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...