Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Life is a Series of Hellos and Goodbyes": Some Thoughts at the End of 2016

A note to those who have kindly read my blog this year:  if you were expecting some political commentary, I'm saving that for the new year.  Today, my thoughts are with those we lost in 2016, some far too young, some unexpectedly, some after a long and successful life. I am told that while this year's number of celebrity deaths seems unusually large, it's really not, and other years have had more.  But it feels like almost every day, someone famous or beloved left us.  As a former disc jockey, I was especially sorry that we lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Paul Kantner, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Maurice White, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, and George Michael.  As a former journalist, I will miss Morley Safer, John McLaughlin, and Gwen Ifill. This was also the year we lost Gene Wilder, Fyvush Finkel, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Shimon Peres, and Elie Wisel. There were so many others... political figures, celebrities, authors, movie and TV directors ... I could fill a page with all of the names.  My point is that there are no guarantees in life, and you never know how long you have before your number gets called.       

Maybe that's why I've been thinking about my maternal grandmother the past few days.  She certainly wasn't famous, but she was definitely beloved.  Her name was Dora, and I never met her-- she died many years before I was born, as did my paternal grandmother.  But according to family lore, Grandma Dora was a truly saintly human being, compassionate and patient even in the face of major problems-- it's no exaggeration that she dealt with some difficult times, including living through the Great Depression and enduring ongoing and severe illnesses.  I am told she handled even the most challenging situations with dignity and grace.  I wish I had met her; and every year, just before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I visit her grave and pay my respects.  I often wonder how different my life might have been if my grandmothers were a part of it:  I hear so many stories about grandmothers as nurturing and supportive figures in their grandchildren's lives, but I have no experience of that, so I can't say if it's true or not.  Anyway, when I recently had my two-year anniversary check up (I had surgery for uterine cancer in mid-December 2014) and I got the good news that there has been no recurrence, I thought of my Grandma Dora, who died too young of the very same cancer that I had-- in my case, I was treated successfully for it, while in her case, no successful treatments had been developed yet.

I wonder what my grandmother would think about the world we live in today.  Hers was a simpler  time (no internet, no social media, not even television), a time when authority was respected and good manners were considered essential.  People joined volunteer organizations, kids played outside, and most people knew their neighbors.  Of course, it was not an idyllic era-- America was still segregated, anti-Jewish and anti-black sentiments were publicly expressed, and millions were struggling through the Depression years and then getting ready to go off to war.  But compared to our often-chaotic, contentious, intense, and rude culture, I somehow think my grandmother would prefer her own, even with its problems.  Of course, none of us have a time machine and we can't go back to some idealized era.  And if we did go back, we might be disappointed, since our memory years later may not be an accurate reflection of how things were when we lived them.  Still, if I could bring back something from the past, it might be courtesy or politeness.

But that said, 2016 was a strange year, and for many of us, a sad one.  Some of us lost colleagues or friends or relatives.  And if I may make one political comment, a lot of us are feeling a deep sense of sadness about the recent election.  My right-wing friends may be rejoicing, but not everyone shares their view.  Conservatives were outraged when Michelle Obama, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said she understood what it felt like to have no hope, but I totally understood what she meant.  For her, and for me, and for many of my friends from the progressive side, seeing Hillary lose the election was bitterly disappointing, and it filled us with a sense of not just hopelessness, but also fear over what this new president might to do erase the gains women and minorities had made during this past eight years.  Having lived to see a black president, many of us were eager to have a woman president; and now, that dream is once again on hold for who knows how long.  So yes, for many of us, 2016 was a sad year.  But more thoughts about politics will surely follow in 2017.

For now, whether it was a happy year for you, or a sad one, or a little of both, 2016 is about to come to a close.  In February, I will be 70-- which is amazing to think about, given that my grandmother died at age 44.  And if I have any advice, it would be to live each day with a sense of purpose; even if you temporarily feel hopeless or discouraged, those feelings don't have to last.  So, do a mitzvah (a good deed, a positive action) whenever you can; and don't waste the opportunities you have been given.  After all, there's no guarantee of tomorrow.  But we can still make a difference, even in some small way, with the time we have today.  Happy 2017: may the new year bring you many reasons to be grateful, and many occasions to celebrate.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The War on Hanukkah and the War on Respect

I wanted to say a few words about the War on Hanukkah, and yes that really is a thing.  Yesterday, I went to Dana-Farber, a Boston-area hospital with expertise in the treatment of cancer, for my bi-annual check-up (as many of you know, I had cancer surgery in mid-December 2014; and I am pleased and grateful that my doctor says there has been no recurrence).  It was there that I saw my first Hanukkah decorations of the season:  a beautiful silver menorah at the reception desk on the 10th floor.  And while I was gratified to see an acknowledgement that Hanukkah exists, I was also frustrated that I have seen NO Hanukkah decorations in any of the many department stores where I've shopped recently.  Nothing.  Lots of Christmas decorations, lots of Christmas music (which seems to start earlier and earlier each year), but no recognition that other people have holidays at this time of year too.

Believe me, I understand that Hanukkah didn't used to be such a big deal as it is now.  Historically, it hasn't been a major holiday for Jews the way Passover and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) are. In fact, Hanukkah isn't even mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  But we do know it had become sufficiently popular that the Jews of Jesus' time, including him, observed it (the New Testament gospel of John mentions this).  And especially after the Holocaust, as Jews sought to reaffirm their identity in countries like the US that were overwhelmingly Christian, Hanukkah began to take on new significance.  Jewish parents, my own included, had long struggled with the popularity and prevalence of Christmas-- it seemed to be everywhere, and Jewish kids felt totally ignored.

Of course, we could join the majority and celebrate the Christian holiday, but many Jewish families saw that as both inappropriate and ironic-- after all, the Hanukkah story is about NOT imitating the majority. It's about the Maccabees, a courageous group of Jews living in ancient Greece (circa 167 BCE) who refused to assimilate, refused to worship the Greek gods, and refused to give up their beliefs even in the face of a majority who demanded that they do so.  And whether or not the story is historically accurate in every detail, its emphasis on Jewish pride, and on kindling the menorah to symbolically bring the light of hope and faith into a world of darkness and intolerance resonated then as it does even today.  Perhaps because it normally comes in December, and perhaps because it includes the custom of giving gifts to children (small gifts, for eight days), Hanukkah has acquired a reputation as the "Jewish Christmas," even though its theology is not in any way related to what Christians believe.  [For an excellent historical explanation of the rise in importance that Hanukkah plays in American society, this 2000 article from American Heritage magazine will fill you in:]

But for reasons I've never understood, American businesses generally tend to ignore the existence of Hanukkah.  Perhaps it's because Hanukkah comes at a different time each year, and it's too difficult for merchants to keep track of it.  Or perhaps it's too much bother to get a menorah or find some Hanukkah decorations.  We all know that Christmas paraphernalia is easy to find and it's everywhere; Hanukkah stuff is evidently too difficult to locate, except in certain Jewish neighborhoods.  But that's not the issue.  For me, the issue is whether our culture respects all faiths, or whether those in the majority believe only theirs are worthy of display.  Frankly, I'd rather that merchants would take note of Passover, a much more central holiday in Jewish life, or make some time to note the Jewish New Year.  I also wish our culture acknowledged the major holidays of other minority faiths-- whether it's Buddha's Birthday or Ramadan or Diwali or others.  We all live here, and we should all be made to feel welcome.  Yes, I know that some of my conservative friends believe America is a "Christian nation" (it's not, and our Founding Fathers, all of whom were various kinds of Christians, never said it should be).  But the truth is we are a nation with freedom of worship, and a nation that should not impose just one tradition on everybody.   

And yet, we do.  When I ask about Hanukkah decorations in stores, the reaction tends to be anywhere from annoyance to indifference.  But I am not asking anyone to share my beliefs.  I am simply asking for an acknowledgement that I have holidays too.  I don't want to take away yours.  But I also don't want to see mine marginalized.  In the age of Donald Trump, marginalizing "the other" seems to be in season:  the president-elect has just announced his desire to appoint as Ambassador to Israel someone who is so ultra-conservative that he has accused liberal Jews (those of us who believe in a two-state solution and who support both the security of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians) of being similar to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.  And I also notice that these days, my annual request for a recognition of Hanukkah (and other Jewish holidays) is often met online with scorn, and even some Antisemitic comments.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that at this time of year, while we do agree that the Christmas trees and holiday lights are pretty, many of us also feel sorry for our Christian friends and neighbors-- your holiday has turned into a giant testimony to the power of consumerism, where Jesus is absent, and love is measured by how many dollars you spend.  My dearest friend for 40 years was a nun.  She said that as a Christian, the biggest gift of all should be the gift of salvation through Jesus.  Yet all she heard was people lamenting how much shopping they had to do.  Obviously, as  Jew, I did not share her theology; but I totally shared her dismay that Jesus had become an afterthought in a society where spending money and buying expensive presents was the dominant activity of the season.  And as for me, I will light my menorah and pray for a society where the light of love and tolerance conquers the darkness of anger and prejudice.  And whatever you celebrate, whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah or Festivus (let the airing of grievances begin!), I wish you health, happiness, and joy in this season of celebration. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Have We Stopped Welcoming the Stranger?

Back in 1649, long before there was a United States, and long before our Founding Fathers created the Bill of Rights, a merchant from Holland arrived in colonial Boston, bringing supplies to Edward Gibbons, the leader of Boston's militia.  The merchant's name was Solomon Franco, and he was Jewish.  There was no Jewish community in Boston at that time; and in fact, the dominant Puritans who founded the city were not eager to accept anyone who dissented from their version of Christianity-- even some Puritans, including Roger Williams, were accused of having the wrong beliefs, and invited to leave Massachusetts.  Needless to say, Solomon Franco did not receive a warm welcome, plus he was involved in a pay dispute with Edward Gibbons.  In the end, Franco was not only denied the money he was owed, but he was told to leave Boston.

Fast forward to 1908.  My maternal grandfather arrived in the USA, one of a large number of European immigrants, many of whom were escaping dire poverty, or religious persecution (or both). My grandfather was leaving a country where Jews had little future-- forbidden to enter many professions, subjected to constant threats of persecution and even violence; he believed America was a land of opportunity, and while he didn't know a lot about the US Constitution, he had heard that people of all religions were welcome.  Over the years, he made a life for himself, married, had kids, and while he never got rich, he also never encountered the kind of brutality and discrimination he had endured in the Old Country.

What got me thinking about all of this was a newspaper article in the Boston Globe about how a mosque in neighboring Providence RI had received a threatening (and anonymous) letter, saying that Muslims were not welcome in America and that Donald Trump was going to rid the country of them.  It turned out a number of mosques in other cities had received similar letters, as well as phone messages warning them they'd better leave now.  Although I am not a Muslim, when I read the story, it made me sad.  I don't for one minute think that Donald Trump personally ordered his followers to contact mosques and make threats; and yet some of his most ardent supporters clearly got the idea that it was time to let Muslims know they don't belong here.

But the truth is, they do.  So do Jews, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and Christians (and non-believers too).  America was designed to be a melting pot, a country that welcomed immigrants from many places.  We may not always see eye to eye, we may not always share the same views or celebrate the same holidays.  But at its best, America is a country where we can all have the opportunity to create a better life, the way my grandfather (and many other people's immigrant relatives) did.  And yes, I understand that some immigrants come here and for whatever reason, they  don't make the adjustment, or they break our laws, or they get into trouble.  But studies repeatedly show these folks are the exceptions.  Contrary to myth, contrary to political rhetoric, the vast majority of immigrants, including Muslims, are happy to be here.  They come to seek the same new life that immigrants from other religions have also sought. They learn English, they find work, they send their kids to school, and they appreciate the freedoms guaranteed to them in the First Amendment. 

Both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) are very clear about the commandment to welcome the stranger-- in fact, some verses command us not just to welcome, but to love the stranger.  And yet, I know all too many people who have no love whatsoever for those who look or believe or act differently.  I know all too many people who claim to be religious but have no problem ignoring those verses about love and kindness.  The people sending the hate mail and making the angry phone calls to mosques may be proud of themselves; they may think they're doing God's work, or they may think they're being patriotic.  But they're wrong.

Perhaps they should consider an interesting exchange of letters that occurred between Moses Seixas and George Washington back in 1790:  Seixas was the leader of the synagogue in Newport RI, and he wrote a letter to President Washington, praising America for having "a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance."  In his response, George Washington not only agreed, but he reassured Seixas that the small Jewish community of that city should never be afraid; nor should anyone of any religious background, because the government will protect its citizens, and guarantee them freedom of worship.  This should be as true today as it was in 1790; and it is something all of us, and especially our political leaders, should never forget. Whether the stranger is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or something else, he or she deserves a chance to live in peace, and no-one should make them feel afraid.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Our Own Kind of Walls: Some Thoughts About the Election

Yesterday, I was on Twitter having what I thought was a courteous conversation with a conservative from a red state. We were exchanging our perspectives about Hillary Clinton, and while we didn't agree on much, it was nice to hear how people from other parts of the country feel.  But based on what I was reading from her, she believed some widely-disseminated conservative talking points that were not factual; so I tried my best to both refute those talking points and still respect her opinion.

I guess I didn't do a good job of either, because when I went on Twitter today to resume our discussion, I found she had blocked me.  I admit to being disappointed, but not surprised. I've found over the past few months that when it comes to politics, many people on Twitter prefer to only speak to those who agree with them.  I'm sure I'm guilty of this too, although I do try to be polite with anyone I talk to on social media.  But I've repeatedly found that especially when I'm talking to Trump supporters, as soon as I disagree-- even politely-- it quickly leads to my being called insulting names.  (I am not for a minute suggesting that Hillary or Bernie supporters didn't also seem insulting or condescending sometimes; I know it's difficult to speak about emotional issues without one side or the other feeling offended.  And that has happened a lot over the past few months.)

I will leave it to the pundits to discuss why Hillary lost and Trump won.  Meanwhile, reactions to Mr. Trump's election are as polarized as the country is.  Here in the blue states, many of us remain stunned that voters wanted someone with Donald Trump's many flaws and failings to be the president:  as we see it, his wrong-doings over the years (his bigotry, his crudeness, his unwillingness to tell the truth about how little he actually gave to charity, his refusal to pay taxes or release his tax returns, his bullying tactics, etc. etc.) have far exceeded anything Hillary was ever accused of.

But in the world of conservatives-- those who will talk to me, and those who won't, Hillary (no matter what she says or does) is diabolical and dishonest; while Trump (no matter what he says or does) is regarded with awe and admiration.  Millions of red-state voters see Hillary as untrustworthy, while seeing Trump as their champion:  she represents the status quo, while he represents change-- tough talk, positive action, and a new kind of politics that will get things done.  In the blue states, we believe he is a con artist and an egotist, who promises magic to desperate people. In the red states, they believe he is someone they can count on, someone who hears them, who understands them, who will make their lives better.

A long time ago, in 2004, a young and idealistic Barack Obama (then a senator from Illinois) gave a now-famous convention speech in which he said there are not two Americas-- there are not red states and blue states; there are just the United States.  I used to believe he was right, but now I am not so sure.  As Mr. Obama saw first-hand, during the entire eight years of his presidency, Republicans obstructed whatever policy goals he put forward, even those that were previously championed by Republicans.  As we in the blue states see it, President Obama tried his best to reach out to the other side, but they only wanted to deny him even the smallest of victories; and as a result, he was unable to move the country forward the way he wanted to.  In the red states, Republicans are praised for obstructing him-- red state voters believed Republicans in congress should be commended for stopping this president's outrageous policies and saving the country from disaster.  And ironically, the same voters who claimed they wanted change and that's why they voted for Donald Trump also returned nearly all of their senators and representatives to congress.  If the so-called swamp is going to be drained, it will be the same veteran politicians participating in the attempt, including some who have served in congress for many years and know how to protect their own jobs.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but I don't think there will be the kind of change Mr. Trump promised. He has already surrounded himself with lobbyists and veteran political figures, and the policies they want are the same conservative policies past Republican presidents tried to implement-- some to please the pro-business community (big tax cuts for the wealthy), and some to please the Religious Right (defunding Planned Parenthood, trying to overturn Roe v. Wade or stopping gay marriage).  Meanwhile, one thing won't change at any time soon:  red state and blue state voters will continue to talk past each other, talk about each other, and think badly of each other.  Truth be told, Mr. Trump doesn't need to build a wall.  With so much anger, frustration, and discord on both sides, I fear we've walled ourselves off from each other already. And the election of Mr. Trump will only make the distance between us even worse.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Women (Including Me) Don't Always Come Forward

I wasn't going to spend an entire blog post on my personal life-- I mean, who would be interested in that?  I'm not a celebrity (I'm mainly well-known by Rush fans, and a few folks in broadcasting), and besides, I've never used blogging as a way to settle scores or get back at those I believe to have wronged me.

But over the past week, as I watched the ongoing debate about whether Donald Trump did in fact sexually assault women, and as I listened to him, and his supporters, claiming that he was the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign, some memories I hadn't thought about in a while came back-- memories I generally do not discuss, but which now seem worth talking about, even though it's been a long time since they happened.

And that's part of the story. You see, I totally understand why some women don't come forward immediately after they've been sexually assaulted, or fondled, or harassed.  I understand because I lived it.  I saw what happened when I did come forward, and I saw what happened when I kept silent.  In both cases, it was a no-win situation for me, and I am certain other women know what I am saying.

It was in the early 1970s when I first encountered sexual harassment.  I never expected to-- I am well aware that I'm not what the culture would consider "beautiful" nor was I built like the stereotypical Playboy Bunny.  But as I found out, being assaulted is not about how one looks or how one dresses-- it's about powerful men who believe they can do whatever they want, without repercussions.  I was a first year teacher at what would today be called a middle-school, and one afternoon, after classes, I was in the supply closet looking for something for my classroom (I don't recall what), when the principal came in.  I greeted him courteously (he was my boss, after all), but then, I heard the door of the closet close. I still remember the sound of the lock, and I also recall being puzzled... and then feeling afraid.  The principal moved closer to me. He told me something along the lines of he found me attractive, and then he grabbed me and rubbed his body against mine.  I remember that I froze. I did not move. I did not respond. Inside, I was terrified, but I showed him no emotion.  Nothing. And I told him to open the door and let me go.  He did, but he told me not to say anything; he said no-one would believe me anyway.

He was right.  I told my parents (who did believe me, but could do little to help); and then I decided to go to the school committee to ask for a transfer. They held a hearing and during that very humiliating proceeding, I was the one put on trial-- I was asked what I had been wearing, and I was asked why I wanted to try to ruin the reputation of such a fine man and such a well-respected principal.  In the end, it was my union (where the guy in charge also didn't seem to believe me, but he at least defended my right to a transfer) that facilitated my going to another school.  I was advised never to mention it again, and I didn't.  I ended up teaching at a high school where I was treated well, but when I had the chance to leave the Boston Public Schools and go into radio full-time, I did.

Some things never change, however.  My radio journey led me to Cleveland in late 1973, and several years later, to New York.  It was in New York, when I was between jobs, that I heard of an opening at a record company; I had just worked for one, and while radio was my first choice, working in records was fine with me. The executive doing the interview told me he lived on a house-boat, and that's where the interview would  be conducted.  I wasn't particularly shocked by that-- I've been interviewed in hotels, at restaurants, and even once during a hockey game.  Also, as a woman in a predominantly male industry, I didn't want to seem overly suspicious or give the impression that I expected special treatment.

The conversation went well, and I thought I was making a good impression, or at least I hoped I was (I needed the job!).  I don't recall everything that happened during the evening, but I do recall him suddenly moving closer to me and saying something about wanting to know if we were "compatible."  I tried to make a joke, to defuse the situation, but he grabbed my hand and I think you can guess where he placed it. I tried to pull away, and he became more insistent. I do not remember how I was able to persuade him to let me go, but suffice it to say he got angry, made some rude remark, called me a word that rhymes with "witch," and let me leave.  I didn't get the job, nor did I ever see him again, although I read about him in the music industry trade publications now and then. I am sure that, if questioned, he would have said I came on to him-- which I did not-- or he would have denied anything unusual had occurred.  And for him, probably this was nothing unusual. For me, even four decades later, I can still recall what he did.

I told my boyfriend at the time, but I decided to say nothing to anyone else.  The radio business and the music industry were very much a "good old boys" club back then, and if I had spoken out, even if anyone did believe me, I never would have been hired by anyone ever again.  Ultimately, I was able to find another job back in radio, go on and have a successful career, and even spend nearly thirty years as a consultant.  On two occasions during my consulting career, I encountered behavior similar to that record company executive-- clients who, after a nice dinner, expected that they could put their hands on me or who saw nothing wrong with trying to grope me (one even thought it was amusing).  Both men were very famous in the broadcasting industry.  And once again, I felt it best to keep silent, since a woman who complains is seen as a whiner, and the men in the industry tend to circle the wagons and defend each other. I knew that speaking out would blackball me from the industry I loved. So I chose to just keep it to myself.  It was a terrible choice to have to make, but women in mostly-male professions make such decisions often. And yes, it still goes on even today.

Please don't get me wrong.  Most of the men I met during my long career in broadcasting were wonderful. Most treated me as a fellow professional, which is all I ever asked them to do. But my point is that on a few very traumatic occasions, I was the victim of men who believed it was perfectly fine for them to put their hands on me, and that if I objected, I was the one at fault.  I don't know if the accusations against Donald Trump (or for that matter, Bill Clinton) are all true, but based on my experiences, I know first-hand that for many powerful men, they believe they have the right to treat a woman any way they want.  And sad to say, society still has a tendency to cast suspicion on the woman, rather than saying in no uncertain terms that there is NO excuse for touching a woman without her consent.

I totally understand why Trump's accusers said nothing; I too said nothing when it happened to me... and besides, on the one time when I did speak up, I was vilified and subjected to shame and humiliation.  As a second-wave feminist, I am pleased at how far society has come on many issues affecting women.  But when it comes to matters of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, we still seem stuck in the dark ages, back in an era when women were supposed to just grin and bear it, and accept whatever the man wanted to do; he was the man and we were supposed to cheerfully submit-- or suffer the consequences.  I know first-hand about those consequences.  I also know this story isn't partisan-- powerful men (whether they are Republicans or Democrats,  or even men who claim to be religious) can all be part of the problem.  And rather than blaming their accusers, I can only hope these men will decide to become part of the solution.  But in a culture that still defends boorish behavior, I don't know if they ever will.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Power of Forgiveness... in Politics and in Daily Life

It's nearly the end of the Ten Days of Repentance, a time in the Jewish religion that begins with the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and ends with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  During those ten days, we are asked to seek forgiveness from those we wronged in the past year.  We are supposed to apologize for what we said or did that might have hurt others, and to take responsibility for it.  Even if the other person doesn't accept our apology, we still are commanded to make the effort, since if we want God to forgive us on Yom Kippur, we have to first forgive others. (That's why you don't wish people a "Happy" Yom Kippur-- it's a time for serious reflection, a time to ask God to give us another year, and a chance to make things right.)

Of course, forgiving others is often easier said than done.  I had a very contentious relationship with my father (of blessed memory), and I admit it took me many years to get to a place where I could forgive some of the harsh words he said to me.  I've also had a difficult time forgiving some of the men I worked with during my years in radio, men who thought it was perfectly acceptable for them to sexually harass or make crude remarks to their female employees-- just because they could.  Trust me, such things are not funny, they're not something women enjoy, and those of us who have gone through such experiences don't forget them easily.  But during the Ten Days of Repentance, there's an opportunity to let all the anger go, and to forgive the people who wronged us.  Forgetting, however, is another matter entirely.

We live in a culture where blaming and shaming are staples of social media conversation, and where snark and insult can be heard even in presidential debates.  (I dread to think what some folks have said about me; in some cases I know, but in others, it's probably better that I don't.)  And yet, during the Ten Days of Repentance, we are asked to put aside the tendency to focus on other people's faults and concentrate on our own.  We're not supposed to hide behind the so-called non-apology apology, the one where the candidate says something outrageous and then follows up with "I apologize if anyone was offended." (In other words, whatever the person said, crude or demeaning though it may have been, it's YOUR fault if you were offended, not theirs for saying it.)  Rather, we are asked to make a sincere effort to acknowledge our faults, to tell the truth about them, and to avoid making excuses.  It's not about whether anyone was offended; it's about whether you should have said it in the first place.

Imagine if our politicians could for ten days put aside their tendency to make themselves look good by making their opponents look bad.  Imagine if our colleagues at work could for ten days put aside the tendency to gossip or say nasty things behind the backs of people they dislike.  Wouldn't it be nice to spend a few days treating each other with courtesy and respect, even if we may disagree with each other's views?  Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't obsess over every perceived slight, or dwell on every fault others have (while making excuses for their own)?  Wouldn't it be refreshing if people who claim to live by the Good Book actually followed its teachings, especially about showing kindness to others, and forgiving those who don't  live up to our standards?  Yes, I know, it's not very likely that any of this will happen in my lifetime.  But it's still something worth aspiring to.

And on the Day of Atonement, Jewish people world-wide will fast and pray that God will forgive us for disappointing Him or falling short of what He asked us to do in the past year.  But whether you are Jewish or not, it's worth taking what my friends in AA and Al-Anon call a "fearless moral inventory":  over the past year, have we been too self-righteous, too certain that only we are right and everyone else is wrong?  Have we been too ready to criticize and too slow to forgive?  Have we brought out the best in those around us or have we been so focused on winning that we were willing to tear others down as long as we came out on top?

So, as the Ten Days of Repentance draw to a close, I can only hope those who know me or those who have read my words this past year will forgive me for anything rude or discourteous I may have said.  And whether you are Jewish or not, I wish you and yours a year of peace, health, compassion, and kindness.  In a time where anger and resentment seem so prevalent, each of us can and should do our part to create a more courteous world, and now is as good a time as any to begin. Happy New Year and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Running for Office and Surviving the Gender Wars

The other day, I read a wonderful article in the Washington Post, about how female debaters are often held to different standards from male debaters.  The article is here:

Written by Anna Waters, a junior at Northwestern University, it describes in great detail how female debaters, even at the high school and college level, find their performance judged more on their physical appearance and their personality than their male opponents are.  Since "power" and "authority" in our culture have long been gendered male, a woman who tries to sound powerful or authoritative is often harshly criticized, whereas a man who exhibits those qualities is praised.  You've heard the memes-- he's assertive; she's aggressive.  He's determined; she's stubborn.  He's decisive; she's bossy.  And let's not forget ambition-- a man is complimented for being ambitious, whereas a woman who displays ambition is compared to Lady Macbeth.

So, can a woman be "presidential"? After Hillary Clinton participated in a recent event called the "Commander in Chief Forum," Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus commented that she seemed angry and didn't smile enough.  One wonders why any candidate would be expected to be cheerful when discussing matters of war and peace, but evidently Mr. Priebus believes a woman candidate needs to first and foremost make sure she doesn't lose her feminine charm and likeability.

But sad to say, his attitude is still too common-- there have been a number of studies in the business world that have found significant gender disparities:  for example, when male managers speak in a way that sounds angry or critical, there's a tendency to either accept it or to rationalize it ("That's just how he is; but he's a really good boss once you get to know him"); but when a woman manager speaks that way, there is a far more negative response, and in some cases, it fuels the perception that she is not an effective manager because she doesn't have good people-skills.  This can even lead to a pay gap:  women who sound harsh are paid less than men who sound exactly the same way.

Don't get me wrong.  Compared to how things were when I was growing up, a time when companies could come right out and say "we don't hire women," and when even the most qualified women were denied equal access to the best-paying jobs, we have made amazing progress.  But as I have noted in other blog posts, some things have not changed much at all, including public reaction to strong female politicians.  This is not partisan, by the way. Both Republican and Democratic women have been asked questions male politicians would never be asked, including questions about who takes care of their children and what their husband thinks of their political career.  And as for First Ladies, woe to the woman who had a career before entering the White House:  she is still expected to give it up and spend her time hosting lavish parties (at which time she will be criticized for being ostentatious) or promoting a charitable cause (and if she uses late-night talk shows or social media to promote it, she will be accused of trying to be too much of a celebrity).  We still seem to expect First Ladies to "know their place," even if they had high-powered and successful professional lives before.

I don't know whether Hillary Clinton will be able to win a debate with a master showman and entertainer like Donald Trump.  I'd like to believe she can, because she knows a lot about policy and has very detailed plans.  But based on previous coverage of her, I expect critics to find her "shrill" and to criticize her "lack of warmth."  I've never met her so I have no idea whether she is or is not a warm person, but I do know that ever since women entered politics after they got the vote, female candidates have had to walk a fine line between sounding certain but not dogmatic; being prepared but not sounding like a school-teacher giving a lecture; and being forceful without seeming angry.  I hope Hillary can keep her balance, but it won't be easy.  It would be nice to say that we've moved beyond gendered assumptions about female candidates, but unfortunately, evidence suggests we haven't.  So, it will be interesting to see what Hillary's strategy is for winning the debates-- knowing before she goes in that historically, the rules have favored a male style of debating.  My hope is that that these upcoming debates won't be about "manliness" versus "warmth."  In 2016, we shouldn't still be judging based on 1950s assumptions-- and yet, I fear that we will.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Liberals and Conservatives-- What Do These Words Even Mean?

The Fall semester is about to begin and I'll be teaching my course in Political Communication; it's a non-partisan exploration of the tactics and techniques politicians (especially presidents) and their campaigns have used to get their message across, then and now.  I mentioned this to a couple of my Republican friends on social media, and one immediately tweeted, "And I suppose you'll teach it from the liberal perspective."  I assured him that the course thoroughly addresses political figures from all parties, but he did not seem convinced, even when I offered to show him the syllabus and let him see for himself.     

But his comment got me thinking about what the "liberal perspective," or for that matter, the "conservative perspective" means in today's political discourse. If I mention some positive contributions that liberal politicians have made to this country, am I just another shill for liberalism?  I think not, especially since my course also discusses the positive contributions that conservative politicians have made.  Believe it or don't, I really try to be historically accurate and fair to the facts. But that's not easy in our current polarized communication environment:  unfortunately, some people are quick to throw the words "liberal" and "conservative" around as insults, especially on Facebook and Twitter: "Libtard," "Cuckservative," "DemocRAT," "Re-THUG-lican," and other taunts reminiscent of the schoolyard are seen all-too-often in memes and social media posts. (For the record, I really dislike these particular taunts, and I wish people wouldn't use them.)  But when it comes to defining these two polarizing words, I keep thinking of that line from the movie The Princess Bride, the one where Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

Politicians on the right love to state that they are "the one true conservative," and they love to paint their opponent as "liberal," which is evidently the worst thing a Republican can be.  But there were many times in history when Republicans held positions that are today commonly associated with liberals. In fact, some political commentators have noted that Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon would be drummed out of today's Republican party for their moderate stances on certain issues.  Mr. Eisenhower famously warned against the "military-industrial complex"-- a position held by moderates and liberals today, in contrast to how most Republicans want to see even more money given to the Pentagon.  President Eisenhower also believed that government could solve problems, as exemplified by his advocacy for the building of the interstate highway system; today's Republicans frequently assert that government IS the problem and they refuse to support projects to improve our crumbling roads and bridges.  As for Mr. Nixon, with all his faults, he did expand Social Security, so that more people would be eligible, another position that would be considered liberal today; and he created the Environmental Protection Agency, something that today's Republicans would like to dismantle or curtail.  Yet in their day, both President Nixon and President Eisenhower were considered quite conservative.

So, what then is a "conservative" in 2016?  Historically, the dictionary has defined it as someone who "holds to traditional attitudes and values," or someone who is "cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion."  The problem, of course, is that traditions and attitudes can change, whether we want them to or not.  Today, women and African-Americans have secured the right to vote; but they didn't have it in previous generations, and sad to say, members of both parties at one time or other have tried to restrict voting rights.  Today, there are many men and women who have been divorced; in previous generations, this was considered a deal-breaker for someone wanting to run for president, but today, there are candidates who have not only been divorced once but several times.  Politicians are accused of "flip-flopping" when they change their views, but the truth is, most of us do change periodically; adapting to new circumstances is a necessary part of being successful.  So, is a conservative someone who wishes life could magically revert to what it was like in the 1950s? That seems like an oversimplification, although some conservatives do seem to long for the "good old days."  (I'm not sure what liberals long for-- perhaps a political revolution, like what Bernie Sanders proposed?)   

As with every ideology, there are nuances and shades of gray-- not every conservative thinks exactly alike, in other words.  Consider the issue of birth control:  for many years, conservative Christians (mainly Catholics, but some Protestants too) were successful in their fight against access to contraception, even for married couples.  Until the 1965 (!) Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision, purchasing or dispensing contraceptive devices was a criminal offense in certain states.  But these days, most Christians I know, as well as a majority who identify as conservatives, are fine about the use of birth control.  This includes more than 80% of American Catholics-- even though their church opposes the use of contraceptives, surveys repeatedly show that Catholics tend to ignore that teaching.   Unfortunately, some online memes try to assert that Margaret Sanger, who championed greater access to birth control, was actually a racist, a member of the KKK, and someone who wanted to limit the number of black births. As with all too many internet memes, these claims are false, but many conservatives treat them as factual, even as they also support family planning.  (Politifact addressed what Sanger actually believed here: )

As for "liberals" (also sometimes called "progressives"), dictionaries say such a person is "open to new behavior or opinions," someone who is "willing to discard traditional values."  But I am not sure it's that simple. Most liberals I know don't just wake up one day and "discard" anything.  They gradually move away from views they once held, because they acquire new information that encourages them to change. I'm a good example of that:  I used to oppose gay marriage; and to be fair, so did most heterosexuals from all sides of the political spectrum.  I came to believe civil unions were a good compromise, but as time passed, I learned more from my gay friends and colleagues about how various discriminatory policies affected their lives; and I came to believe that marriage equality was something worth supporting.  Public opinion surveys show that my position on the issue is now the majority view.  It's interesting to note that as recently as 2004, only 29% of Americans supported gay marriage, whereas by 2015, 60% of Americans expressed support.

If we look at our history, most Republicans in the 20th century were not aligned with views we would call "liberal"-- for example, Republicans were known for their total support of big business, and of championing policies helpful to corporations.  Their conservative factions tended to be socially conservative-- believing America was supposed to be a Christian nation, or demanding that the words "under God" be inserted into the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance.  But in fairness, many Democrats back then did not always champion "liberal" views either, and they too had conservative factions.  It was conservative southern Democrats (so-called "Dixiecrats") who vehemently opposed integration and stood firm on segregationist policies; these Democrats may have been liberal on a few other issues, but in the early-to-mid 1900s, their attitude on race was one that we can today find in many Republicans.  (And yes, I have seen the memes online that claim it was Republicans who were the true supporters of civil rights... but that's not entirely accurate; many northern Democrats were too, and even some from the south... including a Texan named President Lyndon Johnson.  It was also not true that every Republican agreed with Abraham Lincoln's efforts to end slavery, nor that every Republican treated the newly-freed blacks fairly.  There were heroes and villains in both parties.) 

My point is that life is rarely simple, and when it comes to politics, it's rarely binary, except on the internet, where efforts persist to demonstrate that "my side" is good and "your side" is evil.  I'd be interested to hear from both liberals and conservatives about what beliefs you hold and how you would like to see those beliefs enacted in our politics. For too long, we've used words to demonize each other, but I'd like to see if in fact there are some areas of interest we share, and I wonder if we can come up with new and more accurate definitions of "liberal" and "conservative," definitions more suitable for a new generation of voters.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Radio: Still a Magical Medium (Some Thoughts on National Radio Day)

The other night, I attended an anniversary party-- hundreds of enthusiastic fans, along with local sports celebrities and sportswriters, gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Toucher and Rich," a popular morning show on Boston sports-talk radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub. As a former deejay, I know how difficult it is to get and maintain that kind of popularity, and in our modern world, where people have so many media choices, it's nice to see that radio still has plenty of supporters. 

A few days earlier, with far less fanfare, another happy event occurred-- former Boston top-40 legend Arnie Ginsburg turned 90 years old.  Arnie is retired and lives up in Maine, and I do hope someone threw a party for him; he was among the most popular disc jockeys during the era when AM radio was still king; you may have heard him reenact his "Night Train" radio show on the "Cruisin'" series of recordings-- he represented what top-40 sounded like in 1961, and you can read the liner notes from that CD here: 

And then there was the recent news story about a young man named Adnan Syed: convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend, his case became the topic of Serial, a highly-acclaimed podcast produced by Chicago's public radio station WBEZ in 2014. Syed has long claimed he was innocent, and thanks in large part to evidence presented during the podcast, a judge has now agreed that Syed deserves a new trial.

Once upon a time, radio was unique. It was powerful. It was dominant.  When it came onto the scene in mid-1920, it quickly began to make a difference in how people lived.  Radio was the first mass medium to bring the audience to an event in real time, as it was happening. Radio transcended race (anyone who had access to a receiver could listen, and no matter what color you were, if you had talent, you had a chance to become a radio star); it also transcended social class (people who lived on the farm or in poor parts of town had the same opportunity to hear the biggest names and most popular shows as people who were rich and powerful).

And while radio was initially a source for music, it also became a source for news:  back in early February 1922, then-President Warren G. Harding installed what was undoubtedly the first radio set in the White House (he was a big fan of the new mass medium), and reporters covered it like a news story.  By 1924, political candidates realized they could not ignore radio if they wanted to run a successful campaign:  increasingly, politicians (from local mayors to presidential candidates) took to the airwaves to reach out to voters; and while today we take this for granted, in the 1920s-1930s, it was something quite new.  To this day, students learn about how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became a "radio president," using his Fireside Chats to speak to, and comfort, the nation during the Great Depression.

Radio created national hits and it created national stars-- both performers and announcers.  It helped blind people to gain access to everything from baseball games to music concerts; it helped homemakers to learn new techniques for cooking great meals; and it helped the elderly to continue to hear religious services.  There were even educational programs, providing college-level courses to anyone who wanted to listen and learn.  In that golden age, there were amazing radio dramas and comedies, as well as cleverly produced programs for kids.  Radio's ability to entertain provided a very effective escape from the Depression, as well as source of encouragement during World War II; and the gradual rise of news networks enhanced the public's ability to stay informed. 

When TV came along, the common wisdom was that radio was finished-- but that proved to be untrue. Radio reinvented itself, and thanks in large part to the rise of rock-and-roll, top-40 radio ruled.  Many of us Baby Boomers grew up idolizing our favorite deejays and dreaming of being on the air at our favorite station someday.  And when FM radio finally took hold and weakened the influence of AM top-40, many Boomers migrated to FM, where we could hear album-rock, and later other new formats like urban/dance or modern country.

These days, radio is no longer unique, and it is no longer dominant.  Few young people listen to it passionately (or even listen to it at all), the way we Boomers did-- in fact, when I ask the students at the university where I teach, only a handful have a favorite station or can name a deejay they like.  In our internet and social media world, most of them get their music from Spotify or Pandora or YouTube, rather than waiting for their favorite on-air personality to introduce them to new music.

I find that disappointing.  While it's nice to download a song, I still like that human interaction. At its best, radio can still be a friend, a companion, a source of information and entertainment.  And yes, at its worst, it can be a lot of noise-- with deejays who talk too much, the same few songs over and over, too many commercials, or formats like political talk that focus on everything that's wrong and provide endless examples of anger and outrage.  It's a far cry from when radio used to be live and local and reach out to the community; a time when it tried to provide a balance of opinions, and stations of all formats focused on making their listeners feel they were part of a welcoming community of fans.

And yet, despite endless predictions of its demise, radio lives.  Today, on National Radio Day, I want to salute the stations which remain live and local, the ones that remain active in their community. I salute the stations that work tirelessly for charitable causes, and I especially salute every deejay who  makes time to talk to the listeners in a way that makes them feel appreciated.  Whether your station plays the hits or talks sports or reports the news, radio still matters.  It can still unite people and make them feel more connected; those radio voices can still reach out and make people feel a little less lonely.  I found this to be true when I was a deejay in the 1970s and 1980s, and it's still true today.

While I no longer broadcast full-time (and I miss it every day), I am sometimes a guest on talk shows, on stations like WBZ Radio in Boston (a station whose night-time signal reaches more than 30 states and parts of Canada).  It's still amazing to be part of a conversation with callers from so many distant locations; these are people I might never have the chance to talk to, if it weren't for radio.  And while I understand that most of today's young people don't have radio dreams the way I did, that doesn't mean radio has stopped being important, and that doesn't mean radio is no longer relevant.  When done right, radio can have a positive impact on a community; it can introduce new music, or new ideas; it can help solve problems, or just provide some harmless escape for a while.  And for some of us, with fond memories of meeting our favorite deejay, winning a contest on our favorite station, or attending a great station event (remember record hops?), radio is a part of who we are.  So, on National Radio Day, here's my wish:  long may radio survive and long may it continue to thrive.  To me, radio is still a magical medium, and it's one that changed my life for the better.    

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Show Must Go On

Sometimes, I feel as if life has turned into a giant reality TV show.  Of course, this feeling is not new-- way back in the early 1600s, a character in Shakespeare's play "As You Like It" mused that "All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players." (Rush fans know these lines too, since they are quoted in the song "Limelight.")   

As many of you know, I used to be an English teacher, and to this day, I still love books.  And while buying online is convenient, I also still enjoy wandering through a local bookstore and seeing what I can find to read.  Because I love words and appreciate good writing, I sometimes quote from great great works of literature, past and present, since they often express exactly what I'm feeling far more succinctly than I can.

One of my favorite quotes comes from chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass." Alice is talking to Humpty Dumpty, and this is the dialogue: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Becoming the master of words-- changing their meaning to suit your particular perspective and then persuading others to use those words your way-- is a technique we often see in politics, where words that were once neutral are given a partisan connotation (and yes, both sides do it).  Consider the word "liberal," which to my friends on the right is the ultimate insult, a synonym for everything that's wrong in America (according to them, fact-checkers are liberal, the media-- except for Fox News-- are liberal, anyone who is pro-choice is liberal, etc).  Conversely, consider the word "conservative," which my friends on the left associate with bigotry, closed-mindedness, indifference to the poor, adulation for the rich, and the worship of the past.  And of course, each side has its own provocateurs telling them that their interpretation is correct, so why even bother talking to the other side, given how wrong and deluded "those people" are?

There are also times when the meaning of a word is altered in order to make a rhetorical point... and the point is not a good one. Consider the NBC sports analyst who decided to weigh in on the family of gold-medal gymnast Simone Biles, offering the comment that her grandfather and step-grandmother-- who adopted her as a kid-- are not her "real" parents.  Needless to say, Ms. Biles (along with many of us on social media) was not amused. I mean, Ron and Nellie Biles took her in and it was they who raised her.  So, how are they not her "real" parents?  Maybe they didn't give birth to her, but so what?  They're her parents. End of story.  (The commentator later apologized, as he should have.)

Or how about Donald Trump's bizarre assertion that Barack Obama (or as he cleverly put it in some versions of his claim, Barack HUSSEIN Obama) "founded" ISIS.  Okay fine, we can debate whether the president's policies in that region of the world are working.  But it's revisionist history to ignore the fact that the invasion of Iraq occurred under President George W. Bush, and that what became ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh) emerged as a result of the mismanagement of that invasion after Saddam was deposed.  Barack Obama was not the president in 2001-2006, nor did he have any authority in the matter (and he was opposed to the invasion of Iraq).  But focusing on the name President Obama inherited from his biological father-- a man he barely knew, and only saw once after Barack Senior abandoned him and his mom when young Barack was two years old-- is a way to remind anti-Obama partisans that the president is "foreign," and might be a secret Muslim.  (Poll after poll shows that among Republicans, disappointingly large percentages still believe President Obama was not born in the United States and is not really a Christian.)  But even if you dislike him, it's quite inaccurate to say Mr. Obama founded a terrorist group.

And once again, a quote comes to mind-- Inigo from the movie The Princess Bride, saying "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Far too often, words get thrown around that do not mean what the speaker is implying.  Like, what does it mean to be "patriotic"?  During the Olympics, one of the Americans who won a medal did not place her hand on her heart during the playing of the National Anthem.  I've talked about this before:  placing the hand on the heart has long been a custom associated with saluting the flag.  When we pledge allegiance, we place our hand on our heart, to show love of country, as I was taught in elementary school.  But it was only after 9/11 that other symbols began to proliferate-- like expecting politicians to wear a flag pin on their lapel (and then criticizing them if they didn't), or expecting everyone to place their hand on their heart during the National Anthem.  I fail to see how wearing a pin or placing your hand on your heart during a song tells me anything about your patriotism.  Mostly it tells me you have agreed to conform to some new custom, rather than risking getting mocked by people who ought to mind their own business.

Meanwhile, we have candidates who live for the applause, and a media that loves to hone in on one gaffe or one time the candidate said something outrageous (intentionally or not), and then replay it over and over and over, to the exclusion of anything else that's going on.  It's a world where critics on social media seem eager to catch someone doing something wrong, giving them permission to send out rude or sarcastic comments about it.  And it's a world where rumor, innuendo, myth, conspiracy theory, and total fabrication can be believed by millions of people because they read it online or someone famous said it.  And, sadly, it's a world where demonizing the other side is more important than doing or saying the courteous thing-- witness the Egyptian judo competitor who lost an Olympic match to his Israeli opponent yesterday. Respect for the sport dictates that once your match is over, you shake hands, but the Egyptian refused to shake the Israeli's hand.  I am not sure what such rudeness proves, but there are all too many times where this sort of attitude can be seen:  in political campaigns, at awards ceremonies, and of course, on the playground, where at least you might expect it.

So, here we are, in our reality show life, where everything seems to be about the performance; where the focus of the media is on who is getting praised versus who is getting blamed, and where all too often, confrontation is preferable to conversation, even if that means manipulating words to make your rhetorical point and get the attention you seek.  This week, my conservative friends are furious that the mainstream media aren't covering some internet gossip about Malia Obama, who was allegedly caught smoking marijuana and (gasp) twerking.  My liberal friends are equally upset that information about Donald Trump's taxes and when his third wife actually got her green card hasn't been made public.  And even if both sides got what they wanted, soon there's be some other pseudo-controversy for each side to get upset about.  So much to criticize, so little time, and the show must go on.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

RNC versus DNC: Two Very Different Visions of America

The past two weeks have been kind of surreal: I watched four nights of the Republican convention and then four nights of the Democratic convention, and somehow I survived.  But I must admit I'm still recovering from what I saw and heard.  It's not that watching political conventions is something new for me-- I've seen my share of them over the years.  But these two conventions were surprisingly compelling (and sometimes concerning).  And now, even after both events have concluded, many of us are still trying to sort out what happened.

I've watched enough political conventions to understand that Republican and Democratic conventions showcase two entirely different perspectives on the issues.  It just seemed that this year's RNC and DNC showcased two entirely different universes. It's not that one was good and one was bad-- although both had moments of drama, moments of tension, moments of anger, and yes, moments of boredom; and both conventions had speakers who were inspirational, as well as speakers who put the audience to sleep.  But what struck me when I watched was that one convention was the polar opposite of the other in terms of its tone, and its vision of America.

At the Republican convention, I saw speakers who were furious, who vehemently blamed Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama) for everything wrong in the world.  According to various speakers, there was no terrorism (and certainly no ISIS) before the two of them came along; crime rates were low; people had good jobs; and everyone felt secure.  But now, because of them, life in America has become nightmarish.  Donald Trump in his keynote speech said that illegal immigrants with criminal records are running rampant, there are riots in the streets, racial tensions are worse than ever, the Second Amendment is about to be eliminated... and only he can make us feel safe again by restoring order to a chaotic America and a dangerous world.  

And then there was the Democratic convention. Yes, many Bernie Sanders supporters were also furious, especially after the conveniently leaked emails that showed what many of us knew all along:  the establishment of the Democratic Party was not neutral about who should be nominated.  Party leaders supported Mrs. Clinton; they did not see Bernie as electable, nor did they see him as someone with any loyalty to the Democratic Party.  But the fact remains that Mrs. Clinton did get more votes during the primaries, and while Senator Sanders was a gentleman (and a pragmatist) about the fact that he did not get the nomination, some of his supporters decided it was okay to disrupt the convention.  They were incredibly rude, interrupting speakers (including widely-respected civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis) every time Hillary's name was said, and even booing Bernie himself when he asked them to accept Hillary as the nominee and focus their energy on defeating Donald Trump.

But after that first night, after speeches from both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, there seemed to be a shift.  Some Bernie supporters remained furious throughout the convention, but they seemed to be a minority of the attendees.  Nearly everyone else was caught up in the historic nature of nominating the first woman presidential candidate of a major party.  Over the next several nights, there were amazing speeches by Michelle Obama (hers was so uplifting that even Donald Trump and his endless tweets could find no fault with it); Barack Obama and Joe Biden were also effective in making their case for why Mrs. Clinton was the right choice. And when Hillary gave her acceptance speech, she did not talk about a dystopian and hopeless America:  she talked with pride about the goodness of America, about how "we," the American people, can work together to improve our democracy, and how great America would continue to be.  She even quoted Ronald Reagan, much to the appreciation of some of the Republicans who were watching.  (Some Republican critics noted that she wasn't wearing a flag pin, as if somehow that was a sin; but the entire convention hall was filled with flags both small and large, and with red-white-and-blue balloons.)  If the stereotype of Democrats is that they do not embrace patriotic symbols, they certainly embraced them enthusiastically throughout the convention.

There were two deeply emotional moments for me-- at the Republican convention, one of the mothers who lost her son during the attack on Benghazi angrily denounced Hillary and said she held Mrs. Clinton personally to blame.  And at the Democratic convention, a Muslim-American man whose soldier son had died fighting in Iraq lashed out at Donald Trump for his proposed Muslim ban and for questioning the loyalty of American Muslims.  The man's wife stood next to him but did not speak-- not because (as Trump later suggested-- erroneously) Muslim women aren't allowed to speak in public, but because she is still unable to speak about her son without crying.  

At the Republican convention, even a preacher giving the benediction felt the need to be partisan, saying Mrs. Clinton and Democrats were "the enemy," and calling upon God to bring about their defeat.  One speaker repeated the myth, widely believed by many Republicans, that President Obama is a secret Muslim; another suggested Hillary Clinton is a servant of Lucifer.  But in fairness, some of the Democratic speakers had equally harsh assessments of Donald Trump and of what he has done to the Republican party (and what damage he could do to America if elected).

The Democrats had more appearances by celebrities, and a number of big-name Democrats (along with a few Republicans) gave testimonials about why they thought Hillary would make a fine commander-in-chief.  Many women, especially those who had waited for so many years to see a women get the nomination (including one who was 102 years old), beamed with pride when Mrs. Clinton took the stage.  Yes, there were those who didn't agree with her on every issue, but seeing her accept the nomination was very moving for a lot of the delegates in the hall.  The Republicans had few big names-- in fact, even major members of their own party stayed away.  But the lack of star power wasn't a problem, nor did it seem to upset the attendees-- for them, Donald Trump was the biggest star of all, and they had a wonderful time being there to show their support for him.

And now, the campaign for president begins in earnest.  The next 100 days will show us which vision of America will prevail, and which of these two very polarizing candidates-- who have records of accomplishment as well as record low approval ratings-- will persuade the majority of Americans. Mr. Trump said the Democratic convention was too optimistic and failed to address the real issues; Mrs. Clinton said the Republicans offered only fear, bigotry, and a dangerous claim that we need an autocratic leader to solve our problems.  Mr. Trump said Mrs. Clinton is too corrupt to lead.  Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Trump is too thin-skinned, and incapable of providing steady and calm leadership during a crisis.  I'm not looking forward to 100 more days of name-calling, but as I sit here writing this, I sincerely wonder how the voters are feeling now that they have seen two such different visions of what America needs...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Telling the Truth About White Privilege

It was 2012, and I was doing some volunteer work as a Big Sister.  My Little Sister was a truly adorable African-American ten year old. She was somewhat shy, very polite, and really appreciative of anyplace I took her.  One afternoon, I took her to a shopping mall so we could find a birthday gift for her mom.  She asked me if she could first look at the DVDs (I took her to a lot of movies, and she was eager to see if any of them were out on DVD yet), and I said that would be fine. I told her I needed to go over to the pharmacy department to get something for my allergies, and I said I'd meet her where the DVDs were.  But as soon as she walked away from me, I noticed something interesting:  a store security person began to follow her.  I found this puzzling, since the kid was not doing anything out-of-the-ordinary.  There were other kids (all of whom were white) looking at various things in the store, but the store detective was focused on my Little Sister.  I quickly headed in her direction and asked the security guy if there was a problem; I also told him she was with me, which for some reason, seemed to reassure him.  I, on the other hand, found the entire experience really troubling.  It certainly seemed like the store security person had made the assumption that a black kid looking at DVDs must be a potential shoplifter, whereas white kids doing the exact same thing did not cause any suspicion. 

Lest you think I am reading too much into one incident,  I can assure you these sorts of things happen far too often, and not just to adorable ten year olds. They happen to black people of all ages, and from all walks of life-- members of the clergy, lawyers, business executives, and athletes.  And they've been happening for years.  One event I still remember occurred in 1990, when Boston Celtics first-round draft choice Dee Brown was house-hunting with his fiancĂ©e in a wealthy (and mostly white) suburb.  The couple had found what they thought was the perfect home, and were about to get into their rental car when something went terribly wrong:  they were surrounded by seven police officers, five of whom were armed. Brown and his girlfriend were told to get on the ground. They had no idea why.  As it turned out, the manager of a nearby bank had recently been robbed, and he called the police, saying he thought he saw the robber getting into a car.  What he saw, of course, was one of the few black faces in that town. There was NO resemblance between the bank robber and Dee Brown, nor was Mr. Brown armed or threatening.  Yet he was confronted by officers with guns, and told to lie face down on the sidewalk like a criminal while police checked his ID.  They ultimately concluded it was a case of mistaken identity (all black people look alike?), but needless to say, this was not the welcome to greater Boston that Dee Brown had expected.     

I know there are some people who will insist that the police and mall security have every right to be suspicious when they see black people, especially black young men.  Recently, I've also seen an increase in Facebook and Twitter memes about how blacks are inherently violent, often quoting exaggerated statistics about black criminality, and expressing the need for a return to law and order  (for whatever it's worth, these memes are usually sent to me by Donald Trump supporters).  I've also heard various pundits on conservative media outlets asserting that the reason black young men get into trouble is they refuse to "comply" when police give them an order.  Unfortunately, compliance is not the only problem.  In all too many cases, it appears that prejudiced assumptions play a role.  For example, there are numerous studies showing that blacks and whites are treated very differently by law enforcement, and the same is true when it comes to the criminal justice system-- if a black defendant and a white defendant are convicted of the same crime, the black defendant tends to receive a substantially longer sentence (sometimes as much as 20% longer).  More about some of these studies can be found online at 

And it's not just black defendants who endure unequal treatment-- how about black three year olds?  Over the past several years, a number of news articles have noted that black children in preschool are being suspended for a wide range of offenses, from wetting their pants to refusing to put on their shoes-- misbehavior that white children are not being suspended for.  Studies have also found that black boys are far more likely to be expelled from preschool for behaviors that, while annoying, are certainly not unusual in young children... and once again, behaviors that do not cause white children to be expelled.  Agreed, kids who don't behave can be frustrating, and teachers have every right to apply appropriate punishment.  But I find it troubling that some preschools are giving up on black kids at the age of three, whereas white kids are given far more chances to learn to behave.  

As a media historian, I can tell you that much of this is not new.  There have been stereotypes about minorities for centuries, often articulated by supposedly educated white "authorities," including professors, doctors, and preachers.  These stereotypes have been both useful and necessary to the majority culture, because if a certain group (in this case, African-Americans) is labeled as inherently dishonest, if their kids can't behave properly by age three, if they refuse to comply with authority in the right way, well then, who came blame society for discriminating against them?  The concept of "white privilege" is often misunderstood because it seems to say that white people have it easy-- they're privileged.  But that's not what it means. It means that there are negative assumptions that most white people never encounter... and all too many black people face on a regular basis.  Few people assume the average white guy is a criminal when they see him walking down the street. A number of my white friends have had broken tail-lights on their car but none of them have been pulled over and subsequently shot by police.   Few people assume that the average white person in a store is a thief.  And even fewer people assume that a three year old white kid is hopeless and needs to be expelled from preschool.

Please don't misunderstand me:  I am not saying that all white people are racists, nor am I denying that some black people do in fact commit violent crimes (as do some white people).  But my study of history tells me that certain racist beliefs are woven into the fabric of our culture.  Many of us who are white don't want to believe that; but rather than denying the existence of racist stereotypes and myths, it might be useful to begin telling the truth about them.  No, we do not live in a post-racial society.  No, racism is not a thing of the past.  And while we have absolutely made progress, there is much more we can and should be doing to make sure that everyone, no matter their race, receives an equal opportunity.  If you haven't seen it already, I strongly recommend watching an excellent 2013 documentary called "White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America."  You may not agree with it, but I promise it will make you think: And during these difficult times, when accusatory rhetoric (from people on both sides of the racial divide) is far too prevalent, I hope there are still enough of us who want to move beyond blame and continue these difficult conversations.  Communication is the most powerful thing we have.  But we need to use it wisely, and use it well, so that the end result will be greater understanding, rather than just the same old myths and the same old memes.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Few Thoughts at the End of June

One of the most challenging aspects of recovering from surgery is being stuck at home for days, even weeks, with lots of time on your hands. And while having nothing to do (and all day to do it in) can be nice for a little while, it can quickly get really, really boring-- especially when you're still in pain and the only break from sitting around is going to doctors or going to physical therapy.  I've tried to use all of this free time productively.  I've done a lot of reading, engaged in some conversations on social media, Skyped with a couple of my students, but I have to confess that I miss being at work. I feel like there's an entire world of activity going on out there, and I'm not a part of it.

On the other hand, it's not difficult to keep up with the latest news, and there's been plenty to talk about-- or in the Twitter & Facebook world, plenty to argue about. A lot of the conversation is remarkably similar to how it's been for months:  Donald Trump is (pick one) a racist and a bigot, the only person who can rescue our economy, the man who knows how to keep us safe, or the guy who wants to start World War Three.  Hillary Clinton is (pick one) somewhere between Lady Macbeth and Satan, an inspiration and the most qualified to be president, someone who knows how to lead during a time of crisis, or someone who never tells the truth.  And President Obama is (pick one) the worst president in the history of humanity, the man who overcame the mess Bush left us with, a secret Muslim, or someone who seldom gets enough credit for his many accomplishments. 

One thing I'm noticing from the messages sent by my conservative friends (and yes, I really do have some) is their strong belief that things are going downhill and our country is in dire straits. Many tell me with certainty that only Donald Trump can turn things around, and they trust him to both keep us safe and fix what's wrong with our country.  As I've stated previously, I continue to be mystified by why anyone would trust Mr. Trump, a man with a long history of making claims that are demonstrably false.  And yet, no matter how many times his claims are refuted or debunked, the response from his supporters is that the media are against him, that fact-checkers are biased, and that anyone who disagrees with him must be a "liberal" (or perhaps a commie or, worse yet, a terrorist sympathizer).

Similarly, every time there's a terrorist attack (even if, as in Turkey, many of the victims were Muslims; or even if the attack occurred in a country where the terrorists were not Muslim at all), I still see the memes about how every terrorist is a Muslim; or lately, I see the return of the memes with the fake quotes claiming President Obama supports radical Islam (a claim Osama Bin Laden would have found puzzling), or that Obama promised to "stand with the Muslims" (he never said or wrote that; but as president, I would hope he would stand with all Americans who want a peaceful and safe country, whatever their religion).  And then, there's the return of the double standard-- when President Bush said that our enemy is NOT Islam and that most Muslims are peaceful, few conservatives were outraged.  But when President Obama says the same exact thing, suddenly it's disgraceful, and talk show hosts cannot express enough contempt. (And please don't tell me Obama "bowed to the Saudi king"-- something that President Bush also did, but again, when Bush did it, there was far less anger from conservatives.)

Some of you may disagree with me, but I do not believe America is going downhill, nor do I believe (as some Republican candidates want me to) that America is no longer great.  In fact, I don't even believe America is in grave danger and only a strongman who talks tough can save us (President Bush talked tough, and yet we still had 9/11, and yes, there were embassies that were attacked under his watch too).  That said, of course there are problems that need to be resolved: for example, the economic recovery has been both slow and uneven, and there really is a lot of evidence that only the top 1% have prospered (including Mr. Trump).

But over all, as the grandchild of immigrants, I sincerely believe that America is a pretty great place to live; and for all of its faults, I can't imagine living anywhere else. So, as we approach the 4th of July (Independence Day, plus it's my husband's 70th birthday), I would hope the fear-mongering and the anti-immigrant rhetoric could stop for a while.  I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and it's still on my mind, especially each time I hear more angry political rhetoric about blaming "them" for our problems.  But finding the right group to hate (or ban) has never worked long-term; it's a temporary way for some folks to feel better, even though in the end, it solves nothing.

I keep thinking about how our Founders didn't agree on everything, and in fact, history tells us they had some intense debates.  Yet they were still able to collaborate when it mattered most, and as a result, we have our country and our constitution.  As I see it, that's an example of true patriotism:  working together for the greater goal, being willing to commit to making America even better than it already is.  Here's hoping we can rediscover that spirit of collaboration-- if it was good enough for our Founders, should we settle for anything less?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Too Much Blame, Too Few Answers (Again)

I know I haven't blogged much these past several weeks, and believe me, it's not because I had nothing to say.  Part of it, as some of you are aware, is I'm still enduring a difficult recovery from recent surgery, and I just haven't had much energy.  But a larger part of it is that I just don't know where to begin, given all of the tragedy and senseless violence that has dominated the headlines:  a terrorist who claims to belong to ISIS, and who has expressed a hatred for gay people, attacks a gay nightclub, killing forty-nine.  A crazed fan shoots a popular singer dead while she is signing autographs after a concert.  A family on vacation at a Disney resort watches in horror as an alligator attacks and kills their two-year old son. And those are just the events that occurred in Florida. 

Whenever there is a tragedy, it's often accompanied by demands that "something" be done, or that "someone" be held accountable.  In many cases, the "something" is pretty obvious:  if you run a hotel in an area near where there are alligators, shouldn't you have signs up to warn the patrons?  But in other cases, the situation is more complex:  many entertainers love their fans, and while it's impossible to spend time with every one of them, a meet-and-greet or an autograph-signing provides some closer interaction between the public and the performer.  But it also provides an opportunity for obsessed fans to get much too close to the object of their obsession.  It's a dilemma:  should all meet-and-greets and autograph-signings be banned, to keep the performer safe? Or, if you still have these events, perhaps metal detectors should be in place, and everyone who wants to meet the performer must first go through screening.  These days, increased security is becoming as important as enjoying the show.

And then, there's the massacre at the Orlando nightclub, which almost immediately became fodder for politicians from both sides of the political aisle.  For Republicans, the fact that the killer had sworn his allegiance to ISIS meant the rhetoric could quickly shift away from bigotry against gays (something few Republicans had protested over the years) and shift almost entirely towards the dangers of "radical Islamic terrorism"-- a magical phrase that GOP politicians insisted must be said frequently in order to combat it. (Given the number of times it has turned up in talking points on the campaign trail over the past several years, one would expect the problem to have been solved by now. But alas, it has not.)  And for Democrats, the fact that the killer committed his crimes using an assault-style weapon meant the conversation could return to issues like closing the so-called "Gun Show Loophole," preventing people on the terrorism watch-list from buying guns, and restoring the ban on assault weapons.

For Donald Trump, it was of course another opportunity to claim he was right about how dangerous Muslims are, and to once again insist the answer was to ban them-- of course, the killer was American-born, and while he may indeed have gravitated towards ISIS at some point, he also worked legally as a security guard and owned a number of weapons; thus, none of Mr. Trump's solutions would have had any effect.  Meanwhile, Mr. Trump was busy hinting that President Obama was somehow to blame for the carnage, and that Mr. Obama might have secret sympathies with the terrorists.  Even some Republicans, not known for defending this president, found that assertion both tasteless and inappropriate, but they did not withdraw their support for their presumptive nominee.

I took to Twitter a couple of times, noting that there are extremists in all religions (a Christian minister even said the victims in the night club murders deserved to die, as their punishment for the sin of being gay), noting that Mr. Trump's claim the president has allowed millions of Muslims from violent countries to come pouring into the US was demonstrably false (and had been debunked by fact-checkers repeatedly, as had his claim that there is no vetting of the immigrants who come here). And I also noted that my congressman, Seth Moulton, a decorated combat veteran from the Iraq War, had spoken out against assault weapons-- he said what many law enforcement personnel also believe:  you can be pro-Second Amendment without allowing easy access to AK-47s. In fact, I have never understand why the NRA defends the "right" to own a weapon of war.  If the Orlando killer did not have such a weapon, many more lives might have been saved.

But every time I wish for a serious conversation about the easy availability of guns, it rarely goes well.  With a few exceptions, I was sent memes that called liberals idiots, fools, and traitors, accusing us of protecting/coddling terrorists, of not supporting the Second Amendment, and of course, of not understanding the "real threat"-- Muslims. Believe me, as a Jewish person, I do not always agree with my Muslim friends, especially about the Middle East.  But I also know from first-hand experience that American Muslims care deeply about America, and they have made important contributions as doctors, scientists, professors, and small business owners.  Yes, we can all point to some religious zealots, but the Muslims I know are 100% in favor of their daughters getting a good education, and the degree of piety in the Muslim community is NOT monolithic:  I know some Muslims who are deeply religious and others who rarely go to the mosque.  It is also worth noting that American Muslims are quite patriotic (many have served our country with distinction, in fact).  But you wouldn't know any of that from the talking points I keep seeing, equating every Muslim with ISIS or claiming that Islam is incompatible with being an American.  Totally untrue, but widely believed. 

And so, here we are again.  Another series of tragedies, another series of outraged responses, another example of both sides retreating to their corners, each determined that only they are right.  And once people decide they are right, then no further action is needed, even if the resulting stalemate has not worked out well for us as a nation.  My favorite rock band, Rush, once said "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."  I hope people will decide to move beyond their certitude and their anger (and their talking points) and start seeking out opportunities to collaborate, even if it means (gasp) working with the folks from the other side.  Otherwise, I fear we'll see this all repeat itself again in the months to come, with equally disastrous results.     

Sunday, June 5, 2016

There's No Place like Home

Two weeks ago, I had knee replacement surgery.  I was warned by others who have had it that it's a very painful operation, and they were certainly right.  In fact, I've never been in so much pain in my life.  The doctor gave me prescriptions for painkillers, but I'm very reticent to take them.  Maybe that's silly, but given all the stories in the news about people who never expected to get addicted to opioids, the idea of taking narcotics (even at low dosages) makes me nervous. It seems all too easy to get accustomed to them; and having avoided addictive substances all my life (I've never even tasted alcohol), I don't want to get into any kind of dependency. On the other hand, there's only a certain amount of excruciating pain the average person can endure, and thus far, that's my dilemma.

Having been unable to blog for the past couple of weeks, I wanted to at least write a few words-- I know I'm not a famous blogger, and I know that most people do not hang on my every word, but blogging is often really good catharsis, and there were a number of things I wanted to discuss.  In no particular order, here are a few of them:

Nurses aides are some of the most under-appreciated (and underpaid) folks in society today.  In Massachusetts, they tend to be immigrant women from Haiti, doing jobs that are rarely glamorous-- yet extremely necessary (emptying bedpans, bathing patients who are too ill to bathe themselves, answering repeated calls for water, providing clean bedding, etc).  Few hospitals could function well without them.    

I wish the debate between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could have taken place-- in fact, I'd have paid money to watch it.  And yes, even in the hospital and the rehab facility, people were discussing and debating politics.  One day, I was in physical therapy with a really sweet 86-year old woman-- let's call her Marie. She was deeply religious (I often saw her in her room praying the rosary) and she told me she has been a Republican all her life.  Marie's favorite politician was Paul Ryan, she said, and she was no fan of Hillary Clinton.  So, I asked her about Mr. Trump, and she said, "I could never vote for him. He gets me aggravated."  Her choice for president surprised me-- "I like Bernie Sanders. He cares about the poor people."  Evidently, that was the wrong answer for some in her family:  I overheard her in a debate with one of her sons, who kept insisting, "But you have to listen to what Trump is really saying. He's telling the truth!"  Marie was not impressed. "He's not telling the truth," she replied. "He just wants to start a war."

Unless you have a private room (which I did not), you may not get much sleep. In addition to getting woken up at all hours by hospital personnel who needed to get assorted blood tests or to take vital signs, there were other obstacles: for example, I had one roommate who, nice person though she was, got up about every hour to use the restroom; and I had another roommate who spent long periods of time on the phone arguing with various family members.  I was never so glad to get home-- where I can once again have privacy, good food, and a wider range of cable channels on TV (I had no idea how bad daytime television was, nor how many hucksters and televangelists are still on the air).

So that's how the past couple of weeks went.  So far, it's been really hard, but I'm hoping the worst is behind me.  When a person is going through a difficult time, it's nice to know there's folks out there who care.  So before I conclude, let me thank those who got in touch on social media and sent me good wishes, as well as those who sent prayers or positive energy.  As I've said many times, we ALL get by with a little help from our friends. And now, I'm going to try to catch up on my emails and read the Sunday paper:  peace and quiet is a beautiful thing...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Wish You Good Health (and Good Healthcare)

I probably won't be able to blog for much of next week, since I'm going into the hospital for knee surgery-- it's my third surgery in three years, and believe me, I'm really tired of spending time in hospitals (rehab isn't a ton of fun either). But I remain eternally grateful that I have health insurance, and glad that I live near good doctors and good hospitals.  Several of my friends aren't so fortunate.  They didn't have health insurance from their jobs, and now they are unable to work.

No, it's not that they are unwilling to find another job, and it's not that they are lazy-- in fact, both worked hard all their lives. But their jobs did not provide any benefits (one worked as a home health aide, one worked in a factory); and when they were left with permanent disabilities, they both ended up on fixed incomes-- which are quite low.  After the Affordable Care Act was signed into law (and please note-- neither of them is a fan of President Obama), they were encouraged when they learned about the Medicaid Expansion, which would make them both eligible for health care they could not afford up to that point.

But alas, determined to make a point about their dislike of the president and their opposition to "Obamacare," the Republican governors and legislatures of their states refused to accept the Medicaid Expansion, even though doing so would have been such a blessing to a large number of poor people, who would have been covered at a relatively minimal cost.  (In fairness, a few Republican governors DID accept the Medicaid Expansion, showing a willingness to help people who desperately needed it; but most Red State governors did not.)

This should not be political.  Like it or hate it, studies show the Affordable Care Act has been a major benefit for millions of Americans; some have even credited it with saving their lives-- one Wisconsin Republican named Brent Brown, who acknowledged he never voted for President Obama and had even made hateful remarks about him, completely changed his mind once he got sick.  Unable to get health insurance before the ACA, due to a pre-existing condition, he was now able to gain access to good healthcare, and have his serious illness treated.  He wrote to the president and thanked him.

Okay fine, "Obamacare" isn't perfect, and yes, it has some flaws.  Since it relies on working with the private, for-profit insurance industry, there have been been challenges in achieving lower costs; procedures and medications in the US remain outrageously high, especially when compared to other countries.  Bernie Sanders and others have suggested a Medicare For All plan, but in our current political environment, there's little chance such a plan will be given a fair hearing any time soon.  Meanwhile, the subject of why healthcare costs in the US are so high (and no, it's not always because of "waste, fraud, and abuse") is worth a serious conversation, one that should go beyond partisan rhetoric and talking points.

The fact remains that for all its flaws, the ACA has given many Americans coverage for the first time, and that's a step in the right direction.  And yet, my Republican friends continue to express their disdain for it,  and every Republican candidate for president has pledged to repeal it-- even though there is NO Republican plan to replace it, and lord knows, the GOP has had plenty of time to come up with one.  I truly wish they would.  Meanwhile, some of the problems with our current healthcare system could be remedied if only congress would act-- like, why can't Medicare negotiate for lower prices on prescription drugs? It was congress that forbade this back in 2003, as a concession to the pharmaceutical industry (once again, we see the power lobbyists have; those who contribute to campaigns get the ear of the candidates in a way that ordinary citizens do not).

And so, here we are:  I will get to go to a good hospital, see well-respected doctors, and get the treatment that will (I hope) relieve some of the pain I've been dealing with over the past few months.  But my two friends, by virtue of where they live, are not able to get the care they need, and there is no relief for either of them in sight.  That geography should determine the quality of one's health care, or how much (or how little) access one has to much-needed medicines seems unfair to me.  I want to hear answers from the candidates about how they will solve our healthcare problems, but thus far, I don't see both sides sitting down to come up with some solutions.  And there continues to be a system  of haves and have-nots while politicians in congress (and make no mistake-- both sides helped to create this mess) act as if there's nothing they can do.  But there is. And it's sad that too many of them lack the political will to even make the effort.