Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Conversation We Never Seem to Have

It goes without saying that the man who shot at Republican members of Congress, while they practiced for a charity baseball game, was a disgusting human being; I don't know anyone who would defend what he did.  But here's what else was hard to defend:  turning a tragedy into more of the same old politics. Almost as if on cue, some of my conservative followers on Twitter, along with several Republican pundits, immediately blamed "the left."  Excuse me, but the last time I checked, "the left" didn't shoot any congressmen; one angry loner with an assault rifle did that.  (Note to my Republican friends:  given all the violence in our society, I strongly doubt that only Democrats are guilty of it; and I also doubt that Republicans spend all their time reading the Bible.  Truth be told, there are violent and hateful people from both political parties; so don't be so quick to assign blame.)

There was something else that bothered me about today's senseless violence.  It's the fact that it happens so often.  Sadly, violent episodes such as workplace shootings, which are often perpetrated by a lone gunman, have become so common that many of these incidents don't even make the national news.  We don't always know why these gunmen decide to do it, just like we don't always know what their politics are.   Some of these shooters have been mentally ill.  Some were religious zealots.  Some were just angry about whatever (a boss they hated, the unfairness of life in general).  And contrary to internet myth, few of the mass shooters of the past several decades were immigrants:  most were born here, and a majority were white males.

But whatever the race or color or ideology of the shooters, we find they all had one thing in common:  they all had NO trouble getting guns, whether assault rifles or handguns; and these mass shooters all had NO trouble getting lots of ammunition.  But every time some of us try to discuss what could be done to prevent further mass violence, the conversation goes nowhere.  Why? In large part because our country and its politics are dominated by a small but influential group of "Second Amendment Absolutists."  Encouraged by the National Rifle Association, these are people who believe there should be no limitation on gun ownership, and they reject even the smallest restriction on what they see as their total right.  No matter how much gun violence out there, their answer is that more "good guys with guns" are the solution.

Of course, this answer is very beneficial for the NRA, and for the small percentage of gun owners who share the view that more is better:  I read one report from 2016 that said only three percent of American adults own half of America's guns.  Meanwhile, as soon as anyone dares to ask why the average person really needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the Absolutists scream that their rights are under attack.  And as soon as any politician dares to question why more and higher-powered weapons are a good thing, the NRA spends its money (and its considerable influence) making sure that politician is defeated in the next election.

No, I am not opposed to gun ownership, and no I am not against the Second Amendment.  I am, however, against the current extreme interpretation of it.  I have never heard one good reason why anyone other than a member of law enforcement or the military needs an assault rifle.  When such weapons were briefly banned, somehow the republic did not fall.  Sport shooters continued to compete.  Hunters continued to hunt.  I agree that banning assault weapons is not a magical cure, but when it was tried, some studies suggested it did reduce certain kinds of violent crimes.  (Common sense would dictate that not having access to semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines would result in fewer people get hit by someone attempting a mass shooting.)   

But people who love their guns don't want to have a discussion about reducing gun violence.  Any time such a discussion begins, it usually ends with both sides being incredibly frustrated.  One thing I do know:  encouraging more gun ownership is no guarantee that there will be less crime.  And another thing I know:  unless our politicians begin to show some courage and not bend to the will of the NRA, violent incidents will continue.  Pundits will choose sides, accusations will fly, and absolutely nothing will change.  Evidently, that's okay with most people, but it's not okay with me.  And what about you, dear readers?  Is the status quo okay with you?  And why is discussing ways to reduce gun violence the conversation we never seem to have? 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Attacking Reporters Needs to Stop... Now.

I never thought I'd have to write these words, but then, I never thought I'd see a president like Mr. Trump, a man who thinks it's okay to call the media "scum," "liars," and "the most dishonest people"; who has encouraged his followers to threaten journalists during rallies; and who stated that the media are "the enemy of the American people."  I understand that no one person is responsible for the current climate we are in, but the person at the top often sets the tone; and as I see it, the tone the president is setting is having profoundly negative consequences on those who work in journalism.

Here are several troubling examples.  Yesterday, the offices of a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky were shot at.  One of the reporters who works for that paper noted that he regularly receives anonymous death threats. (I am told he is not alone-- more reporters are finding this is part of being a journalist in 2017.)  And a few days ago, a reporter who was doing nothing more provocative than asking a question about the healthcare law was body-slammed by Republican candidate Greg Gianforte of Montana; Gianforte also screamed at him, and then tried to lie about it and blame the reporter, saying he was a "liberal journalist" causing trouble.  (To her credit, a reporter from Fox News saw the event and defended the journalist's version of what happened. But it didn't matter-- the Republican candidate won anyway.) The president called it a "great victory."  But I don't think it was.

What bothered me about both stories, and others involving journalists being pushed or attacked (whether physically or verbally), is the lack of outrage from most of my Republican friends.  I've read on social media that the journalist beaten up by Mr. Gianforte "deserved it," or "had it coming."  After all, isn't that how you treat a "liberal journalist"?  In a world where the president himself seems to make excuses for violence and threats against reporters, it seems to me that this isn't going to get better any time soon.  (Republicans in congress didn't cover themselves in glory either--few condemned what their candidate had done-- after all, he won, and isn't winning all that matters?)

I know what some of my Republican friends will say-- "Yes, but Democrats are just as bad."  Sorry, but I don't recall any Democratic presidential candidates in my lifetime saying that it's okay to attack a reporter.  I know that many presidents, from both parties, have disliked, or even hated, the coverage they got from the media.  But I don't recall any of them egging on a crowd or asserting that the media are the enemy of the American people-- that is how dictators and autocrats speak; and it gives permission to Mr. Trump's supporters (many of whom have already been stirred up by his harsh rhetoric) to lash out at the first reporter they see.

And by the way, when Mr. Trump accuses the mainstream press of being "fake news" or the "fake media," he is being dishonest.  Fake news refers to quotes that were never said, and events that never took place.  I have not seen mainstream reporters making up quotes or making up events when reporting on his administration. Not agreeing with the coverage doesn't make it fake.  I know he much prefers "friendly media" (Fox News, right-wing talk shows, Breitbart, etc); but again, whether he likes a story or not doesn't mean the story is fake-- and it doesn't make it okay to assault the reporters trying to cover the news.

To everyone who defended Mr. Gianforte's thuggish behavior; to everyone who agrees that reporters with allegedly liberal views deserve to be assaulted; to those who have worn shirts that say reporters should be lynched (not funny, and especially scary to black reporters); and to those who have sent around memes that make excuses for threatening reporters, you are making things worse.  I am fine about your wanting to only read right-wing blogs, or believe ridiculous conspiracy theories.  I am not fine about your belief that we don't really need a free press (or that only the journalists and commentators with whom you agree are worthy of respect).

I fear for our country if this sort of behavior continues. So, if the president won't do it, then it's up to you:  stand up for the rights of journalists and let them do their job, whether you agree with them or not.  You may think intimidating and threatening so-called "liberal" reporters is okay.  But I can assure you, it sets a terrible precedent.  It's a dangerous game the president is playing; and I beg you to put a stop to it... before we turn into a country where dissent is punished, and freedom of the press means only whatever the president wants to hear.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What I Learned From My Mother

As Mother's Day comes around again, I find myself wondering what my mother (of blessed memory) would say about the world of 2017.  I think about this often, and not just on Mother's Day-- the ways our society has changed, both for good and for bad.  When my mother died of cancer in September of 1989, the internet was not yet a dominant force in society and social media didn't exist.  In fact, as I've noted in other posts, my mother lived before instant communication was possible:  few people knew about email in the 1980s, and even fewer envisioned smartphones or texting.  (Many people still struggled to program their VCRs.)  But even if the internet or social media had been available, I doubt my mother would have used them-- she was very much a Luddite about technology, and she always preferred seeing people in person or talking with them on the phone.  She was also a big fan of writing thank-you notes or sending cards (with hand-written messages).

In 2017, there are so many new inventions that simplify our lives; but the thing my mother would marvel at the most is the difference in how we talk to each other.  She never appreciated rude behavior, and she believed children (of any age) should speak respectfully to their elders.  She loved to read, she appreciated anyone who spoke well and had a good vocabulary, and she enjoyed listening to educated people debating the issues of the day.  So, I wonder what she would say about the Trump presidency (note to readers: while my mother tended to be a liberal, my father's views leaned conservative, so I heard both perspectives when growing up).  No, I am not talking about Mr. Trump's politics-- I am talking about how he expresses himself.  My mother grew up in a time when politicians spoke very differently from how some of them speak today.

Don't get me wrong:  political campaigns were never courteous events, even in the "good old days."  As the fictional character "Mr Dooley" remarked in 1895, "Politics ain't beanbag."  But even politicians who were the most bitter rivals would not have cursed during a political speech, nor can I imagine Ronald Reagan or Lyndon Johnson (both of whom were well-acquainted with bad language), publicly expressing their beliefs about their opponents in vulgar terms.  I've remarked on this before, since I vaguely recall watching presidential debates on TV when I was a kid-- but in my mother's day, political campaigns were mainly conducted in a manner that was passionate but respectful. Society did not think kindly of a politician who lost his temper or violated social norms (like refusing to shake hands with someone).

My mother taught me that the two most important things in life were caring about others and treating others courteously.  She didn't just talk that way; she lived that way. We had some relatives (as every family does) who were not the nicest of people and who sometimes showed her no respect.  Yet she always tried to be courteous to them.  No, she wasn't a doormat and she didn't allow people to be rude.  But she tried to give them a chance to change; and if they disappointed her, she never came down to their level, nor did she get into shouting matches with them.  In her own way, she let people know when she'd heard enough, and she let them know when they had gone too far.  She was much more patient than I am; but I must admit, it was fascinating to watch her deal with people who made the mistake of underestimating her.

I did not always get along with my mother, and I know I often tried her patience.  I could be exasperating sometimes, and I know that what I wanted out of life career-wise was not what she wanted for me.  (Yes, she wanted me to be happy and to succeed, but she never understood why I wanted a career in the media; she believed a more stable occupation like teaching would be better, but she gradually came to understand that my heart was in broadcasting.)  However, more important than whether we always agreed (and what mother and daughter always do, except in movies?), I believe that I have honored her by living as she taught me to live.  She taught me to always be ready to do a mitzvah (a positive action that make the world better in some way), and she taught me to avoid being harsh or cruel in how I speak to others.  Courtesy and good manners were so important to her; and if she were alive today, I think it would sadden her that both seem to be in short supply.  So, once again, this year as every year since she died, I will do a mitzvah in her memory, and I will continue to make an effort to speak courteously.  I know I won't always succeed, but she'd want me to keep trying.  And so, I will.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I Miss My Old Friends

Every now and then, the lyrics of a song just resonate with me.  Sometimes, they remind me of an event that took place in my past:  don't we all have songs that call to mind people we loved and lost?  Sometimes, the lyrics take me back to a city I worked in:  this happens to former deejays all the time ("Oh, I remember where I was when that song came out!").  And sometimes, especially as I get older, there are songs that make me nostalgic for a different time and place.

I was watching Grey's Anatomy the other night and at the end of the episode, there was a ballad, sung by a female vocalist, and it contained these lyrics: "I miss my old friends, 'cause they know when I need them the most/ I made some new friends, and they're cool friends, but they don't know/ what I do, what I've got, who I am and who I'm not/ I miss my old friends."  I searched for the song online (the deejay in me remembers when we used to call up our favorite station, and hope the person on the air would answer the request line and play the song for us), and I found it was by Jasmine Thompson.  Of course, there was a YouTube video, as there often is (you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtM_QZvCvBc); and while it seemed to be aimed at a teen audience, as I watched it, the video brought back memories of going to amusement parks, or hanging out at the mall, and not worrying about who was president or what was being said on the news.

I don't know why the song struck a chord with me-- I usually like rock and roll, and this was a simple top-40 pop song.  Yet the lyrics, especially the distinction between my old friends and my new friends, made me think of some of the people I used to enjoy talking to, people I can't talk to anymore because they've passed away; or people who were once an important part of my life yet somehow we've gotten out of touch over the years and I have no idea how to reconnect. In a few cases, Facebook has brought some of the people I used to know back into my life, but the conversations now are very different from the ones we had back then.

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I did not grow up in an innocent time-- I was in college during an especially contentious era.  The Vietnam War was going on; and in addition to heated debates about that, there were ongoing debates about the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement.  In the midst of so many controversies, it was nice to have a few friends I could talk to, who didn't get upset if we disagreed, and who, as the song says, knew when I needed them the most.  Some were from radio and the music industry.  Several were professors of mine.  There were never a lot of them, but each one was special to me. We bonded over our shared experiences, and while I value my new friends (especially those I've met through being part of the extended family of Rush fans), I miss being able to sit and talk about the 50s and 60s with people who went through them as I did.

We're living in another contentious time now, and after 100 days of President Trump, the debates over his performance are reminiscent of the debates we all used to have about the Vietnam War.  We were all just as polarized, just as sure "our side" was right.  These days, our dismay and frustration about politics is manifested over social media, whereas back then, there were just newspapers and magazines and radio and TV.  Meanwhile, many of us who had never cared much about politics were being confronted by a world in chaos, and we could no longer ignore it.  But in those chaotic times, it was our friendships that kept us centered and helped us make sense of it all.

It feels different now.  Much as I love social media, Twitter and Facebook (or sending a text, for that matter) are no substitute for spending time with people you care about.  We're all so busy, we're all so preoccupied these days.  And while I don't miss the rigidity of the 50s or the social upheaval of the 60s, I miss that time when getting together mattered, and when friendships were conducted in person. I miss the people who helped me get through the difficult times, the ones who believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.

Truth be told, I also miss the music-- my students no longer understand when I quote lyrics from the British Invasion groups or mention some incident that any child of the 60s would know.  On the other hand, I don't miss my old life, struggling to get taken seriously in a profession where women still were not welcome, feeling like I would never become what I wanted to be.  But every so often, I finding myself thinking of the people who cared, the ones who told me to never give up. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for them.  I miss my old friends...

Monday, April 17, 2017

And Now, A Word of Scripture

A conservative friend of mine was surprised the other day by something I said to him:  we were talking about the upcoming holidays (Passover for me, Easter for him), and I mentioned in passing that I have a Bible next to my bed, right on my nightstand. Evidently, he had accepted the myth (and it is a myth) that all liberals hate religion and never read the Bible; so he was puzzled to hear that I actually had a copy nearby, and that I even like to read it.

I have two favorite verses, and if you know me, you may have heard me quote one of them (yes, as a former deejay, I often love to quote the lyrics to rock songs; but sometimes, it's nice to quote some Scripture too).  One verse I like comes from the prophet Micah, chapter 6, verse 8.  There are many translations but it basically says "For what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with your God."  For me, that means that what matters most to God are the qualities of justice, mercy and humility.  By doing justly, that means living an ethical life and not wronging others; by loving mercy, that means being willing to forgive and to show compassion, even when someone has wronged us; and walking humbly means not thinking we are so much more pious and righteous than others-- there is a tendency in all of us to judge others, and sometimes it's good to remember that we've all got faults, and nobody's perfect.  Being humble also means remembering there's always someone greater than us, and maybe if we're willing, we can learn something from that person.

My other favorite verse, which is especially useful in times like these, comes from Psalm 118, verse 24:  "This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."  What this means to me is that whether you are religious or not, every day, try to find something to be grateful for.  Every day,  try to find something to be happy about.  It's not always easy.  But it's a reminder that no matter how miserable your day might be, no matter what went wrong or who gave you a hard time or what unfair thing occurred, you are instructed to find a reason to rejoice, to find something to be glad about.

In my case, I am glad I am still cancer-free, I am glad I am employed, I am glad my husband and I have celebrated our 30th anniversary, and of course, I am glad I am part of the world-wide community of Rush fans... just to name a few things.  If you've ever been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you may have heard about having an "attitude of gratitude."  With all the things I wish were different in my life, I never forget that there's always someone who has things worse than I do, and there's always something (or someone) worth appreciating.  For example, I appreciate those of you who read my blog, and I hope this little detour into religion hasn't been boring.  There's plenty of time to discuss politics, or sports, or rock and roll.  But there's never enough time to express gratitude-- we all take far too much for granted, it seems to me.

And I know it's hard to rejoice or be glad about a world with so much anger and so many harsh words; and I'm never happy about the tendency to automatically blame people from "the other side" for everything that's wrong in society.  But as I said, we all have our faults, and we all could do with a lesson in humility every now and then, as well as a lesson in not judging others.  I'm as guilty of judging as anyone, and it's a hard habit to break.  But it's not impossible.  In fact, that's why I find reading the Bible a worthwhile pursuit-- it has plenty of practical advice, plus it reminds me of the qualities worth striving for, even when attaining them seems almost impossible.  And yes, there's a verse about that too-- see Deuteronomy 30, chapter 11: "Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it beyond your reach."  Learning to be less judgmental and more appreciative? God says it can be done; and we are the ones who should do it, humbly, a day at a time.        

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Moments to Remember

I know something now about Rush (the rock band, not the talk show host) that I did not know before. I know the date when I received that first Rush album on Moon records, the one my friend Bob Roper (then a record promoter at A&M of Canada) kindly sent me:  it was May 24, 1974, a Friday.  I marked it up with a star next to the track I thought would be the most important for the deejays to play (as you may have guessed, it was "Working Man"), and having first given it to Denny Sanders (he was on the air at the time) to see if there would be an audience reaction (there was), a couple of days later, a copy was in the bin for all of the WMMS-FM announcers to use.  And they did.

The reason I did not recall the exact date is simple:  I had no idea at the time that championing an unknown band from Canada was about to change my life. (In fact, as I noted on the album in my Music Director's comments, they were probably going to be confused with another Canadian band of that time, Mahogany Rush.)   I had no idea the band-members and I would become friends, and I had no idea that Bob Roper and I would still be in touch four decades later.  So, while I figured out that I got the album in the late Spring of 1974, the day and date never stayed with me... until someone provided me with the information, 42 years later.

As many of you know, I turned 70 on Valentine's Day, and as I get older (even though I still think of myself as young and cute), I sometimes think back on certain times and events in my past; sometimes it's to wonder if I could have done something differently, and at other times, it's to marvel at how many years later, the results of an event are still part of my life... I mean, knowing the members of Rush for nearly 43 years is pretty amazing.  But of course, at the time, I had no way of knowing how that event would turn out, or even that it would be important in the future.  I was a radio music director.  I listened to lots of albums.  It was my job.  It was fun to discover a new band, but I never expected to become friendly with the members or keep in touch for years.  It all proves you just can't predict what will happen.  

The same is true about my personal life:  for example, if you had asked me at the time, I couldn't tell you the exact day and date when I met my husband-- we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, but again, while I know where we met, I never expected we'd still be together years later, so it didn't occur to me to mark in my memory exactly when I first saw him.  Unlike movies, where meeting "the one" is accompanied by special background music, my life never did come with an orchestra, nor even a lone guitarist, to warn me that a big event was about to occur.  As my then-boyfriend and I continued to date, I was able to retroactively mark the day we first met (March 18, 1984), but again, at the time, it didn't seem like it was going to be anything unique.  When you are dating, you meet lots of folks, and it's hard to know which one will be the one you marry.  In this case, despite a few breakups and near-breakups, we ultimately did get married, and I feel blessed that we are still together.

My point is that many of life's biggest events only became noteworthy long after they have taken place.  Sometimes, it may not seem that anything important is happening, but life has a way of taking some unexpected twists and turns.  May 24, 1974 was one of those days for me, and March 18, 1984 was another.  Neither seemed unusual or noteworthy at the time, yet both have had a lasting effect on who I am and how I've lived.  And if there's a message in any of this, it's just to say don't assume you know what's going to happen.  Sometimes, a life-changing event has just taken place, but you won't know its full impact until sometime in the future. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cruelty as Public Policy

Whenever a Republican becomes president and has to propose a budget, I fully expect he will want to allocate more money for defense (whether we need it or not); and I fully expect he will want to defund both Planned Parenthood and PBS/NPR.  I will talk about why doing that is a really bad idea; but first, let me discuss one of the most cruel and callous assertions I've ever heard from any politician.

I was driving home from a meeting at work, and listening to the daily press briefing that Sean Spicer holds; the topic was President Trump's new budget proposal.  A reporter questioned whether it's a good thing to be cutting funding for grants that support early childhood education (including making sure that poor kids get something to eat, rather than trying to learn while they are hungry) and Meals on Wheels (which brings much-needed food to the elderly and shut-ins).  Spicer had turned the questions about the budget over to Mr. Trump's Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and he basically said there was no good reason to waste taxpayer money on such things.  When pressed further, he said that there is no evidence such programs produce results, and the administration just wants to fund programs that produce results.

Needless to say, I was not amused.  In fact, first I was stunned, and then I was outraged.  Please tell me:  what is a better result than making sure children and the elderly aren't going hungry?   And doesn't the Preamble to the Constitution speak about promoting the general welfare?  I can't think of a better way for the government to help its citizens than by funding programs that prevent hunger (evidently not producing enough results to be continued); or programs that provide legal aid for the poor-- which are often utilized by victims of domestic violence (also cut in Mr. Trump's proposed budget); or programs that fund Pell Grants, so that poor and lower-class students can attend college (also scheduled to be cut); or how about eliminating aid to libraries and museums (yup, on the chopping block too).  There are even cuts to programs that address public health emergencies-- in fact, there's a 20% decrease in the National Institute of Health's budget (and a $54 billion increase in defense spending).  Those are priorities that truly make no sense to me-- finding a cure for Zika or a more effective treatment for breast cancer is less important than building up the military? Really?     

Okay fine, I know what some of my conservative friends will say-- it's not the government's job to do that; let private charities take care of it.  But charities alone cannot handle all of the people who are in need.  As Mr. Trump acknowledges, the economy is great in some parts of the country, but in others, it is struggling, and his budget severely hurts the very people who voted for him.  I understand wanting to cut back on wasteful spending; but I see NO evidence that programs dedicated to feeding the elderly or helping the poor to attend college are examples of waste.  Rather, if we are to "promote the general welfare," giving tax breaks to the upper 1% while making the poor go without seems unnecessarily cruel.

And then there's PBS and NPR.  Yes, I know many of my conservative friends insist these networks are (gasp) liberal, but the 40-45% of listeners and viewers who identify as Republicans yet are loyal fans of both PBS and NPR would disagree.  Audience surveys repeatedly show that those who choose PBS and NPR come from both political parties, as well as many Independents.  They all agree that these two networks have thorough and factual news coverage as well as some wonderful programs for folks of all ages. (Defunding Big Bird? How rude!) 

As for Planned Parenthood, I understand that for some religious conservatives, any organization that performs abortions is morally objectionable (even though only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion).  But most of what Planned Parenthood provides relates to contraception, as well as prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases.  And no, contrary to a common conservative discourse, you can't just replace Planned Parenthood with some other clinic; many states are finding that few clinics are equipped to offer the care that Planned Parenthood provides.  In fact, many rural areas have few if any women's health clinics, and even in bigger cities, the expertise of Planned Parenthood means women who go there for contraception or advice about family planning will find highly trained people who genuinely understand women's health.  My question to those wanting to shut down Planned Parenthood and leave millions of poor and rural women with nothing is this: won't denying women access to contraception cause more, rather than fewer, abortions?

And here we are, ready to enact policies that are merciless, policies that will hurt the most vulnerable citizens.  I must admit I am puzzled by what has happened to the Republican party:  when I was growing up, Republicans were fiscally conservative, but they weren't overtly cruel.  A party that defends denying meals to the elderly, or says that feeding hungry school children "doesn't work" has truly lost its way.  I hope there are some Republicans with courage who will speak out against a budget that may make the military happy, but will be a disaster for nearly everyone else.