KingMidget's Ramblings

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Reporting From The Apocalypse (15)

It’s been more than a month since my last one of these, so this may be longer than the usual. Buckle up and take a peek if you dare…

  • COVID related matters. Knocking persistently on wood, the family remains healthy. The boys remain employed. But, there is a slight wrinkle in the force. One of my sons moved home at the beginning of June for various positive reasons. He’ll be here for a few months and then moving in with his girlfriend. He got a job as a receptionist with a vet’s office and has plans on becoming a registered vet tech and a certified dog trainer. The wrinkle is that one of his co-workers wasn’t feeling good over a week ago and was tested for the virus, and now, more than a week later, he still doesn’t have the test results. We’ve all tried to reduce our interactions with others as a result. I had some errands scheduled for yesterday — playing cards with my mom (which has become just about the only highlight of her days), and delivering coasters I made to a couple of former co-workers. I cancelled all of it. My wife isn’t going to see her 92-year-old mother until we know more. My son had a couple of dog training clients he has had to postpone and he’s not seeing his girlfriend. If this is our “best in the world” testing system …
  • General Health. I’ve written about my knee problems. They continue and are getting worse. A refresher. An MRI I had done a couple of months ago revealed that I have a slight tear in my meniscus, calcium deposits, tendonosis, and early stages of arthritis. A couple of weeks ago, after my  knee blew up again simply from me sitting in my car for a five hour drive, I had a video appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who told me she couldn’t see any surgery she could perform that would help me. I went back to my sports doc and she gave me another steroid injection. That was a week and a half ago and it’s done nothing for me. Today is day eight of my knee being painful, stiff (I can’t completely straighten it), and basically just a huge pain in the ass. I’m tired of it, but I’m trying to stay optimistic. Once this latest inflammation settles down, I’m committed to exercising in the pool and doing PT exercises … and not walking, jogging, cycling, or hiking. I’ve also made some dietary changes — almost entirely eliminated gluten from my diet, significantly ramped up my consumption of berries, taking a Turmeric supplement. All of these things are supposed to help with inflammation. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Fun Stuff. See above. Not a lot because I’m not able to do the things I expected I would be doing post-retirement. But a couple of weeks ago (before the kid’s co-worker got sick), we went to Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada to hang out with family for a couple of days. My sister is leaving California to move to Florida to live in a Jimmy Buffet themed seniors community (Insert appropriate joke here, please). We wanted to hang out one last time before she goes. As much of the family as could make it went and it was a good time. It was nice to be outdoors with family for a couple of days, with some ability to just kind of forget what’s going on. We were still relatively careful, but for at least a couple of days there was family camaraderie, laughs, shared meals (outdoors on a large deck), and time at a beautiful mountain lake.
  • Painting. My experimentation with acrylic pouring continues. I’ve been slowly working through some actual orders I got from some friends and family for different things. Most of it is coasters, but a friend asked me to make something she could put in some pottery her husband made. I painted some Christmas ornaments and old light bulbs. She asked for more. By the time I’m done, she’ll have a dozen ornaments in black, gray and white. For a black & white party she hosts during the holidays. Eight or ten orange, gray and white ornaments for the pottery, and four coasters that match those ornaments. Today I finished painting a cornhole set my son made. It was fun to do. Anything that is new (and there is so much more about this whole thing that remains new to me) is fun to try. At some point, I’ll post pictures here of all of these things. What I’m pondering now is whether I want to expand this beyond friends and family. We’ll see if I do.
  • Reading. This has really been my primary activity in recent months. At some point I want to write a post about the books I’ve been reading: Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn (about a fire that burned through Idaho and Montana in 1910, burning an estimated 3 million acres in two days), Sarah Kendzior’s two collections of essays (I wasn’t really impressed), Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (I was even less impressed with this and stopped at about the 20% point), Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (I read this around eight or nine years ago and was blown away by it and decided it was time to give it another go), Gregg Olsen’s If You Tell (a true crime story about a woman in Washington who abused, tortured and killed three people, while also abusing and torturing her own children – it’s amazing sometimes reading what people can do to others, including their own children), and Morgan Mayer’s The Cruise Ship Lost My Daughter (a cozy mystery, written under a pen name by one of my favorite writers I “met” through the WordPress blogging community). Once I’m done with Revolutionary Road, I have a collection of Yates’ short stories I’m going to give a try to and then it’s time for some history. Susannah Bianchi and I have started a regular dialogue about the books we’re reading and she loves history books and always provides recommendations. It’s time to dip into a couple of those.
  • Writing. I’ve started posting The Dime (my new title for Northville Five & Dime) over at WattPad. I post a couple of chapters every few days. Seven chapters are up and more are coming. I plan on posting all of Part One over there while I finish up Part Two. Feel free to go here, read, vote, comment and promote the hell out of the thing for me. Views, votes and comments increase the potential for it to be noticed by others on WattPad. Some initial comments I’ve received have convinced me that this is the time for me to try for an agent or a traditional publisher. But … I need to finish Part Two and put the two together as one piece to do that. It’s so close, but I keep finding reasons to avoid writing — like writing this blog post. That said, I think some of the fog in my head is dissipating. I’m hopeful of that. Now I just need to sit down and get the job done.
  • One final thing. Today is day 15 without beer. I’m a functional beeraholic and have tried to stop off and on for years. In some ways, it isn’t a huge problem. I don’t drink all day long. I know my limits if I’m going to drive. But between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 during the week and 3:00 and 7:00 on weekends or days off, I’m drinking beer. Pretty much rain or shine, through sickness and health, I drink beer. I don’t drink beer to get drunk or to blackout. I don’t drink because I need to to be able to have fun. No, I drink beer because I absolutely love the stuff. It is truly the nectar of the gods. But somewhere along the way it became a crutch, a daily crutch that helped me get through the stress that has been my life. For years, it didn’t seem to have much effect on me, but in recent years, I’ve noticed that I have less energy and more fatigue during the day, and there’s that bit of fatty liver that was discovered a couple of years ago. For those reasons, I have tried to ditch this crutch. So far, I’m 15 days in and I have no plans to do anything other than take it day by day. My hope is to keep going for at least a couple more months and then at some point in the future have a beer or two every now and then, maybe just when I go out for dinner. Or something like that. I just know that the daily consumption needs to be a thing of the past.
  • A second “one more thing.” Work. Turns out I may have a new job coming up soon. I’ll skip the details for now, but when I retired it was with the idea that I’d have to get some work at some point to supplement my pension. I cashed out some leave time that provided sufficient funds to get us through at least six months, if not more. In March, I moved an amount of money into our checking account to help bridge the gap between pension and bills. I hoped the money would last two months. July will be the fourth month and I have yet to have to move more money. The pandemic has certainly helped us reduce our spending, but if there is one thing I lose sleep over these days, it is the financial uncertainty of my current situation. So … a new job. That might just be a good thing.

What’s up with you? How are you coping?

Above all, stay healthy and safe and remember … love will find a way.

He Is and Always Will Be …

This Politico article reports that in her book about the Trump family dysfunction, Donald J. Trump “is and always will be a terrified little boy.” There is a lot of information from his childhood about why this might be so, and there certainly is plenty in his current actions to suggest that he is compensating for something, but …

I’ve worked for four elected officials over the last 18 years. As a result of that work, I also interacted with many other elected officials. And here’s what I can tell you. A lot of them, maybe most of them are compensating for something. Immaturity. Insecurity. Lack of natural intelligence. Maybe even remaining in the closet regarding one’s orientation. Maybe some learning disorders. All sorts of things.

Why is that? Because they’re human!!! We are all imperfect beings and almost all of us, if not all of us, are really, deep down, terrified children. No matter how old we get.

A different way of putting this is a concept I hadn’t heard of until sometime in the last year or two. Imposter syndrome. The way I apply that to myself is that when I got a promotion back in 2005 to General Counsel I told people that I felt like a little kid wearing his dad’s suit. In my mind, there was no way I was actually qualified for the position and for fifteen years I was convinced that a boss would one day walk into my office, sit down, and say, “Mark. I figured it out. I don’t know how you fooled people for so long, but you’re just an eight-year-old kid. We can’t have that. We’re going to have to let you go.”

While I gained confidence in my ability to do the job as the years went by, the fact remained that when I retired in February, I remained convinced that I was still an imposter. It was all pretend. An act. Somehow I managed to fool all of these people and kept a position of importance and leadership. I had them fooled!

And every single one of those elected officials? They had issues — quirks, need for attention, power trips, egos, narcissism, hidden disabilities and disorders. A couple of the four I worked for were absolutely brilliant intellectually. They could walk into any room filled with anybody and discuss any issue related to state government (and more) and present themselves credibly as the smartest person in the room.

But … they were all still incredibly human. Imperfect, with sins and weaknesses, just like you and me.

Which brings me to Trump. The problem with Trump is that he is incapable of hiding these things. He practically flouts them, he clearly has never done any work to address them, and the combination of issues he has buried deep within his mind and body are so toxic that all of that is having a hugely detrimental effect on his ability to lead, our country, and the world.

So, all people are imperfect. Why do we expect perfection in our leaders? Any sign of weakness or disorder is an opportunity to attack. I think back on the reports of JFK’s affairs and how the media back then knew about them but didn’t report on them. Maybe it’s time to re-consider that as a viable option. If we continue to demand perfection, we will continue to get what we have had for years now. Flawed people will be the only ones willing to run for these types of offices, and in some cases, maybe only deeply flawed individuals.

I know that makes no sense – in a world that demands perfection, we only get the deeply flawed – those who are so immune to self-reflection and self-analysis that they don’t realize or accept their flaws. But think about it. If you’re a good, decent person who is aware of your flaws, why would you step into this kind of battleground. It’s only the self-ignorant who would do such a thing.

All that said, one of the things I appreciated about Barack Obama is that he seemed, more than any President in my lifetime, to not fit this mold. I’m sure he has his flaws and his insecurities, but at the end of the day, he was such a good, decent man – one marriage, two incredible kids, an ability to shrug off the slings and arrows, a patience not typically seen in our “need it know” culture, and a projected aura of self-confidence that wasn’t egotistic or narcissistic, but was comforting instead. Maybe he is the last decent person we will have in the highest office in the land. One can hope otherwise. It’s interesting though that we went from him to what we have now … Trump is the ultimate antithesis to Obama in pretty much every way.

When Did Being Stupid Become A Thing

Alternative Title: I Desperately Need To Get Away From Twitter

First off, understand something. I don’t claim to be brilliant or smart or intelligent or anything beyond remarkably mediocre. I also acknowledge that I can say some pretty stupid things. But, you know, when I do and somebody points it out, I think I’m capable of recognizing and acknowledging my stupidity, and not doubling down on it.

Seems to be a dying quality in today’s modern, social media-driven world.

Yesterday, I got into a couple of arguments on Twitter. The first involved California’s voting policies. The California GOP Chairwoman posted a tweet crowing about what she claimed was successful litigation against Governor Newsom’s efforts to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in California. In responses to her tweet, she was vilified for getting all sorts of facts wrong about what actually happened.

One person who replied pointed out that Californians don’t even vote by mail. And why did this respondent believe that — because she doesn’t. She gets her ballot in the mail and then drops it off at a dropbox location on election day. Ergo, this must be how every Californian votes, right?

I pointed out to her that her description of voting in California was completely wrong. In responding to me, she asked me twice whether I even lived in California and insisted that her way of voting was the only way people vote in California. So … yes, I did my thing. I pointed out to her that five counties have been testing all mail voting for the last couple of years (I live in one of those counties) and that, with the pandemic, the Governor had decided to extend that experiment to all of California. Hence, his decision to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters — the very thing the Republican Party had sued him over and the subject of the tweet this woman had initially responded to.

And … there’s more. I found an article that cited Secretary of State statistics that showed that in 2016, before any of this mail-in voting experimentation event began, 58% of all voters cast their ballots by … drum roll, please … mailing them in.

The woman’s response to me pointing out that the voting process was actually quite different from what she had described? “Well, excuse me, that I’m not an election official.” I was about to respond with a friendly suggestion that maybe she should consider that just because she does something a particular way, doesn’t mean that everybody else does it that way. But I couldn’t. She had blocked me.

This is what passes for thoughtful, intelligent debate in a world driven by Twitter. You get to say anything you want, no matter how wrong you might be, no matter how stupid it might make you look, and somebody who tries to correct the falsehoods is criticized and then blocked.

Meanwhile, a former co-worker tweeted in response to Trump’s commutation of Stone’s sentence that it was “White Male Privilege.” I responded that it had nothing to do with WMP. Her response? That’s your opinion.

So, here’s the deal. Trump’s action, like so much of what he does, reeks with corruption, immorality, narcissism, and so much evil. I won’t ever deny that. But … but … what is it when a person of color or a woman engages in the same type of behavior? It’s corruption, immorality, narcissism, and it’s evil. It’s not POC privilege. It’s not female privilege. It’s corruption. And yes, persons of color and women engage in corrupt behavior all the time. It’s this thing with power — it corrupts and there are plenty of examples of it. In the last few years of my career I saw a whole lot of it, when all of my  bosses (the ones with the most power in the organization) were all people of color and/or women.

And so, when a white man with power engages in the same behavior, it’s not white male privilege. It’s corruption. I get it, it’s easy to just write off everything a white male does as white male privilege. Just as it’s easy for the right-wing to call every Democrat a socialist. It doesn’t make any of these conclusions true or factual. Maybe people need to try a little harder, be a little more analytical, and not just jump to snap conclusions built around buzz words and phrases that make them feel good.

Just a thought for today.

(And now … how do I get out of this habit on Twitter?)

The Dime

After months and years of delay, I’m sort of pulling the trigger on this story. Originally titled Northville Five & Dime, it’s been renamed The Dime to eliminate any issues with using the name of a real store in the town of Northville.

I had planned on publishing Part One, a novella length piece, then once I complete Part Two, publishing it separately. But while I’ve dithered on publishing Part One, I realized that Part Two is a whole lot closer to being finished than I thought. So, I’m working on that now. V-e-r-y slowly.  And while I’m doing that, I decided to see what would happen if I published Part One on WattPad, chapter by chapter.

A couple of days, I published the first two chapters. Today, I published the second two chapters. Every few days, I’ll publish a couple more chapters until Part One is up, and hope that by then I’ll have Part Two completed.

Here’s the link for the story on WattPad. Go there and read, comment, vote for it, help me generate a bit of buzz for the story.

 

The Balkanization of America

After World War I, a country that covered much of the Balkans was formed. In 1929, it was renamed as Yugoslavia. After World War II, Josip Tito established a communist-friendly government in Yugoslavia and ruled it with an iron-fist until his death in 1980. Yugoslavia consisted of six republics — Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia. Within Serbia, there were two autonomous provinces — Kosovo and Vojvodina.

After Tito’s death, Yugoslavia self-destructed and in the early 90’s descended into a brutal, inhumane civil war fought along ethnic and tribal lines. The Serbs sought to destroy and then dominate much of what had previously existed as Yugoslavia, utilizing massacres, and ethnic cleansing to achieve its ends.

Yugoslavia is considered the poster child of countries drawn along unnatural lines, forcing different peoples into the same country. Frequently, different peoples who have spent years, decades, and centuries occasionally at war with each other. Hence, the term Balkanization, which Wikipedia defines as “a pejorative geopolitical term for the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states, which are often hostile or uncooperative with one another.”

There are plenty of other examples of Balkanization around the world. Countries in Africa like the Sudan, in the Middle East like Iraq, and others. Most of these countries exist artificially based on the drawing of lines left behind by the European colonial powers which once ruled these areas. Those lines don’t follow natural routes through tribes and clans and ethnicities, allowing for like people to be governed together. Instead all too frequently, the lines were drawn to set up countries with built in opportunities for tribal and ethnic conflict. Iraq, with its Shia south, Sunni center, and Kurdish north, is a perfect example of this.

What’s different about America is that our country’s lines were not forced on us by some outside power. It is not a geographical Balkanization that exists in America. No. Instead of that, what is happening in America today is our own bastardized form of Balkanization. We are doing it to ourselves. Splitting into a multi-layered version of the Balkans under Tito, of Iraq under Saddam.

There are the red states and the blue states, and even within those two tribes, there are splits. Between the progressives and moderates in the blue states and the Tea Partiers and the moderates in the red states.

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There are the elites and the not-so-elites. The academics and scientists, media pundits and politicians, the “smart” people who live in their ivory towers and work in their comfortable offices while pontificating about how it should be, while ignoring how it really is. For the not-so-elites, the reality is about pain and worry.

There are the 1% and everybody else. The wealthy in their gated enclaves, counting their millions and billions, while the other 99% scratch and claw just to survive for another year. The former consider the latter to be unworthy and to be scorned and left to the wolves, while the latter look up at the 1% and wonder why they don’t care and hope only for some table scraps, and a reason to once again believe in the American dream.

What is really driving us apart now are the many different colors and genders and religions and … well, tribes and clans that we are fracturing into. As I quoted Andrew Sullivan in this piece:

The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.

I came of age in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I graduated from high school in 1982. The almost 40 years since has been a slow-motion descent into tribal division in this country. As Sullivan pointed out, at one time the goal of afflicted groups was to be emancipated and to be viewed, as famously stated by MLK, based on the content of their character.

While this may sound like I’m suggesting that black people didn’t want to be black, or that women didn’t want to be women, that’s not it at all. What people wanted was for those characteristics not to matter. That they wanted to be equal, to be treated fairly, to be American and not to be viewed as a colored American or a female American or a gay American — each of which includes a label that some would use to discriminate and trash.

I look at the decades long struggle for equality for the gay community in America. What turned it around was when gay people came out of the closet and showed the rest of America that they were our neighbors, our teachers, our doctors, our friends, and our family members. We didn’t get legalized gay marriage and other “rights” for homosexuals because we suddenly embraced homosexuality. We got those things because we were shown that gay people were just like us.

I’m not suggesting here that the only way afflicted groups can be accepted is to “be like us.” I don’t believe assimilation and wiping away one’s culture, one’s heritage, one’s identity is necessary. No. I believe diversity is far better than a color wheel that is made up only of shades of white. I want people of color and people from different countries who come here to retain their culture and their pride in who they are and where they come from. I want gay people to be openly gay and not have to hide anymore.

What I’m suggesting is that we have now gone beyond reason in the other direction. We are Balkanizing (I made up a word!), not along geographical lines that force different ethnicities and tribes under the same government umbrella, but along gender and racial lines, between Republicans and Democrats, and across lines of orientation and religion.  And nobody is forcing this upon us. We are doing it to ourselves. In a united nation, we are fracturing along the lines of our preferred identities, which no longer seem to reflect first and foremost being an American.

Here in America, we have blue states and red states. Enclaves and slums. Wealthy coastal areas and dying flyover country. Inner cities collapsing and suburbs with the best schools. Nobody living in one seems to want to care about the other. And each of these areas is being further divided along lines of race, gender, etc. America is fracturing. America is becoming a Yugoslavia on steroids.

The biggest problem is that nobody seems to know how to put an end to this. Our institutions no longer seem capable of leading or showing the way, of being voices of reason and moderation. Instead, they are being ripped apart by the very same thing that is dividing the rest of the country. Our politicians have lost the art of compromise and the ability to talk to each other – while some are actively trying to destroy our democratic institutions and traditions. The media has completely jumped the shark and lost any pretense of impartiality or non-partisanship – choosing instead to fan the flames of intolerance and disagreement, because, you know, it’s the ratings that matter. Our corporate heads care about the next quarterly earnings report and whether their pay and bonus will reach to the stratosphere – not about whether they are providing a livable wage and supportive work environment for their employees, who have become just as expendable as the parts that go into the widgets they produce. Our law enforcement agencies are stretched thin, to the breaking point – while more and more is expected of them. Our teachers and professors are burdened by too many demands and all too frequently are as much a part of the problem because of how they now teach our children. Our parents are too busy just trying to survive, while looking at their smart phones for the latest games and apps – while ignoring that their kids are struggling and just need some attention. And our technology, which could have been such a wonderful tool for education, information, and unity, has primarily become a megaphone for those who want division and chaos, tearing at the fabric of our nation ever more. With no end in sight.

Where does it end? When do we put aside our differences and our worst impulses and begin once again to travel along the road towards a common good, an end in which we are, imperfectly, working towards a better future for all? Cause it certainly ain’t happening now.

(Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record. But I’m losing hope that this will ever turn around.)

 

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