Staying Calm in the Face of Trumpism

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a link to a press release from her company that explained the company’s position on how the current administration is handling immigrant families at our nation’s borders. The release said that the company “does not support measures that discriminate against any group or limit our ability to hire the best talent for our business.”

ICEOfficerA mutual friend of ours then responded with a comment essentially calling out the statement as typical liberal overreaction to a basically nonexistent issue. Well, I went off on him, and it wasn’t pretty. The “current administration,” which is the nicest way I can think of to say, “those cruel, spineless, worthless ass wipes in the White House,” has made a complete mess of how we deal with immigrant families coming across our southern border, legally or illegally. (At this point, ICE makes no such distinction.) The issue has become a hot-button topic for me, and I reacted swiftly to his post and, I admit now, meanly.

Just a few days later I was presented, apparently by cosmic fate, two items that have given me a new perspective on how Facebook and other social media have helped to make compromise nearly impossible and how I, in turn, could make my role in protesting obscene policies more effective, rational, and humane.

Cosmic Item #1

The first item was a TED video from a remarkable young man, Dylan Marron, a digital creator who examines social issues in new and illuminating ways. The video, “How I Turn Negative Online Comments Into Positive Offline Conversations,” came to me at just the right time, when I was internally fretting over the string of comments with my friend, let’s call him Garry. My mind was arguing that I was right, but my gut wasn’t so sure.

Dylan talked about the number of hate comments he receives almost daily, and how he decided to engage with as many of his haters as he could — by phone. Most of the people he contacted agreed to speak with him, though some didn’t. Of those he spoke with, most seemed to him quite different than their comments might suggest. For example, at the end of a conversation with one of the commenters, Dylan asked, “Did the conversation we just had make you feel differently about how you write online?”

empathynotendorsementThe commenter responded, “Yeah! You know, when I said this to you, when I said you were a ‘talentless hack,’ I had never conversed with you in my life, really. I didn’t really know anything really about you. And I think that a lot of times, that’s what the comment sections really are, it’s really a way to get your anger at the world out on random profiles of strangers, pretty much.”

Dylan came away from this project, as did I and, I suspect, many others, with a clearer understanding of empathy in these fraught times. He said, “Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. Empathizing with someone who, for example, believes that being gay is a sin doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to drop everything, pack my bags and grab my one-way ticket to hell, right? It just means that I’m acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently from me.”

Those words, “empathy is not endorsement,” panged my gut, and I realized that I don’t have to feel so angry at Trump Supporters-slash-Hilliary Haters, that I can recognize their humanity while also disagreeing completely with their views. It’s as if I now have a cognitive tool I can use when faced with similar situations: Empathy is not endorsement. Yes, I like it.

Cosmic Item #2

The second item that affected me rather deeply was an opinion piece in the Washington Post, called “Maxine Waters shows why the Sarah Huckabee Sanders-Red Hen story is extremely important,” by Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for WP’s The Fix. In the piece he talked about the now infamous Red Hen brouhaha, the one in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely ejected from a DC-area restaurant. He called the responses by many on the left “valid and understandable,” but also “simplistic.”

redhenprotestHe posits that “the Sanders-Red Hen situation has unearthed (or perhaps vivified) a growing sentiment in our society. It is seen in liberals and opponents of President Trump who are done with playing nice. It is apparent as the Democratic Party gradually sheds Michelle Obama’s declaration that ‘When they go low, we go high’ and trading it for ‘We fight fire with fire.’ It is borne of frustration and a lack of results after abiding by the norms of political discourse while Trump and his allies run roughshod over all the old rules.”

The Left is in new territory, here, and we’re not sure what to do. We’re going through a watershed moment in American history, and we’re finding many issues that need to be discussed, debated, and worked through. How we on the Left deal with friends on the Right, not only on social media but also, and more important, in person, will come to define not only our relationships with others but also how we will function in our rapidly-changing society. It’s a tough time, and I have no idea how things will turn out, but my gut says that, for me, Michelle Obama’s path is the right one.

And so, to Garry, I apologize for my tone, for reacting so forcefully, and for not being open to an actual conversation. And to everyone else whose political views vary so much from my own, I will do my best to take the high road with my commentary and to listen as closely as I can to opposing viewpoints.

But so help me, if that Cheetoh-headed nutjob does just one more evil, uncaring, knuckleheaded thing, I swear to God I’ll…

Deep breath. Hhhhhhmmmmm.

I. Will. Remain. Calm.

For now.

Gotta LUV That Spam!

2018 Oscars Fashion by Someone Who Knows Almost Nothing About Fashion

My wife and I watch the Oscars every year, and we chat about which dresses and tuxes we like and which we don’t. She knows waaay more about fashion than I do. I know virtually nothing except that I can identify a wide variety of women’s shoes. (Slingbacks, kitten heels, open-toed pumps — don’t even get me started.) We dutifully watched the 90th Oscars last night, and I give you now my best-ofs in my own categories.

Best-Dressed Woman — I have to go with Nicole Kidman, who wowed in a gorgeous blue number, the ginormous bow and all.

nicolekidman

Best-Dressed Man — Black Panther‘s Chadwick Bozeman, for sure. So cool. So very, very cool.

chadwickbozeman

Worst-Dressed Woman — At first I thought, Oh, it’s Emily Blunt, who I think is marvelous, but she sure missed last night. Then I saw someone named St. Vincent, who is apparently a singer. I don’t know why she hung luggage on her shoulder, but I wish she hadn’t.

St-Vincent-Dress-Oscars-2018

Worst-Dressed Man — Armie Hammer. Armie, really? Red velvet?

Armie-Hammer

 

Best Necklace — Gal Gadot. Is it ga-doh or ga-dot? I have no clue, but that necklace was somethin’ else.

galgadotnecklace

Best Red — Allison Janney, who looked “stunnnn-nnniiinnnggg,” according to the E! team, who used the term like 87 times

allisonjanney

Best Blue — Nicole Kidman again, though Jennifer Garner’s blue was beautiful as well

nicolekidman     jennifergarner

 

Best Use of Black — Hands down, Lupita Nyong’o, who always looks elegant

lupita

Nicest Try, But Yeah, No — Margot Robbie, with her strikingly square shoulders and a dress that did nothing for her. Her hair looked weird too.

margot

Best Pink — The almost unrecognizable but always lovely Viola Davis

violadavis

Most Matronly — Maya Rudolph, who looks like she might be pregnant under all that red stuff

mayarudolph

Best Balloon Curtains — Andra Day. Nothing more to add.

andraday

Best Didn’t Work Then, Doesn’t Work Now — Rita Moreno

ritamoreno

Assorted Notes

  • allisonwilliams
    Allison Williams

    Allison Williams looked diaphanous, a word I learned watching Juliana Rancic and which I would like to use more often but hardly ever can.

  • Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, as always, looked elegant.
  • If I could own one tux, I would choose the one Common wore. Really sharp. Plus, he’s awesome!
  • Whoopi Goldberg — Oh, Whoopi. Sigh.
  • And why the dinky heck was James Ivory wearing a drawing of Timothée Chalamet on his shirt? Kinda creepy.

 

Gotta LUV That Spam!

 

 

Hey, I Can Hear You Now!

From Audicus: https://goo.gl/hdYQsw

After numerous tests and bunches of conversations with my wife that went something like this: Her: Could you let the dog in? Me: What? Her: For God’s sake, GET HEARING AIDS! I finally went and did just that.

I went to a wonderful audiologist, Dr. Holli Lish at the Audiology & Hearing Aid Center in Warminster, who fitted me for a pair of hearing aids a few days ago. They’re extremely comfortable and darn near invisible. The difference is incredible.

Now, I have a mild hearing loss, significantly worse in the left ear than the right. I have trouble picking up a number of letters, particularly T, H, R, and S, which happen to be rather common sounds. I can usually hear the middle and most of the end of what someone says, but hearing the beginning is difficult. I often had trouble in meetings whenever someone not sitting next to me was talking.

To help her decide which style of hearing aid I should have, Dr. Lish asked me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have to turn up the television to hear it well?”

“Oh, God, yes. All the time.”

“Do you have difficulty locating the direction of a siren?”

“Constantly.”

“Do you have an active social life, or do you tend to spend most time quietly at home?”

“Have you not met me? (She laughs.) Yes, my wife and I are always going out with friends or having them over to our house, or going out to dinner and what not. Yes, we’re on the go quite a bit.”

“What is the most important goal you want hearing aids to achieve?”

“I just want to hear what my wife says!”

And so it went until she had a clear idea of which product would work best for me, and damned if her choice wasn’t dead on!

I hear so much better now. I can hear the dog ringing her bell to go out from two or three rooms away. The water flowing out of a faucet now sounds like a jet engine. Best of all, I can hear my beautiful wife’s voice clearly and immediately without having to be in the same room.

PLUS: These little buggers tie right into my phone, so when I get a call, it comes right into my ears. And I can play music through them too!

The coolest part is that if I go somewhere that has a hearing loop, or telecoil, system, my aids will automatically click in to help me hear what’s being said. Example: Our local Wegmans has a hearing loop over the pharmacy and cashier areas, so when I’m within one of those areas the hearing aids begin picking up the pharmacist’s or cashier’s voice. Our local theater, Town & Country Players, is one of the few theaters in the entire state with a loop system.

These little aids have already improved my life, and I hope they continue to do so for many years to come. Wheeee!

Our Last ‘Real’ Conversation

To his friends, co-workers, and extended family, my father was friendly, even gregarious, charming, polite, and an intelligent conversationalist. To his children, though, all six of us, my father was, well, kind of a dick. Sometimes he could be a mean dick, sometimes a sarcastic dick, always an impossible-to-please, self-important dick.

You didn’t have so much conversations with him as debates, with his point of view always correct and ours always naive and undeveloped. Growing up I thought that’s how all dads were. They knew so much and had so much experience and wisdom, of course they were right.

I remember watching and listening to my father entertain business associates at home. He was the genial host, making effortless conversation with a diverse group of intelligent men and women. Everyone loved his jokes, and they all listened intently whenever he offered his opinions. But we children saw someone quite different, which is why I found our last “real” conversation so fascinating and, ultimately, disheartening.

He was dying at that point, his 90-year-old body giving out following a stroke and a bout of the flu. Lying in a hospital bed in the living room of his home — he wanted to die at home, which he did — he asked me one night for some beer. Try as he might he couldn’t remember the kind he wanted. He drank only one kind, though, a non-alcoholic brew I found in the refrigerator, so I brought him some in a glass. He sipped it a few times, and then reminisced about how he and my mother used to love to drink different beers. Occasionally delusional during those final days, he told me to look over there, over in the corner of the room, and count how many different beers there were on the shelf. There were no beers, not even a shelf, but he looked them over nonetheless as he reminisced.

His voice trailed off as he went to sleep. A few minutes later he awoke and asked, “How are the businesses going? Are we still profitable?”

My father (right) receiving a presidential
commendation for his work with
the Small Business Association

It took a moment to realize that he wasn’t in his living room at all, but in a board room at the company he ran for many years. I wasn’t his son, but one of his division managers reporting to the president.

“Yes, they’re doing quite well,” I answered.

“Are any of the departments having trouble?”

I answered from my own perspective as a publisher. “Well, we always have problems with the production department, but that’s not unusual.”

“What would you need to make the department successful?”

I responded using as much business jargon as I could think of, the kind he might have been familiar with, and what came out didn’t make a lot of sense. “We really need to add head count and leverage our most valuable assets on promising new markets.”

He absorbed it all fully, and I realized that I was seeing a unique side of my father, his business side, one I had never seen before. He asked open-ended questions and trusted the answers. He wanted facts first, and then your opinion on what should be done. He didn’t hint at the decisions he would make, but rather solicited a rational assessment of an issue, a clear goal, and a description of materials needed to meet that goal.

“What are the bottom-line figures?”

Hoo, boy. “Well, the margins on the vertical assimilator (a term I invented, because somehow we had moved into a conversation about the aerospace industry, of which he knew a great deal and I knew not a thing) are low, so we don’t have a lot of wiggle room in the overhead. We need to find ways to legitimize our actionable end-goals.” And so it went for a solid 10 minutes before he took his final sip of beer and fell asleep.

I have been fortunate in my life to have had a few really good bosses. (Thank you, Pat and both Nancys!) I suspect that if I had worked at my father’s company, he would have proved an excellent supervisor. Then again, I was just one of  his children, so it’s hard to say. What I felt after that conversation, though, has stayed with me.

At first I felt special. I had been the one to have engaged in that type of conversation, one that none of my brothers and sisters had ever experienced. Later, though, I felt bitter and resentful that I, that we all, had been left out of a key part of our father’s life. He had deprived us of experiences that as developing adults we would have found immensely helpful. He had taken whatever unhappiness and displeasure he struggled with during the day and turned it on us. He rarely, if ever, used his supervisory techniques in his parenting, preferring to just lash out at whoever was closest.

It is only now, nearly three years after his death, that I have felt sadness, and the sadness is for him, not me. Sad that he lost out on the pride he would have felt had he been a better boss to us. Sad that he expended so much energy on anger and nowhere near enough on what we needed to become successful adults. Sad that his final bottom line dealt with memories of his businesses and not of the family surrounding him at the last.

I often wonder how he ever became the person he was. What made him so angry? What made him treat his family so much worse than his colleagues? Did he ever have real compassion for his children?

We’ll never know now, and, to be honest, I’m okay with that.

Life and Death Meet in a Vet Clinic

Lots of big dogs in here today, I thought, as I sat in the waiting room of the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Leavittown this afternoon. That Bernese mountain dog is huuuge!

Two men with a large, black dog, maybe a lab. A woman and her two young children with her cocker spaniel. Only one other person in here with a cat. It’s a dog day, for sure.

My eyes were suddenly drawn to the front doors, where, just outside, five people had gathered and seemed to be crying. A couple, with their teenage son and two older daughters, who had come in separate cars, met at the door. Yes, they were crying, dabbing tears with tissues.

I watched everyone hug, and then the dad entered with a pudgy, beige dog trailing behind. It was old and seemed frail. It had a bandaged foreleg and walked with a limp. The dad walked straight back to the clinical rooms. The mother, who entered behind the dog, stopped at the desk for a few moments, dabbing her eyes. The daughters and son remained outside, seeming to console one another. The boy was mostly silent and lost unto himself.

I suspect everyone witnessing the scene knew exactly what was happening. The old dog’s time had come to an end.

Putting a beloved pet to death is a sorrowful task and as inevitable as our own demise, and as many times as I’ve had to do it, the task never gets any easier. I find those final moments — from a distance only — to be unique moments in life. It is there that we see death in all its raw power, emanating from a decision that we, ourselves, have made. We, ourselves, are causing this animal’s death. The vet may be carrying out the decision, but the decision has been ours alone.

Grim. Necessary. Unforgettable.

After about a half hour the dad and mom came out again. They walked straight out, shoulders heavy from what had just happened, and joined the three younger attendees in kisses, hugs, and tears. The dad and mom bid the girls adieu, and then left with the son walking silently behind.

And just like that it was over. We were the same people in the same waiting room, waiting our turn, relieved that we were not putting our pet to sleep, that we were just bringing it in for treatment, that life, for our pet, would continue, but also knowing that someday, sooner or later, those sad people would be us. Someday we would arrive with a pet and, in tears, leave without one.

Life and death, in one waiting room on one day in one town.

My Best Little Poop Watcher

Our littlest doggie, Georgie, has a detestable little habit of defecating in the dining room. She was a rescue that had been picked off the streets of Philadelphia, which is what we blame this particular nuisance on. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT!

Anyway, the dining room is where she poops. Luckily the, um, released elements tend to be well-formed little marbles all in a neat little pile. We pick them up, dispose of them, and that’s that until the next day.

Lately, though, those little piles have disappeared. There are now little brown marbles all over the dining room floor, on account of how our newish puppy, a 5-month-old, 36-pound golden retriever named Lola, likes to play with them.

Enter our little granddaughter, age 2½, who calls me Pepe, an homage to my own grandfather. This little girl loves to help. Her latest assistance has been coming in the form of letting me know when there are little marbles on the floor.

“Pepe, I see POOOP!”

That’s my cue to grab a couple paper towels, head into the dining room, and let her guide me to said poops.

“Thank you, sweetie, you’re the best Poop Watcher ever!

“Hhh-yuhhh!” she says, as if, you know, of course she is.

I’m not sure she’ll brag about this little gift she has, the ability to spot little poopies, when she gets older, but she sure is proud of it now. And I just love her for it.