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!

SEX ABUSE OF KIDS

SEXUALLY ABUSED KIDS
Last week I published a tongue-in-cheek response to an op-ed I had read in the editorial page of our local newspaper. The admonishment of the writer of the op ed that we should limit our talk about childhood sexual abuse stirred up some painful memories for me of patients who were attempting to overcome the effects of childhood sexual abuse.

A True Story
One case in particular comes to mind. This patient was an attractive young woman who came to see me with vague complaints and reported she had come because: “I just want something for my nerves.” After initial hesitation, she was able to give a more detailed history. Her general presentation confirmed my initial impression that she was suffering from clinical depression. She seemed shy and avoided eye contact until I asked if she worked, at which time she looked directly at me as if to assess my response as she hesitantly told me she worked as an “exotic dancer.” Apparently, I passed the test, for at that point, she unloaded in great detail how she had chosen such a career, and how she hated it.
She grew up in a blue collar family. Her father was a factory worker who forbade his wife from working. Her dad was a periodic, episodic alcoholic, and when drunk, was violent and abusive. When sober he was easily provoked. Mother was cowed, totally submissive, and seemingly helpless to protect her children from her husband’s rages. My patient (we shall call her Mary) along with her two older brothers developed strategies to avoid Dad when he was expected to come home drunk. As Mary grew into adolescence, her father began to take notice of her, and finally on the return from one of his nightly drunken forays came into her room and raped her.

But this was not the end of the abuse for the old man had the temerity to excuse his behavior by telling Mary that it was only because he loved her that he was sexually attracted to her. She accepted his advances as she was terrified at the thought of his beating her as he periodically did her mother.

Think it couldn’t get any worse?
Think it could’t get worse than this? Wrong. Soon her brothers emulated their father and to make matters even more unbearable bragged about having sex with her to their friends at school. As you might expect, this led to pursuit by many of the boys at school who were convinced that she was an “easy lay.” And where was Mary’s mother while this was going on? Mary was convinced she was aware, and attempted to convince herself that mother was so beaten down as to be rendered helpless, but she was also horrified to think that her own mother might have offered Mary up to her father in order that she would not be a target of his rages.
Emotional Extortion
Mary’s father had promised all kinds of dire consequences if Mary should ever breathe a word to any one about his behaviors. She knew that she would get no support from her mother were she to seek outside help. By now, even Mary’s teachers were convinced that she had become a problem as they heard that she was promiscuous. There was a reluctance to tell anyone due to the intense feelings of shame she felt about the incestuous relationships. There was also that long held custom of blaming the female in such situations, of which Mary undoubtedly was well aware.

The Spiral
The effect of all these prohibitions was made evident as she several times during the session asked for reassurance of confidentiality. In such a situation, the only sensible thing for her to do was run away, which is what she did. From then until the time of our session, her chronology was a bit hazy. I suspect that some pimp thought he had struck it rich when he discovered this beautiful little runaway. Although she did not admit to such, it seems likely she did engage in prostitution. In any event, at this point I felt it not necessary to probe deeper into her past for I had already seen enough pain to last for the rest of the day. It is enough to say that somewhere along the line she did find a way to use the only tool available for her to make a living in a semi-legitimate manner by swinging around a pole naked. Unfortunately, I never saw her again but noted the “men’s club” where she had been working was closed down by the sheriff. Her name was not listed among those who were arrested.

Sex abuse survivors suffer long after the abuse ends 
You may be thinking stories of this kind unusual, but they are not rare. It has been several years since that day I saw Mary, but I still think of her occasionally and wonder what her life is like now. I hope she found a good guy to marry has a couple of kids and is living happily ever after. But in my heart of hearts I know that is very unlikely. Those who have suffered such abuse usually have serious trust issues which interfere with the formation of meaningful relationships. Even though they know on a rational level that the abuse they suffered was not their fault, they often blame themselves by questioning whether the assault was brought on by their seductiveness, which is reinforced by the oft heard “she must have done something to bring this on.” They lack self-esteem, devalue themselves, and feel unworthy. When shown attention, they may be suspicious and distance themselves while others may become promiscuous, feeling they have nothing to offer other than sex. In their search for love, they find themselves in a series of abusive relationships a la the repetition compulsion which Freud so eloquently described.
Meanwhile, I continue to fuss over the op ed that I sarcastically commented on in my most recent blog. I was curious when I first saw the title of Ms. Flowers piece, but as I read on I became so angry that I could have had a Lindsey Graham type temper tantrum on the spot. I immediately wrote a rebuttal in my passive aggressive style, which Maggie thought was worthy of publication however; I feel the subject of child abuse deserves something more than a few smart-ass comments. I felt that Mary’s story speaks eloquently as to the effects of childhood sexual abuse. Fortunately, most cases are not so horrifying as hers, yet even less aggressive acts can have long lasting effects.

More light required
Yes, I was angry with the writer for her blame the victim tactic, and her concern about Kavanaugh’s “pain” but not one kind word about Dr. Ford. But the clincher for me was closing statement in Ms. Flower’s op ed in which she writes: “That we have now reached the point that assaulted children are considered appropriate conversational tender sterilizes the soul and induces a nausea that can’t be eliminated…”I submit that such an attitude is a major contributor to child abuse. For too many years as with Mary, most such vile acts which have robbed many children of their innocence often leaving them significantly impaired with a lifetime of suffering have been carried out in secret.
There has been some progress in shining the light on the problem e.g. there are now mandatory reporting laws in most states which require physicians, nurses, social workers, emergency rooms, psychologists, etc., to report their suspicions that a child is being abused, and yes that includes the sexual abuse which Ms. Flowers insists should not be a subject of “civil discourse.” It is also encouraging that many charged with caring and working with kids are being prosecuted, and that the veil of secrecy that has surrounded the violation of children by priests is being lifted. However, the National Center for Victims of Crime reports some very disturbing statistics which confirm sexual abuse of children remains a serious problem:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • 75% are abused by people they know and often those whom they trust
  • 23% of reported cases are perpetrated by kids under the age of 18
  • 40 to 80% of such juvenile offenders have themselves been victims

As we have witnessed in that infamous recent Supreme Court hearing, many of the old habits which allowed such awful acts to be inflicted on our children are still in place. The issue must not be swept under the rug as Ms. Flowers suggests but should be considered “civil discourse” of the highest order. Pedophiles do not feature a sign on their foreheads announcing their sexual proclivities therefore; those to whom we entrust our children deserve careful scrutiny. My own experience in that regard accentuates that truth.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
He was a person for whom I had a great deal of respect. We first met when I was a psychiatry resident, and I was impressed with his knowledge and competence as a board-certified child psychiatrist with many years of experience in institutional practice with a University affiliation.

Upon completion of my residency, he invited me and a couple of other recent graduates to join him and form a group practice. Fortunately for me, I received another offer for later I was shocked to find he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for child sexual abuse. He had apparently managed to abuse children, in most cases, who were residing in institutions, where complaints would likely be ignored. Of course, no one knows how many lives he may have ruined. In retrospect I realized I had missed all the warning signs.
Yes, it is my most ardent belief that the problem of childhood sexual abuse deserves serious attention and more “civil discourse” not less of it.

Rebuttal to Op/Ed

When we officially abandon civil discourse | Christine Flowers

Hoping that a child will be raped is the vilest thought that can be formed in the civilized brain.  There is no “larger picture,” no justification, no explanatory context. You cannot say, “Well, yes, that’s bad, but what I really meant to say was that the kids of any conservative who supports that bastard Brett Kavanaugh deserve to be treated the same way (she says she) was.”
Hoping that a child will be raped is inhuman, but it is no longer out of bounds in social discourse.  Recently, I came across a public posting on Facebook, which means the author wanted the world to have access to her thoughts.  It was a jeremiad against Donald Trump, which is unexceptional these days, since he seems to turn certain people into human volcanoes that spew rivers of hateful prose.  I avoid them when I see them scroll through my Facebook news feed.

 

But this one caught my attention because I love children, spend a lot of time with them, and used to teach them. I also represent them in immigration court, like the little girl whose hand I held as she told the judge the other day that she was from Honduras, and that she was 5, and that pink was her favorite color.

So when I saw these words, I froze:

 

“Time to burn everything to the [expletive] ground, when  it comes to this vile, non-human garbage who by stealing and cheating ended up in the White House.  Are we going to take as any kind of truth an ‘investigation’ that isn’t one? Are we going to take his a–hole supporters who say ‘lock her up’ to Dr. Ford? I’m a good and nice person, a peace-loving person but let every one of them and their sons and daughters get raped, accosted by one of those ‘boys will be boys.’ ”

 

It went on.  I reported the post to Facebook, and as of this writing, it’s still there.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s problem now, because I’ve blocked the poster.  But it was important for me to not simply shake my head as I used to do and move on, narrowing my group of friends to those with whom I could share photos of my sweet black Labs and funny anecdotes from my family along with political essays and ruminations.  I’ve resigned myself, ruefully, to the realization that this political and social climate is choosing for me, without my permission, the comfortable echo chamber, where even though I hear kindred thoughts, I miss some of the kindred spirits who didn’t share them.

In other words, I am becoming increasingly isolated from liberal ideas because it is much harder these days to have a civil conversation. And yet I have very good, very decent, liberal friends, like Robin and Donna, Jennie and David, John and Victor, who would never in a million years write about the rape of children in the same breath as they wish death on a president they can’t stand.  They make me realize that this is not a partisan disease, even though many of my conservative friends urge me to see “the other side” as the enemy.

 

I have to admit that these past two weeks, the “other side” has been Dixie to my Union, the Axis powers to my Allies, guillotine-wielding Jacobins to my aristocracy.  The Democrats, for whom I have vowed to never again cast a vote, have morphed into a caricature of their former selves in their duplicitous crusade to destroy a man and his reputation. I see nothing there that reminds me of the party I belonged to for 37 years. But that is political, and I understand that there are just as many Democrats and liberals who read my words defending Brett Kavanaugh last week and felt the same revulsion for me that I feel for the despicable assault on the judge.

I would sincerely hope that even they, disgusted with our president and with the people he has chosen to represent him in the cabinet and now on the court, would recoil from the suggestion that my hypothetical children and the children of Kavanaugh supporters should be raped.

 

You might say that this is anger speaking, and of course it is. But the appropriate place for that anger to burn is in the deep and quiet recesses of the mind, hidden from view. That we have now reached the point that assaulted children are considered appropriate conversational tender sterilizes the soul and induces a nausea that can’t be eliminated by blocking the person who dares to write the words.

And not even the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice will make it better.

http://www2.philly.com/philly/columnists/christine_flowers/facebook-social-media-civility-conversation-20181004.html

RESPONSE from ESHRINK

Dear Ms. Flowers:

Perhaps you are right that we should limit discourse on the subject of sexual assault on children, after all hiding  such incidents has worked quite well for the Catholic church [editors note: the movie Spotlight is a peek into the importance of a free press and the commitment real reporters have to exposing the truth].  However; you should be congratulated on your effective use of the time honored strategy of blaming the victim, or even better to further politicize it by holding democrats responsible.  Little wonder that you “feel revulsion for the….despicable assault on the judge.”  After all he has lived a life of privilege and as he frequently reminded us was an honor student at Yale, which should immunize him from any such accusations.

As a recently retired psychiatrist I have many memories of times spent with patients who have been unable to dismiss the pain from having been violated, often as children.  That pain often results in a lifetime of impairment.  Dr. Ford’s story was very familiar to me as was Kavanaugh’s response, which was to release an explosion of suppressed rage.  His behavior has been excused by his supporters who suggest he has a right to be angry however;  were he seen by me as a patient I would consider him a good candidate for anger management training.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those “liberal democrats” who would very much enjoy having that “civil conversation” which you say is lacking in your life.

SCARY STUFF

Last night, I completed reading a book of horrors by Craig Unger which easily surpasses the novels of Stephen King in scariness. It is titled HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN. Unger chronicles the rise of Putin arm and arm with the Russian mafia who were rewarded with vast sums of riches to become the world’s richest and most famous oligarchs. He likewise explains how the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed unemployed highly trained KGB operatives to become international criminals with the blessing of their comrade in arms, Putin. Privatization of the country’s businesses allowed him to pass out the country’s assets to his KGB buddies. In return they were to engage in traditional information gathering, but also make themselves available to provide disinformation with the goal of fomenting chaos and confusion throughout the world. They were also valuable as assassins who were able to squelch dissent in the good old-fashioned KGB manner.
HOW TO GET IT BACK
According to Unger, Putin was obsessed with returning Russia to a position of world power, but the breakup of the union left his country in a weakened condition. His solution was to develop a strategy of infiltration of other governments and make use of the limited resources remaining to gain influence abroad and weaken or even destroy alliances which were not friendly to Russia. The purchase of such influence was expensive, but Putin preferred investing in his plan than in his people. He also had available a cadre of thugs with considerable expertise in the art of turning enemies into assets by other means such as setting them up for blackmail. They had also become expert in assessing individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Although not averse to using tried and tested Stalinist tactics to gain and remain in power, Putin’s genius lay in his recognition early on as to the value of the internet to sow seeds of discontent inexpensively.
FRIEND OF THE FAMILY?
The author writes extensively of Donald Trump’s connections to criminal elements and of his father whom he alleges had made use of organized criminal elements in order to bypass building regulations. However; it could be that such connections were merely accepted as the cost of doing business during a time when the Italian mafia exerted a lot of control over unions and local politicians. Early in his career, Donald is said to have become dependent upon the services of Roy Cohn, who had gained fame as Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man in the communist witch-hunt (where else have I heard that term?) of the 1950s, and for coercing Ethel Rosenberg’s brother into falsely testifying in her trial, which resulted in her execution in the electric chair (not one of the U.S. Halls of Justice’s finest hours). He also was the consigliere for the Gambinos and Genoveses, New York’s most prominent crime families. Additionally, the author reports that Trump’s current spokesperson, Kelly Ann Conway is said to be the granddaughter of a known mafioso. Although one should not be punished for the sins of one’s father or grandfather, one can’t help but wonder as to her views on law and order. Trump is not accused of criminal activities in this book; however, as has been said many times: “if you sleep with dogs you risk having fleas.”
IT’S NO GOOD IF YOU CAN’T SPEND IT
As the oligarchs created by Putin continued to rip off their homeland, they faced a dilemma regarding what to do with all of that money. Their economy was unstable; they wished to launder their money, preferring the dollar to the ruble. Both real estate and gambling were good venues for such activities and many of these dudes became Donald Trump’s best customers, spending millions of dollars on the purchase of his lavish apartments, including many in Trump tower, and his Trump World Tower. Trump’s Taj Mahal casino was fined $477,700 for violations of the bank secrecy act, but the records have been scrubbed as to the details of this case. It is presumed in the book that the casino’s lax oversight encouraged money laundering.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES RUN AMOCK
As presented in the book, the origins of the invasion of the US by the Russian mafia is a good example of the maxim that “no good deed goes unpunished.”  During the cold war, immigration rules were relaxed for Russian Jews due to reports of their harsh treatment and incarceration. This provided an opportunity for the Russian government to unload its worst and most violent criminals from their gulags. All the prisoners needed to do to be released and go to America was make a quick conversion to Judaism. Most of the emigres settled in New York’s Brighton Beach, an area very familiar to Trump since his father had real-estate interests there. The Russians of Brighton Beach quickly gained a reputation for outdoing the Italian mafia in violent criminal activities. They eventually became organized, and with the help of Putin’s oligarchs, organized and were able to operate internationally with a variety of talents including: murder, robbery, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, gun smuggling, human trafficking, and drugs. They also put some of their ill-gotten gains to good use with bribes to government officials in countries around the world.
KREMLIN TO THE RESCUE
Whatever had been Trump’s prior relationships to the Russians, they were solidified when they came to his aide following the bankruptcies of his Atlantic City casino businesses. Although he is said to have actually benefited financially from the bankruptcies by giving himself an enormous salary while his investors were stiffed, he had residual debt and banks would no longer finance his proposed ventures. Russia’s state-owned bank came forward with loan guarantees and he was back in business. There are also suspicions as to his knowledge of or even involvement in the money laundering by the Russians. However; Putin’s support would not end there, for according to our intelligence agencies, the Russians were heavily involved in attempts to further Trump’s political career with all manner of extremely sophisticated computer programs, which allowed them to send millions of personalized bits of misinformation to voters.
BEST BUDDIES
Trump has made it clear both in rhetoric and actions that he wants not only detente but friendship with Putin. He has stated on several occasions that friendship with Putin is a “good thing,” but some of us ask “good for whom?” Most would agree that Putin is a slick dude. While Bush looked in his eyes and judged his soul to be in the right place, he was already planning a program to eliminate dissent and political opponents the KGB way. I recall one person (wish I could remember his name) who said in response to Bush’s analysis: “Putin doesn’t have a soul, he’s KGB.”
HOW TO STIR UP FIGHTS
It is no secret that Putin laments the loss of neighboring countries with the dissolution of the Soviet Republic, and it is not a giant leap to suggest he would like to have them all back under his control. His major impediment to reaching that goal (obviously) is NATO due to its overwhelming military and economic prowess. The book lays out evidence that his stable of super-hackers have been busy not only working on our elections, but extending their “divide and conquer” strategy to other parts of the world, most notably Europe. Some believe that the Brexit problem, now threatening the cohesion of the European union was engineered by Putin’s digital army. Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War has contributed to the refugee crisis in Europe, which has resulted in squabbling between European nations and an increase in nationalistic sentiment.
It is well documented that the divisiveness we now see in the U.S. is more severe than at any time since the Civil War. As a child of both the Great Depression and World War II, I grew up in a time when camaraderie was the norm. There was dissent, but it lacked the vitriol which we now hear daily. Now adolescent school yard bickering often replaces respectful debate. Character assassinations, which in past generations could precipitate challenges to a duel, are now accepted as the norm. There are even death threats toward those with differing political views. The racism which had been tamped down in the 1960s and ’70s has once again reared its ugly head.
WHY DO I WATCH THIS CRAP?
Yesterday, I was glued to the TV in spite of my revulsion. The senate Judicial Committee was convened to evaluate and confirm a candidate for the Supreme Court. Republicans had announced they would do all in their power to secure Kavanaugh’s appointment while democrats had admitted they would do everything they could to prevent it. Such decisions had been made long before the convening of the session. As we all know the Supreme Court was designed as the one institution in government that is to be totally apolitical. To further that aim such appointments were required to be approved by the entire senate, and to last a lifetime. All this was to insulate them from political pressure. Yet, here we were watching a political food fight with accusations, insults, and temper tantrums. This August body deliberated with all the decorum of a mud wrestling match. Ah, but I digress for it was my original intention to stick to a review of the book; although yesterday’s charade was an even more obvious example of how our politicians play into Putin’s hand by accentuating our differences.
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER?
As a matter of fact, Mr. Putin must be very happy with the progress he has made in disrupting alliances both here and throughout the world, thereby loosening the bonds that have limited his military adventurism. Whether unwittingly or deliberate our President’s policies have dove-tailed quite nicely with Putin’s game plan. POTUS has systematically insulted most of our friends and allies. He has whenever possible withdrawn from treaties and trade agreements, especially those which were negotiated by the Obama administration. He has actually denigrated NATO, and congratulated those members who have become more nationalistic. His isolationist policies have diminished our role as world leaders. He seems to take great stock in personal relationships in international relationships which sometimes leads him to ignore his advisers. His denial of Russian involvement in our elections has been an impediment to our development of strategies to prevent future attacks. His persistent attacks on our various institutions including the news media and even his own justice department further undermine our confidence and respect for our country. He has at times endorsed violence as a means to limit dissent.
“A FEW MILLION HERE AND A FEW MILLION THERE……”?
Trump has insisted that he has had no dealings with Russia however; in a Newsweek interview (10/01/18), Unger expands on his book narrative by reporting that in 1984 a Russian mafia member purchased 5 Trump condos for $6 million dollars and since then Trump has sold 1300 condos world wide receiving commissions of 18 to 20%. Since most were bought through shell companies, Trump is able to plead ignorance of any knowledge of money laundering however; Unger asserts it strains credulity that he did not know who were the real buyers. Unger insists that the Russian mafia reports directly to Putin who is now said to be the richest man in the world. With all that in mind, Unger concludes Trump to be a Russian asset with strong connections to Putin. Other than with his verbal denials, Trump does little to refute these allegations. To the contrary, his professed admiration of Putin as a “great leader” along with his insistence that meetings with Putin and his ambassador be held in private only increase suspicions.
IT GETS WORSE
As disturbing as these suspicions may be, I found myself even more sickened by the chapter which listed in great detail those with prominent roles in our government who became involved as attorneys or lobbyists for the Russian mafia. The most disappointing was the case of Bob Dole the former Republican senator, candidate for President, and severely wounded WWII veteran. He is reported to have received a $560,000 fee to help one of the Russian billionaire oligarchs to obtain a visa to visit the US. There is also the strange case of William Sessions former director of the FBI, who had warned the world of the dangers posed by the brutal Russian Mafia, but a few years later took on as a client a Russian mob boss on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.
WHAT DO FACTS HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Since we entered the Trump era book writing about him has become a cottage industry with a new one seeming to appear every week with most painting an unfavorable opinion of him. They are summarily dismissed as fake news or left-wing propaganda promoted by left wing conspirators. However; this book is populated with dozens of unpronounceable Russian names and lists specific times and places their activities were carried out. It has an unbelievable 52 pages of references and a listing of 60 Russians he alleges to be involved along with the familiar names of Americans accused or convicted of nefarious Russian involvement. I can hardly imagine the amount of research done to produce such detail.
WAKE UP AMERICA!
For all who have an interest in learning about the vulnerabilities inherent in any democracy this is a must read. Even more importantly it illustrates that other than voting (an area in which we are sorely lacking), our best defense against authoritarianism is a free press. Those who declare the press to be an enemy of the people deserve close scrutiny in books like this.

THE OLD FARTS CLUB

My entire morning has been wasted by watching the Supreme Court hearings. At my age the supply of mornings left for me is limited therefore; I can’t afford to spend them recklessly. It was clear from the beginning that nothing worth watching would occur for as usual the two sides were lined up as in a giant tug of war, each hoping to drag the other into the mud. It would all be perfectly predictable, and since each side spoke with one voice there would be no evidence of independent thinking on either side for as journalist Walter Lippman once said: “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much”.
ME OLD?
With that in mind I decided to eschew political subjects and focus on my favorite subject, namely myself. It would also spare my conservative daughter Trudy from enduring the embarrassment caused by the writings of her radical left-wing old man. As you must have guessed from the title of this paper I have finally succumbed to the ravages of time and have accepted the fact that I am OLD. My rationale for writing this autobiographical gem is that it is to be a public service announcement designed to provide some insight as to what lies ahead for you who are fortunate enough to become old however; if it garners some sympathy for me that would be perfectly acceptable.
It is true that as an old person I have a lot of company. People are living much longer and according to the 2014 census figures there were 4 million women and 2.1 million men over the age of 80 in the U.S. (are you gals sure about that gender equality thing?). As I mentioned in a previous blog there have been unintended consequences of the increased longevity. As I mentioned in a previous blog we are now a liability since we gobble up a lot of resources and contribute little.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Actually, there is no such thing as an Old Farts Club although there should be. AARP was designed to represent us, but they have found the insurance business to be more lucrative. In spite of its name, flatulence, although favored, should not be a prerequisite for joining The Old Fart’s club, although nearly all octogenarians could satisfy that criterion. For that matter since there are so many of us who suffer from that malady why not put simethicone in our water supply as was done with fluoride. Another option is to develop a method to recover all that methane which would undoubtedly contribute to a solution of the climate change problem. Properly organized such an organization could even form a collective to negotiate the prices of non-prescription drugs which could save millions in stool softener alone, not to mention the money which could be saved on the over-priced low dose aspirin the vast majority of old farts are taking on the advice of their physicians or TV.
REALITY SUCKS
Should such an organization come into existence my membership could be easily confirmed as I would arrive with impeccable credentials. One’s bona fides must include well documented behaviors and physical characteristics including the one inferred in the title of our organization. I am sure Barb (my wife) would willingly attest to my possession of innumerable qualifiers. Denial is one of the most powerful of all the mental mechanisms, but in my case, it has been overwhelmed by reality. The evidence which I could no longer hide from myself was exposed last week as I bought a lift chair and a cane.
To give up my well worn but comfortable chair was especially poignant for me. It had offered me blessed sleep at times when I could not lie flat in bed. I had spent endless hours in it escaping from reality via stupid TV shows or reading trashy novels. It also brought up memories of times past when giggling little bodies would occupy “Papa’s chair” then run screaming in mock terror when I feigned an attack. That chair is now occupied by barb who has long coveted it. It was perfect for reading, watching, and sleeping but getting out of it had become a chore for me but a breeze for my petite and agile wife. The new chair works quite well, and I now jump up from it like a teenager. Floyd has accepted it also and seems to prefer it to the old one, but that may have to do more with his understanding of who the alpha is in our house.
TOO MUCH TO BEAR (pun intended)
I accepted my need for the chair, but to accept the need for a cane was or perhaps I should say is more difficult. Although on an intellectual level I accept my old fart status, I would prefer that others would not notice. To use a cane is like having a sign on your forehead which announces: “I am decrepit”. Barb had convinced me that a bruised ego was preferable to a broken hip, so I looked for ways to minimize my exposure. I recalled from my earlier days that some very dapper men carried a walking stick, even those who were in no need of ambulatory assistance. Such instruments could serve the same purpose as an ordinary cane, but rather than the curved handle the shaft was topped with an ornamental ball or figure usually of brass or silver. They were made to be shown off rather than hidden. I was able to locate a number of walking sticks on the internet which I thought would help to disguise my gympieness, however none were long enough for my freaky long legs. Consequently, I bought a conventional very boring cane, which I now use only when all the disabled parking spots are occupied.
AS THE GROUP DWINDLES
Fraternization becomes progressively more difficult as old farts become old old farts. One of my uncles once belonged to a group of other old guys who met for years every day when the weather permitted on a series of park benches which lined the main street of the village in which they lived. They called themselves the liars club. Shortly after my retirement, I sought to replicate this idea, but soon found that it was already too late, for there were not enough able-bodied old farts left. Although activities such as class reunions offer a chance to reminisce, one’s initial response is to wonder how all those old people got in, until suddenly reality sets in.
I WANT TO BE GROWN UP
Recently I have noticed patronizing behaviors on the part of younger people, and have worked diligently on learning to enjoy rather than feel insulted with little success. For example, I abhor being addressed as “honey” or “sweetie”. I am aware that there is a kernel of truth in the aphorism, “once a man and twice a child” but I would rather not be reminded of it. It is true that when someone offers to give me a hand as for example getting up from a chair I tend to react much as would a toddler who insists on doing something without help even though it is beyond his capabilities. The opposite more extreme and hurtful is when one is ignored as if his opinions or observations are tainted by his age.
As you who read my stuff probably realize, I am fond of all those aphorisms I learned in childhood, nevertheless I continue to often avoid making good use of such wisdoms. The “don’t cut off your nose to spite your face” tenet was violated recently when I visited a local pet shop to purchase dog food. As I was preparing to leave, the petite little girl behind the counter asked if I would like for her to carry my purchase out to the car. I responded by throwing the 40 pound bag over my shoulder as if it were a bag of feathers, marching out to my car, going home to take a couple of Tylenol while hoping the pain would only be temporary and that I wouldn’t need another back surgery.
COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE
Undoubtedly, a previously disastrous visit to that store was a contributing factor to her kind offer. On that prior visit I was accompanied by my son-in-law, and we were there to make use of the store’s dog wash facility. The visit did not begin well, for Floyd immediately decided to leave his mark by lifting his leg to wet down the display of cat toys. He then noticed another dog in the back of the store and launched an attack. Unfortunately, as he whirled around me at full speed, his leash wrapped around my legs and I ended up seated on my scrawny butt on a very hard floor. It has always mystified me that as men age their buttocks atrophy while women’s grow larger. In any event at that moment I could have used a bit of extra cushion. After I was lifted to my feet, I went about my business in true macho fashion without a whimper.
THE ADVANTAGE OF VERTICALITY
We old farts spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices and funeral homes. We are often lonely and miss those who have gone before. We are plagued with a variety of aches and pains, but in spite of its problems old age is not without its perks. As has been noted by many it enables one to get away with much unseemly stuff. Candor is usually tolerated and sometimes even admired, although when overdone will often be interpreted as a prelude to senility. Nevertheless, it is liberating to speak one’s mind with little concern as to the repercussions. It even allows some to write blogs with such tasteless titles as the one you are now reading. In recent years I have noted that much younger and often attractive young women may smile and speak to me during chance encounters. I was initially puzzled as to why these cute chicks were hitting on me until I looked in the mirror at which point It suddenly came to me that I must remind them of their grandfather. With that insight I now feel comfortable with and actually enjoy responding to such overtures in a grandfatherly way without fear of garnering the label of dirty old man.
SHOULDN’T EVEN BE HERE
On a recent visit, my doctor answered one of my questions with the statement: “when you get old things don’t function as well”. My response to this illuminating statement was: “no shit!!!” as this was not exactly breaking news. Personal experience made me aware of that great truth some time ago. This body we occupy is indeed an amazing piece of machinery. Mine has served me well and continues to do so in spite of my unrelenting abuse of it. It has survived all these years of constant abuse and only in recent years has rebelled. I have poisoned it with tobacco, an unhealthy diet and ignored its needs to function in the manner for which it was designed. In spite of the fact that it doesn’t function quite as well as it once did, I continue to function reasonably well, but more importantly enjoy and appreciate life perhaps more than I ever have. It is true that old age ain’t for sissys, but as has been said many times it certainly beats the alternative and I feel blessed to have joined the club.
P.S. I suspect my feminist daughter will note that I have used the male gender throughout my story, but this is only because the female experience may differ. Besides, in spite of my best efforts like Freud I have never understood women.

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THE LAST ONE?

 

Last week’s news was dominated by dueling funerals.  The lives of John Mccain and Aretha Franklin were celebrated with laughter and tears.  They both came from disparate backgrounds – McCain from a famous military family and Aretha the daughter of a minister in a black ghetto of Detroit.  They were both flawed, she twice a preteen mother who became addicted to alcohol and nicotine, and he a rebellious Annapolis midshipman who seemed to not have found a sense of purpose until suffering years of extreme torture as a prisoner of war.  Who could have predicted that these youngsters would be accorded such epitaphs?  She in an 8 hour funeral preceded by a week of celebration where she was feted as “the queen of soul” and a major civil rights activist.  Equally unlikely was that McCain would become an honored world-renowned political figure who nearly became President.

HOW DID IT HAPPEN?

Of particular interest to me was the transition of McCain from irresponsible hell raiser to one who came to be revered as a model of integrity.  His explanation was: “In prison I fell in love with my country”.  However; I suspect that it may be more accurate to say that he fell in love with his countrymen.  The bonding that occurs in situations where people must rely on others for their continued existence rivals that which we feel for our closest family members even our children.  Much military training is designed to encourage such bonding by doing everything as a group, marching, enduring hardship, suffering together and devising situations in which mutual dependency is essential to success.  Such bonds become so strong in combat situations that those who are forced to leave their buddies may actually grieve and request a return to combat.  After capture and his identification as the son and grandson of admirals McCain was subjected to extremely violent torture.  He credits the care received from his fellow POWs for saving his life, and he would continue to profess his love for them throughout his life.

THE GOOD AND THE NOT SO GOOD

It is not surprising that McCain would come to accept those codes of honor that were likely drilled into him ad nauseum as a child.  Mark Twain expressed it well with his statement:

“when I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around, but when I              got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned

  Whatever influences came to bear, the qualities of integrity, truthfulness, respect, courage, compassion, loyalty, devotion to duty, and humility were repetitively ascribed to this man by his eulogists.  These are all terms which could be listed under the term honor, a quality that finds particular emphasis in the military academies, and which undoubtedly was the standard expected of him as he grew up.   At some point in his life he seems to have adopted this code of honor which he attempted to apply to his political career.  He did not always behave in an honorable fashion as exemplified by his involvement in the Keating savings and loan scandal, and even worse his abandonment of his crippled first wife for a younger and more affluent one.

REMORSE HELPS

To his credit however McCain did assume responsibility for his actions expressed regrets for these dishonorable behaviors, and has sought to make amends.  He even berates himself for having broadcast a Vietnamese propaganda message after having undergone months of unbelievable torture.   Many (myself included) have disagreed with some of his positions, but his courage has only been questioned by one person – a guy who was rejected by his local draft board due to his bone spurs.

OK TO BE AFRAID

His idea of valor was: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite one’s fears”.  He was willing to take up any cause which he felt was righteous even those contrary to his party’s position.  To accomplish his goals, he was willing to work hand in hand with democrats as demonstrated by his co-sponsorship of the McCain Feingold act designed to limit the effects of big money on elections, or on an immigration bill with Ted Kennedy.  In both cases these guys were far to the left of McCain politically and these relationships did not endear him to the party elite.

GROW UP!

True to his ideal of never letting an opportunity go to waste the good Senator set about to arrange in minute detail his funeral and interment.  In my opinion, he did so with two goals in mind.  He had expressed a great deal of dismay about the divisiveness in our government consequently; he wished to set an example of how those with differing political leanings or party affiliations could come together and even be civil.  The seating arrangements sent a message that you should learn how to get along or at least tolerate each other rather than treat members of your opposite party as if they were fugitives from a Leper colony.  McCain must have enjoyed working out the seating arrangements.  I can imagine the chuckle as he seated Al Gore next to Dick Cheney.  I was heartened to see George Bush share a mint with Michelle Obama.  Of course, those of all political persuasions were invited, and the eulogists were likewise all former adversaries.

THE FUN PART

Yes, the hurrah for bipartisanship was an obvious theme, but I suspect the most delicious of his decisions was to publicly snub the one person who he has not forgiven.  It was made clear that President Donald Trump was not welcome to the party.  How this must have hurt the Donald for this is the person for whom the spotlight was invented, the guy who pushes other dignitaries out of the way in order to be front and center for the photograph at all those international meetings, the guy who demands not respect but adulation, who is on pace to wear out Air force one as he travels the country seeking crowds who will cheer him.  This is the guy who is never wrong consequently; does not need the word apology in his vocabulary.  It must have been humiliating for the greatest President in our history to be upstaged by a corpse.  Way to go John.

HE WILL BE MISSED 

In previous blogs I have expressed my concerns as to what I consider a lack of statesmanship in our government. Webster defines statesmanship as “wisdom and skill in the management of public affairs”.  It seems to me that we lack that wisdom in our congress.  Since McCain’s death and throughout this prolonged burial process I have heard many comments such as: “We will never see the likes of him again”.  That thought is indeed frightening to me for we already suffer from a deficit of the likes of him, and if there are to be no more we are in deep trouble.  For all his faults he was a statesman best exemplified by his oft quoted statement that “nothing is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself”.   Obviously were we to follow this motto many problems would be solved.  Unfortunately, such a strategy has no value in the case of those with narcissistic personality disorder for they are convinced there is no greater cause than themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!