Expression of Fear

FEAR

Expression of Fear

            Fear is an emotion, without which we could not survive.  It alerts us to danger either real or imagined.  Sudden exposure to a fearful circumstance triggers the so called “fight or flight” mechanism.  Information about a threat to the organism is transmitted to the brain’s amygdala, which instantly sends signals to the hypothalamus.  It responds by directing the adrenal glands to secrete more epinephrine (adrenalin) which prepares us to take action against the perceived threat.  Our pupils dilate to enhance visual acuity, the heart rate increases to provide more blood to the brain and muscles, breathing quickens and the alveoli of the lungs open wider to absorb more oxygen.  Muscles tense and the famous “cold sweat” appears as a preparation to prevent over heating during the anticipated battle or flight.  Blood sugar levels increase to provide more energy, and there may be involuntary emptying of bowels and bladder (yes, the term “scared shitless” is for real).

            The process is automatic, nearly instantaneous and completed even before a decision can be made as to how to respond to the threat.  It can also be activated by fears for others, and most of us have undoubtedly experienced it when we are faced with a child running out in front of a moving automobile, and can even be provoked by imagined threats as in the case of those with phobias.  Many seem to be born with a hair trigger for initiating the response and for many it erupts without any stimulus at all, which we call Panic Disorder.  It is a common condition, said to account for 12% of Emergency room visits in the U. S.(link to article is here) Panic attacks frequently mimic the chest pain associated with heart attacks.  Panic disorder is amenable to treatment and in my experience a detailed explanation of the mechanism involved is helpful, as most are relieved to find they are not suffering from a life-threatening condition.  

The Physiological Response to Fear Was Key to Survival

            If the threat persists the endocrine system takes over and the amygdala stimulates the pituitary gland to produce adrenocortical hormone (ACTH) which further activates the adrenal glands to produce epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.  This mechanism served Joe Caveman well allowing him to either climb a tree or stick a spear into the saber tooth tiger confronting him, but modern-day Joe can neither kill nor run from a boss who he is convinced is determined to destroy him, leaving today’s Joe chronically stressed.  Even minor stresses such as being stuck in traffic may lead to fears of missing an important appointment or attendance at his kid’s game.  Those hormones so eloquently designed to save the lives of his ancestors were not designed for long term use and their presence at high levels is analogous to keeping an engine revved up for long periods of time while it sits at the curb.  This phenomenon is felt to be a major contributor to a variety of medical problems, especially cardiovascular disease.   

Existential Fears

 Existential fears are not new to our planet.  The threat of natural disasters has always been present and persist to this day, but even though we now have a greater understanding of such phenomena, we are still helpless to deal with them in most cases, and find ourselves seeking divine protection from the big ones like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, asteroids and the like.  I have vivid memories of fears of World war II during which invasion of the west coast by Japan was felt to be imminent following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Even in our small mid-western town there were designated bomb shelters as we were predicted to be next on Hitler’s list for invasion after they conquered England.

 I also recall the tears in my Mother’s eyes as we watched my brother board the train headed for training camp only a little over a month after celebrating his 18th birthday.  A few weeks later we received a call that he was “shipping out”, but he was not allowed to reveal his destination.  Nevertheless, there was some relief since the call came from New Jersey indicating that he was likely headed for the European theater rather than the South Pacific from whence came endless horror stories.  In the following months the fear for the family increased as more gold stars appeared in neighborhood windows, and the appearance of a Western Union messenger in the area would fill families with the worst kind of fear i.e. of reading “we regret to inform you…….”.

Since those early days of my life, in addition to a series of senseless wars, a a string of potentially apocalyptic events have occurred with some regularity with only brief periods in which there was nothing to fear on a grand scale. The development of the atom bomb was unique in that for the first time in history it gave the human race the power to destroy all life, and when Russia developed their version, backyard bomb shelters sprung up all over the place.  The worst of those fears came close to realization with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  In the 1970s, discovery of depletion of atmospheric ozone also resulted in fear of drastic consequences for mankind.  At the same time, there were also warnings about climate change which went unheeded, but now sow fear in many of us for our children, and their children. 

Fear & Pandemics

Fear is an unpleasant feeling.  It is understandable that we prefer to put it off if the threat is not imminent.  Such is the case of the source of our most recent global fear, i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic.  Viruses were discovered at the end of the 19th century, and 100 years ago a viral pandemic killed an estimated one third of the world’s population.  When I was a kid, polio was endemic, the world recently experienced a frightening Ebola epidemic, and for more than 50 years, scientists had been warning us of another pandemic.  In spite of all that experience and warnings we were woefully unprepared for COVID-19.  Now, more that 2.2 million people have died from it, and only the pandemic deniers are without fear.  As I mentioned in my opening statement, fear is protective, and sadly those who deny put themselves and others at risk. 

For many the fear of contracting the corona virus is superseded by more urgent fears such as: job loss, eviction, homelessness, or hunger.  There is also the sad fact that a primary concern about closing schools means that without the benefit of school breakfast and lunch programs many kids will go hungry.  It is estimated that 13 million kids arrive at school hungry and that 1 in five live with “food insecurity” (I wonder who is in charge of making up these kinds of meaningless terms, but I assume it means they don’t get enough to eat).  Yep, here we are, living in the world’s richest country where we pay farmers not to plant crops, but can’t feed our children.  Go figure!

The Fear Tactic: A Tried and True Motivator

Throughout the ages, leaders of all stripes have stoked fear in order to provoke the fight response as a motivator to followers not unlike the way our ex (thank God) president cranked up his followers on January 6 to storm the Capitol building.  They obeyed their charismatic leader when he told them they must “fight like hell” to save their country [link to video of Trump at Pre-Riot Rally].  During the insurrection they were recorded chanting: “fight for Trump.” The mob was a disparate group.  Among the most bizarre were the Q-Anon followers who were there in support of their leader (Trump), who they were convinced was destined to save the world from a secret cabal of Satan worshippers, who among other things, butchered children in order to drink their blood.  There were also groups of white supremacists, fascists, and anarchists, along with misguided patriots who had been convinced that the election had been stolen and that our democracy was about to be taken over by socialists.  Indeed, in subsequent interviews, some participants were proud of what they had done. 

Regardless of motivation, the mob’s behavior confirms the presence of a great deal of anger.  It raises the question as to from whence it came.  Did it arise from fear?  It does appear that they all were motivated by fear of something usually enhanced by misinformation.   We still don’t understand much about mob behavior, but I suspect that it must be exhilarating to be able to express suppressed anger when in the midst of like-minded people.  Why is it that when angry people congregate, anger tends to escalate, often ends in rage, and draws people into behaviors that they would never consider under ordinary circumstances?  Are they drunk with the mob’s power, or is it the need to belong?   Does group-think allow them to rationalize their behavior, or is it simply the thrill of acting out?   With the crowd shouting “hang Mike Pence’’ and hunting for other members of congress by name, the results of the insurrection could have been disastrous.  Unfortunately, the problem has not been resolved as polls indicate there are millions of citizens who still believe the election was fraudulent, the election was stolen, and vast left-wing conspiracies persist. 

Fear: The Seed of Hatred

Fear leads to anger, but long-term anger results in hatred, undoubtedly the most destructive force of any society.  We now have people in Congress who say they are afraid of suffering physical harm from their colleagues.  Some object to the prohibition against carrying a gun during deliberations.  They act as if it pains them to conform to the traditional decorum of the institution, and negotiation is a dirty word.  We now have large numbers of members of both political parties, each concerned that the other is a threat to our democracy. The Trump followers who invaded the Capitol were determined to destroy democracy in order to save it.  They continue to devour misinformation especially the “big lie” that Trump actually won the election.

In my early years I was also witness to other times in which right-wing political groups wrought havoc.  In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy managed to instill fear into the citizenry with baseless allegations of communist spies having been recruited into important government and military positions.  This was in the early days of TV and his hearings were widely watched.  Many careers were destroyed as his House American Activities commission extended their “investigations” to include anyone of note, especially those in the arts since they were known to generally have liberal political views.  Later the John Birch society, a political group organized by John Welch, produced all manner of big lies mostly consisting of a grand conspiracy to take over the American government, the most outrageous of which was the accusation that Eisenhower, widely hailed as the one most responsible for winning world war II was actually a communist agent.  In both these cases the obvious goal was to create fear, but wiser heads in the Republican party intervened, whereas today’s Republican office holders fear going head-to-head with the exiled king Trump.   

Courage: The Antidote to Fear

Courage occurs when values overcome fear.  On January 6, 2021 small force of Capital Police courageously faced a mob of thousands in attempting to protect the occupants of the capital building.  Two died and multiple others were seriously injured, yet the news of the day was replete with inferences that there may have been some who were complicit in the insurrection.  To this day there has been very little mention of the other four souls known to have died that day as a result of anger gone wild.  Are they not also victims?  And what of those millions of others who have been convinced that the government of which they were once proud is now corrupt, and now fear the consequences? 

Active Listening: The Antidote to Divisiveness

The saber-toothed tiger is long gone and we humans have gained dominion over all our enemies except for those darn viruses – things so small we can’t even see them.  Now that we have destroyed most other critters, we are so secure in our dominance that we now try to save those who are left, and we find that our only enemies are each other.  We talk a great deal about our divisiveness, but do very little to correct it.  Back in the days when I was practicing my craft, I saw many couples who were deeply divided.  In nearly all those cases it was apparent that they did not listen to each other.  Oh yes, they heard each other loud and clear but did not listen.  Listening involves more than words.  To listen one must be attentive, and hear not only the words but the music i.e. the feelings.  To acknowledge those feelings provides validation, a feeling which affirms one’s humanity.  For example, to say to a true believer that he/she is crazy for believing the election was stolen is unlikely to be helpful to either party.  On the other hand if one responds with something like: “I don’t believe it was rigged, but since you do I can understand that you are pissed off”, you might go on to a meaningful discussion.  You might even find that person wanting to know why you were not a believer.  God forbid, but you could even end up respecting or even liking each other.*

Since we all have our fears, I can’t finish this thing without once again mentioning my favorite quote on the subject of courage. 

TO BE LOVED DEEPLY GIVES US STRENGTH, TO LOVE DEEPLY GIVES US COURAGE

P.S. This was a difficult paper to write because I continue to ignore the advice of my high school English teacher Miss Higgins who said that most authors select topics that are too broad in scope, and consequently do not do justice to their topic.  Some of us are just slow learners

*Editor’s Note: I recall an interview with former FBI Director James Comey after the election and prior to the holidays. When asked for any advice regarding the holidays and interactions with those who were upset about the election results or even believed the false accusations that the election was rigged. I thought Comey’s statement was interesting and relevant to eshrink’s blog subject this week. Comey talked about people’s fear of being wrong…their fear of being duped. He talked about the countless cases he had seen where people had been defrauded of their life savings and/or their retirement by unscrupulous “investors” who promised their money was safe. To his shock, many of these victims would not only refuse to testify against the accused shyster, they sometimes would testify on the shyster’s behalf. Oftentimes, the fear of being wrong or the fear of being “taken” trumps everything else. Victims of these crimes had a belief that they could “see through” a fraudster and they had a deep seated belief that the shyster was a good business person. His advice was to understand the person’s thinking from the lens of fear.

How to Survive Loss

Life can be defined as a finite period of time characterized by continual change. Consequently, since nothing is permanent, we all experience losses. Some are trivial, others are devastating. We are now living in a time of great turmoil with millions of people subject to losses beyond their control. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed by the effects of climate change with fires, floods and storms throughout the world. Many more have been displaced by wars and political upheavals with thousands having lost their homes, possessions and way of life, but the most immediate and tangible threats are due to the COVID-19 pandemic where in addition to the loss of over a quarter million lives, several million remain unemployed, and self-imposed isolation has taken a toll on mental health.

According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus have been in those over age 65, but they noted even those in their 40s and 50s are at higher risk than younger folks. Many studies have documented that widowhood carries with it a mortality rate of well over 30% during the 1st 90 days of bereavement and 15% thereafter, powerful evidence that loss of loved ones has serious consequences for survivors. The pandemic has limited traditional mechanisms of dealing with grief since last goodbyes are often denied due to isolation policies, and funerals, wakes, and life celebrations are limited. Time will tell if their lack will result in an increased prevalence of unresolved grief.

Grief | Loss due to death vs Loss due to breakup

Meanwhile, we are still subjected to the ordinary losses associated with the process of living. Much of my time as a psychiatrist was devoted to helping those afflicted with the pain of losses, as I am sure is true for most clergy, counselors, social workers, psychologists and bartenders, etc., but it is only recently that the Board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association has recommended that unresolved grief be considered a diagnostic category. Although death of a loved one may seem the ultimate loss, in some ways it is easier get over than the termination of a relationship via other means, such as divorce or breakup of an important personal relationship. The finality of death encourages one to move on, but when the object of one’s affections is alive a relationship real or imagined will persist. Thus, Don Jackson, a renowned family therapist said there is no such thing as divorce. Or as I have often said: divorce is like a death in the family, but you can’t bury the corpse.

Our nature requires relationships. Relationships help to define our identity, i.e., who and what we are. For example, I am often introduced as Barb’s husband which provides considerable information about me. Our identities are also shaped by those with whom we associate even the organizations to which we belong or those we choose to lead us. Long term relationships invade one’s personal space to the extent that we often absorb some of the involved person’s personal characteristics to the extent that they become part of who and what we are. Consequently, their loss may result in what I call a psychological amputation. Thus, in the face of such losses, one is left with the feeling that a part of one’s self has been taken away.

As with the loss of a physical body part, a psychological amputation can result in myriad feelings and reactions in addition to sadness. There may be anger, at times even rage, directed to whomever one blames even him/herself. Instances in which rejected suitors have stalked, assaulted, or even murdered, are unfortunately not rare, which naturally leads one to question the nature of such alleged love. There may be feelings of betrayal at the deceased for being abandoned or for behaviors thought to have hastened his/her death. God is often a target for anger, especially in deaths, and in such instances the Biblical quote: “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” rarely provides solace. Although I have found that referral to the patient’s pastor or Rabbi is frequently helpful.

GUILT

Anger may also be self-directed resulting in guilt. In such cases, the patient may spend endless hours ruminating over what he might have done to prevent the loss or even worse how he could have caused it. A close friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, continues to have pangs of guilt over her Grandmother’s death nearly 80 years ago because as a child she had “sassed Grandma” shortly before her sudden death.

There are instances in which survivors may feel guilty for not grieving enough. One case from many years ago, which has stayed in my mind, involved an elderly lady who was referred to me by her family doctor with the complaint that she had lost the strength in her right leg. An extensive workup had not yielded a diagnosis and the referral appeared to be a hail Mary. She walked into the office unassisted. Although using a cane, she appeared to walk quite well. Her story was that her husband of many years had recently died following years of a debilitating illness for which she had been his primary caregiver. She reported that she rarely left the house during all that time, having obviously taken seriously the vow about “in sickness and in health.” Shortly after her husband’s death, she was excited to visit a friend in a neighboring village whom she hadn’t seen since her husband became ill. After starting her car, she was unable to move her leg to the accelerator in order to drive away -a classic case of conversion reaction, resulting from the guilt she felt over enjoying her new found freedom.


The Affect of Death on Children’s Development and Attachment Theory

It has long been noted that children who become orphaned are at risk for significant relationship or mental health problems later in life. (This is a relevant post from Psychology Today). Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting demonstrated the importance of relationships in young animals, and Bowlby, with his Attachment Theory, came to similar conclusions regarding humans. When the process of attachment is interrupted prematurely it may leave the child lacking in skills necessary to develop healthy relationships, and leave them impaired for life.

Much has been written about the stages of grief. However, I have not found that concept particularly helpful, for in my experience people do not always follow a particular pattern of behavior when they have lost something or someone, though I have found that denial is frequently present especially when the loss involves another human life. Although at a conscious level there is realization that a person is gone, a survivor may behave as if expecting them to return. In such cases there are frequent slips in which the deceased person will be described in the present rather than the past tense. There is resistance to disposing of clothing and other personal effects, or to removing the voicemail greeting from the family phone. Frequent trips to the cemetery are common and may involve imaginary conversations with the deceased. The survivor may be said to have “held up” surprisingly well during the burial proceedings.

Perhaps, the most painful loss of all is the death of a child, and in my experience the most likely to result in denial. Although at a conscious level the parent knows their child is dead, they may continue to insist that their room will remain untouched as if they are waiting for him/her to return. Deaths by suicide usually introduce a series of unanswered questions which further complicate the healing process, often leaving survivors blaming themselves.

It goes without saying that it is very difficult to resolve a problem without acknowledgement that it exists, and in my experience, denial following the death of a loved one is quite common. It is usually the first hurdle that must be overcome in order to find resolution of grief. There are numerous exercises which may be ordered to help one achieve acceptance. My favorite is to arrange a visit to the graveyard with a close friend or pastor, simply say goodbye, and have a good cry. For those in denial, there is usually a great deal of resistance to using that word, and the mere suggestion to carry out those instructions is often met with tears.

Loss of Relationship by means other than death can be even more complicated.

The break-up of young lovers, especially first loves, is complicated not only by the level of passion involved, but their lack of experience in dealing with loss. They should be taken seriously as such losses can result in serious suicided attempts especially in teenagers. But for anyone the loss of a love object can be devastating for with it go dreams of an idyllic life with the hope of loving and being loved. It may result in sadness, depression, anger, or even violence.

How to Survive Loss

Hope is invaluable with the loss of things which are replaceable for it inspires one to action. The streets of our big cities are littered with homeless people most of whom have lost hope, while those who have lost their homes in fires or other calamities, although saddened and depressed by the loss of all their possessions, need hope if they are to replace that which has been lost. However, with abandonment by a loved one hope can hinder resolution. It goes without saying that one cannot live in the moment if they are stuck in the past, which happens when we continue to dwell on recovering something which is beyond reach.

Recovery from loss is simple but not easy.

We must “let go” if we are to “move on.”

We let go by grieving. Grieving is the process by which we allow ourselves to grapple with and purge intense disabling emotions following a loss. Grief can be initiated by the loss of anyone or anything to which a person has a personal attachment.

Cultures have developed various traditions which seem designed to promote resolution of grief following deaths. In a previous blog I have written about those I experienced in a rural midwestern village 75 or 80 years ago, but my favorite funeral celebration is the traditional New Orleans jazz funerals in which the funeral procession is led by a brass band to the graveyard while playing a funeral dirge, then following interment the band marches back toward the decedent’s home playing a lively Dixieland tune. The message could not be more evident. There is acknowledgement of the sadness of death followed by the celebration of life, a perfect example of letting go and moving on.

Other Types of Loss

In addition to the loss of loved ones, since the word pandemic entered our lexicon, we have been subjected to losses of some of our most precious possessions. It has been said that you don’t fully appreciate the importance of something until it is gone. Granted, it has been catastrophic for those who have lost jobs, housing, or businesses, but the isolation and cumulative effect of the loss of activities which we previously would have considered mundane have also taken a toll.

On a positive note, if there is one, perhaps we have learned to know the value of some of those things we previously took for granted. There is also hope that constriction of our social activities may result in more family cohesion. Who knows? Maybe kids and parents will even start talking to each other. Losses of all kinds are bound to get our attention, and there is often a lot we can learn from them, especially those we create by our own mistakes for failure is the great educator.


CATHARSIS

Although in rare instances, loss may result in a sense of relief, in nearly all cases, there will be strong feelings elicited as previously mentioned. Such emotions are disabling and must find expression, a process which we call catharsis. It is not a good time to do the strong silent thing when consumed by grief.

As I have mentioned many times, we are herd creatures, which is hardly a new concept having been the subject of John Donne’s poem, “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND” written in 1624. As such, we are dependent upon others whether we like it or not. In the face of intense emotions we can become overwhelmed and confused. In such times more than ever, we need validation, i.e., someone who we trust to listen, be supportive, and reassure us that our feelings are rational. Indeed, the process of attempting to communicate those feelings verbally helps to organize one’s thoughts, and a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, has confirmed what we already knew, which is that confiding in others helps prevent depression. After all, that is how I made a living.

Surviving Loss is a PROCESS

Usually catharsis is not a one-time thing and there will be triggers that will resurrect some of those feelings in milder form from time to time, but most will learn to let go of past traumas by focusing on the road ahead. Hopefully, they will come to understand that to look back over their shoulder will likely cause a stumble, and that they must let go of the past in order to move ahead.

With millions all over the world facing serious losses, we are not only “all in this together,” but we are also very much in need of each other and there has never been a better time for us to be our “brother’s keeper.”

USA Tops COVID-19 Cases and Deaths Map from Johns Hopkins

The Speech I Wish President Trump Would Have Delivered at the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic

INTRODUCTION by EshrinkBlog.com Author, Darell J Smith, M.D.

It was not until the death of my parents many years ago that I realized how little I knew about their childhood, and set out to write some vignettes for my grandchildren (and children) about what growing up was like for me.  These stories morphed into one story about a year in my life as a 12-year-old during WWII.  Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a book [link to Reflections for the Future book. Free download. On-demand printing of hard cover book] with my name on it containing a bunch of the stuff I had written.  This was the doings of daughter number four, Maggie, the journalist.  I was so pumped at the sight of my name on a dust jacket that when Maggie signed me up for a blog, I jumped right in, convinced that I was to become the Grandma Moses of essayists.  She has remained involved as my editor, but rarely makes any changes in the copy always insisting that it is good even when it sucks.  

Now you have the opportunity of reading Maggie’s marvelously comprehensive and detailed treatise as to how the COVID-19 pandemic should and could have been handled.  It begs the question as to how many lives might have been saved and how much suffering could have been averted by the exercise of such leadership.  The format, as the speech which should have been made, is a very creative means by which to deliver the message, and is a very typical Maggie approach. 

Although this type of critical thinking should not have surprised me, I still have difficulty at times reconciling myself to the realization of the talents exhibited by this once skinny shy little redhaired girl.  Since we now have less than a month until the election, it is too late to mount a write in campaign to elect Maggie, but I am certain that after reading her speech, you will agree that she should be sitting behind that big desk in the oval office.  


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—The speech I wish the President of the United States of America would have given in February. As the leader of the free world, the President of the United States had the opportunity and the responsibility to inform Americans. Time and again throughout history, great leaders have emerged due to their unselfish sacrifice, character, compassion, strength, and communications skills during a time of crisis. Americans don’t panic, as Trump said regarding his rationale for not telling us the real score. I wrote this speech in an hour after hearing the tapes of President Trump being interviewed in early February by Bob Woodward.  This is the speech I wish the President of the United States, Donald Trump, would have given in February. The USA accounts for 4.5% of the world’s population, but has 20% of the world’s cases of COVID-19 and 20% of the world’s deaths from COVID-19.

Words matter. Leadership matters. We, as Americans, deserve more than a president who hides information because he thinks we are a bunch of panic-stricken cowards who can’t handle the truth. We deserve a president who cares more about the country, all Americans, and the future and well-being of our Republic than he does himself, politics, his image, and celebrity status. Please read the following and see if it you think our country would be in a better place today if we had a president who would have been willing to put his ego aside and give us the following information. I’m just a normal American, with a normal job, two children, who loves this country and the opportunity it represents. We’re not perfect. No human is perfect. No government is perfect. No system is perfect, but our founders certainly built an exceptional form of government for the people and by the people. It’s our job to do our best each day to build upon that foundation to learn, improve, and get better. It’s our responsibility to make sure we build upon that foundation and elect people in all branches of government that showcase the best attributes and characteristics we possess as Americans.

THANKS FOR READING:
Maggie Smith

The SPEECH I WISH OUR PRESIDENT WOULD HAVE GIVEN at the ONSET of the CORONAVIRUS

Fellow Americans:

We have a challenge in front of us that is unlike any other we’ve faced in our lifetime. COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is an invisible threat to our health and welfare. Together, we will find the best way forward and we will prevail. We will remain calm but also vigilant.  As Americans, we have overcome crises before and we will use that same dedication to hard work, sacrifice, ingenuity, focus, and teamwork to overcome this crisis.

Today, I will outline what we know, the steps we have taken. What you can expect from this administration, resources you can use, and what you can do to help.

Now, is the time to put politics aside. Now, is the time to put divisiveness aside. Now is the time to rely on the brilliant scientists who are dedicated to learning about this new virus and finding the best ways to treat it with the ultimate goal of developing a safe and effective vaccine.

We must work together as Americans and citizens of the world to navigate this viral threat in order to minimize the damage and stop the spread as quickly as we can. This will require vigilance from all of us. We want to contain this virus and stop the spread in order to save lives.

Here is what we know:

As of today, we know that a new coronavirus has infected Wuhan, China. I have Dr. Faucci, who is one of our nation’s top epidemiologists with me and he will share medical information about the virus when I’m finished, but in broad terms, coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans. They often circulate among camels, cats, and bats, and can sometimes evolve and infect people. You might remember SARS that affected many in Asia back in 2004 and there was MERS, the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, that affected many countries in 2012. Both of these were coronaviruses. The origin of this coronavirus is still being investigated. As I mentioned, we know the first recorded case was in WuHan, China, but again we will learn more as scientific investigators amass information. You’ll also hear the term COVID-19, where the CO stands for corona and the VI stands for Virus, the D stands for Disease and 19 is the year this particular virus was identified when China reported it to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019). The World Health Organization has provided the following information about testing, symptoms from the people infected so far, and how the virus spreads. [LIST ALL THE INFORMATION THAT WE KNOW WITH EACH SOURCE OF THE INFORMATION LISTED. (How many people infected worldwide, how many in the USA- for instance, in early February, we only had 12 cases and they were people who had returned to the US from China but some had not been in the Wuhan province, the CDC’s guidance that was published February that urged all people who had travelled to the US from mainland China since January 19th to self-quarantine and report their status to health officials, etc., just the facts and who is providing the information. Who What When Where and Why. Back to the speech

What the U.S. Government has done so far to prepare:

Here are the steps our administration has taken to combat the pandemic as of today.

We’ve set up a governor’s task force to help each state get the information and resources they need. Each member of the task force has been assigned 5 governors. They start their day with a meeting with each governor and then again at the end of the day to identify progress on action items established during the morning meeting. I am briefed at the end of each day by the task force members. We know that each state will have different needs and different levels of outbreak. The best way to minimize the spread of COVID-19 right now is for us to stay ahead of it and minimize contact with one another.

I have daily meetings with the leadership of both parties in Congress in conjunction with the Surgeon General, CDC director, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, FDA, and FEMA. This is a time for transparency, not politics. This is a time for scientists and epidemiologists, not conspiracy theories or snake oil cures. Please be especially careful of sharing inaccurate information. We know we will learn more each day, each hour about this virus. Therefore, truth and transparency is critical, but an understanding that information may change as doctors, epidemiologists, and scientists learn more about how the virus spreads, what treatments are the most helpful, and how it affects different populations.

The World

That brings us to the world. This pandemic doesn’t know any boundaries of country. We’ve organized a global COVID-19 task force that is comprised of each branch of government here in the United States and key members of my cabinet that will be in constant contact with the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and our allies to get key updates. This is a time when it’s helpful to have relationships around the world, especially the 80 years we’ve partnered with NATO. This Global Coronavirus Task Force is working to find the source of this novel coronavirus, COVID-19, to gain as much information as possible about the virus in order for us to understand it so we can combat it effectively. Again, information sharing and coordinated research efforts will help us be more effective to stop the spread of this virus, find the most effective treatments, and to identify the most accurate tests to diagnose coronavirus.

Accurate and reliable tests to know who has been infected with coronavirus is step 1 right now. The World Health Organization has provided testing information. Obviously, since this is a new virus, tests are limited. Therefore, we will work with the private sector and our government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control to find the most efficient way to increase the number of accurate tests. We will need to triage based on real data that shows where contagion is the greatest. Just as manufacturing ramped up during World War II, converting factories of all kinds to make much needed supplies such as tanks, airplanes, etc., that were critical to our success during the early war effort, our brilliant and dedicated scientists and doctors are critical to our success during this early part of the pandemic. Together, they will find the best path forward to get accurate and reliable tests while also working on treatment for this who are sick and also working with the world health community to find a safe and effective vaccine. But you are a critical part of our success to mitigate the spread of this virus, too. We all must do our part and there might be some short-term sacrifice involved, but as Americans, we play the long game and are willing to make sacrifices today to create a better tomorrow.

ACCURATE INFORMATION IS KEY

When crises are unfolding, it’s easy for inaccurate information to be distributed. Sometimes, it’s because the information appears correct but later is proven to be incorrect as we learn more. That’s why I encourage you to be extremely careful about your information sources and be responsible in what information you share. In short, always cite your sources. You should know where you are getting your information and let people know where you read it, heard it, or saw it.

One good source of information is the Johns Hopkins Hospital website. They have created a COVID-19 tracker that the entire world is using to track the virus. Their statistics and data input have been vetted by my administration and those in the scientific and medical community.

IMPORTANCE OF THE MEDIA

In talking to you about information, I must include the media. I know I have talked about FAKE NEWS and ALTERNATIVE FACTS in the past. However, this type of rhetoric is not useful during a time of crisis. Responsible reporting and distribution of the facts by the journalists in the media is imperative. While I’ve continuously called out reporters and news outlets during specific examples of what I think is an inherent bias during my term as president, the majority of reporters are dedicated to truth and responsible reporting. My personal opinions and popularity are not important during a crisis of this scale. Therefore, I implore each American to follow the truth, follow the facts, and I pledge that my administration will lead by example and be transparent with the media and with you. With that said, please know that information and data will most certainly change as WE LEARN MORE. This administration will work very hard to release information that has been properly vetted through reliable sources. All of us must work together to stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of each other.

I pledge that our administration will address the American people each night at 7 pm with the latest information. My team will provide access through every available channel, whether it be online, social media, streaming, network TV, or radio.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

So, what can you do as an American in the face of this crisis. First, remain calm. Secondly, do the normal things to stay as healthy as possible, including good hygiene and hand washing, getting enough sleep, watching for the symptoms we know are part of this virus (especially loss of smell and taste). If you have a fever, please call your doctor. Tests are limited and you want to minimize exposure to other people, but you don’t want to ignore symptoms. Please contact your doctor’s office and have them help you figure out the best option for your situation. Finally, accurate information is important. Please know that we are doing everything possible to find the right answers, minimize the negative impact of this virus, fight this pandemic with all of our resources. You can help by making sure you are responsible and careful with the information you share. This is a time for us to work together as Americans. We have faced challenges before and as a country we have succeeded by working together and bringing out the best in each other. I pledge to make sure I lead by example. I will not allow politics, rhetoric, and conspiracy theories to take center stage during a pandemic. We need everyone right now to be at the top of their game and that means you. Republicans, democrats, independents, and everything in between…party doesn’t matter, politics don’t matter…we are all in this together! All of our energy must be focused on minimizing the impact of coronavirus on the lives and health of Americans.

Please tune in for updates each day. If you have specific questions, you can contact the coronavirus hotline (it is a partnership between the federal government, state governments, and the private sector). You can call 1-800-555-1600, email info@cornonavirus.org, and get information at that website www.coronavirus.org.

Finally, please thank the nurses and doctors and all the healthcare workers. They stand ready to take on this virus. We appreciate their service and sacrifice. Obviously, we hope the protocols and planning we are putting into place now won’t be needed, but we must hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

Please stay strong. Stay safe. God bless you and God bless the United States of America and the world.”

Final Note from Eshrink Editor and Daughter of Eshrink
When I wrote this speech, I wasn’t trying to Monday morning quarterback as they say…I was trying to illustrate how leadership makes a difference, especially in a crisis. Below are some resources I hope you find interesting and informative.

First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States

What Is Coronavirus from Johns Hopkins University

The World Coronavirus Tracker by Johns Hopkins University

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases – a non-profit founded in 1973 to provide dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the burden, causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases across the lifespan.

Daily Updates for the Month of February to MIT staff regarding COVID-19

List of Deaths Per Capita (the USA is – Click here for the full list

  • Peru
  • Belgium
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Spain
  • Ecuador
  • Mexico
  • USA

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SLOW LEARNERS?

ARE WE SLOW LEARNERS?

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. – Edmund Burke

Winston Churchill paraphrased Burke thereby reminding us that a much less painful education can be gained by learning about the mistakes of others rather than: “learning the hard way.”

 

The Repetition Compulsion
When it comes to governing, it seems clear that we continue to replicate the same stupid mistakes of the past. Freud described this as an inherently human characteristic which he named the Repetition Compulsion, arising from “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” It seems more likely to me that our government often makes poor decisions as a result of a lack of historical perspective, which brings up the question as to whether they choose to ignore lessons of the past or simply “do not know history.”

 

Who Needs History?

According to the American History Association, there has been a recent and significant decline in the number of college students who opt for a major in history. This is not surprising when one considers the soaring student loan debt in this country. These kids (anyone under the age of 40 is a kid to me) are primarily interested in finding a way to make a quick buck, and there aren’t many companies recruiting historians.
There is also the massive technological change which has occurred in the space of one generation, apparently leaving many to feel the old rules are no longer appropriate and that we old folks are “stuck in the past” and one should strive to live in “the here and now.” Further evidence of the lack of interest in what has gone before, is seen in the near collapse of the antique market. Nearly all the shops in my area that used to hawk old stuff are gone. The PBS TV program Antique’s Roadshow frequently mentions the decline in value of items treasured by many of my generation. Many of us who have collected and admired such things often find little interest on the part of our inheritors. Even family heirlooms sometimes take a hit and no tears are shed as so called “time honored” traditions are discarded. There is a bright spot however, as there seems to be renewed interest in genealogy largely due to interests in DNA, the more ready availability of records due to digitization, and companies like Ancestry.com. Hopefully, this interest in genealogy may provoke more curiosity about what has gone before, and help us avoid repeating some of our ancestor’s screw ups.

One thing that history can teach us is that democracy is fragile. In my generation alone, we saw Germany, Italy, Spain, and multiple south American and African countries become dictatorships. And now we see that truth is played out again as democratic governments throughout the world become more authoritarian: witness Turkey, Poland, and Venezuela. Yet, we Americans naively think it could never happen to us. As students of history, the dangers were evident to our country’s founders, exemplified by Franklin who responded to a question as to what kind of government had been formulated by saying: “a republic if you can keep it” (popular usage has caused us to use the word democracy as synonymous with republic).

Beyond Rationale Debate to Divisiveness and Polarization
We live in a time when Americans are more divided than at any time in the past 200 years. Many believe this divisiveness presents a grave threat to the republic, for divide and conquer has long been the mantra of those who desire to subjugate others. Gone are the days of rational debate, conciliation, and the search for truth among our lawmakers and the public at large. Respectful dissent by our politicians is frequently replaced by character assassination and name calling. Allegiance to one’s political party is paramount consequently; independent thinking is frowned upon. As a matter of fact, members of each party are given “talking points” to regurgitate whenever questioned about issues.

john_adams.jpgBut the desire to be re-elected is the most powerful motivator of adherence to the party line. Oh yes, group think is alive and well in the halls of congress and the deliberations of elective officials throughout the nation. Perhaps John Adams had a point when he described the two-party system as: “…the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

 

Too much information. Not enough knowledge.
There are obviously many other factors that contribute to our divisiveness, such as social media which allows false accusations and conspiracy theories to be promulgated without consequence (hence, the term “keyboard courage”). Our President’s friend, Mr. Putin, has made good use of the internet with his targeted bots designed to sow confusion and fear in the electorate. Of course, we will never know to what extent those activities affected the outcome of the past presidential election. Meanwhile, we seem to have learned little from that experience for there appears to be little effort being put forth to interfere with future election tampering.

 

News vs Propaganda
There are also problems with those in the media who behave more like propaganda machines than honest brokers of the news. They no longer even pretend to lack bias, and routinely extol the virtues of one party while trashing the other. This results in their gaining a loyal audience of people, who as a result of this confirmation bias, will rarely hear the other side of any story, i.e., they are only told that which is consistent with what they already believe. Those in the news business know conflict sells, and no one is better at promoting conflict than our President. This was noted early in the Trump campaign by the former president of CBS, who said of Trump: “He is damn good for CBS.” Little wonder that he seems to have had unlimited access from the beginning of his campaign. As a candidate, Trump must have been very aware of this, for his approach was to exploit divisiveness rather than to promote unity.

 

Image result for trump with his maga hat

The essentials of good stagecraft are followed carefully by Mr. Trump. He utilizes such tactics as always keeping audiences waiting for enough time to make grander entrances, with carefully choreographed “spontaneous” news conferences that occur on the walk to the helicopter where there just happens to be a cadre of reporters waiting to pay homage to the great one. Everyone knows that costuming is important in any show and Trump’s genius came into full flower with the Make America Great Again trucker’s cap. The ball cap has become a nearly essential part of the working-class uniform of people who had become disaffected and felt left behind. The message printed on them harkened back to a time when living wages were the norm and labor unions were powerful. When Trump donned his cap, he became as one with them. Quickly forgotten was his history of paying starvation wages to immigrant laborers, stiffing tradesmen who worked on his projects, and his privileged “silver spoon” childhood that allowed him to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War and only “get a small loan of $1 million” from his dad to start his business.

Editors Note: Just a few articles to support eshrink’s statements above regarding Trump’s history of hiring and exploiting immigrant works, stiffing contractors, and using his privilege to avoid military service.

Business Insider: Donald Trump avoided the military draft 5 times, which was common for men from influential families

A Brief History of Trump Swindling Small Business Owners including a cabinet maker from Philly, a paint seller and servers in Florida, a drapery business in Vegas…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Fortune: Trump Got a Tax Break for Stiffing Contractors

USA Today: Hundreds allege Trump doesn’t pay his bills

Reuters: Trumps Art of the Deal: Dispute Your Bills. A review of 50 court cases brought by workers and contractors against Trump

Nothing Unites like a Common Enemy
Trump has made good use of his showmanship skills to appeal to his supporters who nearly all remain loyal no matter what. They obviously like him and want to believe him consequently, when something unfavorable is written, and he tells them the press is “the enemy of the people”, they switch to Fox News to get the straight scoop where they will likely never hear the other side of the story. Mr. Trump has united his “Trumpsters” with the time-honored strategy of inventing an enemy, in this case immigrants, and convincing his followers that they are a menace.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
Although I continue to believe Trump is significantly impaired as the result of a serious personality disorder, he continues to demonstrate his genius at self-promotion, with adherence to the Public Relations dictum that there is no such thing as bad publicity. With that in mind, he immediately sensed the value of Twitter, an instrument by which one can instantly reach millions with a few key strokes. It is also an effective tool to transmit any message repetitively for it has been proven that when something is repeated often enough, it eventually is believed. If there is any doubt about the success of his strategy, consider this: even though Trump is a serial divorcee who paid hush money to hide his adulterous relationships, used bankruptcies as a business strategy to line his pockets at the expense of others, is known for his casual relationship with the truth, paid $25 million dollars to settle a lawsuit over the Trump University fraud case, and was filmed bragging about his sexual assaults on women, he received 71% of the white evangelical Christian vote!

 

We now live in a shrinking world with enlarging problems, including perhaps the most pressing one of all, namely climate change, while our energies and attention remain focused on fighting with each other. We ignore the wisdom of our ancestors who when faced with monumental problems coined phrases such as “united we stand, divided we fall” and “we must hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Our current problems are unlikely to be solved in an atmosphere where we have no respect for each other’s point of view and only react to disagreement with anger. The polarity is so complete that even on a personal level, politics is a taboo subject. Gone are rationale debates, a desire to ensure opinions are based on facts rather than confirmation bias, and a basic interest in seeking the truth.

 

Impeachment
As I write this, we are in the midst of impeachment proceedings against the President. Although I feel he should be removed, I am fearful that regardless of the outcome, the proceedings may further increase the divisiveness and rancor that pervades the country. Senator McConnell has guaranteed the President will be found not guilty regardless of what evidence is brought forth, but no matter the outcome we can be assured that half of the country will be angry. I even wonder if the words of a hack like myself who enjoys writing about this stuff may in some small way simply harden opinions and inhibit discussion.

 

Power: The Wisdom of our Founders
This impeachment is in the final analysis about power. History teaches us that power is for most people like money in that we never have enough. That is especially true for those who aspire to positions of leadership. Those who risked their lives in order to found this republic were students of history and well aware of that trait. They also had first-hand knowledge having suffered the consequences of authoritarian rule. They wanted representative government to chart the course of the ship of state, but needed someone to steer it in the prescribed direction. With people being the way they are, I suppose it was inevitable that the guys at the helm would vie with the Congress for power, and it seems clear that Presidents have been gaining in that quest for a long time.

 

Presidents had been chipping away at the restraints placed upon the power of the executive branch for decades. In my lifetime, Roosevelt defied a predominantly isolationist Congress which was still recovering from World War I to finagle a way to send war materials to England during WW II in spite of their objections. Prior to that, he had been credited with reviving the U.S. economy from the Great Depression. He was elected to four terms and died in office while still immensely popular. Out of concern that others might become “president for life” a Constitutional Amendment was passed by Republicans in 1951 that set the current term limit for the presidency. Ironically, in 1987, Ronald Reagan suggested rescinding the rule.

 

So far, watching this impeachment thing has been a grueling experience. Nevertheless, I have suffered through a few hours of it. I’ve come away convinced that if there is no conviction, certainly the most likely outcome, Trump will have wrestled more power for the presidency than did even FDR. I find this very frightening for tipping the scales too far on which that balance of power rests would send us to a very gloomy place. Ben Franklin’s answer to the question that was posed at the Constitutional Convention “Do we have a republic or a monarchy?” should be a rallying cry for all citizens:  “A republic if we can keep it.”

 

We are the stewards of this republic: the great experiment of democracy. Most of us did nothing to earn the right to grow up under the freedom, opportunity, and liberty this great nation provides, except to be born here. Our founders and our ancestors did the heavy lifting so we could enjoy the privilege that freedom provides. At the very least, we owe it to the country’s founders and our ancestors, to learn about history, to read the Constitution, read the Declaration of Independence, and to refresh our memory of the basic lessons in civics. Get informed. Get involved. Seek the truth.

 

While it is the sworn oath of those serving in Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, to follow the Constitution of the United States of America, it is ultimately up to each of us to own our part of that responsibility.  To quote President Lincoln who led this country through arguably the most divisive period in our history:

“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

 

10 items or less sign in grocery store

Eshrink and Editor – Point/Counterpoint? | Everyday Irritations | The 10 Items or Less EXPRESS Lane

Hello Loyal Eshrinkblog readers!

This is Maggie, daughter and editor of Eshrink’s blog. We’ve been on hiatus with technical difficulties, both computer related (more detail in a future blog post I’m sure…here’s an oldie but a goodie about computer stuff) and health related. Since Eshrink has been using his hospital stay and convalescence as an excuse to slack off, I decided I better find a way to get us jump started before all of his loyal readers abandon him for YouTube! In his defense, he tells me he is working on a masterpiece (the one he already finished once, but the computer deleted it)…in an attempt to lighten the load and return to our Curmudgeon Roots (a.k.a., a safe place to complain about “first world problems” in hopes we can all find some common ground, deeper meaning, and comfort), I’ve taken on a point/counterpoint about the EXPRESS LANE…specifically, violation of the Express Lane/Line…whatever

.

Today’s topic: The EXPRESS Lane (note EXPRESS in all caps). We’re talking about the 10 ITEMS or LESS lane at the grocery store. 

I was at the grocery store today on my lunch break when I had to face the ugly truth: I exhibit rule bias.

I race to the checkout lanes, five items in my hand, and when I turn the corner, the line of people stretches across the aisle into the produce section! I have my coat on, balancing my items in my hand because who would need a cart in the express lane? Apparently, people who can’t read; people who don’t think the rules apply to them; people who think their time is way more important than anybody else’s; and people who just don’t pay attention. Anyway…the non-express line is longer than the “express” so I evaluate the situation.

Side bar: the lesson I’ve learned to successfully navigate these “First World Irritations” is to conduct mental gymnastics in order to make me feel better about said irritation, excuse other people, and somehow make myself feel like a kind person who is helping the world. The mental gymnastics can be exhausting…more detail below.

Okay…back to the grocery store and the rule bias…or even “bigotry” I mentioned earlier. In front of me…WITH THEIR CART…was an elderly couple. I didn’t want to be too obvious as I stretched my neck to inventory their cart, but I counted at least 20 items. In the past, I would have simply said to the Express Line Delinquents, “Since I have less than 10 items, do you mind if I jump ahead to check out?”

Side bar: However, I waive that option if I’m not in a hurry and want to make myself feel like a good person by saying to myself, “I’m not in a hurry, I bet they have to pick up kids, get to work, are having a bad day, on their way to visit someone at the hospital…” it goes on and on.

I had a colleague who told me he viewed behavior above (in addition to politely telling loud talkers in a movie theater that their talking is making it hard to hear the movie) as me being confrontational. Really? Confrontational? I just feel it’s way more productive and actually nicer than muttering under my breath, “How rude! Who do you think you are holding up the express lane!” I find the annoyance leaves much quicker after I say something to the person in a polite/professional manner. I’ve had different responses in the past that range from “Oh my gosh…I’m so sorry…I didn’t see the sign” to “Sure…go for it” and only one or two snotty, “I’m in a hurry…I don’t have much more than 10” or the “What are you…the line-Nazi” look accompanied by an adolescent eye roll.

But during this “express line breach” the fact that I was in full hot flash, in a hurry, and irritated did NOT prompt me to correct these express-line violators. And that’s when I realized, I’m a bigot (if they wouldn’t have been a cute, elderly couple and it was a yuppie-looking GQ guy, or Escalade-driving stay-at-home mom, I would have felt obligated to enforce the 10 ITEMS or LESS RULE and “make a scene” as my dad used to threaten). Instead, I decided to ride it out…mentally telling myself that the cute elderly couple might feel awful if I pointed out they were breaking the rules, also…it’s a lot more difficult for them to stand in a long line than me, and finally it’s just not that important in the big scheme of things. Once I decided to accept the breach, I felt better and low and behold, a cashier opened a new line and waved me over…

DAMN…another dilemma! When a new line opens, you always send the people IN FRONT OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN WAITING IN LINE LONGER THAN YOU to the new line…or at least give them the option. But I just didn’t have the time! I rationalized that the new line opened as my reward for the mental gymnastics I successfully completed to fully accept the Express Lane Rule Breakers with a good heart…but that’s how it starts…it’s a slippery slope as they say 🙂

Eshrink: I’m turning it over to you. Express Line Violators is the subject. What do you think is the best way to handle them? The rules are clear, the penalties are severe…treat them all the same? We are nothing if not a grocery store of rules? Maybe some passive aggressive tactics are warranted? Write below the line please.


ESHRINK EXPRESS LINE RESPONSE

On a planet of 7.7 billion inhabitants, it is clear there will be many different opinions as to what is acceptable behavior.  Amongst the animal kingdom, there appear to be unwritten rules which have evolved in the service of the survival of each species.  Since we humans with our big brains can find infinitely more ways to screw things up, we have developed millions of rules, most of which are ignored.  Nevertheless, there have been many examples of the serious consequences to a society when there is no enforcement of rules as we now see in Central America, and even worse when rule makers and enforcers are corrupt leading to all kinds of atrocities.  Our own country is now experiencing a crisis of sorts over the interpretation of rules.

 

As a matter of fact, for many, the reason for rules has been long forgotten, and some seem to enjoy circumventing them whether by robbing a bank or cheating at the check out line.  I must admit there is something satisfying about “getting away” with something and there are instances when civil disobedience is honorable.

 

Although I consider myself to be a follow-the-rules kind of guy and would never consider violating the 10 items or less rule, I do recall  pleasurable feelings regarding my violation of the “though shalt not steal” rule about 75 years ago.  My friend Bill and I with malice aforethought carefully planned a midnight raid on the cider press In Jake Davis’s apple orchard.  Although our presence was announced by Jake’s coon hounds, we managed to escape with a gallon jug of freshly squeezed cider which we proceeded to drink under cover of a near by haymow*.  It was one of those clear crisp October nights when the grandeur of that night sky with its limitless canopy of stars was overwhelming, and one could hardly doubt the existence of a God.  Nevertheless, we wallowed in our sinfulness without thought of retribution and quibbled over who was drinking the most cider.  Now , I can attest to the fact that a half gallon or so of fresh apple cider can have a dramatic effect on an adolescent colon.  This can  be especially disconcerting when said adolescent spends much of a cold autumn night perched over a privy* hole.

 

You may be wondering what this has to do with the question at hand and the answer is probably nothing. However, I do remember thinking that I would never ever steal anything again.  Could it be that by extension, that mantra includes other forms of ethical behaviors, leaving me stuck with the compulsion to heed the 10 or less item sign?

 

Regarding Maggie’s query as to how to handle the problem, I have no answers, but as usual can offer a complaint.  Rules are made to be if not broken as some would have it, at least to be tested (a la the Trump response to congressional queries); consequently if there are no penalties rules are unenforceable and therefore worthless.  If a store makes a rule, they should be prepared to enforce it otherwise, as Maggie points out, they are complicit.  As for confrontation of the offender- probably not a good idea in the era of concealed carry permits.

 

LONELINESS

Many years ago I treated a patient who was suffering from a near fatal case of loneliness.

 

No, I am not exaggerating for this person would later confess that she had come to me in a last-ditch attempt to resolve her problems while promising herself that if I couldn’t help she would hang herself. She was a 20-something attractive and very modestly dressed woman who did indeed look very despondent with the psychomotor retardation and furrowed brow characteristics of clinical depression. When I asked her why she was there to see me, she hung her head, stared at the floor, and tearfully responded that she had been shunned.

 

She went on to tell of how her infraction of the church’s rules (one that most of us would consider a minor infraction) had resulted in her being officially designated as one with whom the entire church should have no contact whatsoever. You may be thinking: “Big deal go find another church.” But her story was more complicated. She had grown up attending this church. It was the center of not only her spiritual, but also her social and family life. Since the church doctrine insisted that only members of their church were true Christians, the members were warned about the dangers of consorting with people outside the church, apparently convinced that sin was contagious. Thus, when alienated from the congregation, which to make matters worse, included her entire family, she found herself totally alone.

 

Such stories are not new as evidenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tear-jerker, THE SCARLET LETTER, but give witness to the importance of relationships and the pain of loneliness. Many religions have used banishment of varying degrees of severity to punish wayward members. The Catholic Church’s policy of excommunication appears to be less stringent and is viewed by the church as a means to save souls whereby one can return to the fold and regain salvation by repenting. Such tools are powerful and their use can have long lasting effects. For example, I recently discovered that my Great, Great, Great Grandfather was shunned and ejected from the Quaker church. It occurred to me that if he had toed the line, I might be a Quaker.

 

AND YOU THOUGHT SMOKING WAS BAD

Solitary confinement has long been used as a means to enhance the discomfort of imprisonment, and is agreed by many to be a form of torture. In a previous blog, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? I contended that our need for relationships is encoded in our DNA, having evolved long ago as a major contributor to the survival of our species. If one were to accept that premise, it would be logical to assume that loneliness could be a major problem for us. Indeed, according to Vivek Murthy, M.D., the former Surgeon General of the U.S., loneliness has become “a growing public health crisis.” He has said that loneliness is a more effective agent in reducing longevity than obesity, and that its toxic effects are worse than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Recent research into the prevalence and effects of loneliness tends to confirm Murthy’s assessment. Last year Cigna released a report on a study of 20,000 people age 18 and over as measured by the UCLA loneliness scale.

 

Nearly half reported loneliness as a problem, but even more concerning was that 27% felt no one understood them, and 43% admitted they felt their relationships were not meaningful. One in five felt they rarely or never felt close to others or that there was anyone they could talk to. It was also noted that Generation Z (those born after 1996) were the loneliest of all the generations measured.

There have been a number of studies which confirm the effects of loneliness on physical and mental health. It is not surprising that it could result in affective disorders such as depression, and may help explain the increase incidence of suicide as mentioned in my previous blog, but there is also evidence that loneliness can cause or aggravate innumerable maladies including: hypertension, coronary artery disease, dementia, inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, impairment of immune systems, and even some malignancies to name a few.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine sponsored by the National Institute of Health followed 1604 people over the age of 60 (average age 70) for 6 years and measured their physical decline and mortality rate. Their stark conclusion was: “Among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.” Need I say more about our need to engage with our fellow man?

 

WE ARE NOT THE ONLY LONELY

It turns out that we are not the only nation where loneliness has become a problem, both from a public health and productivity perspective. Great Britain’s parliament has recently appointed a commissioner to investigate remedies for what has been called a silent epidemic after a study showed that 20% of Brits reported they were lonely most or all of the time. It appears there are similar studies in progress in other European countries. It would be helpful to know if loneliness is a worldwide problem or peculiar to our culture.

NOTHING ELSE TO DO

If one accepts the premise that loneliness is a significant problem, the question arises as to how did we get this way and what can we do about it. Prior to the industrial revolution, multi-generational families provided a sense of belonging. Relatives galore, including parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles usually lived in close proximity. With the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society, there had been a migration to cities where houses were built close together, which resulted in the development of neighborhoods usually composed of people with common interests. There was the inevitable clustering of children who interacted with only minimal adult supervision, and stay-at-home moms who could relate to each other in a very personal way. Neighbors were evaluated based on certain standards including friendliness and mutual respect. The lack of air conditioning and television made front porches very popular especially on hot evenings, and provided an opportunity for informal socializing. The only taboo subjects were sex, religion, and politics.

 

BETTER THINGS TO DO?

Soon after World War II ended, front porches began to disappear from neighborhoods, and there was a wild rush to the suburbs where large green lawns were treasured and families had fewer opportunities to be “neighborly.” On hot summer nights, it became more comfortable to be inside the house (with air conditioning) than outside. There were also new-found entertainment devices available – first radio, then TV, movies in the VCR and then DVD Player, video games, and then the internet which gave us social media and streaming. One could go for months or longer without ever having face-to- face contact with one’s neighbors. There was no longer danger of an errant foul tip sending a baseball through someone’s window. Privacy became important, and it was no longer considered a snub to build a fence between houses.  There were no kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalks, as a matter of fact, there often were no sidewalks in these new neighborhoods.

Competing Schedules and Activities

As more mothers joined the workforce and children were exposed to more structured extra-curricular activities, long-held family traditions changed. There was concern about the “latch key children” so named because they would come home to an empty house. The evening meal, often the only time in which the entire family came together, was often disrupted due to conflicting schedules. This led to the so-called crock pot families where the family meal was available to all who passed by…making it easy to just grab a bite and be on your way without any hassle (or conversation).

Forced Socialization in the Pew

Another effective defense against loneliness was the weekly church service. Traditionally, religious institutions encouraged socializing (and in some cases, demanded it). However, attendance at religious institutions has declined in recent years (one study says church membership in the U.S. has declined from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2018).

 

WHY SO MUCH LONELINESS?

It is ironic that in this digital age when we have vastly improved modes of communication, that we would identify loneliness as a problem. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, insists that he saw his invention as a tool by which relationships could be fostered throughout the world and help dispel feelings of loneliness and dissention, but it appears that it has done more to promote divisiveness and distrust.

 

With the invention of the telephone we gave up non-verbal cues in our conversations, and the trade-off for its convenience seemed like a good deal. Now kids have largely given up talking on their cell phones in favor of texting. Voices from the internet, news media and politicians all conspire to promote divisiveness and paranoia to the point that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation about many of the issues of the day.

 
Today people are marrying later and living longer. As reflected in the census figures of 2012, 32 million or 27% of Americans lived alone which was up from 17% in 1970. As you might expect, widowhood is likely responsible for many single occupant households, and in another study it was found that 47% of women over the age of 75 lived alone. With aging, comes the inevitable debilities and limitations. The National Institute on Aging reports that nearly half of all people over the age of 75 have hearing loss, which can be a major impediment to any meaningful social interaction resulting in withdrawal from friends and family.

 

It has been said that Americans are losing faith in our institutions, and our political leanings are often shaped by who we hate rather than who we like. Political discourse has hit a new low. Muck raking is no longer good enough, and has been replaced by personal insults a la grade school rants. Respect for contrary opinions has now gone out of fashion. Divide and conquer is the new strategy, and a tactic that seems to have even been adopted by the news media (Matt Taibbi has written an entire book about it, called “Hate Inc.”). We lack heroes. We frequently hear the term “disenfranchised” these days, a synonym for “left out” and to be an outsider is lonely for any herd critter.

ALL IS NOT LOST (stay with me…a little break from “downer” time)

There is some evidence that there may be some efforts underway to deal with the loneliness issue. I was pleased to see a recent article in Psychiatric News suggesting that psychiatrists are focusing more on loneliness as an underlying psychiatric problem (don’t know why it took so long to figure that out). A former president of the American Psychiatric Association has suggested that assessment for loneliness be part of any evaluation or perhaps become a diagnostic category in the DSM 5 (the shrink bible). There is also a growing awareness of a worldwide suicide epidemic which most would agree loneliness all too often plays a part.  Lonely lifestyles also frequently seem to be common with mass murderers.
lonely quote

LONELINESS VS. BEING ALONE

Proximity to other people is not necessarily a solution for loneliness, for it is not unusual to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Obviously, some type of emotional engagement is necessary to dispel lonely feelings. Ordinary discourse involves much more than words. Unfortunately, in our digital world many of the nuances of communication are lost. Not only are the tone, rhythm, volume, and timbre involved, but there are multiple non-verbal cues which can modify or even completely change a communication. As a matter of fact, some very significant interactions may occur without any words spoken. In that vein a text hardly measures up to a face to face encounter as a means to communicate feelings.

 

Emotional tone is less relevant, for even an argument can dispel lonely feelings.
Although, until recently, there have been few attempts to measure the extent of loneliness, there is definitely a consensus among sociologists and mental health professionals that there has been a definite increase. Employers have taken note of recent research which has shown that employees are more productive when they are encouraged to interact with each other. As a consequence, in many cases the traditional office cubical arrangement has been scrapped in favor of a more open environment, teamwork is encouraged, and brief chats at the water fountain are less likely to result in a dirty look from the boss. Since most workers spend nearly half of their waking hours in the workplace such changes could be very beneficial for large segments of society.

 

GO TEAM

The needs for engagement with other humans has long been addressed by the formation of millions of organizations that bring groups of people together with myriad goals, but which also provide an opportunity to relate to others. The sense of belonging to a group is a powerful antidote to loneliness. Young people who feel neglected or alienated are more likely to join street gangs (easier to radicalize for terrorism and/or recruit for “religious” cults*). Athletic events and concerts attract millions, most of whom “show their colors” and cheer as one. One of my all-time favorite TV shows was Cheers which identified the locus of the show as the place “where everybody knows your name.” Organizations of all kinds including sports teams, military, and political groups or for that matter any group of people with a common goal make use of the need to belong which at the end of the day is an antidote to loneliness.

THEY NEED EACH OTHER

AARP sponsors a very interesting and apparently successful program called “Experience Corps” in which volunteer over 50 are enrolled in a program where they are trained to help children develop literacy skills. They spend 6 to 15 hours per week working with K-3 students with spectacular results including as much as 60% improvement in reading skills, fewer behavior problems, improved attendance, and increased graduation rates  The AARP foundation at last report had 2,000 volunteers throughout the country serving over 30,000 students. However; it appears the volunteers may be benefiting more than the kids from the program. A University of Michigan study reported a statistical decrease in depressive symptoms and functional limitations among the volunteers after two years involvement in the Experience Corps. There may also be a secondary benefit in that some kids may learn to venerate rather than denigrate us old folks. (Score 1 for the Old Farts!)

 

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

None of this should be interpreted as an attempt to diminish the value of solitude. Certainly, this need to relate can be overdone, and in some cases become pathological. In many cases of marital therapy, for example, too much togetherness can be identified as the problem. In testimony before Congress, Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad defined loneliness as ” the perceived discrepancy between one’s desired level of social connection and their actual level of social connection.”  She explained that some people who are socially isolated don’t necessarily feel lonely, and some people who are lonely are surrounded by people who make them feel more alienated.

 

One’s work may require so much contact with others that it can become oppressive, and some personalities may cause anal pain of the worst kind!  Nevertheless; before you make plans to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island or join an order of non-verbal monks, be careful what you wish for. Time-alone can be refreshing, relaxing and creative, but as with most things in life, it can be overdone. Alone can be good, but lonely can be very bad. In this time in which we are all mutually dependent, it has become even more necessary to have relationships than we did in those days when we needed help to bring down a woolly mammoth. It is difficult nowadays to survive in this world as a loner. We face enormous problems including an increased global population, competition for resources, and degradation of our environment. It is once again time for us to hang together or hang separately.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK?

The ability of the human race to relate to each other has allowed us to survive and to thrive.  We need to exercise that talent now more than ever.  As I finished writing this, once again two hate-filled young people described as loners committed horrible atrocities within hours of each other. It goes without saying that we need to take logical steps to limit access to those instruments designed to kill people, but the prevalence of these kinds of behaviors also require us to learn more about the milieu in which they occur.  For example: are there genetic influences involved, does our society in some way generate such hatred, are certain personalities more easily recruited to violent organizations, is shyness a precursor, and finally does the hatred cause the loneliness or vice versa?  We need to understand more about how these people end up the way they are if we are to have any success at solving the problem.

The Way It Was | Part 2

Note from the editor: Click here to read Part 1 of “The Way It Was”

Conversations Overheard

There was a fringe benefit for me from the depression in that I received my first indoctrination into the ways of the world which included comprehensive discussions of politics, economics, world affairs, and morality but with a special focus on means of survival in difficult times.  My education occurred while lying on our living room floor listening to Dad and friends (not to be confused with Fox and Friends) debate all kinds of issues while they focused on possible work sites.  The men were regular visitors to our house where they met and planned strategy to find work.  It is likely that they were attracted to our house as a meeting place by Dad’s famed home brew.  Although he was not a bootlegger per se, he was known to have occasionally traded a bottle or two for some needed commodity.    I was an accomplice in the enterprise as I took great delight in placing a cap on each bottle and watching Dad press it in place. 

There must have been a robust feeling of camaraderie amongst those guys who were all in the same sinking boat.  There was laughter in spite of their dire circumstances, and there were frequently told colorful stories which without benefit of Dad’s home brew would not likely have reached my tender ears.  The coarse language was not lost on me, and was quickly incorporated into my vocabulary, the use of which would often get me in trouble.   One particularly memorable event occurred when Dad took the guys down to our cellar to show them his success of the day.  He had received a feisty old rooster in return for a day’s work, and the rooster was confined to the cellar, a small space with a dirt floor cool enough to render the beer palatable.  Someone stumbled over the pan of water left for the rooster and Dad filled it with beer.  Surprisingly, the old guy imbibed with gusto and was soon stumbling, flapping his wings, and attempting to crow in a falsetto voice.  If he was hung over in the morning it was short-lived as a few hours later he would be on a platter sharing space with some drop dumplings.

Work

In spite of the bravado most of the conversations had to do with work or rather the lack of it.  The meetings were unscheduled and men would drop in at various times during the evening with comments like “I thought I would drop in to shoot the shit.”  There were always rumors of things to come both good and bad… this place was laying off, another was going to be hiring, another business was in trouble and about to go under, etc.   In 1933 the unemployment rate is said to have been 25%, but that number does not tell the whole story.  Many who were said to be employed were actually able to work only part time.  For example, Barb recalls her Father listed as an employee at a local steel mill, but usually actually working only one day a week and sometimes sent home early even for those days.  He avoided eviction by painting houses owned by his landlord. 

One conversation in particular stands out in which one of the men who was employed at a local glass container factory said he had just come from his workplace and had been turned away.  He reported that at every shift change there were huge crowds of employees at the entrance hoping to be chosen to work that day, but few would be chosen.  He loudly and profanely complained that the foremen “suck asses” and relatives were always the first chosen to work.  Some jobs or professions previously considered ordinary were highly prized.  Postal workers, school teachers, and local government jobs were highly prized for their stability.  The lack of available cash led to a great deal of bartering, especially with farmers who had no one to whom to sell their crops.  Conversely, professionals such as doctors and lawyers along with day laborers were often paid with food (e.g. the story of the inebriated rooster).   

Civics (Yesterday’s Term for Politics)

No education is complete without lessons in civics and the down-but-not-outers were not shy about expressing their opinions in such matters which was probably enhanced by the tongue loosening effects of Dad’s beer.  There was considerable disagreement amongst the group with almost everything.  In our home Dad was registered as a Republican and Mom was a lifelong Democrat.  I have the opinion that in those days one usually belonged to the party with which they had grown up much as with they do with religion.  Dad in spite of his upbringing had experienced an epiphany: he blamed Hoover for the depression and lauded FDR’s efforts to restore the economy. 

Those on the negative side of the debate were equally vociferous in their ridicule of FDR’s “make work programs” and “socialist stuff.” There were all kinds of jokes referring to the WPA and their workers having a penchant to be seen leaning on their shovels.  With the establishment of social security in the mid- thirties the idea of government taking money out of his check (if he had one) and giving it to someone just because he got to be 65 years old did not sit well with the naysayers.  A typical analysis might go something like this: “What ever happened to the idea of saving for old age” or “If they can’t take care of themselves, they should go to the poor house” (large forbidding appearing buildings euphemistically referred to as county homes).  Families were expected to care for their elderly or infirm parents consequently; they shared in the disgrace, and were denigrated for forcing their parents to “suck on the public tit.”

The most often discussed and vilified make work program was the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  The average wage was $52 per month yet one of my uncles worked in the program until it was disbanded in the early 1940s.  During that time, he managed to raise two children with the help of his wife who was able to find work cleaning the house of an affluent neighbor.  Although largely removed from most employment opportunities, wives did find ways to contribute.  For example, Barb’s Mother did laundry in her home in spite of a childhood injury that left her crippled.  The WPA worked on infrastructure projects while the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) focused on environmental projects.  It was an organization for young men who were housed in barracks throughout the nation and paid even less.  They were best known for planting millions of trees, often in areas where logging had left a desolate landscape.  Roosevelt in announcing its formation said; “forests are the lungs of our nation.”  They also fought forest fires, worked in national parks and landmarks building roads, trails and camping facilities.  Many such projects remain in use to this day.

Philosophy 101

While listening in on those conversations from my vantage point on the living room floor I was also privy to discussions of moral issues some of which have bedeviled philosophers for eons.  For example, one evening one of the guys reported that he knew of a place where it was possible to steal casing head gas.  Although gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, he did not have 18 cents, his car was out of gas, and he couldn’t look for work. (For the unenlightened of my readership: casing head gas is formed by compression of natural gas by functioning oil wells.  It is a very low quality fuel and can cause significant damage to automobile engines.)  Since he was without the means to get there, he was attempting to recruit an accomplice.  This provoked a heated debate.  Not only was his proposal illegal there was that “thou shalt not steal” thing in the Bible for which some thought there were no exceptions.  This brought up oft delivered hypotheticals one of which was very relevant to their situation which was “would you steal food if your children were starving?”   

Keep Walking or Go to Jail

Vagrancy laws made homelessness even a greater problem than it is today for one could go to jail for “having no physical means of support.” When I looked up the origin of such laws, I was surprised to find they were written after the Civil War as as a means to get freed slaves off the street and into the chain gangs which could be rented out, a process some called a new form of slavery.  These laws were found to be useful during The Depression as a means to rid the parks and other public facilities of the homeless.  I had always wondered where all those men I used to see walking along the highways were going.  Later it became obvious that they must stay on the move or go to jail.

These were the same guys who would sometimes appear at my Grandmother’s back door offering to do work for food.  Of course, there was no expectation that work would be done.   Grandma would bring a plate out for them and after a brief repast they were on their way. Since farmers were those who were most likely to have food to spare and cops were scarce these backroads were fertile territory.   I heard stories of farmers who discovered “bums” asleep in their haymows especially during inclement weather.  Depending on the compassion of the farmer they might be awakened by the business end of a pitchfork or sent to the house for something to eat then on their way.

Many of these hoboes or bums as they were called in those days would become so enured to that lifestyle that they would spend the rest of their lives on the move never staying more that a few days in one place.  They became expert at hopping freight trains, knowing their schedules and where they slowed enough to get on them.  They often migrated with the birds following the seasons.  They eventually developed places where they could hide for a few days at a time usually close to a rail depot but far enough away to avoid the railroad police.  It is said they verbally catalogued places that were soft touches for hand-outs.  Thus, a nomadic subculture came into being demonstrating the remarkable change which can be brought about in an industrial society by an economic crisis.

An Early Exit Prevented

At some undetermined time during those preschool years I experienced life threatening incidents one of which would label my Father as an unlikely hero.  In what was probably an effort to provide food and recreation simultaneously, he had decided to take me, my brother and mother fishing probably with the hope of making a meal of our catch.  The site, called Pleasant Valley was a favorite of mine and was next to a small conclave of houses reached via a covered bridge over the Licking river.  Its only reason for existence was a Post Office situated next to a major rail line.  It was a mail distribution facility for a large part of the county, and its fascination for me was to be able to watch the train rush past at what seemed to me to be at least 100 mph, while a metal arm reached out from the mail car, dropping a bag of mail, while snatching a similar bag, and pulling it back into the car without even slowing.

Most likely, on that day I was preoccupied with the hope that the mail train would come by.  The river was high, and I recall staring at the water as it rushed by, then everything was suddenly brown.  Probably that memory remains so vivid due to fact that I would have a recurring dream of that incident for years although; such dreams were not frightening but consisted of the sensation of floating in that brown water.  I am told that Dad saw me fall into the swollen river and immediately jumped in although he could not swim.  I was told that my life was saved by a single button for I was wearing a light jacket with one button fastened and Dad reached out with one hand and was able to grasp the jacket with one hand.  He threw me upon the bank and as he was floating by, managed to grab a root growing out of the river bank and save himself.  Thanks be to God that the button held for had it not you would have been denied the joy of reading these blogs!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Way It Was! 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

rodney king

It has been 27 years since Rodney King, an alcoholic drug-addicted Los Angeles cab driver, tearfully uttered those words. Rodney was a troubled soul whose beating by police officers was filmed by a bystander and precipitated the L.A. race riots which resulted in the death of 63 people, hundreds of injuries and massive property damage. The answer to Rodney’s question remains moot, for we are still not getting along very well. Perhaps we need to spend more energy on learning why this is still true.
REAL CHANGE OR WINDOW DRESSING?
It is true there has been progress in race relations, the issue of police brutality is being seriously addressed, and the “metoo” movement has garnered some traction, but we continue to expend a great deal of energy in fruitless debate which never seems to find resolution. This is especially true in our current political scene where vituperative language has become the norm, and both democrats and republicans cling so rigidly to their positions that compromise is impossible. Disagreements have become personal. Name calling and character assassinations are routine.
A PERFECT STORM
Not since the civil war has there been so much divisiveness or tribalism as is the currently fashionable term. It appears to me that there are multiple reasons why we can’t “all just get along,” one of which is the nature of our political campaigns. Somewhere along the way experts in such matters determined that so-called negative campaigns are the most effective strategy, and that has become the modus operandi for all kinds of kinds of candidates from dog-catcher to president. With the candidates continually trading insults and accusations, there is little relevance paid to issues and the undecided voter is left to decide which of the candidates is worse. Since his vote is based largely on his disdain for the character of his hero’s opponent rather than issues he is likely to retain very negative feelings towards the one whom he voted against. Such feelings may be carried forward and make it more likely that when a discussion ensues between two on opposite sides of an election civility is less likely.
NEWS. ARE YOU KIDDING?
So-called cable TV news stations have also in my opinion contributed to this giant schism in our political discourse. I use the term so called for they can hardly be called news outlets, but are dominated by political commentary to be generous or perhaps more accurately political propaganda outlets. Fox News leads the pack with the most viewership and the most conservative commentary. Their current star Sean Hannity is said to be one of Trump’s most trusted political advisors yet they have the temerity to call themselves “Fair and Balanced.” At the other end of the political spectrum is MSNBC who no longer attempt to hide their pro democratic bias. Then comes CNN which makes a pretense of being neutral, but fails miserably. They do have some conservative consultants on their staff which they bring in on occasion for their group discussions.
WHERE IS THE MIDDLE?
One thing these networks have in common is their programming which consists mostly in bringing in groups of experts (there must be a lot of experts in Washington for they never seem to run out) and have a group discussion with participants representing more extreme positions on both sides of an issue. Consequently; a viewer is likely to choose a more radical position. The days of political reporting in which both sides of an issue are elaborated upon by a single person with no skin in the game seems to be long gone. Only PBS seems to follow that old-fashioned format of simply presenting the facts and allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions.
GROUP THINK
During my career as a Psychiatrist my patients taught me much about our desire or perhaps more accurately said our need for validation. As such we are inevitably drawn to those who share our beliefs and perceptions, and therein lies the effect of today’s dueling media outlets. Those of us who harbor conservative beliefs will be drawn to Fox while the more liberally oriented will stick with MSNBC or CNN, “and never the twain shall meet”. The same phenomenon is operant with “talk radio” and with the internet which is becoming a news source for increasing numbers of people. As we continue to be immersed in one particular viewpoint and converse only with people of like mind we find ourselves rigidly attached to one particular political philosophy having convinced ourselves that we are the only custodians of truth.
LOGIC BE DAMNED
An argument can be defined as a person or group attempting to convince others that they are wrong. It is also true that political issues can have serious consequences therefore; political arguments can and often do become emotional. I recall as a child hearing the admonition that one should avoid discussions of politics or religion in polite company, and indeed these are the two subjects about which people are likely to have the most intense feelings. Since I am a peace-loving man and something of a wimp to boot I must admit that I tend to shy away from raising the issue of politics with friends whom I know to be on the opposite side of the fence. I submit that this same phenomenon exists throughout society and deters us from discussions of the issue that divide us and hopefully learn to compromise or at least respect the opinions of those with whom we disagree.
Advertisers have long proven that repetition in TV ads will sell everything from Viagra to Tylenol, so why not politicians. The Washington Post reports that $6.5 billion dollars were spent on the 2016 election much of which undoubtedly went to television ads leaving us drowning in a sea of powerful messages describing how terrible are all those candidates for office. Little wonder that elected officials now share the worst favorability ratings ever, and that disgusted citizens are so sickened they don’t even bother to vote.
BAD GUYS EVERWHERE
Among the most powerful motivators are anger and fear, and those masters of propaganda who manage elections are adapt at using them as weapons. Naturally when one votes for a person because he is persuaded that the other candidate is a threat other issues will become irrelevant adding more fuel to that fire which inhibits reasonable discussion.
Our prevaricator in chief has proven himself to be a master at eliciting those feelings and continues to describe the press as “the enemy of the people” and members of the Democratic party as “evil”. There are also the warnings about immigrants characterizing them as criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and subversives. His talent for instilling such feelings is well demonstrated by the behavior of some of the attendees at his rallies. History shows us that a very effective way to unite a group of people is to find a common enemy, and his followers revel in chanting “lock her up”.
THERE REALLY IS “FAKE NEWS”
Last but certainly not least is the effect of the internet and social media which held such promise in bringing people together has now become a powerful weapon to interfere in our elections primarily by propagating conspiracy theories and lies of all kinds so numerous that it is virtually impossible to rein them in. Artificial intelligence has further sharpened these tools so that individuals can be targeted with false information tailored to their own particular biases or prejudices, and can reach millions of people in short order with very little expense. Nearly everyone except Mr.Trump agree that the Russians were very involved in such shenanigans in our last election and although we are told the effects on the election cannot be determined there is little doubt that it has contributed to much confusion and misinformation designed to enhance our divisiveness.
WISHFUL THINKING
The other day when I began writing this I thought there were signs of at least some yearnings for a coming together to work out problems. Niki Haley in her retirement announcement appeared to break from her boss and indicate that she did not think political opponents to be enemies. There was commentary on our need to come together, but those hopes were soon dashed with the pipe bombs, and now the senseless shooting of 2 black people in Kentucky followed by the mass murder of Jews in Pittsburg.
SOME BEHAVIOR IS PREDICTABLE
With such horrors filling the headlines you might think they would provoke serious talk about bridging the now toxic divide that separates, but after expressing regrets and sympathies yesterday our fearless leader is back on track today blaming the news media for causing the tragedies. Apparently, the false flag theory which named the Democrats as the perpetrators didn’t fly so he was forced to go to his fall back strategy. Nevertheless, we once again hear talk of our need to come together in spite of our differences. Will we follow through this time?  Hope springs eternal!

Transitions

This title was chosen by my son for reasons which will soon be obvious. His youngest has just left home, this time for good, and he and Sue are now presiding over the proverbial empty nest. It is a frequently quoted truism that if you truly love someone you will let them go when it is in their best interest to leave. I was reminded of this last night as I watched Casablanca…one of my favorite movies in which that theme was paramount. Though it is a noble act to let go of those you love, separation is painful, and usually results in significant changes in our lives.
We experience multiple types of transitions during our lifetimes, but since we are at heart social beings, or to put it more crudely, tribal in nature, changes in our relationships are apt to generate the most intense feelings. It is something of a paradox that as the world gets smaller, we find so many people of whom we care to be geographically farther away. Yes, indeed we are able to communicate with ease yet Facebook is a rather poor substitute for a next-door neighbor, or a relative living in the neighborhood. Prior to the industrial revolution, one’s cadre of friends and relatives was unlikely to change very much, and most people were born and died in the same place, often even in the same house. Now neighborhoods are in a constant state of flux, and there is a lower expectation of lifelong relationships.

STUCK WITH THEM
No wonder our children are among the very most important people of our lives. Since humans require nearly 2 decades to reach maturity and carry our DNA, we tend to form very strong bonds. We are often identified as “Johnny’s” father or mother. We live vicariously through them and share their triumphs, failures, joys, and sorrows. In many ways they are our second chance at life as we attempt to steer them away from repeating our mistakes. As the years go by our intimate involvement in their lives blurs with our own–they become part of us and in doing so shape our identity, i.e. who we are.
GRIEF WITHOUT A CORPSE
With all that in mind, it is not surprising that separation anxiety is a common affliction. When the kids grow up and leave, something more than their presence is missing. It is as if a part of ourselves is gone. Not only is the nest empty, but we feel an emptiness within ourselves, a kind of psychological amputation. In my experience, this emptiness is most profound when the youngest one leaves  for with it comes the realization that nothing will ever be the same. This time they are leaving to build their own nest.
THE FUN TIMES
Life is an ever-changing process. We begin as totally helpless and dependent creatures and experience a myriad of transitions during our lifetime all designed to produce an individual capable of building and presiding over that nest. Some of those changes are more dramatic than others. There are the first steps, the first words, the first solo bicycle ride, the first day of school, the first sleep over and a few thousand other adventures all with a goal of achieving sufficient independence to allow them to face the world on their own.
WHY DID I GET INTO THIS?
But it is not all sweetness and light. There is the messiness, the lack of discipline, the terrible twos, the out of bounds phase, the adolescent rebellion, the sleepless nights, and the continued testing of limits to name a few of the frustrations inherent in the child-rearing business. Those little buggers are also expensive. According to the USDA the average cost of rearing a child in 2016 was over $245,000 which does not include costs for higher education (but for the kids, I could have been a millionaire). Considering all the chaos they generate it is little wonder that we don’t occasionally wish them to be grown up however; one should keep in mind the maxim to “be careful what you wish for.”
BEGINNING AND END
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 67.3 % of high school graduates enrolled in college last year (2017). It seems safe to assume that most of these kids would leave home while in school, but retain a close connection to their old familiar environs. In many cases the college transition is a prelude and training for that final fly away. The days when we dumped kids and their gear off to a strange new environment were certainly memorable to Barb and me.
Our first experience with the off to college scenario was painful for all involved. Molly, our firstborn (now deceased), who suffered from serious medical and emotional problems was unable to complete that transition. Next in the line of succession was Peter, who was much too macho to display his feelings, but I was already missing him by the time we pulled away from his dorm. After a four-year hiatus, it was Trudy’s turn. Trudy, the adventurous one, was on the phone almost immediately, tearful and very upset to find beer being consumed at the sorority rush parties that she attended. We had no idea where this came from for temperance had never been emphasized at home. As you probably already suspect. her distress was short lived and as was her habit she soon became involved in everything.
THE LAST ONE STANDING
Of course, those separations were painful, but none so telling as Maggie’s departure for we were now returning to a house inhabited only by Barb, myself and Grover the dog. Maggie was one who had insisted on an out of state school, for she was eager to assert her independent status. She wanted distance from childhood connections. Her reaction to the college transition was a convincing testimonial for that “be careful what you wish for” thing. Permanently engraved in my memory is the sight of that sobbing, skinny little red-haired girl who stood there all alone in that huge empty parking lot making feeble attempts to wave goodbye as we pulled away. Barb wanted to go for one last hug, but I insisted she had already had several last hugs. We were later told that she cried for the next month and lost 20 pounds. [See an earlier blog post about Separation Anxiety + Mental Health}
NOT ALL SWEETNESS AND LIGHT
In case you are thinking this gang of mine is the Partridge family incarnate, think again. It is true that to date we have come through our transitions relatively unscathed, but not without trials and tribulations. In spite of their best efforts some families are overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control. Barb and I are indeed fortunate that in spite of our screw-ups we have ended up with 2 generations of exceptional people, and the beat goes on.
STILL AT IT
It so happens that this month marks the beginning of significant transitions for every one of my Grandchildren which of course they will undoubtedly handle better than do their parents (or Grandparents for that matter). My three oldest grandchildren are already emancipated and starting new and more challenging jobs. Another is off to her first year in college, and our youngest is entering high school. As mentioned in my opening statement, Carter’s room is empty, and home is now in another city far away. Trudy’s is the only nest still occupied.
LIFE GOES ON
Whatever distress the kids may feel from leaving those years of memories behind is apt to be short lived compared to that of their parents. There is hope for Mom and Dad however. In return for enduring the vicissitudes of child rearing God has rewarded us with grandchildren. Thus, we have an opportunity to get all the goodies and none of the crappy stuff ,which leaves me wondering what it would be like to be a great grandparent. Stay tuned for the answer!

WHO CRITIQUES THE CRITICS?

The critics of the world are puzzling to me. I am puzzled not only by what they say, but how they become experts in the particular activities they critique. I have always seen myself as the possessor of normal intelligence and on good days think I may even belong on the plus side of that bell-shaped curve. But when I read some of the reviews of music, books, movies, art and even scientific articles, I realize how really stupid I must be. I often have no idea what they are talking about, and wonder if I am on the wrong page.
It reminds me of something one of my patients said when describing his former psychiatrist’s intelligence. His assessment was: “He was so smart that I could hardly understand a word he said.” I admit that I have used the big word tactic in the past hoping to impress people of my superior intellect, and with that in mind have accumulated several multi-syllabic ones which I keep in reserve for special occasions, but I could never compete with these guys in the weird word department.
Most of my exposure to critics comes from the several publications to which I subscribe (and sometimes even read). Much of human behavior can be explained in my opinion by our origins as herd animals, and to be a good member of the herd one must follow the leader or in this case the expert. As a relatively compliant human I tend to take seriously the critics’ recommendations, but often find their assessment so far from mine that I have difficulty touting it to others. All is not lost in those situations for it gives me the opportunity to let my audience know that I am well read and something of a connoisseur myself. If that is well received I may even launch an attack on the critic.
Their in-depth analyses especially of artistic stuff runs so deep that I often find myself drowning. It has been said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I suppose that also applies to ugliness. For example, the music that is pleasing to my grandchildren is experienced by me as simply loud and irritating noise. This would not likely result in an objective review by me of the latest hip hop or rap song. In like fashion, my parents were turned off by the swing music of the ’40s and ’50s with which I grew up.

Art: Ugly or Genius?

Nowhere is the critic more likely to wax poetic than when reviewing visual art. For me a painting for example is either pleasing or not, but these guys find hidden meanings which continue to be invisible to me even after they point them out. I am very fond of the impressionists who were the “Polly-Annas”  of the art world in that they chose to enhance the beauty of things they portrayed. I do realize that ugly has a legitimate placed in the art world. If the purpose of art is to elicit emotions, then art can be a powerful tool which forces us to face the world’s ugliness. Unfortunately, it appears to me that much art that is ugly was not intended to be so, nevertheless it may be taken by some critics to be a mark of genius. It has occurred to me that were Picasso to have shown up in an art therapy session in my hospital and do his cubism thing, I would have set about forming a plan of treatment for his psychosis.
Could this be yet another example of the “Tail Wagging the Dog?”

The better-known critics have a great deal of power. A favorable review from a big-time critic can put a starving artist into a much higher tax bracket, or conversely send him looking for a low paying day job. Many critics become celebrities in their own right. I can only imagine how many wannabes would gladly suck up to an art critic from the New York Times. Likewise, a visit from one of these gurus must be a major coup for a gallery owner. With all this influence available could it be that this is another example of the tail wagging the dog? Are the ever-changing fads in art due to boredom with the status quo or simply another instance of follow the leader?
Poetry: Schizophrenic Word Salad or Genius?

Perhaps the most glaring example of my literary deficiency lies in the inability to understand much of contemporary poetry. Admittedly, when it comes to poetry, I am a simple-minded person of the roses are red, violets are blue category. However, I recently inadvertently read a rave review of a book of poetry and subsequently happened on one of the poems in that collection. It reminded me of the “word salad” sometimes heard from those who suffer from a severe form of schizophrenia. The alleged profound thoughts these words were to elicit never reached my brain. It probably sounds heretical to many, but I can’t help wondering if I am really missing something or if these guys are just blowing smoke.
Art: The Language of Feelings

As you might expect, an old-fashioned guy like me is a big fan of Robert Frost. I must have been in junior high school when I first read his classic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” After all these years I am amazed at how it still takes me to that place and time, and leaves me in that snowy place for a minute or so. Were I a critic, I might describe the last three lines of the poem (“I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep “) as a metaphor for life, but I choose to simply luxuriate in the feelings the poem elicits. When I attempt to define those feelings, I am at a loss for words, but perhaps that is what art is all about i.e. the language of feelings.

 

Music

Music is another category of which I am blissfully ignorant. Having flunked out of a couple of attempts to learn to play a musical instrument, I am vaguely aware of the complexities involved, and have the greatest respect for musicians of all stripes not only for their talent but dedication and work ethic. Nevertheless; since I am unencumbered by enough knowledge to analyze music I am left free to either enjoy or abhor it

Movies

When it comes to movie critics, my favorite hands down was the Siskel and Ebert TV show which lasted nearly 25 years. These two guys who must have spent most of their waking hours watching movies presented their opinions of current movies. The interesting part was that they frequently and sometimes violently disagreed in their critiques. Their debates demonstrated that pronouncements by experts are by definition subjective.
Where the Critics Really Shine: Scientific Literature

None of this is meant to diminish the value of critics for we are in need of those who can sort through the massive amounts of information dumped on us, and make recommendations. Nowhere are critics not only important but essential than in scientific literature.  Studies are often very complex and beyond our ability to understand.  Fortunately, there are always other scientists familiar with the subject at hand who are passionate about the pursuit of truth, eager to examine the data, and study the design and conclusions.

The Undiscovered Geniuses are Waiting…

No matter the subject scrutinized, it behooves us to remember that that in most cases such critiques are only opinions, and one should not close their mind to other possibilities. Undoubtedly, there are many undiscovered geniuses among us. What a tragedy if there were a Michelangelo or Shakespeare out there somewhere lost in the crowd.

P. S.To the best of my knowledge there are no blog critics active as yet, but if you happen to be one please be merciful.