Category Archives: Social Commentary

I Don’t Understand

I’ve never considered myself to be a student of human nature, of the motivations that compel people to do what they do.  This probably explains why I never succeeded in my attempts at writing fiction:  All my characters think and sound like me because I literally can’t get into the heads of others.

There’s a lot going on in the world of politics today that I just don’t understand.  First and foremost, I do not understand the appeal of Trump.  Not one iota.  To me, there is nothing attractive or powerful about the man.  The way he looks, the way he speaks, his rampant narcissism and bullying – why every American isn’t disgusted by all of that (and more) is beyond my comprehension.  Behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from a middle schooler is allowed to inundate our airwaves, the Internet and print media.  Why do we waste so much time and space on him?  He is a laughing stock internationally and makes people worldwide question the intelligence (and sanity) of Americans.  Every time he comes on the TV or computer screen, I involuntarily avert my eyes from his ridiculous hair and orange face with the white circles around his eyes like some kind of sunburnt albino raccoon.  I cringe when I listen to him speak, garbling words and repeating his sixth grade vocabulary to the point of incoherence – who could listen to that and be anything but embarrassed for the man?  When his followers are interviewed at his rallies, they say they like him because “he tells it like it is”.  Well, if an incoherent soup of lies, insults and unsubstantiated boasts  are “like it is,” then I guess they have a point.

A woman I know professionally and with whom I’ve shared a meal or two, mystifies me with her Facebook posts.  She was very helpful to me during a stressful time in my life, and I genuinely like the woman.  Based on what she posts on Facebook, it’s clear that she loves animals and is concerned about the preservation of the natural environment, and she has even shared some intelligent and humane items on immigration and income inequality.  But she is an unabashed  Trump fan and constantly posts negative items about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Democratic leaders generally that make them out to be liars and the scourge of our country and the reason why things are as terrible as they are in this country right now.  I cannot comprehend such utter cognitive dissonance.

I don’t understand why people like her consistently vote against their interests.  Why are there any middle class supporters of Trump at all?  If you’re not a multi-millionaire like him, he doesn’t care one whit about you except to the extent that you shower him with praise and adulation.  For that, you are useful to him.  Otherwise, he couldn’t care less.  I read about a recent Gallup poll that claimed 6 in 10 Americans think they’re better off today than they were three years ago, but I just don’t see it.  I must be part of the 4 in 10 who is struggling, paying more in health care bills, utilities, student loans and credit card interest than ever before, with no relief in sight, seemingly unable to get ahead or escape the crushing debt.  And yet, I saw another article today about the record levels of personal debt Americans are carrying.  That explains it, then.  We’re better off because we’re more willing to go into debt to get there.  (See my post last week about the curse of consumerism – and here’s a post-script to that:  I forgot completely to mention this new insane phenomenon of “influencers”.  For the uninformed, these are otherwise talentless individuals who have managed to develop a social media persona whereby they promote certain products and accumulate followers, which earns them money and the opportunity to promote more products and get more followers, and on and on.  Yet another thing I do not get at all:  why people waste their time and money on the advice of nobodies who want you to buy things just so they can bolster their reputations.)

I don’t understand why someone like Lindsay Graham can be so anti-Trump during the 2016 campaign – and be insulted and belittled by him; remember Trump’s public disclosure of Graham’s cell phone number? – and suddenly become his biggest fan?  Same with Ted Cruz or even “Little” Marco Rubio.  Don’t these guys have any self-respect?  Humans shouldn’t be able to make 180-degree turns like that without a good reason, and I haven’t seen one, unless fear of reprisals from a bully and a jerk are sufficient justification.  What has Trump done for Graham or Cruz or Rubio to make them change their tune so radically?  I just don’t get it.  And why haven’t former loyalists like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, who Trump insulted mercilessly both in and out of office, stood up and defended themselves, or at least questioned why this behavior is allowed to continue?  I’ve heard that former Chief of Staff John Kelly has finally started talking sense, but really, who’s listening other than people who already agree with him?

Some people’s motivations are clearer than others.  Take Mitch McConnell, for instance.  His drivers are greed and power.  That much is obvious.  But why is he so adamant about creating an insurmountable logjam of bills in the Senate that ultimately reflects badly on him?  I guess his Kentucky constituents are still behind him (although that will be proven in November, as a really attractive Democratic opponent, military hero and mom Amy McGrath, is lurking back in his home state generating grass roots support hopefully sufficient to remove his saggy ass from office while Mitch wastes all our time rejecting House bills in D.C.), but here’s a thought – why bother keeping Trump around?  McConnell could do the same damage with Mike Pence as president and have a lot less mind-boggling baggage to deal with.  If I were McConnell (which, happily, I am NOT), I would have cut my losses with Trump and thrown in with Pence in a heartbeat when handed a primo opportunity with the impeachment trial.  Pence is a lily white, homophobic, religious right-wing nightmare, but he’s not a megalomaniac, wanna-be dictator like Trump who daily threatens the rule of law and democracy itself through his cruelty, ignorance and self-absorption.  Frankly, I didn’t understand why there wasn’t more of a push amongst Republicans when they held both the House and the Senate to oust Trump, because only Republicans would have been in the line of succession.  Now, if anything happened to Trump and Pence to remove them from office, we’d have President Pelosi, which would be a karmically delicious outcome for Democrats but awfully dangerous to Republicans.  I have to believe there are other ways to disseminate the poison of the Republican agenda that don’t involve the unpredictable and ridiculously unattractive Trump.

That’s another thing I don’t understand about Republicans in general — why they have been so willing to abandon their core (or at least they used to be core) ideologies, such as reducing the deficit, limiting governmental control and preventing executive overreach?  In an effort to try to make sense of some of these motivators, I consulted former Republican media manipulator Rick Wilson’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies, which provided a comprehensive analysis of why Republicans are so willing to drink the Trump Kool-aid.  But even with all of Wilson’s explanations, and acknowledging that, if Trump is skilled at anything, it’s being a con man (it’s certainly not being a deal-maker), those rationales still rang hollow.  Trump, to me, is like the old alcoholic who takes up residence at the end of the neighborhood bar, a built-in fixture bloviating about everything and anything, who knows it all and has all the answers, and no one listens to him until the bartender finally says, “Enough, old timer,” and calls him a cab so the patrons can finally get some peace and quiet.

Or do Republican goals only have meaning if Democrats are in control of government?  Another thing I don’t understand about Republicans is, if they want government out of people’s lives so much, why are they so fixated on controlling what women do with their own bodies, or what folks do in the privacy of their bedroom, or what children are taught in schools?  If you’re going to roll back regulations in favor of Big Agro and Big Oil and Big Pharma because they don’t want government intruding into the workings of commerce, what about rolling them back for the Little People?  (In that sense, I have somewhat Libertarian tendencies and think government should be less about CONTROL and more about SUPPORT.)

But enough about the incomprehensible Republicans – what about the Democrats?  How is Elizabeth Warren not the most popular candidate in the 2020 campaign?  Why are the strongest candidates at the moment all old white men in their 70s?  Why do young people so fervently support a crazy-haired old white guy who would (figuratively) blow up the establishment in a heartbeat rather than everyone’s favorite teacher, a mom and grandmother, who is truly looking out for the “little guy” in a less combative way than Bernie (but then again, don’t challenge her, because she’ll put you in your place in a heartbeat)?  She doesn’t have Hillary’s baggage, and she’s smarter than anyone in the room (but doesn’t feel the need to brag about it).  The New York Times, former fellow candidate Julian Castro and others clearly agree with me (although the Times split their endorsement with Amy Klobuchar, who I also like, but I don’t think she’s as complete a candidate as Elizabeth Warren is).  When she dialed back her plan for Medicare-for-All after being criticized for it, by saying, “Okay, we won’t force it on you, but we’ll give you a chance to try it, and I’m sure you’ll like it” – which in my mind was such a reasonable response: she re-considered her position and offered up a compromise solution — how was that a bad thing?  And yet pundits and the public deemed that a problematic development and have even blamed her supposed “backtracking” for her drop in the polls.  There’s a woman I know through my rescue group who is very kind and funny and I think we could be better friends if I ever managed to wake up early enough to join her at the local pool for Aquasize.  But she and I had a text discussion the other day where she said she doesn’t trust Warren because she had the temerity to release her DNA results in connection with the whole Native American brouhaha.  To me, that was Warren being transparent, but to her, it was disqualifying.  This is what we’re up against!!  I don’t understand it – not one bit.

[An aside on that episode in Warren’s trajectory:  I kind of understand where she was coming from with her claims to Native American heritage.  First of all, she was PROUD of it, so why is that a negative?  We should all take more pride in our Native American ancestors and predecessors rather than ignoring the slow genocide of a race of people that continues to this day.  I’m certain it was a matter of a childhood spent listening to family tales of a great-grandma or auntie who was a member of the Cherokee Nation, and feeling pride in that.  I have something similar in my history:  My father told us for years we were descended from gypsies, which explained his clairvoyance and ability to tell what was in wrapped packages before he opened them.  In my youth I would brag about being a gypsy (before learning about their darker side, of course), but I confess I would be a little disappointed if I did a DNA test and it didn’t come back with at least a little Romany ancestry.]

And one last thing I don’t understand (although believe me, there’s more):  What’s the deal with women who willingly subvert themselves to men ? Maybe their excuse is fear, or it’s all they’ve ever known, but thinking that way only serves to perpetuate second-class citizenship for females.  Why are there woman saying America is not ready to elect a woman president?  To the contrary, women should be DEMANDING a woman president, and since we actually make up a slight majority of the population in general, we should win every election if we stay true to our gender.

The bottom line?  I wish I had more clarity about human nature, but given that we are so complex and not always transparent, it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll get it.  People’s motivations will continue to be a mystery to me.  Even on those rare occasions when I think I know why people do the things they do, something will be revealed that shows my assessment to have been completely wrong.  All I know for certain is this:  Whatever their inclinations, the majority of Americans had better do the right thing come November 3 and vote the current disaster out of office (and make sure he leaves).  I am so tired of living in Bizarro World, where presumably decent and intelligent people are controlled by their fear of the insults and retribution of a Cheetoh-colored man-baby.

no understand

No comprendo.

 

The Curse of Consumerism

The modern middle class lives in debt so we can keep up with the Joneses, so we can get the best, the flashiest, the name brand, to boast and flaunt.  But why?  How is this relentless money-spending improving our lives in any way?

Oh, I’m guilty of it, I confess.  When I was suddenly making more money than I ever thought possible as a lawyer (and, not coincidentally, spending less time with my school-age daughter), it became so easy to just take her to the mall – especially around Xmastime, when long end-of-year working hours meant no time to search for meaningful gifts – and buy her everything she showed interest in having.  There is a definite appeal to going into a store, seeing something you like, and just buying it, with no concerns about whether you can afford it, or worrying that, if you buy this, you won’t have money for something more essential, like food or rent or dental care.

And if I miraculously won the lottery and had money to spare, where those worries weren’t a daily source of agita, there are certainly things – higher-end things – that I wouldn’t mind spending cash on, like season tickets for Rangers games (or at least a partial plan) and all the CDs I’ve been keeping lists of in the event I had money to buy them.  [An aside:  If I had season tickets for the Rangers, it wouldn’t be so disappointing when they lose at MSG, like they did last night – my daughter had gotten us tickets for Xmas, an incredibly thoughtful gift, and then they went and stunk up the place.  But if I had enough money where I could afford to go to every game (or most of them), a stinker wouldn’t disappoint me so much.]

If Superstorm Sandy taught me anything, it was about the impermanence of objects:  THINGS GET LOST, STOLEN, DESTROYED BY ACTS OF GOD.  You can do your best to protect them in fireproof boxes and Rubbermaid bins, but somehow, they will end up a pile of dust or in someone else’s hands. Having expensive things – like jewelry and electronics – also makes you a target for crime (because, of course, thieves have the curse of consumerism, too, only they don’t have money so they have to take YOUR things).

I blame the advertising profession.  (See an earlier blog of mine, “Ad Nauseum”, from May 27, 2015, that ruminates on the topic at length.)  [Another aside:  I recently inventoried my blogs from 2015 to 2018 and I realized that I have covered a lot of ground!  Revisiting some of my better ones will be the topic of a future blog, I’m sure.]  All that money wasted trying to get people to WANT things!  But Americans – and not just Americans, actually, but people the world over (I’m looking at you, Japan!) – are suckers for the next shiny, new thing, and if it’s more expensive, well, then it must be better.

And what is the attraction of name brands?  My daughter’s brother craves Gucci slides.  WHY?  They’re comfy shoes going on your stinky feet!  Does Gucci employ elves to manufacture slides that magically freshen your tootsies as you wear them while earning you compliments from passing strangers?  “Love those Gucci slides, man!!  Wish I had me a pair!  And by the way, your feet smell fabulous!”

Don’t get me started on those celebrities like Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray and other famous brand-masters who convince people that everyday, ordinary things like dog food and paper clip holders are worth paying more for just because they have the desired “name” on it. If Martha Stewart personally gave it her seal of approval, it must be worthy!!  And what’s the deal with lesser celebrities, like that Lauren Conrad person, who had her 15 minutes of fame on some MTV reality show and now considers herself a designer?  When I bought the Lauren Conrad brand slippers at Kohl’s (on sale, like all merchandise at Kohl’s at some point in the retail cycle, which is the only way I buy pretty much everything these days), they stained my feet orange and left tufts of fake fur all over my house.  When they were first offered for purchase, I’m sure those Lauren Conrad slippers were sold at a premium simply because they had her name on them.

If it were up to me, everything would just be generic and functional, and then there wouldn’t be a need for all these status purchases.  It would be the great equalizer – rich and poor, urban or rural, we would all have the SAME STUFF and spend the same amount of money for it, and it would last as long (without purchasing extra warranties!) and serve its intended purpose.  That might be boring for some, but it makes sense to me.

Who am I kidding?  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone else.  I literally just shelled out nearly $50 (money I shouldn’t really be spending given my precarious financial situation) at Bath & Body Works for hand soap and antibacterial gels in a mind-boggling variety of fragrances.  And yes, they were on sale, and yes, I had a coupon (which is how they get you in the store in the first place), but I didn’t NEED any of it.  It doesn’t bring me joy (although my new Confetti Cake Pop body spray makes me smile, at least for the first half hour after I’ve doused myself with it).

The curse certainly raised its head this week when we were forced, courtesy of a lady stopping short in the middle lane of three-lane road, to buy a new car for my daughter when her 2012 Jetta (which we bought from her uncle for a reduced price before she went away to college) was declared a total loss.  The kid told me, in no uncertain terms, that her dream car is a Dodge Challenger, and there wasn’t even a second option.  So off to the dealership we went, with nary a peep from me in protest, and purchased a 2018 certified pre-owned Dodge Challenger.  It was a complete impulse buy, probably a hundred dollars a month more than we could realistically afford, but she knew what she wanted, so that’s what we got.  I will say this:  It was a far less stressful car shopping experience than what I went through with my sister a few months back, when she didn’t really know what she wanted but she DID know she couldn’t afford to pay very much, so it was all about finding the best deal.  When you walk into a car showroom and you know what you want and what you’re willing to pay, it makes the salesperson’s life (and ergo YOUR life) a lot easier.

All that being said, I guess the moral of today’s blog post is this:  If you live hand-to-mouth, you have a lot fewer choices in life when it comes to consumables, even if you still WANT the expensive, name-brand stuff (and even if you sometimes make a misguided purchase you can’t really afford).  A little extra income goes a long way toward letting you satisfy your impulses with less guilt.  But some of the reasons we’re compelled to pay more for things are kind of ridiculous.  (Gucci slides?  Seriously??)

D car

The “dream car” (NOT a Honda).

Life Re-Considered

I’ve missed my blog.  It’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted, for various reasons (which I will address in due course), and it’s almost as if my best friend moved away and lost touch.  Yes, I still write in my journal every day, and I still keep track of happy moments in my Joy Book (even though my entries sometimes consist of the simple declaration, “No joy today”).  But there’s a real void where my blog should be.

I started writing my blog in 2015 as an attempt to get my words out into the ether, to publicly post what I’d been hiding in my personal notebooks for decades.  I purposely committed to writing FOR MYSELF, and only for myself, so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I wasn’t widely read or didn’t get a response.  Needless to say, I wasn’t and I didn’t, but that didn’t stop me.  For more than two years, I cranked out a blog entry weekly, re-reading and editing it until it was the best I could produce in a week’s time. I was proud of many of my blog entries, and occasionally even posted a link to particularly good ones on Facebook to access an even wider audience.  I was content.  I was writing, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do and the only modest “talent” I felt I possessed.

But then the 2016 election happened, and slowly, over time, I lost the will to write.  All I could think about was how we had gotten it so wrong. How was an unabashed conman and rude caricature like Donald Trump allowed to become the president of ostensibly the greatest country on earth? How had enough Americans been so bamboozled to allow the only qualified candidate (by far) to lose the election?  It was as if a dark fog kept creeping into my brain unbidden, coloring everything in there.  If you look at the last few of my blog posts (monthly rather than weekly by then, in early 2018), you can see it clearly.

There was other darkness, too – my job, my lack of funds, my feelings of life passing me by.  And somehow the writing dried up and I stopped posting.

Oh, I thought about re-starting hundreds of times.  I wrote lots of solid first sentences, and even a full paragraph now and again.  But I couldn’t sustain the effort.  Frankly, I still wonder if I can, but it’s a new year now, a new hope of finally getting rid of the stain that’s been clouding the country, the world and my own mind for the past three years. I agree with a post by a friend on Facebook, who said optimistically that she welcomes 2020 because she wants to be happy again, to stop wishing the years away, yearning for a time when maybe we can use Facebook just to swap recipes or post photos of our pets rather than lamenting the destruction of our country and, ultimately, humanity itself.

So I’m giving my little experiment in thoughtful positivity another try, but I can’t promise to be a hundred percent positive a hundred percent of the time.  Please bear with me.  Perhaps it will be like a typical pro hockey season:  the rust of a summer of inactivity takes a few weeks to be buffed away, with daily practice and game-day regimens.  And by the time I reach the halfway point, I’ll either be in playoff contention or I’ll be selling off parts for a re-set.

I turned 60 last year.  I really thought I would have accomplished something in my life by now, and being a writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do.  The time is now.  I’ve really got nothing to lose.  Wish me luck.

2020 page

Kids

A month ago, young American high school students in Parkland, Florida (PUBLIC high school students – I’m talking to you, DeVos) faced an unspeakable tragedy when one of their own took a military-grade rifle to school with the express intention of killing as many people as possible.  Their response was to say, loudly and in unison, “ENOUGH”, and today, a chorus of young voices from not only around the country but also around the world have joined their powerful voices.  If adults can’t act like adults and do something – ANYTHING – to stop or at least minimize these tragedies, then maybe a bunch of loud, passionate kids can do something.  After all, a lot of these high school kids will be able to vote in the 2020 election – and who do you think they’re going to vote for?  True, the NRA funds politicians from both parties, but the vast majority of NRA dollars go to members of the Republican party, which in recent years –since they became the majority in Congress, and especially since the invasion of Trump – has become the party of the mean, petty and spiteful.

And their incessant mouthpieces, in the form of Fox News and Breitbart and Info Wars, had to belittle the admirable efforts of these young people.  These lunatics with their conspiracy theories!  They’d rather create elaborate fictions than admit to the truth they hear and see right in front of their eyes.  Like clockwork, here come Alex Jones and the tinfoil-hat brigade (or might it even be the Russians?), spouting nonsense that these kids aren’t real high school students and they’ve just seized on this shooting to further their left-wing agenda.  What contortions they go through to provide “evidence” for their insanity!

What might be a normal person’s reaction upon seeing these earnest young people who want to be the agents of change for a broken system, when it’s their futures that are at stake?  They are the largest stakeholders in ALL of these laws and regulations that aren’t serving them or their futures one iota.  My feeling – and the feelings of all reasonable people, from Rachel Maddow to Bernie Sanders – is that, it’s a shame that it took a massacre of innocents to prompt them to action, but good on ‘em for doing everything in their power (which admittedly isn’t much – that is, unless you accumulate enough voices and enough allies to become an immovable force, which is hopefully the way this will go) to get someone to fix the problems.

I am inspired by these grieving and traumatized and, frankly, furious young people who are FED UP with the complete lack of action by the people elected to protect and serve them (and in countless ways actually hinder efforts to protect and serve them) all over TV, finally getting HEARD and SEEN and resisting things as they are, in their horrible and horrifying state.  They are picking up the mantle from the women’s march(es), the Charlottesville protests, all those regular folks speaking out at town halls and picketing outside their representatives’ offices – people who are supposed to REPRESENT those regular folks!! –to preserve the Affordable Care Act and attempt to save the Dreamers.  But more and more, elected officials, especially at the Federal level, don’t act for the people who elected them, or even their children, as evidenced by the current waves of protests and picketing.

I happen to know first-hand that, given an opportunity, kids of all ages, but especially high school students, have a LOT to say about their schools, their communities, their countries and the world.  I spent four of the first five years of its existence working closely with the founder of Global Kids, Inc., an inspirational woman named Carole Artigiani.  Carole started Global Kids back in 1989 with the express purpose of giving young people a voice.  Global Kids’ motto was (and continues to be – the organization, based in New York City and Washington, D.C., still thrives) “Youth turning hope into action.” Through Carole’s connections and her tireless outreach (and that of her enthusiastic staff and the teachers at the schools where Global Kids is embedded as an after-school program), the students were given platforms at local community board and city council meetings, the governor’s office, Congress, and even the Council on Foreign Relations and the United Nations.  They’ve met with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.  They’ve traveled the world.  For over 25 years, Carole’s aspirational little after-school program has produced generations of “woke” young people who have gone on to become teachers and activists and performers and leaders and lifelong speakers of their minds.  [www.globalkids.org]

And what about those teenagers in Kansas who want to run for governor who aren’t even old enough to vote?  It wasn’t a joke or a publicity stunt – they sincerely believe that their interests are not being addressed.  Something they learned from American history is the “No taxation without representation” protest – well, this is their way of saying, “Don’t make rules for me if my voice isn’t represented.  We may just be kids, but it’s our planet, our future.”  There’s even a 13-year-old political savant in Vermont who wants to run for office there and who already knows exponentially more about how our government works than the abomination who currently occupies in the Oval Office.

LET THE KIDS SPEAK – and actually LISTEN TO THEM.  Government at all levels needs an influx of young people, and soon, before the bitter, close-minded old folks in power now destroy the planet entirely, which seems more and more likely given Trump, and the obstructionist Republicans and the impotent, in-fighting Democrats.  There’s GOT to be a better way – so why not listen to the young inheritors of this planet when they actually have something to say about it?

Randomicity

Perhaps it’s the laziness borne of summer, or an overload of bad news on the political front, or even my daughter’s invasion of my physical and mental space these past few months.  But whatever the cause, I haven’t been able to string together sufficient cohesive paragraphs to produce a blog post since my last missive (which was a reflexive diatribe brought on by the aforementioned overload of bad news on the political front).  Regretfully, I haven’t been writing much in my journal – in fact, in a highly unusual circumstance for me, I’ve gone days without writing anything at all or, at most, a sentence saying how little I’ve been writing.

But occasionally I will have what I’ve been calling “common sense ideas,” which may ultimately end up turning into blog posts if I’m able to muster the sustained brain power.  For example, I think every publicly held company should include in every employee’s compensation package a share or number of shares of stock in the company, so employees become shareholders and literally have a vested interest in seeing their company succeed.  Those employees would care more about their jobs because the better they do, the better the company does, in a potentially endless cycle of success.

Another thought stream I’ve been entertaining (but I lack the capacity to get deep enough to write 500-1,000 words about it) is how I would fix the health care system in this country.  First, it should be mandated that all hospitals and all doctors have to take all insurances.  Second, all insurances should work the same way – same claims process, same reimbursement process, same referral process, etc.  This will cut down enormously on the administrative burden.  Third, the government should mandate that insurance companies cannot raise their rates every year, or ensure that any increases be linked to something like interest rates or cost-of-living.  Finally, as the process becomes more streamlined and the overhead and premium costs go down, then there would be no reason why larger employers couldn’t afford to insure even part-timers and the 30-hour minimum could be eliminated.

Here’s yet another recurring theme I keep returning to, in my head and my journal:  I don’t understand what the Republicans think will happen to the poor and the sick and the disabled and the elderly if they succeed in making Medicaid go away or cutting welfare and food stamps and school lunches, or when there’s no more funding for Section 8 public housing or public education.  (And of course, no abortions or contraception, so a ton of unwanted children adding to the already overburdened system.)  WHAT DO THEY THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ALL THESE PEOPLE IF THEIR LIFELINES ARE TAKEN AWAY??  If they thought the “great unwashed” were a burden before, what do they think they’ll be creating if Republicans are able to fulfill their dark and cruel desires?  Do they even care, as long as their own pockets are overflowing and they don’t have to actually SEE homeless or poor people?  It blows my mind.

And one more:  Elected representatives are supposed to do what their VOTERS want, not their DONORS.  Money for campaigns should be taken out of the equation entirely and people should be elected (or, more importantly, RE-elected) based on their record, not on how much money they’ve raised; on what they have DONE over what have they SAID (words are cheap, especially in the age of Trump).

* * *

So, those are some ways my mind has been wandering lately.  Which reminds me of the Beatles song, “I’m Fixing a Hole” (“to stop my mind from wandering / where it will go . . . “), which in turn reminds me of that post that was making its way around Facebook a few months ago about the 10 albums that most influenced you as a teenager.  A high school friend posted his list, and while I liked most of what he had included, my list would be ENTIRELY different even though it was from the same era.  My list of LPs on which I wore out the grooves in high school and early college is as follows (in no particular order):

  1. Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”
  2. T. Rex, “Electric Warrior”
  3. Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
  4. Leon Russell, “Carney” (one of the first albums I ever purchased with my own money, Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” being the other)
  5. Led Zeppelin, “Houses of the Holy”
  6. The Beatles, “White Album” (“Sgt. Pepper” was a close second, and I also loved “Rubber Soul”)
  7. “The Ramones”
  8. Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”
  9. Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush”
  10. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”

Honorable Mention:

Queen, “Night at the Opera” (although my favorite Queen song, and the one that was our “let’s get crazy tonight!” theme, was “Tie Your Mother Down”)

“Foreigner”

Fleetwood Mac, “Rumors”

Rolling Stones, “Hot Rocks”

* * *

Speaking of school, remember how every new unit in English and science and social studies would include a list of vocabulary words that would be featured in the unit, and the first assignment was to look them up and learn to use them?  Well, in all the brilliant political commentary I’ve been reading lately (Washington Post, NYT, New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Esquire [I especially like Charlie Pierce, who seems to come up with all these obscure terms to describe the “vulgar talking yam” and his minions], to name a few), I’ve come across a list of words that were either new to me or I’d seen them before but wasn’t sure what they meant (sometimes I like to guess and then see how close I am to the actual definition).  Some of those words (and their definitions, thanks to the Merriam Webster.com dictionary) are as follows:

sophistry:  subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.

mandarins (not the oranges or the Chinese):  a pedantic official; a bureaucrat.

mountebank:  a person who sells quack medicines from a platform;  a boastful unscrupulous pretender.  (See also:  Trump, Donald)

anthropocene:  the period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.  (An aside:  I actually came across the word “anthrocene” in a song by Nick Cave, which may be a made-up word or a bastardization of “anthropocene”.  Actually, the well-read Mr. Cave probably got it from the science writer Andrew Revkin, who used the term “anthrocene” in his book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast to describe a new geological era dominated by the actions of humans.)

wry:  bent, twisted, or turned, usually abnormally to one side; made by a deliberate distortion of the facial muscles, often to express irony or mockery; wrongheaded; cleverly and often ironically or grimly humorous.

redoubtable:  causing fear or alarm; or, alternatively, worthy of respect.

mondegreen:  a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung (e.g., “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”).

shebeen:  an unlicensed or illegally operated drinking establishment.

oleaginous:  I initially thought it meant oily, and I was right, but it also means marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality.  (See also:  Trump Cabinet meeting)

opéra bouffe:  satirical comic opera.

numinous:  filled with a sense of the presence of divinity; appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense.

imperious:  befitting or characteristic of one of eminent rank or attainments; commanding, dominant, domineering; marked by arrogant assurance.

I now challenge myself to use at least one of my new vocabulary words in my next blog post!

Frustration Overload

The other night I watched the powerful documentary “Hell on Earth:  The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS” (2017), directed by Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested.  The filmmakers focused on two brothers who, with their families of young children, try to escape the two-headed horrors of terrorists claiming territory and a so-called leader who bombs and poisons his own people.  What is Assad’s end game here?  That he lords it over a shattered hulk of a landscape where whatever populace remains pay hollow homage and secretly hate him?  (Why do so many of the world’s despots have creepy close-together dead piggy eyes and petty little mouths?  Trump’s mouth resembles an anus, and Putin’s eyes are reptilian.  Assad, to me, looks like an ugly cartoon dog.)

What is the end game of ANY of it??  How will the impossibly complicated conflict among the various shades of Islam, secular and religious —and let’s not forget Israel, which is a burr under the saddle of ALL of Islam and a very key part of the Middle East notwithstanding Trump’s ignorance – come to any kind of conclusion?  Mutually assured destruction?  Holy war?  End of days??  Sometimes I wish there really WERE a messiah who would descend from the heavens to render final divine judgment on all the hypocrites and evildoers currently inhabiting this planet (and maybe resurrect all the monsters who came before, just for good measure).  And all the jihadists and evangelicals and hard-line Jewish settlers and atheistic bad guys (organized religion is responsible for a lot of humankind’s problems, but not ALL) will, once and for all, know that they’ve been wrong all along — that they’ve been erroneously proselytizing for a creator who loves its creation and would NEVER want it destroyed by war or murder or repression or man-made disease and climate catastrophes; that our creator, whatever or wherever it may be, is in all likelihood colossally disappointed by the way its precious creation has abused and maligned this most magnificent gift we have been given.

I’m just starting Richard Engel’s account of two decades of turmoil in the Middle East (And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2016)), from his vantage point as a war correspondent, and I’m already fascinated.  (I have such a crush on him.)  The Middle East of today is actually an artificial creation, manipulated by the world powers of Europe (primarily France and England), in much the same way that the populations of Eastern Europe were artificially and indiscriminately separated and forced together by Russia.  Of course, it was inevitable that the centuries-long exercise of colonial power by white, Christian, European men would end badly – the unwashed masses can only be trod upon for so long before they realize they’ve got strength in numbers and  can, with an effectively timed effort, rise up to resist their oppressors.  But what will it take?  What about people like me – perhaps a majority of us – who were fortunate enough to live a life of privilege, aware that it was at the expense of the less fortunate, but frustrated by the fact that there was little that could be done to change the situation from your vantage point, no matter how wrong you believed it to be.  And even at that, people of color, Native Americans, the poor and the homeless often resent much of the support and assistance proffered by (white) people who have sympathy and maybe even empathy but will never truly understand what their lives are like.

Of course, as a female, I am a member of a repressed class that, as recently as the 1920s, was still deemed to be nothing more than the property of our fathers and then our husbands, too feeble-minded (dare I say secretly dangerous?) to even open our own bank accounts or purchase a car.  Generally speaking, all women are still objectified and belittled and demeaned by all men — but especially white men in positions of power – to the point where the scores of white men dominating our current government (have you seen the lily white and exclusively male Senate crew making hash of this so-called “replacement” of the Affordable Care Act?) are attempting to control the decisions that only women should be able to make about their own bodies.  It boggles my mind that there is still such a powerful anti-choice movement in this country (which, it must be said, includes women among their number), to the point where there are quite a few states that have only a single location, in the entire state, where abortions can be performed.  ONE!!  I read something so obvious the other day:  these folks aren’t “pro-life” so much as they’re “pro-forced pregnancy”.  I saw a cool video posted by Bill Nye the Science Guy the other day [https://www.dailydot.com/irl/bill-nye-abortion-scientific-reasoning-big-think/?fb=dd%3Deg] where he completely deflated any claim that “life begins at conception”:  Eggs are fertilized by sperm cells ALL THE TIME but don’t necessary go on to become a child.  Any miscarriage – even where the woman doesn’t even KNOW she’s miscarried – is a wholly natural and uncontrollable response by a female body indicating that the conditions are not optimal for a full-term pregnancy.  But the bottom line is, WHO HAS ANY RIGHT TO TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT DO WITH MY OWN BODY??  How does my choice whether or not to have a child have ANY impact on anyone other than ME??

Which gets me into a whole other line of frustrations about human rights:  as a human being, I should be entitled to exercise my rights to do whatever I please, unless and until MY rights infringe on YOUR rights.  Otherwise, it’s none of your damn business.  Gay marriage?  What the hell does it have to do with YOU, Mr. Conservative Politician?  That inane Defense of Marriage Act they tried to put forward a few years ago – defend marriage from WHAT??  Infringement on its “sanctity” by the gays??  The whole argument is hollow and frankly ridiculous.

The human rights battles being fought in the US of A are bad enough, but when expanded to the world stage, it becomes paralyzing in its magnitude.  A child unjustifiably detained by the North Koreans is returned to his parents with irreparable brain damage caused by his torture at their hands, only to die within days of his return.  For what?  For possibly attempting to steal a poster (although nothing can be proven, especially since he is not able to tell)?  Supposedly they believed him to be a CIA operative but still, torture is a universal crime.  North Korea may be a freakish anomaly (have you ever seen a satellite photo of North Korea at night?  THERE ARE NO LIGHTS), but dangerous all the same.  What is the end game for all of Kim Jong-un’s missile tests?  Would he actually dare to use his puny (yet still deadly) missiles on South Korea or Japan?  The unpredictability of it all is chilling.

Apart from North Korea, there are plenty of other danger zones when it comes to the human rights.  There’s the repression of the press and political opposition by Putin, Erdogan, China, the Saudis, countless African nations – it all becomes too much to bear.   I genuinely admire the people who work for organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and even the ACLU (local and national chapters), and I wish there was something I could do (apart from sending money, which I lack at the moment) to help.

I started writing this blog with an idealistic intention to make the world a better place one blog post at a time.  To the extent that my blog posts have any effect at all on the world – like a butterfly wing flap or pebble’s ripple in a pond – I try to stay positive and not complain too much about things I cannot control.  Trump winning the presidency was a rude awakening for me, and my blog posts during the election and in the time since are evidence of that.  His term thus far has been a nightmare of epic proportions and it’s just getting worse.  Our standing on the world stage is lower than it’s ever been, and trusted allies are questioning our commitment to shared goals.  On a personal level, my demeanor and frame of mind have been negatively affected on a daily basis.  I am afraid, and I am ashamed at my impotence.

But even Obama, as much as I respected him and believe he did as good a job as he could as president under the oppositional conditions he faced (but while always maintaining a sense of grace and higher purpose), failed in the Middle East and also domestically, with his partial and largely ineffectual efforts at gun control and reforming health care.  And under his watch, the monolithic Republican Party has gained in power and numbers, both fairly (thanks to a woefully ignorant voting public and lethargy among those who can’t even be bothered to vote) and unfairly (thanks to illicit gerrymandering, which hopefully the courts – including the Supreme Court – will succeed in curtailing, not to mention that sneaky little Russian “interference” that’s all the rage these days), both at the state and federal levels.  If even Barack Obama, ostensibly the most powerful and level-headed person in the world during his presidency, was not able to bring about as much positive change as he wanted to, what possible effect could my paltry little blog have?  The problems we face in the world right now are so overwhelming, all I can do is feel sad and frustrated and powerless.

I know there are good people doing good things out there.  I love my “Upworthiest” emails (do yourself a favor and sign up for some truly POSITIVE perspectives:  http://www.upworthy.com); they are a ray of sunshine amid the dark tales of war and waste and repression and inequality.  Wasn’t it Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that only light can defeat the dark?  But I guess it’s very, very dark these days, because all those tiny personal bits of brightness out barely seem to be making an impact.  (Remember George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light”?  Of course, he was using that image to encourage the “little people” to do more charitable work with their limited resources rather than relying on our taxpayer-funded GOVERNMENT to do it, but it’s still a nice metaphor.)

In contrast, so many things I read about or hear on the TV leave me upset, drained and demoralized.  I wonder why I even waste energy thinking about them.  There’s a whole laundry list of things that frustrate me these days, many of which will probably end up as a blog post of their own.  For instance:

(1)          Partisan politics:  When did Republicans and Democrats get so completely diametrically opposed with their political positions that they can’t ever compromise or even have an open discussion about things that are important FOR THE WHOLE COUNTRY, not just Dems or Republicans, not just rich or poor, not just white folks in Red States or recent immigrants in Sanctuary Cities (we are ALL immigrants, remember?)? We are supposed to be UNITED, especially as viewed by the rest of the world.  Don’t Republicans have children to whom they want to leave a healthier planet?  Can’t we agree that ALL Americans have “certain inalienable rights”, and then protect those rights for EVERYONE, no ifs, ands or buts?  Maybe the answer, like in most other civilized nations, is to break the mega-parties into multiple smaller factions, where coalitions can be built and it’s not so much “us vs. them”.  But the way things are now, it’s just dumb and nothing gets done.

(2)          Income inequality:  I have covered this topic a few times in this blog.  I find it so disheartening that people who have SO MUCH begrudge a few extra dollars in the pockets of people who work hard and still have NOT ENOUGH.  I’m sick of it. Develop some compassion.  Look beyond your bubble of privilege and wealth.  There ARE people of worth outside your protective shell who deserve a chance to succeed in life.  What was that quote I saw on Facebook the other day?  “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you.  It’s not pie.”  PAY UP, RICH PEOPLE!

(3)          Then again, you can’t make saints out of the poor, or drugs addicts, or petty criminals, either.  Yes, their unfortunate life circumstances have often forced them into difficult decisions, but there is something called “personal responsibility” also.  Poor people CAN succeed despite their limited resources and sad circumstances, but a boost and/or helping hand from people who are more fortunate would certainly not hurt.  And drug addicts and petty criminals should be helped to transition back into society with the support they need to thrive, not suffer the inevitable recidivism that is the only possible outcome for the profit-centers that our prisons have become.

(4)          Guns.  I HATE guns.  They are nothing more than penis substitutes, in my mind, tools for the weak.  Last week’s VICE episode (Season 5, Episode 71) was about how entrenched the gun industry is in this country.  Americans do love their guns, boy.  The VICE correspondent was interviewing the proprietor of the nation’s foremost gun mega-shop and he was saying how gun buying is cyclical, but as far as I can tell, in my lifetime, there has been nothing but an INCREASE in the number of guns and the ease with which people can obtain guns.  I think all guns should be incinerated, but I admit that’s unrealistic, given the American lust for firearms.  (Who, apart from a soldier, needs a semi-automatic weapon?  Would a pistol or a rifle not kill someone just as easily?)  A more sensible option would be for governments (probably at the state level, because the federal government is just too cumbersome and partisan to get ANYTHING done these days) to regulate guns like they regulate the motor vehicles we all drive.  Hey, they’re both instrumentalities of death:  cars are potential, but guns are assured.  That’s what guns are FOR – to kill things.  Yet we do more to protect each other from car accidents than we do from gun accidents.  I saw a statistic today that thousands of children are killed or injured by firearms every year.  Do Americans not want to protect their CHILDREN?  (Or I guess another solution is that kids could just be armed themselves, like the youthful gun groups and pre-teen sharpshooters sponsored by gun manufacturers featured on the VICE episode.)

AH, BREATHE, NAN.  We can only do what we can do.  In fact, I’m going to attend my Organize, Plan, Act meeting tomorrow evening.  They’ve arranged some interesting speakers, and I’m looking forward to spending time with like-minded individuals who are as frustrated as I am but who actually manage to maintain a positive outlook.  I desperately need to tap into that.  And hey, it’s not only safety that comes with numbers – it’s comfort, too.

Hopefully my next blog post will have a lighter message.  I think we could all use one. these days.

Willful Ignorance

Synchronicity, serendipity – whatever you want to call it – is real.  My early notes for this week’s blog post read, “Not sure what I want to blog about this week but I had an idea – maybe the Willfully Ignorant, or Willful Ignorance, or something like that.”  Mere moments after writing that in my journal, I came across multiple articles and quotes that echoed that very thought.

First was a post on Facebook by my friend and fellow resistor (the master resistor, actually) Chris Cangeleri of an opinion piece from the Miami Herald called “In Trumpworld, it’s OK to be ignorant” [Leonard Pitts, Jr., MiamiHerald.com, 2/17/17, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/article133497824.html].  A great quote from the piece, which almost exactly captured what I had been thinking to write, was:  “It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country.  That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.”

I’ve written about this before and I likely will again, because it’s something that troubles me very much about my country.  I’ve never considered myself one of those “Rah-Rah-U.S.A.!” people.  As much as I grew up loving the Olympics, it was the sportsmanship among athletes rather than the competition between countries that appealed to me most about them.  I’m part of a generation – the Baby Boomers – that has witnessed a time of greater prosperity than has ever been known in the world, and the United States has had the most respect it has ever had (or may ever again have).   I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but the bottom line is this:  I can never remember a time in my 50-plus years of life when there was such a sharp gap between the educated and the willfully ignorant in this country.

And there is no greater evidence for this than the results of the 2016 presidential election. During the campaign, whenever I listened to Donald Trump speak (and how could I NOT?  The mainstream media, which he now deems them “the enemy of the people,” gave Trump so much free TV time, we couldn’t escape him), I would hear nearly nonsensical strings of fourth-grade-level vocabulary words in run-on and incomplete sentences that wouldn’t be conveying ANYTHING, really, and he would punctuate his every line with “Believe me!”  or “Am I right?” and a wave of his signature stubby-fingered OK sign.  (What a tell!  Every time Donald Trump says “Believe me!”, he is clearly lying.)  And I would say to myself, “How could anyone in their right mind think he’s making any sense whatsoever?  What is he SAYING?  Does he even listen to HIMSELF?”  Yet so many people – none of my close friends (with whom I am universally politically aligned) but certainly many people I know, who I consider at least semi-intelligent – were hearing something completely different.  What they were hearing was what they WANTED to hear.  It didn’t matter if it didn’t make a lick of sense; they wanted to hear it, so that’s what Trump was saying.

In considering this week’s post, in addition to the Pitts article cited above, I also serendipitously came across a couple of pithy quotations.  One was posted by another one of my fellow resisters on Facebook, from an American abolitionist and vocal supporter of women’s and Native American rights back in the mid-19th century named Wendell Phillips (who was also a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, who still has definitely NOT done any great things lately).

The Wendell Phillips quote:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

Heavy stuff, but the bottom line is this:  In a free country, the people have to be vigilant about their rights because once they hand over their power to the elites in control, it is damn hard to get back.

We’re a nation of sheep, as Trump’s election has proven:  ignorant people being led by the nose by Fox News and con men and people with money who control the people who don’t have money.  The populace is woefully ignorant – and willfully so.  Organized religion contributes to that, and also a lack of respect and support for teachers and public education (as evidenced by the ability of the thoroughly unqualified Betsy DeVos to not only buy her position as Secretary of Education but also to make noise about eliminating public education entirely, to be replaced by some mishmash of home schooling and charter schools and God in the classroom – egads!).  Sometimes I think people are happier to be told what to do rather than to think for themselves.

I’ve written about this before in a broader post about public education [“An Ideal Education,” 7/6/16].  It troubles me that so much focus in schools is on teaching to standardized tests and not teaching youngsters how to think for themselves based on their powers of observation and critical analysis.  That kind of emphasis is sorely lacking in schools until college level education, and by then most of the folks who need to be critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities in this country and the world have essentially dropped out of the system.

The founders set up the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for governance of the people, by the people, coming as it did out of the fight for independence from a controlling monarchy.  Today’s sheep give lip service to patriotically living up to the standards of our forefathers but they’re not willing to question authority and get involved in their own governance.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and what’s happened is that large numbers of people (perhaps a majority of us, and I include myself in that number) have abdicated their power to such a degree that they allowed a con man to be elected by a bare majority of the bare majority (57.9%) of eligible Americans who actually bothered to vote in a damn presidential election, let alone mid-term or local elections, when you can have the most access to the governing power that most affects you.

The other quote I came upon was from George Orwell, whose classic 1984 is undergoing a rediscovery because of its prescience.  Said Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  This is so, evidently, because it is so easy to believe what you want to believe, especially when people in power are pushing it on you, despite the actual FACTS in front of your face.  The denial of the FACTS in front of one’s face has become alarmingly common, and the people in power are doing nothing to change that (and, in fact, are unabashedly promoting such denial).

That George Orwell quote was cited in a transcript of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the UCLA given by Bret Stephens [“Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity”, Feb. 18, 2017, Time.com, http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump]. Following on Orwell’s quote, Mr. Stephens said, “We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology.  To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.”

I could go on – I haven’t even touched on the absurdity of the accusations of “fake news” by Trump and his minions against established and reputable newspapers and media conglomerates with extensive fact-checking teams and decades of public trust.  Certainly, the big ones are controlled by a few powerful (wealthy, white, male) people, but I think, if Big Media is guilty of anything, it’s of trying too hard to be fair and balanced, to the point where they’re almost afraid to call bullshit when they hear it.  Not to mention the free publicity they gave (and evidently continue to give, since Trump is still campaigning even after winning) the Trump campaign.

But I’m preaching to the choir.  It seems highly unlikely that I will change anyone’s mind or convince them that they need to work a little more on their critical thinking skills because they’ve been bamboozled bigly by a con man.  I go to sleep every night hoping that, when I wake up, it will all have been a bad dream.  But perhaps one good thing has come of this horrible political nightmare:  The outpouring of protest and public outcry will maybe, just maybe, cause some of the previously willfully ignorant to do a little more digging, get a little more involved, and start seeing clearly what’s been in front of their own eyes all along.