The Day the Earth Stood Still

(a 1951 American black-and-white science fiction film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Julian Blaustein and directed by Robert Wise)

We worry about income inequality. We worry about racial injustice and prison reform. We stress out over evidence of global warming, and human rights violations, and increases in property taxes, regulations, and gun rights. Not to mention abortion, opioids, and who is going to control Congress and the White House after the next election. We obsess over these things. We worry them to death.

Until …. we cannot replenish our dwindling supply of toilet paper. Our children cannot attend school. Churches are closed.daytheearth Travel is restricted. Some of us are forbidden from leaving our homes for any reason other than to purchase necessary food or in the event of a medical emergency. Our favorite brand of gin is no longer available because the distillery is now making hand sanitizer. Staples, like flour, beans, and bread cannot be found on the shelves. Shopping hours at the local grocery store are now restricted by age group. Foreign travel is unthinkable. Real estate open houses are cancelled. Neighbors and friends are out of work or have had to shutter their business. Weddings and funerals have been cancelled. Visits to nursing homes to visit elders residing there are no longer allowed. Grandchildren are discouraged from visiting their grandparents. Nonviolent “at risk” elderly prisoners are being considered for release on humanitarian grounds. Baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, cricket, and every other spectator sport where 10 or more individuals gather to watch are cancelled. People’s life savings are nearly cut in half overnight. Libraries, zoo’s, and other public buildings are closed to the general public. Elective surgeries are cancelled. Attending childbirth is no longer possible for the father. Owners are no longer allowed to accompany their pets during visits to the veterinarian. And the list goes on.

Where is the concern now about whether Biden or Sanders wins the Democratic nomination to run for President? We wonder now whether or not we will survive to witness the next general election, or whether society will survive in any recognizable way. Our priorities have changed. Do you remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? His psychological construct seems more than a little apt today. His idea was that there is a range of psychological needs, and the most basic needs must somehow be met before the next higher level can be attained. In order from the most basic to the highest, Maslow describes the hierarchical pyramid as physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow suggests that the higher level needs are like icing on the cake – irrelevant really until and unless the more basic lower level needs are met. Before the coronavirus, it seems to me that life was pretty much lived at the top of the pyramid. Safety and the lower levels on the pyramid, in our society, were pretty much taken for granted. Now after only about 3 weeks living up close and personal with the coronavirus, we can no longer focus on the list of what seem to me to be higher level concerns summarized at the beginning of this discussion. Students on college campuses are no longer complaining about “safe spaces and micro-aggressions.” The students have all been sent home.

Overnight, the virus has reduced us to meeting our most basic physiological needs – food, clothing, and shelter (and I might add, healthcare). For the moment, most folks are in pretty good shape on clothing and shelter. But food is getting to be more of an issue with each passing day. And, healthcare is not accessible today unless you are desperately ill. Basically, in a nutshell, the “wheels have come off” life as we knew life before the virus. The experts say that the pandemic will end. A medical cure, or perhaps just an effective treatment, will bring an end to the medical emergency. But, when the crisis passes, and assuming we survive, what will remain of life as we knew it before the day the Earth stood still.

How will companies that formerly manufactured goods, provided services, and employed people get going again? Where will demand come from for their goods or services. Who will “jump start” the economy to begin the process of picking up the pieces? Will the skilled employees still be there waiting to begin work again, or will the necessities of life have forced them to move or take on other types of work? Who will want to travel again, and to go where, and for what reason? Will it still be important to people to venture out on cruises to far-away places when they have not even been able to share their grandchildren’s birthdays? How will colleges and universities be able to justify the overhead of tenure, classrooms, dorm rooms, and $50,000 annual tuitions after it has been demonstrated that students can learn effectively online from home? How will our healthcare delivery system be forever changed, having had to learn entirely new ways of taking care of people? Will telemedicine become the norm? Will people need a family doctor, or will the white coat on the computer screen at the moment be the doctor of choice for most people? How will our supply chains have changed – will we still be dependent on China, for example, for over 90% of our prescription drugs? Where will we get our essential rare-earth minerals, currently dominated by China. How will our financial institutions have changed as a result of the stresses imposed by the unprecedented breakdown of the financial “plumbing” that kept things running smoothly before the demand-shock occasioned by the virus brought all financial markets to their knees? How will societies ever repay the debt incurred by Governments all over the world in their attempts to prevent a global economic meltdown?

It is hard to see how we will ever be able to go back to the way it was before this crisis. That is scary, but it may also be good, in a way. Perspectives have been changed – some would argue in a positive direction. Appreciation for things formerly taken for granted is a good thing, it seems to me. After this is all over, when someone spots a package of toilet paper on a grocery store shelf, they might stop and think about how it got there, and maybe even how lucky they are to be able to buy it to take home. When this is over, we may no longer have to worry about the availability of essential antibiotics, almost 100% of which are currently provided at the pleasure of hostile foreign regimes. To be able to go to a sporting event, or just out to dinner, or to have friends over – these will be a little more special. As we climb Maslow’s pyramid, we will have a deeper appreciation of the underpinnings of society, I would think. The Earth will resume spinning. This is a good thing.

Memories

Memory is interesting. I am not sure how it works exactly. I mean, the conventional wisdom is that memory resides somehow in the brain, and memories can be brought to the forefront of our consciousness, triggered by a variety of stimuli. Scrapbooks, for example, warehouse all kinds of memories – photographs, letters, ribbons, locks of hair. memory brainEach of these items often opens up some pathway in the brain wiring that “gins up” associated memories. Some say that hypnosis can be very effective in helping people remember things. There are good memories, and there are bad memories.  In a posting dated back to 2007, Web MD published the following:

…There may be a good reason why most people remember exactly what they were doing when tragedies happen, like the JFK assassination or Sept. 11th, but have a hard time remembering birthdays and anniversaries. It turns out that remembering the bad times just comes more naturally.
A new study suggests that we recall bad memories more easily and in greater detail than good ones for perhaps evolutionary reasons.
Researchers say negative emotions like fear and sadness trigger increased activity in a part of the brain linked to memories. These emotionally charged memories are preserved in greater detail than happy or more neutral memories, but they may also be subject to distortion.

In this regard, I have a contrarian theory, supported only by anecdotal evidence. My theory, arising solely out of my own experience, is the exact opposite of the Web MD research findings. For me, the memories that seem triggered by some stimulus (ie. a scrapbook, scent, song, poem) are more often than not good, happy memories. There must be a superhighwaymemory highway in my brain leading to these “happy places”. Conversely, my brain pathway to painful or unhappy memories must be a winding dirt road full of potholes, gullies, and littered with fallen trees and rocks.  There is a great deal of “signal loss” along the way.

A few examples may illustrate my point. I have vivid recollections of playing with my across-the-street friends, Dave and Joe. We got into all sorts of mischief together. We never did anything seriously wrong, but we did push the limits from time to time.  We built a cave in a nearby vacant lot. That was pretty innocent, although I recall my parents not being too pleased that we chose to light the subterranean living room with candles.  We had a “clubhouse” under the stairs leading down to the basement in the house where I grew up — nothing but good memories there. We put gloves on long poles and scratched at the high windows of a small church during services across the street from my house. That was just good fun, but not appreciated by the congregation or the pastor.

We rode our bikes everywhere. Each morning at 5AM we sat on our respective front porches, sometimes in sub-freezing weather, folding newspapers which we then packed into those huge canvas bags hanging from the handlebars of our bikes, and then we set off on our own paper routes to deliver the Rocky Mountain News.memory newspaper delivery We built a pole-vaulting pit in Dave’s back yard and spent hours learning how to pole vault, using whatever garden equipment we could find as our poles. During winter, we took great joy in “hitching” on the icy streets on the way to school – hitching involved running out into the street behind a moving car, grabbing the back bumper, crouching down low (so as not to be seen in the driver’s rear view mirror), and then sliding along in our street shoes on the ice (and trying not to inhale the exhaust fumes in the process). Hitching was made somewhat more difficult by the fact that we were almost always carrying an armful of books to and from school. Our daredevil actions rarely ended poorly. Occasionally, a driver would see us or sense our presence behind his car. When that happened, we would scamper away with no fear of being caught, since the driver could not really abandon his car in the street to chase us. Occasionally, the ice on the street would abruptly end in a patch of bare pavement. In our position behind the car, we could not see this coming, and would find that our graceful glide across the ice would end with a painful road-rash as we tumbled onto the pavement. One of my friends has a remarkable, seemingly photographic memory. He recalls the fine details of escapades that I recall only as vague shadows. But, what all of these memories, both his and mine, have in common is that, generally speaking, they portray events that were positive, joyful, adventuresome, or whatever. There are lots of memory road signs along that superhighway leading to pleasant memories, but few along that horrible dirt road. I am not sure how to “square” my experience with the research study cited by WebMD, above.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of remembering unpleasant things, I must mention my friend who now, with the benefit of about 60 years of hindsight, describes some things in his life that were not so great. Not happy times for him. Difficult times. Painful times. Some of what he describes now I must have known about at the time. I have only the vaguest impression that some of his home life was, let’s say, not something he liked to talk much about. We had far more sleepovers at my house than at his – and now I have a sense why. He seems to be able to recall these painful things in amazing detail. I do not. Nor do I really recall anything similar taking place in our house. Oh sure, I remember getting in fights with my sisters. I recall my Dad giving me the “silent treatment” for something I had done wrong. I remember when our Labrador retriever died and when both parents had heart attacks. But that’s about it. My parents were not at all reluctant to spank, and although I am certain that I was spanked from time to time, I do not really remember where or why. Lots of people suffer from PTSD (“post-traumatic stress disorder”)? They have vivid memories, which they cannot seem to “shake,” of traumatic events. In many cases, these memories are totally disabling. In fact, the study cited by WebMD suggests that the negative nature of these memories is what makes them so disabling. So, I cannot explain why most of what I remember of my youth, college days, career, and parenting puts a smile on my face.

There are a few exceptions to this memory pattern for me. Going back to my middle school days, I do recall one big bad troublesome memory. I remember laying awake night after night, dreading that my father would count his golf clubs. You see, I used to play a lot of golf, and apparently (for some reason that I do not recall), I had occasion to borrow one of my father’s golf clubs for a round of golf somewhere. After the round of golf, I went to return the club to my father, only to discover to my horror that it was missing. I had lost it somewhere! I never told him. Nor, did he ever mention anything being missing (although I suspect now that he knew – probably thought that he had lost the club himself). Anyway, I could not escape that cold pit-in-the-stomach feeling that I would be found out, and punished severely. Never happened. But I clearly remember the angst. And, by my mention of it here, I obviously have not forgotten about that incident. I also remember the passing of both of my parents, but when I think today of their passing, my mind veers off of the winding dirt road onto the superhighway leading to happy thoughts of time spent duck hunting or golfing with my Dad, going to baseball games, cheering my Mom as she competed in golf tournaments, and sitting at the dining room table with them (and my sisters) for breakfast and dinner every day. My mind does not want to linger on the pain of their passing. I was unable to see my father after the stroke that claimed his life, so my last memory of him was of a seemingly healthy retired man doing what he enjoyed the most – playing cards, golfing, travelling, and hunting waterfowl. Ditto for my Mom, who died alone in her apartment (7 or 8 years after my father died), finally succumbing to the ravages of time, smoking, a bad heart, and cancer. My memories of her declining health are there, but far less vivid that my memory of her sitting at the breakfast table dressed for a round of golf, smoking a cigarette while she enjoyed breakfast and a cup of coffee with her family.
Sierra Exif JPEG

The dirt road takes me back to an incident when I was in high school. I was not really very social in high school. I had lots of friends, both male and female, but rarely dated. I knew plenty of girls, but never thought of myself as much of a “catch.” So, I focused on sports (golf, swimming, skiing), and of course, on my studies. So, I was shocked when the old rotary phone rang one evening and I found myself talking to a girl who I (and many other male friends at my school) considered a total “fox”, and a person who was generally in the center of the social scene. She was calling ME??!! Okay. What the heck? Well, she went on to explain that she had been selected, or voted, to be Queen of the Senior Prom. She wondered if I had a date for the Prom. I said “no (duh!),” so she asked if I would be her date, which I guess made me the King of the Prom. To say that I was stunned is an understatement. I agreed and then hung up the phone.memory of prom date “She likes me!”, I thought to myself, “She really likes me!!”  This was a good memory – a great memory, in fact! I immediately called Dave, Joe, and a few other close friends to say what had happened. Nobody could believe it. Hmmm… What does that say about how I was perceived by my peer group? Anyway, that is where the good memories sort-of peter out. Now, the story veers off the superhighway onto the pothole-pocked winding dirt road leading to bad memories. The details remain fuzzy (probably to spare me the pain of recalling them), but I remember taking this girl to the Prom where we were feted as Queen and (tagalong) King of the Prom, in some brief ceremony at the beginning of the evening. The Prom was being held in the gymnasium of our high school. I remember going to get us both glasses of punch from a table across the room, and when I returned, she was gone. Nowhere to be found. Someone said that she had been seen leaving the gym. What?! Why? When was she coming back? Well, deep in the recesses of my unhappy memory cache, I recall learning after the fact that she left the Prom to go out on a date with her boyfriend, who attended another high school, and who therefore could not accompany her to the Prom at our school. Until this happened, I knew nothing of this interloper.  I was apparently a “placeholder” King.  She needed a King, and I was her King-for-a-Day, or night, or whatever! Color me naïve! I recovered, but apparently, I have never forgotten. It must have left a psychic scar somewhere, and even the difficulty of traversing that winding dirt road into the darker recesses of my brain does not prevent me from recalling that evening. But not the details. How did I get home? Who else did I dance with that night? Did I leave right away, or did I “tough it out” until the end of the evening? Did people console me? Did people laugh at me? I don’t remember any of that.

Elvis Presley apparently had a wide superhighway leading to the memory bank in his brain. Here is an example, extracted from one of his popular ballads:

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine
Quiet thoughts come floating down and settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories
Sweet memories
Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilights trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you

These lyrics trigger pleasant memories of my own – great images of fall colors, warm summer days, listening to KIMN radio as I drifted off to sleep to the banter of “Pogo Poge”, the DJ broadcasting for sleepless days and nights nonstop from atop a flagpole somewhere in Denver. I remember dozing off to the sweet sounds of Carl Dobkins, Jr. singing “My Heart is an Open Book” and Pat Boone singing “Love Letters in the Sand.”  These memories come flooding back as Elvis’ song triggers a journey down that superhighway in my brain. Rarely am I sent down that dirt road.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but there are, of course, lots of country and western songs that describe unhappy times, and sad ballads. Remember this one?

You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadow on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town

Or, how about,

Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more

I guess that second song does make me think about my earlier high school Prom experience. But generally speaking, it seems that even these lyrics and melodies, which describe less pleasant images and emotions, just do not stimulate much of a trip down my dirt road memory lane. I conclude that there is either a physical or a psychological reason why the scales of memory tend to tip in the positive direction for me. I wish that was true for those suffering from PTSD.  That is a subject too deep for this blog – perhaps for another day. For now, if memory serves, I believe I never finished sorting the socks by color in my sock drawer.

A day at the dog park

My days are pretty free and unscheduled.  Having retired, I can choose what I want to do and when to do it.  But, not entirely.  You see, Jan and I own two dogs, Tucker (white) and Tulip (red).  Both are labradoodles, and they are inseparable.  They love to be right underfoot, and they spend their mornings and early afternoons napping, or eating, or asking to be let out to stretch their legs in the back yard.  Tulip loves to chase squirrels, and we love it when she does.  Tucker not so much – he seems content to sit on the back patio and watch Tulip do all the work.  For the most part, they are easy dogs to live with, and neither Jan nor I would have it any other way.  We love their companionship.

tulipandtucker

But, starting about 2PM every day, the energy in the house starts to escalate.  The dogs begin to stir.  They start pacing back and forth and they insist on putting a paw up in my lap or nuzzling up against my leg to let me know that something is up.  Not a word is spoken.  But, the communication is very clear – “Get up and moving, Jack, and take us to the dog park!”  I try to explain to them that they need to be patient, but patience is not easy for labradoodles.  I try logic, and when logic fails, I try a stern voice.  When that fails, I resort to diverting their attention by offering them an assortment of dog treats, including peanut butter right off the spoon.

I am not just dragging my feet for the sake of making it hard on Tucker and Tulip.  I simply cannot take them to the dog park off-leash before 4PM, because that is the hour established by the Boise City Park and Recreation department for legal off-leash use of selected City parks here in Boise.  I explain that to the dogs daily, but they seem not to be persuaded.  Civil disobedience is OK with them.  To hell with the rules, they seem to say, as they both stare at me incessantly.  But, the process continues the same way every day, and both dogs know that sooner or later, I will accede to their demands.  At about 3:50PM, I begin by telling Jan that I am taking “…the D.O.G.s to the D.O.G. P.A.R.K.”  Apparently, both Tucker and Tulip can spell – they begin wagging their tales crazily when I utter those words.  I then go to the closet where I fetch a handful of plastic bags – another dead giveaway!  Now, they start barking.  I then grab my hat, and when I put it on, all hell breaks loose!  The dogs run crazily from the front door to the back door, not knowing which door I will use to take them to the car for the ride to the park.  Usually, we go out the back door, and both dogs scramble out the door and engage in a wild, and somewhat dangerous, game of “chase” in our back yard.  Or, they run full speed at me, and stop only when their forward progress is impeded by my two 73 year-old legs.  It is a process fraught with excitement for them, and danger for me.

So finally, we are in the car, where the dogs are permitted only in the back seat.  But, Tulip cheats.  Whenever I stop at a stop sign or stop light, Tulip steps onto the armrest of the driver’s seat and puts her chin on my shoulder.  She then starts licking my ear while she inches her entire body forward – “Back!”, I say.  But, my command is ignored unless and until I start the car moving again, when I must physically push Tulip back into the back seat.  This dance goes on day after day.  Tucker is mostly an observer, but from time to time, he joins in the action.  The drive to the park takes about 10 minutes, and the dogs know every stop, light, and turn along the way.  Their joy is palpable!  Soon, they will be free to run, sniff, pee, and poop with reckless abandon.  Life, for them, does not get any better than this.

As for me, I am preparing for the next phase of the daily dog park dance.  First, I note the time.  I must not arrive before 4PM.  The City decided that dogs in city parks must be on a leash before 4PM.  Moreover, dogs must be on a leash for the first 50 yards or so (the buffer-zone) after exiting the car into the park.  And, the rules do not stop there.  All dogs must be licensed, there must be a leash for every dog, and each dog owner/handler must have plastic poop bags in their possession while in the park.  There are probably more rules, but these are the ones that come to mind.  You might ask, who cares?  Why even be bothered with these stupid rules?  The answer is simple.  The dog park is visited periodically by a City dog policeman/Nazi.  dogcopThis guy is something else!  He loves writing citations ($75 per infraction, per dog, per day).  He often hides his City-owned truck around the corner and he then hides himself in the bushes adjoining the designated leash-free dog area of the park.  If someone shows up with a dog off leash at, say, 3:55PM, bingo!  The dog Nazi pops up, ticket-book in hand!  And, while he is citing you for an illegal early off-leash dog violation, he then checks to make sure that your dog is currently licensed, that the license is on the collar of the dog, that you have a leash for the dog, and that you have poop-bags at the ready.  Heaven forbid if you allowed your dogs to run into the park directly from the car, in violation of the 50-yard buffer zone rule.  If any of these are not in up to snuff, then the ticket book comes out again.  He loves his job, and he could care less whether the infraction is trivial or not.  He goes strictly “by the book.”

Knowing this, I arrive at the park, scanning the streets near the park for the dog Nazi’s pickup truck as I approach.  Seeing no sign of his truck is no guarantee that he is not there, but it helps relieve much of the anxiety.  I have explained all of this to Tulip and Tucker, and they nod their heads in agreement.  But, they have no intention of complying with the rules.  So, the minute that I open the car door with leashes in hand, both dogs jump out and race into the park at breakneck speed, breaking the 50-yard buffer zone on-leash rule.  Immediately, I think to myself, if the dog Nazi is here somewhere, I have just incurred a $150 fine, at a minimum.  But, the dogs usually cover that 50 yards in about 3 seconds, so I figure, what are the odds that we are going to get caught, right?!  So far, and for many months now, I have dodged this bullet.  But I do not want to brag.  Tomorrow could be the day of reckoning with the dog Nazi.

Next, Tucker somehow has set his body clock to ring his poop alarm the minute he is released into the park.  So, while I walk into the park and am greeted by other dog owners standing there throwing balls to their dogs with their “Chuck-it” devices, Tucker goes immediately and squats, often in the middle of the assembled humans.  These folks are dog people, so they are understanding, but in most social circles, Tucker’s behavior would be a source of some embarrassment.  Tulip, whom I have almost never seen poop, is delighted to search out the nearest squirrel or to sniff butts with the assemblage of other dogs at the park.  This is just normal dog behavior, as far as I can tell.  But it gets a little awkward for me, for the following reason.  When Tulip begins to show interest in another dog, or worse yet, when another dog begins to show interest in Tulip, Tucker makes his entrance.  He does not just poke his nose into the fray, he claims Tulip as his own by mounting and humping her incessantly until she runs to me and hides between my legs for protection.  The other “regulars” at the dog park know Tucker by this behavior – and they know him as “Humper”, not Tucker.  Jan is so mortified by Tucker’s actions that she refuses to go with us to the dog park.  One lady at the park told Jan some time ago that Tucker needed to go to some specialist she knew of to fix this once and for all.  When we explained that both Tucker and Tulip have been snipped, tied, fixed, or whatever you call it, this lady seemed unimpressed.  humpingdogsShe apparently found the dog’s behavior to be disgusting.  So, Jan said to me, “That’s it….I am done taking the dogs to this park.”  I have gotten so used to this routine that I just ignore it.  People there may think I am a bit odd, but I cannot control what they think.

Our routine then shifts into “taking a lap” around the perimeter of the area in the park designated to be off-leash by the City.  For me, this is a relatively short walk, and not worth mention, really.  For Tucker and Tulip, however, this lap can be full of fun and adventure.  First, there is the dog that lives across the chain link fence adjacent to the park.  This dog loves to taunt Tucker and Tulip by running back and forth along the fence line, barking ferociously and stimulating Tucker and Tulip into a frenzy of barking, running back and forth, and growling.  This goes on for as long as the owner of the dog on the other side of the fence allows his dog this freedom, or until I intervene to distract my dogs.  Usually, it is up to me to bring an end to this fun.  I sometimes wonder how my dogs would behave if somehow this fence was removed.  Would they still want to play with the other dog?  Would they still act like they are so tough?  Or, would Tucker just start humping Tulip, who would then run to me for protection?

Anyway, we progress around the perimeter of the park until we reach the creek which runs alongside the park on one side.  Both Tucker and Tulip are labradoodles, and Labradors are supposed to love water, right?  Well, not Tucker.  He will have nothing to do with the water.  Tulip, on the other hand, is curious about the water, but will only walk in the water if it is really shallow – she does not want her tummy to get wet.  The other dogs in the park jump into the water, frolic in the water, lie down in the water, and love the cool-down.  Tucker and Tulip cool down only by drinking from the water dishes of other dog owners who brought them intending to serve their own dogs, not mine.  But, this has been going on so long now that these other dog owners are pretty understanding – they just bring along a little bigger jug of water, knowing that Tucker and Tulip will be there.

There is one final area, however, where Tucker and Tulip truly excel.  When it comes time to leave the park, I need to leash them up to cross the 50-yard buffer zone.  Leashes also facilitate getting them to the car and inside without incident.  Other dog owners play hell trying to get their dogs to come and submit to a leash.  Our dogs are different.  All I need to do is say to Tucker and Tulip, “Come get your leashes”, and they break into an amazing grin and run like the wind to my feet, where they sit and smile at me with tails wagging like crazy.  Go figure!  I have no idea why they like this part of our daily routine so much, but they do.  Other dog owners stare in disbelief.  I just smile and say to them, “Have a nice day”.  He who laughs best, laughs last….

And, then on the way to the car, I drop the plastic poop bag into the trash barrel.  The dogs settle into the back seat where Tucker gives Tulip one more little hump, and then we all relax until we reach the first stop light – when the front seat encroachment begins anew.  Whew, I’m exhausted…..think I will go re-sort the socks by color in my sock drawer.

“I’m mad as hell and can’t take it anymore!” (The movie “Network”, Paddy Chayefsky, 1976)

Today, Jan (wife) attempted to place a reservation with AirBnB – her first time with that particular vendor.  After considerable searching, she found an attractive room in the right location at what seemed to be an affordable price — $120 per night.  She then spent additional time trying to pinpoint this place on a map and beginning the registration process, only to find that the price had increased to $123 per night while she worked on finalizing the reservation.  Fifteen minutes later, as she continued the AirBnB reservation process, the price shown had grown to $125 per night!  I guess the deal is that it is cheaper if you just look – if you actually want to stay somewhere, all bets are off!  Similarly, yesterday, she received an unsolicited email from an airline offering a special rate on a route that we frequently fly.  She attempted to secure that rate, but yes, you guessed it, when it finally came time to confirm the reservation, the rate was more than double the advertised rate.  How many times has this happened to you?  How many times have you been surprised at checkout of a hotel to find the total charges significantly higher than the nightly rate you were quoted?  Oh, sure, there is always a reason.  You know, the original rate did not include hotel taxes, or perhaps you did not understand that mandatory resort fees and/or gratuities would be added to the bill.

Why doesn’t it ever go the other way?  I am still waiting to hear those magic words – “Sir….I am pleased to inform you that we overstated the cost of your room, flight, or whatever.  We will charge you the lower price, and of course, we will ‘comp’ you another $100 for the inconvenience!”  If one looks for protection from misleading or predatory vendor practices, lawyers will always advise to get everything in writing and to read the fine print, just so that there are no misunderstandings.  If you look at the fine print that accompanies an airline ticket, or the booklet of fine print that accompanies your cruise boarding packet, you will instantly recognize the impact that lawyers have had on these documents.  I quit trying to read this stuff years ago, concluding that there is virtually nothing that the vendor could do to me, my wife, children, or my pets for which they would accept legal responsibility.  “Oh, so you say you suffered a broken neck and total body paralysis as a result of a really bad landing, or when the ship ran at full speed into the dock?”  Or, “…your rental car would not start when it came time to get your pregnant wife off to the hospital, resulting in the delivery of your first child on the front lawn, attended only by the paper boy and your 85 year-old next door neighbor!  So sorry, but that’s not on us”, they say!

These are all variations of the same  theme — offering to sell someone a product or to provide a service at one price, and then charging another higher (sometimes significantly higher) price after the purchase commitment has been made.  Caveat emptor, some say!  This is a general rule of law that says that the purchaser assumes the risk of the purchase.  The presumption underlying this concept is that the seller will take advantage of the buyer at every opportunity.  “We need consumer protection!”, cry some folks.  “We need regulations, reporting, and penalties with teeth”, they say.  To them I say, “How are you doing on stopping those crank calls by putting your name on the Government’s “do not call” list?”  I have put my name on that list multiple times, just in case it takes more than one to finally get properly registered.  Have I seen any reduction at all in the frequency of the unsolicited telephone calls?  Au contraire!  Despite my best efforts to protect myself, I seem to be getting more of these calls than ever before.

When was the last time you carried one of those coupons you received in the mail for a $12.99 oil and filter change into the nearest Jiffy Lube (or equivalent) store?  The last time I tried to use one of those coupons, I escaped with a special low price of $44.50, by the time they added surcharges for the size of my car’s engine, additives, a cabin air filter, and a few more “essentials”, none of which I had ever heard of prior to driving in with my coupon in hand.  It turns out that the $12.99 oil featured on the coupon would destroy my engine in just a few miles, they said.  In good faith, they really could not recommend it!  I could use a much better grade of oil, but the cost would be higher.  And, because my car was fairly new, they told me that I really should be using that really high-priced synthetic oil.  So much for the coupon, I grumbled to myself, as I signed up for the $44.50 oil and filter change!

Speaking of coupons, a year or so ago, I received a scratch-off game in the mail from some hard-to-identify source, offering some pretty attractive prizes.  So, coin in hand, I scratched off the 3 squares and, yes, to my amazement, I WON!  Not only did I win, but I won the grand prize, which was something like $3,500 in cash.  All I had to do was show up with the game card in hand, verify my age and identity, and they would hand me the prize money!  Well, I did not just fall off the turnip truck!  So, I carefully read the small print on the game card.  No way was I going to be hoodwinked out of my money!  Indeed, the small print contained no conditions seeming to stand in the way of collecting my $3,500.

The instructions said to go to a certain address to claim my prize.  This address turned out to be just off the freeway on the way to our cabin, so with wife Jan and the dogs in tow, on the way to the cabin, I drove to the location indicated to claim my winnings.  It turned out to be the parking lot of a struggling outlet mall on the outskirts of town.  The lot had been converted to a big new car lot, with tents, balloons, cars, and signs everywhere.  It was a hot day – very hot!  I got out of my truck, game card in hand, excited to claim my prize!  I told Jan that this would not take long, so no need to even get out of the truck.  I was not to be delayed, nor denied!  I was immediately set upon by a short, sweaty, fat man with an open collar about 3 buttons down and lots of gold and chest hair. 873115-003 Beads of sweat were pouring down from his face, making his shirt so wet that it clung to his body like a wetsuit – but I didn’t care!  He asked if I was interested in buying a car.  “Oh no”, I said.  “I am here to collect my prize money, because I won this game!”  The car salesman knew exactly what I was talking about.  He led me to the biggest tent and directed me to a large poster on an easel inside the door to the tent.  The tent was full of people sitting at card tables arranging financing for their new cars, sitting across from a cross-section of sweaty car-selling sales and finance personnel, all focused intently on their laptop computers.  My man asked to see my game card, and then he took it over to the poster, leaned over, put on his glasses, and came back to me with shocking news.  It seems that there was a small number on the bottom of the poster which must match a tiny, tiny number printed on the back of my game card.  If the two do not match, then the game card is not a winner, no matter what the scratch-off suggests.  There was no mention of this on the game card itself, although I confess that the card may have suggested that I visit some arcane website for the detailed game rules.  Anyway, without blinking an eye, the fat man handed the card back to me and explained that I was not a winner – offering no apologies for the inconvenience at all.  I suspect he had done this many times before!  But, he immediately returned to the script – “…are you sure that you are not interested in buying a new car?  We’ve got some killer deals here!”  Rage swelled up inside me!  But, I held my tongue.  I simply walked without saying a word, out the door of the tent, throwing my game card into the trash bin by the door as I left.  And, off we went to our cabin.  I wonder to this day if there was ever an actual winner of that scratch-off game – who knows, but I doubt it.

One of my favorites, and perhaps yours as well, are the satellite television vendors.  Every Sunday, our newspaper contains 4-color glossy brochures describing a variety of satellite television offerings, with free equipment, free multi-room installation, and prices that, at first glance, seem too good to be true.  The problem is, they are too good to be true.  The prices advertised are the promotional discounted 3-month (typically) prices.  After the discount period, the prices nearly double, and if you cannot afford the high prices, you are in a pickle.  You have had all the equipment installed.  You have no ready-made alternative.  And, depending on the vendor and the specific promotion, there may be early termination fees.

This subject cannot be discussed credibly without mentioning the sale of cars.  Yes, you know, when the time comes for you to purchase a new vehicle, you can get the “employee price”, or the year-end discount, or a loyal owner discount, or a first-time buyer discount, the Costco discount, or a discount because you are a combat veteran, handicapped, or because you are a particularly safe driver.  The thing is, the MSRP, which is usually the starting point, is meaningless, so the discounts are meaningless.  If and when you get past the discount deception and settle on a price for the car, then the games begin in earnest with the financing.  How about 6 months with no interest, or the first X month’s payments “on us”?  Then, after the dust settles and you drive off the lot in your shiny new ride having put only $500 down on a spiffy new $45,000 pickup truck, it will not be long until your monthly payments begin in earnest.  Remember, there is no free lunch!  Or, maybe your home mortgage loan has used up your current borrowing capacity.  Maybe you are saddled with a huge overhanging balance of student debt.  No problem, says the car salesman, I will just lease the truck to you.  That is much simpler.  Sure it is.  First, you give the salesman the keys to your current car.  Then, you put the same $500 down, you get a month “holiday” from making any payments, and then the lease payments begin.  But, wait a minute, it is not just the lease payments.  You will likely find after driving the truck for 3 years that you have fallen out of love with it.  When you go back to the dealer to turn it in on another vehicle, you may learn that not only do you have no equity in the truck being surrendered, you may well have to pay the dealer to take the damn thing back (depending on the residual value built into your lease, and also depending on the miles you have driven).  They make it so simple and pain-free at the front end – and the complications show up later!

What is to be done about all of this?  I am not exactly sure, but as I think about it, I am increasingly empathetic with the character D-Fens played by Michael Douglas in the movie “Falling Down”.  Fed up with the frustrations of modern day society that impede his every effort to get home for his daughter’s birthday party, D-Fens takes out his frustrations first by abandoning his car in the middle of stopped traffic on a freeway, then by attacking a Coke machine (with a bat), followed by an increasingly serious series of other attacks on people, places, and things.  The story does not end well for D-Fens. cokemachine That movie is reminiscent of the underlying theme of the movie “Network” – “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!”  I guess what is needed here is perspective.  What, in the big picture, is really important?  Should the fact that you know you are getting slightly screwed in any number of ways every day rob you of the joy of living that day?  If you know that there are a million potholes out there on your daily path, should that knowledge keep you from venturing out?  “Life is not always fair”, we teach our children.  Perhaps we should listen to our own teaching.  Justice is an elusive bride!  We should vote with our feet, staying away from vendors whose sales tactics are particularly offensive.  But, we should not stop living our lives in joy, nor should we spend our lives in an ill-advised effort to correct every wrong or every injustice that we see.  There just are not enough hours in the day to do that.  Yes, bait and switch exists, and examples are ubiquitous.  So what?  I will take my business, and my daily concerns, in another direction.

You’re in my space! – A story of mice and men

When Jan and I were being trained to be therapeutic foster parents, we learned a lot about taking proper care of children with severe emotional and/or psychological disorders. We also learned self-defense techniques, a bit about first-aid, and we learned where to go for help if needed. One of the things that sticks in my mind was the concept of “personal space.” If I was listening correctly, I learned that this concept is extremely important, and is culturally inculcated (great word!) in each of us. We were told that in certain cultures, people are quite comfortable conversing while nearly “nose-to-nose”. Europeans have no problem with getting up close and personal. Italians are famous for conversing with their hands, in tight quarters. In the United States, however, we tend to get very uncomfortable if someone invades our space, even if only for a minute. If that person persists, we shift into a different mode – fight or flight becomes the order of the day. This becomes particularly important when dealing with highly-vulnerable children. We were told that tensions could often be reduced by just backing away. Space is all-important. Perhaps I am a little hypersensitive on that subject. OK, so I am writing today to describe an invasion of my personal space – such an affront to my sensibilities that I have contemplated acts that would not look good on the front page of the New York Times, should WikiLeaks develop the capability to read my mind.

If you have read one of my earlier blogs (https://johnscripps.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/how-can-i-connect-squirrels-and-income-tax-preparation-in-a-brief-blog/), you will remember that I am not fond of squirrels. So, I begin this story in that context. I hope you will understand. If you are a squirrel lover, I am sure that you are still a good person – but in my view, you are misguided. You may want to stop reading at this point. Anyway, I digress. About 2 months ago, I was asleep in our downstairs bedroom at our cabin when I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of some small animal scampering back and forth. It sounded like it was upstairs, and I was able to relax thinking that a squirrel or something was just running back and forth on top of the cabin roof. It was disconcerting, though, because the sound was pretty loud, and seemingly close to where I was sleeping. Jan was in Boise, so she missed hearing the racket. I was there alone at the time. The next night, sure enough, the little fellow appeared again. Now, I was worried, because it sounded like he (or she) was inside the cabin. This constituted a serious invasion of my personal space. Action was required.
I have no “critter-cam”, so I could not determine the genus or species of the intruder, nor was I certain where he/she was in the cabin. For the purpose of this blog, I will call this animal Ratso Rizzo. I searched throughout the cabin, but to no avail. I talked myself into believing that Ratso was just having fun up on the roof. Then, when son John was up at the cabin with his family, he reported the same nocturnal riots, and worse, food was eaten out of bags left on the kitchen dining table. Animal poop was starting to auglyratppear in lots of places. A small hole had been chewed through the upstairs floor. John reported that he and others actually spotted Ratso scampering around at night. They attempted to slap him down with a broom, but to no avail. The little bastard was just too quick for them. Are you starting to understand how the concept of personal space applies here?

On my next visit to the cabin, I had hoped that our little guest had decided to move on, but no….once again, in the middle of the night, Ratso enjoyed the run of the place. So, after a visit to Home Depot, I pulled out the big guns. First, I put a nice fresh block of D-Con poison bait into a cleverly-designed plastic bait station, and I placed that station right next to the hole in the floor, upstairs in our cabin. I then brought out the really big guns – two huge snapping mousetrap devices, each large enough to dispatch an animal up to, say, 3 pounds. These are big traps! I carefully baited each of the traps with peanut butter, and I placed them where I had seen the most poops in the cabin. Then, I went to bed with a big smile on my face. I dreamt of peace and quiet returning to my personal space, only to be awakened at 3AM by the sound of the critter once again. I listened carefully for the sound of a trap snapping on the little fellow. But no — I heard no traps snapping, just scratching and running sounds, just like before. In the morning, coffee in hand, I ventured upstairs to check on my poison. I found the plastic bait station had been moved about 15 feet, and was turned upside down. Some of the poison had been eaten, but not much. To my dismay, all of the peanut butter had been eaten off the levers on the huge traps, without setting the traps off. Not a trace of peanut butter remained. I thought to myself, why you little shit! I am going to really get you now!

I spent some time thinking about how best to reclaim my space. Yes, I thought! I have the failsafe answer. I needed to make it more difficult for Ratso to eat the bait off of the trap triggers. So, I cut two little blocks of cheese, covered them with peanut butter, and I then zip-tied them to the two trap levers. No more easy-peasy dining, Mr. Rizzo! “You are going to have to work for your food”, I thought to myself. With a broad grin, I put the two big traps back where they were the night before, knowing that the critter would return for more peanut butter. I also replaced the plastic bait station by the hole in the floor, just to see what would happen. Once again, I drifted off to sleep. I was in a happy place, thinking for sure that the intruder would be enjoying his last meal on this earth that night. I awakened to the same sounds of scampering, scratching, and then more scampering. I lay still, eyes open, listening for the musical sound of a trap snapping. No such sound could be heard, though. Puzzling, I thought. The next morning was a repeat of the prior day. My trip upstairs revealed that the plastic bait station had once again been moved a great distance, and turned upside down. There was no evidence that any of the bait had been eaten, however. I think the damn critter just moved it around to mess with me! Worse yet, the little devil had managed to eat all of the peanut butter/cheese hors d’oeuvres off of the trap trigger levers, leaving the zip ties in place! This is some kind of devil rat! Lacking a wartime declaration from Congress, I used my presidential powers to declare a state of war anyway.

I went to work on the doomsday machine. First, I concluded that the plastic bait station was a joke. Ratso was just using it for some sort of sadistic sport – trying to get into my head. So, I spent no time on trying to improve its effectiveness. I concentrated on the two traps. I knew that Ratso had been trained to know not only the location of the traps, but also that the traps were seemingly harmless and contained good food. So, building on that knowledge, I started by removing the ineffective zip-ties. I then selected two big blocks of poison bait out of the D-Con package, and I got my cordless drill and drilled a nice hole through each of them. I then zip-tied the two blocks of poison tightly to the trap lever trigger arms. Do you see where I was going here? I was outsmarting the little bastard! If Ratso tugged too hard on the block of bait, he would meet his maker in a quick, but violent way. If he somehow magically was able to eat the bait out from around the zip tie and the trigger arm, then he wins, but not for long. He has eaten the forbidden fruit, so to speak. I was so proud of myself that I could not wait to put the traps back in their places and to get to bed.

It was going to be a great night – a victory for Darwinian evolution. Mind over matter! I drifted off to sleep again. And, like so many nights before, I was awakened by the sounds of scampering, scratching, and running around once again. But, this time, the sounds seemed closer, and Ratso could be heard running up and down the stairs as well as rustling some plastic bags somewhere in the house. I said to myself, “He’s in my space big-time now, but not for long!” I literally ran upstairs in the morning to check the traps. My jaw dropped. All of the bait on both traps had been carefully removed from the trigger levers, once again leaving the zip ties in place! How did Ratso do that without setting off the hair triggers of the traps?! My only solace was that I knew that the devil rodent had eaten the poison, so I was confident that my space was at least in the process of being reclaimed.

Well, this all took place several weeks ago, and we visited the cabin again this last weekend. How did this all turn out, you may be asking? Well, upon opening the door to the cabin last weekend, my eye went immediately to a section of the carpet near the downstairs bedroom door. It seems that the rodent had ripped up this section of carpet for some reason – perhaps angry that I had not been there to feed him more peanut butter, cheese, or poison. He also chewed up the wood doorframe at the base of the stairs going upstairs, and the hole in the upstairs floor was larger than it had been during my earlier visit to the cabin. My hope was that this damage was done prior to the poison doing its job. So, Jan and I went to bed expecting that we would hear nothing more in the night. We were there for 5 nights, and yes, it was quiet as can be for about 4 of the 5 nights. Then, on night number 5, I once again was awakened by the sounds of scratching, running, and scampering about. Was I dreaming? No! I got up out of bed and the sounds persisted!

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. This critter is like nothing I have ever seen! He will not die, nor leave my personal space. Ratso may be the proof that Darwin had no idea what he was talking about! I am reluctant to keep a loaded shotgun by my bedside, but that may have to be my next move. Is there such a thing as a rat whisperer? Suggestions anyone?

Guilty or Not Guilty – That Is The Question

When I sawed a corner off the windowsill in my bedroom with a “toy” saw, I am certain that my Mom or Dad said “Shame on you!”  I was guilty, and the verdict coming down from them was that I needed to feel shame about my misdeed.  Earlier, I suspect that I heard the same thing as I failed to demonstrate command of that all-important toilet training.  Guilt, and feelings of shame, starts young.  I do not know where feelings of guilt/shame fit into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but I suspect that these emotions are among the most basic in our makeup.  They are not really a need, in the same sense that hunger is a need, but they are always there, waiting to bubble up at the slightest provocation.

guilt_carry-manI grew up hearing that the Catholics had a “corner” on guilt.  They wrote the book…or so I thought.  They suffered from Original Sin, and all Catholics were sinners.  They were damned and certain to go straight to hell if they did not confess their sins at every opportunity.  Later, as I learned a bit more about things, I came to understand that not all Catholics viewed sin in the same way – there were “hard liners” and then there were good God-fearing Catholics who saw no problem cutting folks a “bit more slack”.  But, guilt and shame were always there – they were like the obnoxious dinner guests who won’t go home.  Then, to my dismay, I learned that other people, not just Catholics, were sinners – myself among them!  That realization was big trouble – not only did I misbehave as a youth, but my misbehavior was continuing, and even getting more serious, as I matured into an adult!  “Get thee behind me, Satan”, I thought!  People started telling me that I should feel guilty about things I really had never thought about.  I was now embarked on a big-time “guilt trip”!  I am not alone here.  The pervasiveness of feelings of guilt is described beautifully in this “Essay on Guilt” (by EMS, http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/645198-An-essay-on-guilt).

Guilt (gilt)n

1 the fact or state of having done wrong or committed an offence.

2 responsibility for a criminal or moral offence deserving punishment or penalty.

3 remorse or self-reproach caused by feeling that one is responsible for a wrong or an offence. 4 Arch. Sin or crime

Guilt is something I deal with every waking moment of my day. Guilt is part of me, part of my identity, a governing force in my self-narrative. I am a sufferer of guilt, a victim of guilt, a casualty of guilt. But there is no deep dark secret that explains it; it just exists inside me. I possess a limitless supply of guilt, gratuitous and needless, eager to be of service, and forcing its way into my psyche after any action. Perhaps it is an affliction, an inheritance, a neurosis or a mania woven into my unconsciousness forcing itself to be heard, rapacious in its need and beyond my command.

I do not know why this happens except I feel guilty about my life.

I feel guilt over not spending enough time with my family and friends, guilt over how I treat my body, guilt over my comfortable life and guilt over the opportunities afforded to me. Regret leads to guilt, shame breeds my guilt and reproach feeds my guilt. I feel guilty about money, about spending and not spending. I feel guilty over housework and guilty when in employed work; I am flawed by other people’s assiduity and this nourishes my guilt.

I feel guilt over my sex, because I am female and do not have a picture perfect glossy appearance. My orgies of gluttony, unwillingness to starve myself, to paint myself and change myself to suit another person’s needs worries me, I consciously reject manufactured beauty, the artifice I should embrace, and this supports my guilt but conversely vanity consumes me. My lack of progeny shames me but my lack of aspiration even more so. I am a walking contradiction. My body humiliates me on a daily basis, by its effluence, its desires, and its monthly treachery. A paragon of ignominy, I go to great lengths to conceal any evidence of this and this makes me feel guilty.

My guilt grinds me down, eats away, and crushes my spirit until I am convinced I should lock myself away, unassailable from all the guilt-inducing elements of the world but this would be futile, as I am the origin. I would do penitence for all those my guilt tells me I have hurt. I would repent fifty times, a million times over, sleepless and discordant with ineradicable guilt, a fountain inside me ready to drench my nerves and fray my mind at will, an unavoidable religiosity in my thoughts.

I do not understand those who do not suffer from guilt on a daily basis like me. They disturb me but also excite me, I am locked in reverential awe at their dissolution whilst they laugh and roll their eyes at me. Yet if I decide to rally against my guilt and commit some minor offence, a missed phone call, a slice of cake, some selfish act, their accusations of complicity weaken my resolve. My culpability haunts me.

This affliction can be used against me, as an instrument of torture, of repression, an effective deterrent and a controlling force. I am subjugated by my guilt.

I’ve seen a counselor (sic), a lady with soft eyes and an understanding expression. She asked me to list all my triggers and communicate my fears, so I did, and I watched my neurosis sink into her placid pools, to be later reflected and deflected back at me through a process of realization (sic). I failed, left her attentions and disappointment palpable in the air. Wretched with self-reproach, I never visited her again, the irony sickening me for days.

My guilt is self-punishment. My guilt is vindication. I am a purveyor of guilt. My guilt is justification. I am guilt personified, and I can’t run away from it. It is just me.

Now, I suppose that feeling guilty might be a good thing.  If guilt leads to feelings of shame, and feelings of shame cause changes in behavior or attitudes that are considered more in line with social mores, then guilt serves a useful purpose.  It keeps us pointed in more-or-less the right direction.  One might argue that the civil rights movement in the United States grew out of tremendous guilt over the treatment of African Americans, and this movement had beneficial results.  Ditto, perhaps, with women’s suffrage – and there are countless other examples of societal changes most folks would consider desirable, arising (at least in part) out of feelings of guilt.

But, there is a flip-side to this coin.  I am not sure that making me feel guilty about having had a toilet training “accident” did much to solve the problem.  That is a trivial example, but I suggest that the raining down, day after day, of accusations of guilt can have really detrimental (even counterproductive) psychological results.  There is a bunch of stuff out there on the internet linking depression to guilt.  Indeed, one definition of depression is anger turned inward – shame on myself!  I have wondered why rape victims are sometimes said to blame themselves.  Or, why are victims of mental illness made to feel like they are at fault for their afflictions.  Why is there such a high suicide rate among soldiers returning from armed conflict?  The psychological roots of guilt and shame, and the unfortunate consequences, are nicely summarized by Mark Zaslav, PhD. in the following excerpt, taken from Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201604/shame-and-the-pendulum-blame).

When things feel wrong who is to blame?  The very question, particularly when it seems to dominate mental life, indicates a special vulnerability to feeling judged.  As I have stated elsewhere (Zaslav, 1998), along with envy, the tendency to affix blame is often associated with defenses against feeling shame.

At the heart of the feeling of shame is a wordless, private awareness that one is deficient, fundamentally “bad” or unworthy.  This feeling is so painful that it can be experienced as an implosion of self-esteem, accompanied by fantasies of disappearing altogether or not even deserving to exist.  When feeling ashamed we instinctively turn away or hide from other people.

Clinical psychologists credit modern psychological research for the emerging understanding of shame and its connection to blaming.  But the impulse to blame in response to shame is well documented in history and literature. For example, the Genesis account in the Old Testament, written thousands of years ago, explicitly notes that the fundamental human responses to shame are to hide and direct blame.

The familiar Genesis story, in which Adam and Eve were warned against eating of the Tree of Knowledge (knowledge of what is wrong) can be viewed as a brilliant allegory for the installation and demonstration of the human capacity for shame.  After eating of the tree, and newly vulnerable to shameful self-awareness, Adam and Eve initially hid from God in response to their sense of nakedness.  When confronted for having defied God’s instructions, Adam immediately blamed Eve for tempting him, while Eve blamed the serpent.   Only a few pages later, their son Cain kills his brother Abel in a state of envious narcissistic rage, blaming his brother for having deprived him of appropriate acknowledgment for his offering to God.  This focus on shame is virtually the first, and presumably most important aspect of human nature described in the Old Testament.  The characteristic human responses to shame management were well understood in ancient wisdom.

Consciously or unconsciously, if you struggle with chronic shame you tend to experience misfortune as a negative verdict on your very sense of self. 

It is interesting to me that Zaslav goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, citing shame as “…presumably (the) most important aspect of human nature described in the Old Testament.”  He goes on to say that the natural human response to guilt/shame is to blame someone else or else to turn on yourself – to become self-critical – and I would add often depressed and dysfunctional.

This is all interesting theoretical stuff, but why am I concerned about it?  Why am I taking the time out of a beautiful sunny day to sit inside and write about such a dark subject?  Well, I suppose it is because I am bothered by the extent to which we, as a society (not just me personally) are bombarded by reasons to feel guilty about things for which we should not.  We are not guilty, but we are told that we are indeed awful people and “shame on us.”  Here is a current example.  In an editorial column in the Idaho Statesman (9/2/2016), Rabbi Dan Fink attempted to explain or describe what Jews think about Jesus.  His assertion is that Jews simply do not think about Jesus – Jesus is no more important in Jewish theological thinking than Mohammed or Buddha is to contemporary Christian theological thinking.  Point taken!  But, in making his case, Rabbi Fink says the following (http://www.idahostatesman.com/living/religion/article99584432.html):

…When I was in rabbinical school, I was taught to respond to questions about Jesus with something like this: “We Jews believe that Jesus was a rabbi or a teacher or a prophet who, in many ways, emerges out of the Jewish experience.” But that answer is apologetics, a half-truth, really, that reflected Jewish fear in the face of 2,000 years of persecution inflicted upon us in Jesus’ name. Yes, we Jews have thought of Jesus over the course of our history — but not in a religious manner. We thought of him as his followers raped and murdered and forcibly converted us. With that background, we came up with an answer to mollify our Christian neighbors. Thankfully, those days are past, at least here in the United States. I am grateful that most Jews now encounter Christians as dear friends, as colleagues, as husbands and wives and family members. Which means that it is now acceptable — no, it is a positive good — to recognize that we have profound differences in the way we approach religious life. I am happy that I can now unapologetically acknowledge that, thank God, we do not think alike.

I am aware that awful things have taken place in the name of religion in the past.  Awful things are taking place today, for the same reason.  I know that Jews were made to live in a ghetto in Rome, starting I believe at the direction of Pope Paul IV (in 1555) – for years and years and years.  That was terrible.  As a Christian, I am not proud of that, so yes, I suppose I feel some second or third-order guilt or shame.  But, I did not do it.  Rabbi Fink finds it necessary to remind the readers of the Idaho Statesman today that Christians persecuted Jews for 2,000 years, raping and murdering them, and forcibly converting them, along the way.  He then goes on to say that “all is forgiven” (my paraphrase).  But, it seems to me that at least in Rabbi Fink’s mind, all is not forgiven.  Not at all!  Otherwise, why bring it up?  This is not necessary to support his argument that Jews simply do not think of Jesus at all.  To my eye, this is just another example of a “guilt trip” being laid on folks unnecessarily and unjustifiably.  And, on top of the countless other guilt trips to which we are subjected, it is not healthy, and not at all helpful.

Let’s see – what are some other current examples of things for which I believe I am being made to feel guilty?

  1. Faith.  If I am a little nervous in an airport because a few feet away, I observe a bearded man with a backpack who is wearing long robes, I am discriminating against all people of Islamic faith.  Shame on me!  Or, if I am on alert because I am being followed down a dark street by a black man wearing a hoodie, I must be a racist.
  2. Wealth.  Wall Street versus Main Street.  The “top 1%” does not pay their fair share.  Accumulating wealth is a bad thing, so inheritance taxes should be increased.  If someone has been able to save more than enough money for a comfortable retirement, they should feel bad about having more than most folks.your-honor
  3. Success.  If we are not all equally successful, even though I had the same opportunity for success as you, then I should feel guilty about being the more successful one.  According to Bernie Sanders, if I am a large successful business, I am a threat to the working man.  Even though there might be tremendous economies of scale in my business, my company should be broken up, because the presumption is that I am abusing my economic power.
  4. Violence of War.  I should feel guilty if noncombatants are killed, even when the enemy purposefully hides in hospitals, schools, and among the general population.  I should feel guilty about the U.S. having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though the evidence is incontrovertible that our doing so saved tens of thousands of lives.  In fact, I should feel guilty about spending taxpayer dollars on armaments, period.
  5. Native Americans.  Our white ancestors treated them terribly.  I should be ashamed — it’s my fault.  They are due reparations.
  6. African Americans.  See my comments about Native Americans.
  7. Japanese Americans.  See my comments about Native Americans and African Americans.  We should not have put them in internment camps during WWII.
  8. Mexicans, undocumented.  I should feel terrible about kicking them out, even though they came into our country illegally.  We owe them education, health care, and eventually, full citizenship.  If I oppose sanctuary cities, I must be uncaring and cold-hearted.
  9. LGBT community.  They have been kept in the closet for too long.  I should feel guilty about how this community has been treated over the years.
  10. Law enforcement.  They abuse their power every time a black man dies at the hands of a white cop (“Hands up, don’t shoot”, as is decried from the pulpit in my church).  I should feel guilty about “stop and frisk”.  The City of Baltimore somehow owes the family of Freddy Gray $5 million even though our legal system has found no fault at all with the way in which he was treated by law enforcement.  Shame on me if I support law enforcement, and particularly if I am critical of this unwarranted payment of reparations.
  11. Gender.  If someone self-identifies as a member of the opposite sex, I should feel terrible about making him/her use the public restroom intended for his/her anatomical birth gender.  Indeed, abuse of gender identity is now illegal in San Francisco.  Moreover, today, the presumption of innocence no longer applies to allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination.
  12. Ethnicity.  I am white, so I cannot help discriminating against people of color.  I can never really understand people of color.  My whiteness makes me blind to racism, and if by chance I am privileged, shame on me for that.  The color of my skin brands me as a racist, period.

And the list goes on and on….  To be perfectly clear, I know I am guilty of a few things.  I will not bore you with my list of self-identified shortcomings.  My confession is of no particular interest to you, I am sure.  But, the point of this whole discourse is that I do not feel guilty about much of what I am told I should feel guilty about today – I just don’t!  And, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about not feeling guilty, either!  Moreover, I am getting a bit weary of the unwarranted use of the “blame game” to achieve social objectives – one result of which is a ferocity of class warfare, the likes of which I have never seen before.

Where wrongs exist, they need to be highlighted and righted.  But, where blame is unjustifiably directed in every-which direction 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, that simply needs to stop.  “Not guilty”, your honor!

“Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” Rossiter W. Raymond, and transcribed into a song by Carly Simon

 

Trying to write something insightful about the subject of my recent brush with death scares the heck out of me!  By way of background, on the morning of February 8, 2016, I woke up feeling refreshed and fine – just 10 days “post-op” from my earlier double hernia surgery.  If you are curious, you can read my earlier February 3, 2016 post about that whole experience.  It reads a little differently than this one.  On that beautiful Monday morning, I went about my early morning activities as normal, including meeting a repairman who came early on that day to repair our back driveway gate.  I was beginning preparations for a scuba diving trip to Belize scheduled for February 18th.  By about 3:30PM, however, while Jan was at our son’s house (since about 11:45AM) to babysit our grandchildren while the parents worked (a normal day for her as well), I found myself in excruciating abdominal pain, barely able to walk or even speak.  For lack of a better idea, and because Jan could not leave the kids alone, I mustered up the strength to dial 911 to summon an ambulance.  I knew I was in trouble.  I just did not know why, nor had I any idea of just how much trouble I was really in.

 

The ambulance arrived within 5 minutes, and I met the EMT’s at the front door, holding firm onto the doorknob to keep from falling to my knees.  They plopped me down onto a gurney, wheeled me out into the ambulance, checked vital signs, got on the radio to the hospital, and administered morphine to try to manage my pain (unsuccessfully, I might add).  Fortunately, the hospital is only about 7 or 8 blocks from our home here in Boise.  At this point in my blog, I could go into a long discussion of the exchanges with doctors in the ER, or getting more (and heavier duty) painkillers, or Jan’s arrival at the hospital, or the CAT scan, or the race down the hospital corridor as my bed was pushed at what seemed like a full run to the operating room.  I was in and out of consciousness, I believe.  So, my recollections of the hours after I arrived at the hospital are not reliable.  But, I do remember a few things clearly.  I remember a doctor’s voice (I could not see his face) saying to me after the CAT scan that, “…well, at least now we know what is wrong with you!”  I remember some doctor telling me that I was hemorrhaging out a branch of my femoral artery into my abdomen.  I remember after my second or third dose of morphine that someone said I needed fentanyl for my pain.  Parenthetically, days later, my now retired game warden brother-in-law told me that Idaho Fish and Game uses fentanyl to tranquilize elk in the wild!  I recall, though, that the fentanyl worked.  Those elk have nothing on me!  I also remember being freezing cold, and being wrapped in rolled-up warm towels as I lay in bed awaiting surgery.  Jan talks with much more clarity than me about those hours.  But even Jan had her pre-op meeting with the surgeon cut short by the surgeon stating that there was not time to talk further – that I needed surgery immediately.

 

After surgery, I was kept in the operating room until the doctors were certain that the bleeding had stopped.  They had plugged the leak by inserting a catheter into my femoral artery and snaking it up to where the problem was located, and there they inserted tiny metal micro-coils, which caused my blood to finally form a clot (a process complicated by the anti-clotting drug I take routinely for stroke prevention).  For those of you with medical training or interest, they “embolized” me.  Jan was told that I would be alright, but that I had survived a real “squeaker.”  One doctor told her that had I not called 911 when I did, I would likely not have survived to make it to the hospital at all.  The surgeon who saved my life later confided to a third party, without revealing my name or anything other than my general medical condition, that “…when that old man (his words, not mine!) arrived in the ER, he was pretty much toast!”

 

OK, so enough of the medical stuff and the drama of that day.  It has now been just over two months since February 8th.  I now feel fine, my color has returned, my strength is almost back to where it was before my bleed-out, and I feel like I ought to say something really insightful about the whole thing.  To my frustration, though, I find that my thoughts are not particularly inspiring or revealing.  I lived, then I nearly died, and now I live again.  That is my story.

reaper

What has changed for me?  That is a really tough question!  I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is faith.  Was this some sort of cruel rebirthing process?  Is my God a cruel Deity?  No, I believe in a loving God.  Was it intended (imputing motive to the Deity) to teach me something, to prepare me for something, or whatever?  I do not know.  I think too often we attribute divine purpose to what are really inexplicable life and death events.  I did not experience any of the oft-cited death or near-death visions – my life did not flash before my eyes, there was no dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, no angels, or anything like that.  I felt only pain, and I felt totally helpless and dependent on my God and the skills and wisdom of the doctors and other healthcare professionals.  But, I can say with certitude that the experience has, if anything, strengthened my faith.  Not sure why, but I know that there is something really big, and good, beyond this fragile existence of ours.  Perhaps the fragility of life is the lesson I was being taught on February 8th.  My faith was also strengthened by the outpouring of love and support from so many friends and family.  Love, to me, is faith in action, and so faith ruled the day in the weeks following my emergency ride to the hospital.

 

One thing I know for sure.  Life is precious, and not as “certain” as one might think.  My handshake with the grim reaper has altered my perspective.  As Bonnie Raitt sings “life gets more precious when there’s less of it to waste.”  “Ouch!” say those of us born before, say, 1950.  But, this has everyday implications.  Priorities change.  For me, concern over accumulation of wealth, for example, has really gone away.  I have no more interest in keeping score in that way.  Fancy cars and other toys have never been of much importance to me, but now, I really have no desire whatsoever to indulge in profligate spending.  What, you might ask, about saving for a rainy day?  Well, I respond, it was not raining on February 8th – that was a beautiful day.  I do not think that the keeper of our “life clock” pays much attention to the weather forecast.  That is not to suggest, mind you, that saving is no longer important.  It is vitally important to maintenance of quality of life.  There should always be a savings cushion.  But, saving for savings-sake makes little sense to me anymore.  Without guilt, I can now spend my children’s inheritance if I choose to do so.

 

Carpe diem, some say.  Now, I understand better why people say that.  “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a poem written by English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick in the 17th century.  Herrick understood what I am talking about.

 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

The higher he’s a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,

And, while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

You may forever tarry.

 

All of this brings me back to the quotation contained in the title of this posting – “Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”  I cannot seem to get the Carly Simon melody out of my mind as I recite this verse.  Death is nothing but the limit of our sight, sings Carly – there are seriously important implications to that assertion – and if you are a Christian, it is more than an assertion, it is a promise!  We really cannot see very far into the future, so I suppose it is logical to conclude that we should live our life on this earth as if it could end sooner, rather than later.  That applies to today, tomorrow, and every day until our eyes close for the last time.

 

I am not sure that this is particularly insightful.  But, if my health scare was of any importance at all, it was a real “priority checker.”  I need to remember that lesson every morning when I wake up, and in the evening when I go to bed, and frequently throughout each and every day.  That’s all……

View from down under……..way down under!

About 2 weeks ago, following months of low-grade localized pain in my midsection, I noticed that I seemed to be growing a new body part.  A visit to Wikipedia suggested to me that this new appendage was not only unnecessary, but under certain circumstances, could be harmful.  And, it was ugly.  It was kind-of a cross between an arm, a leg, a nose, and a bizarre reproductive organ.  It reminded me of those science-fiction movies where alien beings take over the bodies of earthlings, and you can see them slithering along under the skin before they pop out and do something really nasty.  Thinking I may be dreaming, I followed the progress of this new intruder over time – for several days, anyway.  It was not a dream, or not a good dream, anyway.  It seemed to be thriving in my “Middle Earth” region, liking the heat, humidity, or whatever.  It was growing.  And, it hurt.

 

So, with the gentle (not!) encouragement of Jan, I reluctantly made an appointment with my primary care physician – a lovely lady who generously made time in her schedule to see me the same day that I called.  Now you gents out there will understand this – I do not know what I dreaded more – the growing appendage in my midsection, or the prospect of having my lady doctor strip away every ounce of male dignity during her examination.  Sitting in her waiting room, I wondered again if I had just dreamed this thing up – that perhaps it really did not exist at all.  Maybe if I got up and went home, I could check the next day and reschedule a visit with her if the nasty little bugger was still there?  My mind was playing tricks on me – but the pain in my gut reminded me that my little friend (I will call him “Oscar”) was insisting on getting up close and personal with my lady doctor.  OK, so I stripped down to nothing and put on those blue hospital-issue shorts that are made out of recycled bandages, or something like that.  I shudder to think where that material might have come from!  The rest of my exam is likely described better in your imagination.  The shorts were useless.  Suffice it to say that the doc confirmed that Oscar was, in fact, an inguinal hernia.  My doctor didn’t just fall off the turnip truck – this was not her first rodeo!  She was certain of her diagnosis, and apparently Oscar had progressed to the stage where she felt it important to have Oscar surgically slapped-down – and the sooner the better.  So, she called a nice surgeon fellow and arranged an appointment for me with him about 3 days later.  In the meantime, my primary care doc thought it advisable to have an abdominal ultrasound done right away to reconfirm her diagnosis.  That appointment was made for the next day.

 

Now, having suffered every indignity known to man, it seemed that I had to start all over again – this time at the imaging clinic where a young lady whom I had never met before (was she, in fact, a doctor?) was to have her way with my nether regions.  This was adding insult to injury!  Once again, you know the drill – strip down, lie on your back, and submit to a gentle warm massage with some device that resembled an electric toothbrush, without the brush.  She did not even bother with the blue shorts.  She would pause, then move on, then pause again, and then move on.  I wondered if she was just toying with me?  Oscar was very patient to endure all of this, and he made no attempt to run or hide.  So, my newest lady doctor (?) friend was able to confirm on the spot that Oscar was a bad little actor needing to be bounced out of the inguinal actors’ guild.  My appointment with the surgeon was now a certainty.

 

The meeting with the surgeon went well.  This was not quite as traumatic for me, because this fellow was, in fact, a fellow.  You know guys – we have to stick together.  What is a little poking and prodding among male friends?!  But, there was a bit of a surprise coming out of this appointment.  It seems that Oscar was not alone – there was a previously-undetected Little Oscar on the other side of my nether regions.  I had a double inguinal hernia!  Oh joy!  Surgery was scheduled for the next morning – check-in at 5:30AM, surgery at 7:30AM, and then go home as soon as the docs felt I was no longer a danger to myself or anyone in close proximity.

 

Here is where my description of events gets a little fuzzy.  Not sure if it was the propofol, or the oxycodone, or what, but I have my own view of what took place in that operating room.  It may not be totally factual, but it works for me, and seems to logically fit the circumstances of my recovery.  I liken the surgical procedure, which was technically called a “laparoscopic double inguinal hernia repair with mesh”, to a tennis match at the Australian Open.  Bear with me here.  I believe that the object of this surgery was to install a tennis net, taught, from pole to pole across my abdominal wall.  Done properly, this net would then serve to keep the balls on the right side of the net, so to speak (forgive me for that!).  But, to install this thing, the game is made more interesting by the fact that the surgeon is operating blind, and instead of using short, sharp little knives, forks, and spoons, he uses these long, awkward instruments that he pokes into your stomach from faraway places, just to make the game more interestinAustralian_Open_logo.svgg.  One hole is over on the side, perhaps where the linesman sits to call faults and aces.  Or, maybe that is the players box – not really sure.  One hole is way up above my belly-button.  This would be where the baseline play originates, and where the doctor would attempt to test the integrity of the net by firing passing shots from every possible angle.  But, in order to properly install the net from these remote entry points, the awkward tools employed by the surgeon must find their way through a maze of pink things.  Sometimes, the tools get lost along the way and have to retrace their steps.  Then, they attack once again from a different angle.  Pushing and shoving sometimes results.  And, to keep the roof up so that better lob shots can be initiated from the baseline, the doctor pumps the abdomen full of gas, making a kind of quivering piñata of the whole abdominal cavity (aka Rod Laver Arena).  When the doctor is satisfied that the net is firmly in place, he simply removes his tools and then stands back – way back – as he lets the gas out of the abdominal balloon.  Easy-peasy!  No more Oscar!  No more Little Oscar!  Game, set, match.

 

I am now in day 5 of post-op recovery.  I am no longer a pretty face.  My shape is a little different, my coloring is way different, and I have an uncontrollable desire to play tennis.  But, if my sharing my story with you will ease your mind (as you or someone you love goes down this road), it will have been worth my time in writing it.  And, really, I can poke fun at the doctors, but they are amazing.  The technology is amazing, and I am really, really grateful for the medical care that I have received.

When bad things happen to good people…..what is one to do, or say…..does professional golf give us a clue?

In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote a book, the origin of which grew out of his incarceration in a concentration camp during World War II.  His theory, which he called “logotherapy”, postulated that even in the worst of conditions, the extent to which an individual could identify a positive purpose in life and then immerse ones’ self in imagining that outcome, could significantly improve his or her ability to endure the horrible conditions.  This book was entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  It has become one of the most influential and widely-read books in America, according to some sources, having sold over 12 million copies.  Examples that seem to fit Frankl’s theory pop up all the time.  In Laura Hillenbrand’s book entitled “Unbroken”, she tells the true story of Louie Zamperini during his WWII incarceration by the Japanese.  Zamperini was singled out for tortuous abuse by a particularly nasty captor – nicknamed “The Bird”.  Zamperini was beaten nearly to death by this man, and found strength in a positive purpose, a thought, a dream really, of some future day during which Zamperini and his fellow prisoners of war would rise up and capture “The Bird” and throw him off a cliff.  That might not have been a positive outcome for “The Bird”, but it surely gave Zamperini a sense of purpose when he needed it.  It was this dream that sustained Zamperini – similar to the theory postulated by Frankl in his book written shortly after the end of that same war.  Tibetan Buddhist practice includes extensive use of visualization, which is really a misnomer, since the practice centers around the focused use of one’s imagination (not eyes) to achieve heightened states of awareness, peace, and well-being.  Some believe that by positive visualization techniques, Fijian firewalkers can actually change their physiology, permitting them to walk on burning embers without suffering any injuries.  Professional golfers are often advised by their caddies (prior to hitting a shot) to “see the shot” in their mind’s eye.  Indeed, these visualization techniques are credited by many to having improved the quality of their play.  Frankl’s logotherapy has perhaps found a modern-day sports equivalent in seeking to have positive golf “swing thoughts” – particularly when the round of golf may be going badly.  All of this is interesting (perhaps not?), but gains real significance in the context of seemingly devastating life events.  These might include the loss of a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a child.  The unwanted loss of a job, while not as earth-shaking as the death of a family member, loved one, or friend , is nevertheless a deeply traumatic event.  And job loss happens all the time, all around us.  We just do not notice.

I am currently a witness to two such circumstances – admittedly not comparable in scope to the suffering endured in the concentration camps of the 1940’s, but pretty-darn serious for the folks involved.  These are two young breadwinners, both of whom have been laid-off, depriving their families of a principal source of income, not to mention casting a dark shadow over the breadwinners’ purpose(s) in life.  Although we are often advised from the pulpit that “…you are not your house, you are not your car, and you are not your job,” try to explain that to someone who has just lost their house, their car, or their job.  These are serious matters, not to be trivialized.  I know a bit about what I speak.  I too have been laid off – twice, actually – and neither time, due to any misbehavior, negligence, or ineptitude on my part.  The first time, I landed on my feet, running.  A new job was soon waiting for me, and so the trauma of that first layoff seems not so great today.  But then, six months later, I was laid off again, this time from that same job that I had just started.  What a shock!  Our family was far from being financially secure at that time, and it turned out that no jobs were waiting for me – none at all.  I looked for a job for 8 months without luck.  Jan had to go to work.  We scaled back.  Once a week, I stood in the unemployment line, seeking unemployment compensation to help make ends meet.  How could this be happening to me?  I was a Stanford MBA, for goodness sake!  My self-confidence took a big hit.  The sky had fallen.  I had no clear positive vision of the future that I could immerse myself in – I had no idea where I was headed.  I had no positive “swing thoughts.”  I felt lost, and except for Jan and my children, pretty much alone.  Church helped – a lot, actually.  Well, fast forward to today.  I ended up never getting a conventional job.  I got a job offer from myself, and found that I really liked and respected my boss(!), although he never paid me what I was really worth.  My self-employment career lasted over 25 years.  Life became, and remains, good.

But, getting from the unemployment line to a renewed sense of purpose arising from productive work was no walk in the park.  So, my mind returns to these folks who, at this very moment, have just learned that they no longer have jobs.  Perhaps they are lucky enough to have a positive Frankl-like vision of the future to which they can cling.  Both families take comfort in their faith, and perhaps that same faith provides the positive future vision that will see them through these difficult days.  I hope so.  I really do.  Scripture is full of amazing images and promises offering comfort to the afflicted (Psalm 23, just for one).  Both of these families consist of good people, and both breadwinners have focused their working efforts on doing good things for other people.  I would like to think that when their Deity takes a peek at their work here on Earth, he/she will make everything better for them, and the sooner the better.  But, there are no guarantees, right?  Millions of Jews in the concentration camps died – and did not deserve to die.  Most, too, were good people.  I have no doubt.  So, I guess Frankl’s genius was in recognizing that in terms of survivability, it was the process – the struggle – that sustained people in tough times.  If I remember my college reading, the struggle was the essence of the doctrine of existentialism.  It is all about the struggle.  It is the process of living that defines one’s self – not one’s accomplishments or track record.

All of this is kind of interesting, but leaves me with a hollow ache that there is little that I can do to help these folks who find themselves unemployed.  I am no longer “in the loop” from an employment standpoint.  I cannot caddymagically point them to a job.  My Linkedin network is largely a bunch of old retired people and definitely does not overlap with the skill set of our unemployed friends.  I would be a hell of a positive character reference, but nobody is calling me asking for my input.  I share with our unemployed friends that cold pit-in-the-stomach feeling that comes with not knowing what the future holds.  And, I ache with the knowledge of what an involuntary job loss can do to one’s sense of self.  I long for justice, but justice does not always come in our time.  So, I guess I am left with the hope that during these uncertain and scary days, our friends will be able to immerse themselves deeply in positive thoughts about positive outcomes.  Maybe the best I can do is pray that this happens for them – and if they want me alongside, to be like a caddie standing behind them encouraging positive “swing thoughts” along the way.

“Reunion lite” – a spouse’s view and reflections on my wife’s 50th year high school reunion

roundupride

My wife and I just returned yesterday from a 3-day trip back in time, and physically as well, to the site of her high school in Menlo Park, California.  There, she celebrated with over 200 former classmates their collective 50th year class reunion.  Complete with name tags featuring yearbook pictures, 1960’s music, and lots of hugging, laughing, beer, wine, food and conversation, this was a 3-day event to remember.  As a spouse, of course, I knew almost nobody.  Other spouses were in the same boat.  So, we banded together at the “spouses’ table” and have now formed a tight-knit brotherhood/sisterhood of outcasts.  We enjoyed watching our spouses and/or significant others reuniting with old boyfriends, girlfriends, club members, etc.  And, we all shared a common bond, part of which was reinforced by our age – yes, time has taken a toll on all of us, and there were really no exceptions.

All of this makes me think about what we have learned over the years.  Of course, our high school education was partly vocational (i.e. home economics, typing, auto repair) and partly designed to prepare us for college.  Most of my contemporaries, and my wife’s as well, went to college.  There, we staggered-off in a variety of directions.  We learned languages, history, geography, computer science, biology, chemistry, economics and so on – the list is unending.  We learned a lot, both in high school and in college, or at least we thought we learned a lot.  But, perhaps not.  I am reminded of the commencement address delivered by James McBride at my son’s graduation from Whitman College.  Paraphrasing McBride from the dais that day, “…Congratulations (to the graduating class) on demonstrating to the satisfaction of your peers, your professors, and the administration of Whitman College that you have learned how to pass a test!  But, beyond that, you know nothing, really.”  Whoa, I said to myself!  Can this be?  Did Whitman not teach my son anything that will really serve him well in life?!  What about his high school – Bellarmine College Preparatory?  Did Bellarmine not teach him anything except how to pass a test?  I stared at my wife with my eyes wide open and my mouth agape.  Other parents in attendance rolled their eyes as well.  We were dumbfounded!  Well, that was a few years ago, and with the passage of time, I am beginning to understand better what McBride was talking about.

You see, the more I look around me, the more I see history repeating itself, and I wonder what, if anything, we have really learned from it all.  Take World War II for example.  For those readers here who might never have dialed out on a rotary telephone, World War II was a nasty, nasty conflict.  To illustrate just how nasty it was, here are a few statistics describing that War:

World War II Statistics

Number of Americans who served in World War II

16.1 million

Average amount of time each U.S. military serviceman served overseas during WWII

16 months

Number of people worldwide who served in WWII

690,000,000

Number of of deaths sustained worldwide during WWII

72,000,000

Number of of European Jews killed during the holocaust

6,000,000

Number of U.S. troops engaged during WWII

16,112,566

Number of of American casualties during WWII

291,557

Number of of German Generals executed by Hitler

84

Number of bombs the allies dropped during WWII

3.4 million tons

Number of of U.S. soldiers that were wounded during WWII

671,846

Number of men who served on U-Boats

40,000

Number of men who served on U-Boats who never returned

30,000

Number of airplanes that US 8th Air Force shot down

6,098

Total average amount of bombs dropped by the allies each month during WWII

27,770 tons

Number of countries involved in WWII

61 countries

This War started in 1939 (some would argue a bit earlier), and it ended in 1945.  Those in attendance at my wife’s high school reunion this last weekend were likely born during, or soon after the end of this War.  Our fathers and/or mothers may well have seen the conflict up close and personal, either in Europe, North Africa, or in the Pacific.  This was the “mother of all wars”, and one which we in the United States vowed never to have to repeat.  We developed strategies (“peace through strength”, “mutual assured destruction”, etc.) all intended to prevent another war like World War II.  Now, as I look back, I am interested in what went on before that War broke out – what did we or others do wrong?  Can we identify our earlier mistakes, and maybe not repeat them?  I wonder.  I really do.

One of the principal protagonists in the period leading up to the declaration of war by Britain and France in 1939 was Neville Chamberlain, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1937 to 1940.  His governance during those years has been the subject of much discussion and study in the years after the War.  Chamberlain was at once loved, revered, and then discredited, even hated, as a result of positions he took as Prime Minister in the years leading up to Britain’s formal entry into the conflict.  A useful summary of his tenure is contained in an article entitled “The Big Question – Was Neville Chamberlain Really the Failure Portrayed by History?” (www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-big-question-was-neville-chamberlain-really-the-failure-portrayed-by-history-1774449.html).  Chamberlain’s legacy is described in this article as follows:

“… Chamberlain, Britain’s bloodhound-faced, mustachioed, wing-collared, brolly-carrying Prime Minister at its outset, has become entrenched in popular legend as the man who fatally failed to stand up to Hitler in the approach to hostilities.

What did Chamberlain do?

A year before war was finally declared over Germany’s invasion of Poland, general European hostilities nearly broke out over Hitler’s wish to seize part of Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland, a region which contained many German-speaking Czechs). In a vast blaze of publicity, the like of which had never been seen before, Chamberlain flew to Germany three times in September 1938 to stave off the conflict, and eventually, in a final meeting in Munich at the end of the month, succeeded. He got Hitler to sign a friendship agreement with Britain and flew back to wave it before cheering crowds on the Tarmac of Heston Airport (the Heathrow of those days) while declaring he had secured “peace in our time”.

But wasn’t that a good thing?

Not if you were a Czech. Chamberlain’s plan was simple – to keep Hitler from causing trouble for Britain by giving him what he wanted – in this case, the Sudetenland (which six months later became all of Czechoslovakia). He and the French Prime Minister, Edouard Daladier, persuaded the Czechs not to make a fuss while a big chunk of their country was given away to one of history’s vilest figures. Chamberlain had a name for his policy: appeasement. In his mind it seemed like a rational way of avoiding conflict. But the word has come to stand for cowardice of the basest kind, for a craven inability to stand up to bullies. Appeasement now seems dreadful, and it wasn’t even any use – a year later, war came anyway. The term and Chamberlain’s name have become virtually synonymous.

Is that a fair historical verdict?

Maybe. Maybe not. Historical verdicts are rarely the whole truth, are they? To see Neville Chamberlain as exemplifying appeasement and nothing else, to see him merely as the historical epitome of spinelessness, ignores two other factors. One is his earlier political career, and what he had done with it. The other is the question of whether or not, in September 1938, he had any choice but to act as he did.

What was interesting about Chamberlain’s earlier career?

In many ways, it had been a monument to social reform – Conservative though he was. Chamberlain came from a famous political dynasty in Birmingham: his father, Joseph (“Joe”) Chamberlain was Lord Mayor of the city and one of Britain’s leading Liberal politicians in the late 19th century (though he later allied himself with the Conservatives over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland); his half-brother, Austen Chamberlain, rose to become Conservative party leader and Chancellor of the Exchequer (though never Premier). Although Neville Chamberlain himself was also Birmingham’s Lord Mayor, he entered national politics late, in 1918, at the age of 49; but, by 1922 he was Minister of Health, a position he held twice over the succeeding years and used especially to bring in a raft of measures to promote social housing (which have now of course been entirely forgotten). He was far from being a typical Tory.

But what about appeasement? What do you mean, he might have had no choice?

We easily forget what a completely intractable problem the rise of Hitler presented other European states within the 1930s. Just how were they to deal with a man controlling Europe’s most militarized and warlike nation, who had an implacable will to dominate the whole continent? In the event, Hitler was only to be stopped by history’s most titanic war, which may have cost 25 million lives in Russia alone. But who would choose such a solution? Memories were only too fresh of the Great War, the First World War of 1914-18 in which a whole generation was slaughtered. Furthermore, there was a terror of a new weapon: the bomber aircraft. In 1938, the Committee of Imperial Defense told Chamberlain that a German bomber offensive launched against Britain would result in half a million civilian deaths within the first three weeks. The armed forces felt Britain was not ready for conflict militarily. The general public – you and me, 70 years ago – were terrified of war, and as desperate to avoid it as Chamberlain himself was. You can argue that doing anything to put it off was, as he believed, a rational choice. Certainly, when he stood on the Tarmac at Heston waving the piece of paper bearing Hitler’s signature, he was regarded as a national hero. Only a few voices, such as that of Winston Churchill, denounced appeasement as the sell-out it was. You and me were silent.

So why is Chamberlain now so reviled?

The answer, really, is because of his naivety. He was naïve in thinking that Hitler would keep his promise to make no more territorial grabs – der Führer gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia a mere six months later, and then turned to Poland, and even appeasement could not stop him then. But Chamberlain made a great parade of his naïve belief in Hitler’s goodwill. The three eve-of-destruction flights he made to Germany were a wholly new event in international politics – the first shuttle diplomacy, if you like. He had never been on a plane before in his life, but he saw, quite rightly, that this remarkable démarche would capture the public imagination, and he basked in the brief hero status it gave him. Yet the momentum of hope and expectation it engendered was so enormous that the disenchantment was all the greater when within 12 months the hope was shown to be hollow. And there was one other area where he failed disastrously – at least in the verdict of history.

What was that?

He lost the rhetoric battle. He might have had to do what he did, but his words carry a shameful echo. He spoke of poor Czechoslovakia as “a far away country of which we know nothing”. He said he had achieved “peace in our time”. He hadn’t. Contrast that with Churchill, whose great achievement in the Second World War was his rhetoric. Whenever Churchill intervened directly in the conduct of military affairs, as he frequently did, the results were disastrous. But we have forgotten that. What we remember is We Shall Fight Them On The Beaches. We remember Never Has So Much Been Owed By So Many To So Few. We remember Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat. And with Neville Chamberlain, we remember Peace In Our Time (not).

Did Chamberlain have any choice but to appease Hitler in September 1938?

Yes…

* He should have seen then that appeasement would not stop such a power-mad dictator

* A resolute show of force (with the French) might have persuaded Hitler to pull back

* His actions convinced Hitler of Britain’s weakness and encouraged him in further demands

No…

* There seemed to be no other option if full-scale war with a resurgent Germany was to be avoided

* Britain’s military forces were not ready for war anyway and the government feared a bombing campaign

* Chamberlain was reflecting widespread public opinion at the time which wanted peace”

Is there something to be learned from this story of war and peace, conflict and appeasement?  Or, is this all just an interesting historical intellectual exercise?  Let’s fast forward to today.  In so doing, I will follow with eight quotes, taken from two world leaders.  Here they are – see if you can identify the authors:

  1. …But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day.
  2. …How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.
  3. …Where the stakes are the highest, … we cannot possibly succeed without extraordinary international cooperation. Effective international police actions require the highest degree of … collaborative enforcement.
  4. …However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbors (sic), we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole (Country) in a war simply on her account.
  5. …People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.
  6. …We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing (sic) possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will.
  7. …We’re not going to baby sit a civil war.
  8. …We would fight not for the political future of a distant city, rather for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth.

1506900_10152414636617042_6975138420790843852_nWell, it looks to me at first reading like these quotes all come from one person.  They all sound to me somewhat idealistic, naive, and isolationist.  Actually, the quotes alternate between Barack Obama (starting with #1) and Neville Chamberlain.  It is hard to tell them apart.  Again, this is an interesting exercise, but what have we baby-boomers learned from history, high school, college, or whatever?  Is there a parallel today to the situation in pre-WWII Europe?  If so, what is it, or what are they?  Chamberlain/Obama?  Hitler/Putin?  Crimea/Sudetenland?  WWI/Iraq War?  Economic malaise in Britain/Economic malaise in the US and Europe?  The bomber aircraft/Suicide bombers?  Hatred of Jews/Hatred of Jews and Christians?  To my eye, there appear to be lots of parallels.  And, to my eye, we have learned nothing, really, from history.  I am starting to agree with James McBride that, notwithstanding our demonstrated ability to pass high school and college tests, we remain functionally almost illiterate when it comes to learning from history.  The implications of our historical illiteracy are disturbing, in my view.

All of that said, my wife’s high school reunion was really a lot of fun (even for this outcast).  But, I like to complain, so just don’t tell her I said so!