all the patient needs to say is they do not have suicidal thoughts to stay out of the treatment center. On the manic side, all the patient needs to do is “act normal.” Typically, a person in a manic episode involuntarily placed in a behavioral facility will be heavily dosed with antipsychotic drugs for a few days. Then, the patient acts normal and says all the right things and is returned to the streets but still manic, often returning to the facility a short time later to do it all over again.

Fortunately, medication helps—if you can keep the person taking them. For who doesn’t love the feeling mania brings? Why would you want to take anything that takes away that high? From my experience, stress exacerbates mood swings, so a person with bipolar needs to take their medication, learn their stress triggers and change their lifestyle to lessen or avoid those triggers.

The documentary Of Two Minds[i] follows the lives of a handful of persons with bipolar disorder. Here is the trailer:

You can watch Of Two Minds on YouTube or rent it on Amazon Prime Video for two dollars. I love what one person in the documentary says: “We are your mother, we’re your sister, we’re your brother, we’re friends, we’re your neighbors, and we’re out there, and we want to be respected for who we are, and we don’t want to be in the closet.”

Eating Disorders:

A person with an eating disorder has a severely destructive relationship with food. Out-of-control eating (or not eating) rituals and obsessive food or body-related thoughts dominate that person’s life. Anorexia and bulimia are the most well-known eating disorders. 

An estimated 4.39 million women and 1.09 men have an eating disorder. Every 62 minutes, a person dies due to an eating disorder. About one in five persons with an eating disorder attempt death by suicide. A traumatic experience brings about an eating disorder in about 30 percent of those who have one. But sadly, 75 percent of people with eating disorders do not seek professional help.

You might recognize many of these people with an eating disorder: Princess Diana, Russell Brand, Paula Abdul, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Jane Fonda, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Karen Carpenter, and Jessica Alba.

The documentary Thin[ii] follows several patients at a Florida treatment center specializing in eating disorders. One of them, Brittany, had an eating disorder since age eight when she binged everything in sight. Now a teenager, she dropped from 185 pounds to 97 pounds in a single year. Here is a discussion between Brittany and her counselor:

Counselor: “Why are you so concerned about what other people think of you?”

Brittany: “Because that’s what I’ve always cared about my whole life. That’s the reason I lost weight in the first place. This is what I want. I want to be thin. And if it takes dying to get there? So be it.”  

Here is my favorite scene from the film:

You can watch Thin on HBO Max or rent it on Amazon Prime for three dollars.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

OCD is a pattern of overwhelming thoughts and fears (the obsession) that lead to repetitive behaviors (the compulsion), which interfere with daily activities and overall health. The obsessions vary from person to person, but common ones include order and symmetry, worries about turning off the gas or locking the door, counting or following a particular order of actions, and germ phobia.

In the U.S., three million Americans struggle with OCD. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders like OCD are more prevalent in developed countries than developing countries. OCD affects men and women equally. Researchers have also noticed a link between childhood trauma and OCD.

You might recognize many of these people with OCD: Daniel Radcliffe, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Fox, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham, Katy Perry, Howard Hughes, Howie Mandel, Billy Bob Thornton, Charlize Theron, and Nicolas Cage.

The documentary OCD: The War Inside[iii] tracts the lives of several individuals with OCD. Tricia is my favorite. Here is a scene from the film:

You can watch the documentary on YouTube for free.

In another part of the film, Tricia says this:

“I was showering ten to twelve times a day. I started off with just, like, you know, soap on my body, shampoo, conditioner. Then it became soap, shampoo, shampoo, conditioner, soap, shampoo, conditioner on my whole body. Then, then it became dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, soap. Then it became dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, soap. Then it became laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, dish soap. Then it became Comet [cleanser], laundry detergent—yeah, I knew I had a problem when I was like using Comet to clean my body and laundry detergent. When your whole day is OCD, if you can get like 14 seconds, one minute, two minutes, anything, it’s worth it. It’s worth scrubbing the skin off of your body just to get two minutes of peace and quiet. Like when it’s all day, every day when you go to bed thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it, you have nightmares about it, that two minutes is worth more than anything in the world.”

Notice how Tricia’s thoughts and actions continually spiral downward into a “parade of horribles” until she can barely function. It is a hard way to live. Fortunately, medication and therapy can help those with OCD, like most mental illnesses.

In his book, Turtles All the Way Down (about a teenager suffering from OCD), author John Green sums up how I feel about mental illness: “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

But people with mental illness need the help of others. We need to drop the stigma associated with mental illness and stop thinking about those with mental illness as somehow less of a person or less than ourselves. As Glenn Close said, “What mental health needs are more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” For the help of all of us, let’s have that candor and conversation.

[i] Of Two Minds:

  • Production Company: MadPix
  • Directors: Douglas Blush and Lisa J. Klein
  • Starring: Terri Cheney, Carlton Davis, and Cheri Keating
  • Release date: April 2012

[ii] Thin:

  • Producers: R. J. Cutler, Lauren Greenfield, Amanda Micheli, and Ted Skillman
  • Director: Lauren Greenfield
  • Starring: Shelly Guillory, Brittany Robinson, and Alisa Williams
  • Release date: October 21, 2006

[iii] OCD: The War Inside:

  • Production Company: National Film Board of Canada
  • Directors: David Hoffort and Mark Pancer
  • Starring: Marvin Freedman, Tricia Huggins, and Chris Krija
  • Release date: October 3, 2002

The Unfinished Work

Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” I think he meant that circumstances change over time, but today’s issues sound like past issues.

My wife and I recently returned from a nine-day tour of Civil War sites. Our trip included the battlefields of Manassas (Bull Run), Fredericksburg, Antietam (Sharpsburg), and Gettysburg. Antietam is still the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, where close to 25,000 died. Gettysburg is the deadliest three-day battle in American history, where over 40,000 soldiers lost their lives. By comparison, 2,500 American soldiers died on D-Day. We don’t know the total number of soldiers’ deaths in the Civil War, but educated guesses range from 620,000 to 850,000, almost more than the total deaths from all the other wars America has fought in. And if you look at total casualties in the Civil War (those killed, wounded, captured, and missing), estimates soar to 1.5 million. So taking the lower estimate of deaths of 620,000, those deaths equaled two percent of the entire population of the United States at the time. Proportionately, that would equal six million based on today’s population.

Sadly, I wonder if those deaths were somewhat in vain. The significant Civil War issues of slavery, equality, and state rights existed among the Founding Fathers and continue today, despite a civil war fought to decide them.

Let’s look at each issue of slavery, equality, and states rights and see how much progress we have made over the past two hundred years.


America’s great paradox is how a nation founded on the principle of “all men are created equal” could allow slavery to continue for almost a hundred years. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence, is perhaps the most outstanding example of that paradox. He wrote those hallowed words and produced other important documents urging the end of slavery, yet in 1800, he counted as family eleven free whites and 93 enslaved people, two of whom were his own children. In 1772, Jefferson owned about 200 enslaved people, making Jefferson the second-largest slaveholder in his county.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention from several states wanted slavery abolished. But it became clear that if slavery remained an issue, the states would never agree on a new form of government. So, to ensure getting a new constitution, the delegates kicked the slavery issue down the road. We are all familiar with the infamous compromise in the Constitution for determining a state’s number of representatives in Congress. Northern states didn’t want to count enslaved people since they were merely property. Southern states wanted them counted to prevent disproportionate representation favoring the North. The convention ultimately agreed to count each black as three-fifths of a person.

Many Constitutional delegates opposed slavery on moral grounds but saw no practical way of ending it. And so, for the next 50 years, led by political leaders such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, the country entered a series of compromises that kept the country together but delayed the ultimate resolution of the slavery issue. But as those willing to compromise died, the country became more polarized—similar to today’s politics.

In a four-way race, Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860 with less than 40 percent of the vote. Although morally against slavery, he thought the Constitution prevented him from abolishing slavery in the states where it already existed. And so, his initial goal as President was to preserve the Union and prevent the spread of slavery into newly-created states.

He traveled by train from Illinois to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration. But as he neared Baltimore, an undercover Pinkerton detective discovered a plot to kill the President before he could take office. A similar scheme took place recently when, on January 6, 2022, rioters stormed the Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as our new President. President Lincoln disguised himself, changed routes, and snuck into the Capitol to avoid the plot. How ironic that the President had to employ methods used by the Underground Railroad to evade his pursuers.  

In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he tried one last time to appease the Southern states: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He then hoped the “better angels of our nature” would realize the value and importance of preserving the Union.

But his words fell on deaf ears. The day after his address, the South demanded federal troops evacuate all federal facilities in the South. Then, a few weeks later, the South fired on Fort Sumter, and the Civil War began. 

The end of the war brought with it the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” But a close reading of the language reveals a loophole. The prohibition against slavery does not apply to anyone convicted of a crime.

The documentary 13th[i] argues the government has effectively continued slavery by “law and order” policies that have disproportionately incarcerated people of color. Here is a clip from the film that compiles “13 truths” supporting the movie’s premise:

Although slavery does not exist in the same form as before the Civil War, if you are a felon, an abused spouse, or a young person trapped in human trafficking, you would consider yourself enslaved.


Most of the country’s early leaders, even those who opposed slavery, did not consider blacks equal to whites. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments of both mind and body.” In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Abraham Lincoln had a similar opinion. During one of his debates with Stephen Douglas, he said:

“I am not now, nor ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not now, nor ever been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. And I will say, in addition to this, there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will ever forbid the two races from living on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they remain together, there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Thankfully, Lincoln’s opinion started to change when he became more familiar with black individuals such as Frederick Douglass. Still, his statement in the Douglass debate was typical of the feelings of most whites at the time.

After the assassination of President Lincoln and the failure of Reconstruction, states began passing laws that became known as Jim Crow laws. And segregation became the rule, especially in the South. But it was more than just where you could sit on a bus or what drinking fountain you used. States in the North as well as the South, and even the federal government, instigated laws, policies, and practices that discriminated against people of color in housing, lending, employment, voting, education, and employment.

In the film, A Raisin in the Sun,[ii] Walter Lee Younger (played by Sidney Portier) and his family have lived in the same small Chicago apartment for years. Then, using part of an insurance payment, Younger’s mother buys a small home in a predominantly white neighborhood. In this scene, the head of the HOA of their new community offers to buy their new house from them, asking the Youngers, “Wouldn’t you be happier living with your own kind?”

A hundred years after the Civil War, people of color were still fighting for equality. Finally, in the 1960s, laws began to change, but not until after years of demonstrations, marches, and protests.

States Rights

The Founding Fathers constantly battled over what the new federal government should look like. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton argued that a strong central government was necessary if the states were to be united. They used the ineffective Articles of Confederation as Exhibit A to their arguments. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe saw it differently. A strong federal government would most assuredly lead to another monarchy like the one from which the colonies had just declared independence. Therefore, Jefferson considered all domestic policy off-limits to the federal government. He equated the federal government to a “foreign power” that had no authority to legislate for the states. Thus, only the states, not Washington, D.C., had the power to regulate slavery in the existing states. To help firm up Jefferson’s position, Madison, when authoring the Bill of Rights, included the ninth one—that the states retained all powers other than those specifically delegated to the federal government.

Based on that principle, the Southern states saw no prohibition to their secession from the Union. And even after the Civil War and the 13th Amendment, the states still claimed the power to discriminate. In this scene from Selma,[iii] the state of Alabama is determined to prevent any change in their Jim Crow society:

We continue to battle over states’ rights. Thus, for example, many states have passed new laws on abortion that are in direct contravention of the constitutional standard of Roe v. Wade. We have states passing more restrictive voting laws, which depending on what side of the argument you are on, either prevent people of color from voting or preserve fair elections. And you have the governor of Texas “at war” with the President of the United States over immigration.

At Gettysburg, we stood where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg address, commemorating a portion of the battlefield as our first national cemetery. Despite anyone’s political beliefs, the words are profound and inspiring. I close with the final part of that address:

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we can take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Whether we prefer a strong federal government or preserving power to the states, all can agree that slavery, in whatever form, must be abolished. And equality of opportunity should be our nation’s standard, regardless of one’s skin color. So let’s take Lincoln’s challenge and finish that work.

[i] 13th:

  • Production Companies: Forward Movement, Kandoo Films, and Netflix
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Screenwriters: Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay
  • Starring: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, and Cory Booker
  • Release date: October 7, 2016

[ii] Raisin in the Sun:

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures
  • Director: Daniel Petrie
  • Screenwriter: Lorraine Hansberry
  • Starring: Sidney Portier, Claudia McNeil, and Ruby Lee
  • Release date: May 18, 1961

[iii] Selma:

  • Production Companies: Pathé, Harpo Films, and Plan B Entertainment
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Screenwriter: Paul Webb
  • Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, and Oprah Winfrey
  • Release date: January 9, 2015

Courage Under Fire

English philosopher G. K. Chesterton said, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms: it means a strong desire to live, taking the form of readiness to die.” We have seen courage displayed many times in Ukraine over the last month, and none more remarkable than in Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

President Zelenskyy recently spoke to the US Congress. Here is a crucial part of his speech:

“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy. Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities; it went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams.”

When I first heard President Zelenskyy’s speech, I immediately thought of this similar speech from one of my favorite movies, Braveheart:[i] 

History books didn’t record the actual words of Sir William Wallace back in the early 1300s, but my imagination tells me he must have said something similar to the terms of this clip to inspire his army.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy has likewise been inspiring his troops and the world with his videos deep in the heart of Ukraine as Russian invaders close in around him. He had my admiration and my support early on when he showed courage under fire with his response to the US of safe passage out of Ukraine: “I don’t need a ride; I need ammunition.”  

Since the war began, I have watched the daily news about the war. I have been shocked at what I have seen: the brutality of the Russians against the civilians of a free country, the bravery of the Ukrainians who have stayed to fight against overwhelming odds, the suffering of the 6.5 million refugees (and counting), mostly women and children, who have been forced from their homes with few worldly possessions, and the outpouring of support from the rest of the world.

I have debated what the appropriate response should be, knowing there must be a fine balance between resistance and escalation resulting in the next world war. Could economic sanctions successfully compete against military might and destruction? At first, I doubted it. We have tried economic sanctions before with less-than-ideal results. But I then realized that America’s revolutionary war began as an economic boycott against England’s taxation. The military war began when England sent troops here to put down those financial weapons the colonists were engaged in. And the Continental Army only had to win enough battles to convince England that the cost was not worth it.

Perhaps the odds of Ukraine winning a war against the military might of Russia are similar to the odds the colonists had against the military strength of England back then. But coupled with the economic war, I give Ukraine a fighting chance (pun intended). And the difference today is most of the world is participating in economic sanctions against Russia and Russian leaders. According to the Brookings Institution, thirty countries have imposed more than 2,500 sanctions on Russian targets. Borrowing a military term, Putin characterized the economic sanctions as “economic blitzkrieg,” Sharlyn Alfonso, from CBS’s 60 Minutes, described it this way: “Never before has such a large modern economy been cut off so quickly from most of the world.” Adding to the government sanctions, over 400 companies have stopped operations or pulled out of Russia in just three weeks since the war began. Wouldn’t the closing of 850 McDonald’s be enough to get the Russian people to revolt against their leader?

But seriously, are the sanctions working? Ms. Alfonso recently interviewed Daleep Singh, the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics, the White House official responsible for coming up with the economic sanctions against Russia. In response to whether the sanctions are working, Mr. Singh said: “Russia is now on the fast track to a 1980s style Soviet living standard. It’s looking into an economic abyss, and that is the result of Putin’s choices, and I can see from his reaction that’s where it’s headed. The best projections I see out there right now are suggesting that Russia’s economy is going to be half of its size before this invasion.”     

While I hope the economic sanctions will ultimately cause Putin to realize the war is not worth the costs, it is hard to watch the daily atrocities against the innocent people of Ukraine. I recently read an article by former news correspondent Eric Weiner who warns of “learned helplessness,” which results from too much exposure to negative stimuli beyond our control. Learned helplessness can affect us mentally, often leading to low self-esteem and depression, and even drug abuse and physical illness. To prevent the effects of learned helplessness, Mr. Weiner suggests we limit (but not eliminate) our consumption of the news and don’t ignore the brutality of the war but focus on its humanity. Seek out positive stories of heroic resistance and acts of moral beauty. With that in mind, here are just a few:

  • Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova held up a sign during a news broadcast that said, “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.” In a video posted online before the protest, a woman who appears to be Ms. Ovsyannikova said, “What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country. The responsibility for that aggression lies on the conscience of only one man, and that man is Vladimir Putin. Now the whole world has turned away from us, and the next ten generations of our descendants will not wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.” Her protest has now been seen online by over 2.6 million people. Sadly, she has since been arrested and could face up to 15 years in jail.
  • When Sharon Florio wanted to give her community a way to voice their support for Ukraine, she placed a sign, and some chalk outside her storefront, and the community quickly began writing positive messages on the store’s brick wall. Florio said, “I think it’s wonderful. I love seeing parents explain it to their children. It brings an awareness that not everyone’s as comfortable as we are right now.” 
  • Ukraine defied Moscow’s demand that its soldiers lay down its arms in besieged Mariupol. “There can be no question of any surrender,” in Mariupol, responded Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov praised the city’s “heroic defenders,” saying their holdout had helped thwart Russia elsewhere. “By virtue of their dedication and superhuman courage, tens of thousands of lives throughout Ukraine were saved. Today Mariupol is saving Kyiv, Dnipro, and Odesa.”
  • When Russia invaded her home of Ukraine, Maria decided she had to help defend it, even if it meant leaving her fiancé behind in Chicago days after getting married. So she married on Saturday and left Monday morning for Ukraine. “People are running out of there, and she is running in,” said a friend at the wedding. Her American husband intends to follow her as soon as he receives his passport.
  • Once in Romania, many Ukrainian refugees have nowhere to go. So one Romanian family has taken matters into their own hands. They have sent cars to pick up refugees at all hours of the day or night, help them cross the border into Romania, and take them to a summer camp owned by the family. The refugees stay there for a few days, and the family then sends them on to more permanent safe houses. This family has helped over 600 refugees in the past two weeks alone.  
  • Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in Chicago for a joint speaking engagement, made an impromptu visit to a Ukrainian Catholic church in a Ukrainian neighborhood in the city. In a bipartisan show of unity, and with blue and yellow ribbons on their jacket lapels, they walked side by side to place bouquets of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower, at the base of a statue.

President Zelenskyy’s speeches remind me of another excellent wartime speech—this one given by Winston Churchill to Britain’s House of Commons during World War II. The film Darkest Hour[ii]captures it in this scene:

I hope you will join me in supporting the Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes in the only way I can—with my credit card.

I close with two of my favorite quotes that fit these difficult times:

  • Edmund Burke: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
  • William Gladstone: I look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power.

[i] Braveheart:

  • Production Companies: Icon Entertainment International, The Ladd Company, and B.H. Finance C.V.
  • Director: Mel Gibson
  • Screenwriter: Richard Wallace
  • Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, and Patrick McGoohan
  • Release date: May 24, 1995

[ii] Darkest Hour:

  • Production Companies: Focus Features, Perfect World Pictures, and Working Title Films
  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten
  • Starring: Gary Oldman. Lily James, and Kristen Scott Thomas
  • Release date: December 22, 2017

Winning at Any Cost

Recently my doctor prescribed me some oral steroids for some arthritis I have in my elbows and knees. As I took my first tablet, I jokingly remarked to my wife, “Well, I just blew my chance to compete in the Olympics!” But, ironically, later that day, I learned that maybe I hadn’t. The news broke that Kamila Valieva, the Russian 15-year-old phenom figure skater, had tested positive for a banned heart medication but had not been banned from competing in the Olympics.

It seems no matter how hard we try, controversy surrounds Olympic figure skating. We first had the infamous injury to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by Tonya Harding’s handlers immediately before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Then, in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Canadian pair skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier appeared to have easily won the gold over the Russian skaters. But the judges saw it differently. Or did they? The day after the competition, the judge from France claimed she was pressured to pick the Russians over the Canadians. In a not-so-satisfying compromise, the IOC ended up awarding both pairs with a gold medal.

And now we have Kamila-gate.

Former U.S. Olympic gold medalist skater Tara Lipinski said what many of us were thinking: “I have so many mixed emotions. One of those emotions is I have enormous empathy for Kamila. She is just 15 years old. Clearly, the adults around her have failed her, and now she is dealing with their decision-making, and those consequences are now on her shoulders—the weight of the world. But again, she should not be skating in this event after a positive test.”

Johnny Weir, the former gold medalist skater from Canada, echoed Lipinski: “There is no gray area when it comes to doping. If you fail a drug test, you cannot compete.”

But the Court of Arbitration for Sports disagreed, allowing Valieva to continue competing. Sarah Hirschland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, responded to that decision by stating. “We are disappointed by the message this decision sends…. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”

That systemic and pervasive disregard led to one of the most fantastic examples of a distinction without a difference. The IOC banned Russia from the Olympics, but Russian athletes are still allowed to compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

I wondered how we got to this place in sports history, so I naturally turned to movies. The Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus,[i] reveals how the Russians doped their way to 13 gold medals (33 overall) in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. It was the most gold medals and total medals ever won by Russia in a Winter Olympics. Here is the trailer for Icarus:

When I heard the decision to allow Kamila Valieva to continue competing, I thought of Sha’Carri Richardson, the U.S. sprinter who could not compete in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 because she tested positive with THC (marijuana). Richardson took her punishment with honesty and grace, explaining her mental turmoil during the Olympic trials over her mother’s death led her to marijuana to ease her grief and anxiety. But where is the honesty and grace from the Russians? I am still waiting for an explanation from Valieva or her handlers of how the banned substance ended up in Valieva. Valieva’s only comment since the controversy broke: “These days have been very difficult for me. I’m happy, but I’m tired emotionally.” Valieva went on to say the entire process had taught her that adult life “can be unfair to some extent.”  

The banned substance, trimetazidine, increases blood flow to the heart, improving endurance. Is that a possible reason Valieva could perform so many quadruple jumps in her program? On the other hand, there is no evidence that marijuana enhances anyone’s physical abilities. So, of course, we ban Richardson but allow Valieva to compete. Go figure. But karma, I suppose, caught up with Valieva in the end. She fell twice in her free skate program, dropping from first to fourth and off the Olympic podium.    

Before and after Kamila-gate, I have often tried to answer this question: If you win by cheating, do you really win? How satisfying can a win be when you know you had an unfair advantage over the competition? But sometimes, athletes will go to any lengths to win. We are willing to win at any cost, even if we have to cheat to do so. We assume others are cheating, so our only chance of winning is also to cheat.

Sadly, winning at any cost is not limited to athletics. Unfortunately, we see the same occurring in almost every phase of our dog-eat-dog existence. Fortune, fame, and power seem to be our primary motivators, and we are sometimes willing to do almost anything to achieve them. Governments try to regulate fairness, but most of the laws we enact tend to punish the majority who play by the rules, while those that don’t find creative ways to circumvent those laws.

The documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing[ii] traces how Boeing, after its merger with McDonnell Douglas, changed from a company primarily concerned with safety to one more concerned with profits. And that change of culture led to two plane crashes within five months that resulted in the deaths of 346 persons. Here is the trailer for the film, which you can see on Netflix:

Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat from Oregon and the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of Congress, said of Boeing: “In the 21st century, to lose two planes within months of each other, and kill so many people, it just never, ever, ever should have happened. The safety culture at Boeing fell apart. It was corrupted from the top down by pressures from Wall Street, plain and simple.”

How did the company react when the truth came out that its 747 Max plane had known design defects that led to these crashes? Boeing’s Board of Directors asked for the resignation of Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO, two months after he testified before Congress and Boeing’s efforts to hide the plane’s design defects became apparent. But he left with stock and pension awards worth 62 million dollars. Sixty-two million dollars! And to me, that’s the problem with corporate America. You can be behind the deaths of almost 350 people and still walk away with a payoff of over $60 million.

I recently watched an interview of Joseph Gordon Leavitt about his latest role as Travis Kalanick, The CEO of Uber, in the upcoming TV series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Leavitt described Travis Kalanick’s core business Value No. 1 as “Always be hustling, even if it includes some ethically questionable behavior.”

When asked how we can change people to act more ethically, Leavitt said, “When a company is prioritizing profits over everything and doesn’t mind who they have to step on or negatively impact in order to produce those profits, you’re going to keep getting companies doing harm. We keep asking, ‘How do we fix Facebook? How do we fix this or that?’ Until we have different incentives where they can care about more than shareholder value, they’re not going to fix any of these problems because it is not good business.”

The film, I, Tonya,[iii] chronicles the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan surrounding the 1994 Winter Olympics. In the court case following the assault on Nancy Kerrigan, the judge punishes Harding where it hurt the most. Here is the scene from the movie:

If we want to stop the Russians (and others) from cheating at the Olympics, we must punish those who cheat consistently by banning them from competing. Likewise, if we want businesses to act more ethically, we must punish them where it hurts the most—their bottom lines.

Let’s support those athletes who can win with class and businesses that stand for more than just profit. Let’s stand with former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart by teaching our children that Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

And may we live that way as well.

[i] Icarus:

  • Production Companies:  Alex Productions, Chicago Media Project, and Diamond Docs
  • Director: Bryan Fogel
  • Screenwriters: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe, and John Bertain
  • Starring: Bryan Fogel, Dave Zabriskie, and Don Catlin
  • Release date: August 4, 2017

[ii] Downfall: The Case Against Boeing:

  • Production Companies: Imagine Documentaries, Moxie Films and Moxie
  • Director: Rory Kennedy
  • Screenwriters: Mark Bailey and Keven McAlester
  • Starring: Andy Pasztor and John Fantasia
  • Release date: February 18, 2022

[iii] I, Tonya:

  • Production Companies: AI-Film, Clubhouse Pictures, and Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office
  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Screenwriter: Steven Rogers
  • Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney
  • Release date: January 19, 2018