Monday, December 31

The end of the year as we know it: 2018

The government shutdown continues because the impasse over the wall that isn't a wall continues. After a nice lunch, Lindsey Graham has more confidence that Trump knows what he's doing about Syria. I couldn't help but wonder what they had for lunch. On the other hand, Trump rather disingenuously said that slowing down the withdrawal from Syria is all part of the plan, or something. I don't really pay attention to what he says because it changes too fast.

Meanwhile, many look towards the incoming class of new politicians who will soon be met with their own hard wall of reality. I can only hope they will have the determination and the fortitude to fight for the changes they believe are best for the whole country, not just special interest groups that might employ them after they leave government service.

I can't help but think about how both Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron have been forced to backtrack when trying to do something that will help the whole planet, but have done so in the face of economic realities. They have learned about the "iron law" the hard way.
Mr Pielke expresses the essence of this failure as what he calls the “iron law” of climate politics: “When policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reduction, it is economic growth that will win out every time.”
Another way to look at the iron law is that if people don't want what you're selling, or they aren't willing to pay the price you're asking, they won't buy it, which also suggests that if you can't convince them that they need it, they won't buy it.

In other words, don't mess with my money.

Speaking of money, here we are at the end of the year and folks start thinking about taxes. You've likely been bombarded with emails alerting you to today being the very last day you can contribute to any organization. That comes as no surprise because December 31 has always been the last day of the year (well, since a good portion of the world adopted the current format of the Gregorian calendar and there is quite a history to the creation of the calendar format we use today) and December 31 is the last day for any charitable donations. Anyway, around September 2018 stories about charitable donations and the new tax plan started to surface. More tax-related stories became more prevalent in November, and for good reason. People were thinking about buying Christmas gifts and about charitable donations.

Most of us probably didn't pay much attention to the impact of standard deductions and charitable giving; I know I didn't. Now I am. Close attention and yes, I'm rethinking to which organizations I give and why.

I'll still give because there are organizations in which I believe and tax deductions have rarely been the motivation for such giving, but you can believe that lots of organizations are worried about their revenue streams after people figure this out. It's a variation on the "iron law," but money talks. Loudly.

Speaking still of money, the stock market is bordering on insanity, unemployment seems to be staying steady at an astonishing low, the job market is hot in many sectors (provided one has the right training, access, and/or ambition. . . and a college degree isn't always required). Economists are trying to figure out if we're headed towards another recession as the Federal Reserve attempts to figure out what's happening with all of the various indicators it tries to analyze.

Meanwhile, teachers are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers because, well, they just can't take it any more. The field of education practice is changing at nearly warp speed (for education) whereas the field of education preparation continues to stroll along as though it's still 1979 (a random year ending with a 9, but still well before 2019). Educators are bombarded by administrators and parents, asked to do more or different with resources and tools for which they've not been prepared or in which they've not been trained and for which they have no coaches or mentors who are much better prepared or trained than they. There are just too many factors that too few have too little to focus on what matters most: students. There is so much work to do to make good changes to education and everyone has lots of ideas though I can guarantee there is not one single thing that has to change, but many things at each school and each school will have to find its own changes. Those district-wide sweeping implementations for change haven't always worked in the past and probably won't work in the future unless schools are given autonomy to make adjustments that make sense in their buildings. But, no matter what changes are made, the work always has to be about the students because the changes the teachers make for their own time, their own sanity, their own efforts is almost always about the students.

At the end of that litany of despair, it may be hard to look towards 2019 with much hope. And on this dreary, rainy New Year's Eve day, hope might not be in abundance.

You are, no doubt, familiar with the mythology of Pandora. There is much about her creation and her name that contributes to the final scene of her story: how the gods gifted her (Pandora means "all gift") and how Zeus used her as a trap. When his trap was sprung, he gave her the jar or box as a wedding gift which she was never to open. Eventually, of course, curiosity proved to be too great and she opened the box. From it flowed all the evils of the world. When she slammed shut the box, the only thing that remained was hope. Eventually she did release hope and from that comes all sorts of poetry and imagery and ideas about the power of hope.

The idea of hope has fascinated people for eons. I'm amused that scientists try to explain hope because it seems to be an intrinsic part of most people in most situations. I'm not going to try to defend that statement with lots of examples because I know there are plenty of people who have lost hope and who lose hope. However, my point is that hope is one of the few things that really does seem to spring eternal. (Read the entire Pope poem, published 1733-1734, to understand how and why he has this perspective; it is really quite powerful).

I look at my world today at the end of 2018 and there are reasons to be discouraged. But, at the same time, there are great reasons to be encouraged. The work my friend and her friends and neighbors are doing with Annunciation House in El Paso to provide for the migrants there. The work I get to do with educators. The incoming politicians who just might have the tenacity to stay focused and true, at least that's what I'll hope. The people I know of who have become more involved in their communities because of so much else that's been going on. The kinds of conversations--yes, actual conversations--that many are having and because of so much of what's been going on.

And so hope moves us. Hope for something better this afternoon or tonight or tomorrow. Hope there is more or other than moves us from where we are to where we think we want to be or what we want to do.

Hope gives us reason to continue even when we wonder if there's a point.

Hope propels us.

My hope is that we will have hope that we can be something better than a mere heap, more than a unity of our disparate and diverse parts (see Aristotle, Book 8.6, Metaphysics). My hope is that we will have hope that we can be something better, something greater, something more.

Sunday, November 4

I voted, but. . .

Amazon sticker
I voted. I went to my local polling place on Friday, November 2 and voted. I wanted to feel good about that when I left but I still felt anxious.

Then I made the mistake of reading the news, listening to the radio, checking my Twitter feed, and looking in on Facebook. Ah, yea, that's why I feel anxious.

And I feel anxious because the president of the country is drumming up fear about an migrant "invasion" that seems to be about 4,000 people, mostly impoverished and hungry, mostly women and children. I feel anxious because our attitude towards immigrants has become so hateful even though we are a nation of immigrants. Period. If you can trace your family tree back to the Mayflower, remember the Mayflower was a ship that brought emigrants from their home countries which meant they were immigrants to this country. Can't change that fact. Unless you full blooded NATIVE American, you are an immigrant or descended from an immigrant who came to this country by choice or by force.

I feel anxious because the voices of partisan have gotten more divisive, prodded by the Divider in Chief.

I feel anxious because I'm not convinced any change in majority in the federal government will work towards reconciliation. I feel anxious because I can't help but wonder if there will be a whole of lot "told you so" and other partisan bluster which will keep us at a standstill for another 24 months.

I feel anxious because I realize I haven't really done enough. Sure, I voted. But I also know I can write letters to my representatives, write letters to the editor, and get more involved in local politics in a variety of ways. I can't just sit back and think I've done my job just because I voted.

I feel anxious because I realize I can do more to have actual conversations with people who agree with me and who don't agree with me.

I feel anxious because hostility seems to have overtaken civility.

I don't get my news and information from a single channel, though I never watch FOX except for sports and the occasional TV show on FOX. I don't get my news and information from a single news outlet and I try to check what I see on Twitter and FB rather than respond to the intended dog whistle. But I feel anxious because too many people I know seem to rely on FB for their truth. Maybe they think those 'bots aren't targeting them. Huh. Just thought of that.

On the other hand, I feel slightly less anxious because it seems like more people are becoming more politically active and astute. I do see rationale conversations online and I'm okay when people unfriend me because I refuse to fall in line with their thinking.

I feel slightly less anxious because there are many people I know who seem to feel the same as I which may mean the pendulum will begin to swing back towards civility and kindness. Maybe. But we'll know more on Wednesday, November 7.

Sunday, October 7

Remember Kavanaugh

As we approach the midterm elections, Kavanaugh is going to remain a significant talking point for candidates.

Senator Grassley (R, IA), who suggested women might not be up to the task of working on the Senate Judiciary Committee because it's a lot of work, also said that he believes the "battle cry of Republicans" will be 'Remember Kavanaugh.' So, yes, he walked back his statements about women and made it clear they have trouble recruiting anyone to that committee and then they had to point out how few women Republicans are in the Senate, which makes it hard to recruit them when there are other committees they might prefer to serve on.

But it's this battle cry that interests me. Yes, let's remember Kavanaugh. Let's remember how the Committee wanted to ram through his nomination even as other people said "Wait," and much has been made of that as metaphor for sexual violence against women.

Let's remember Kavanaugh's passionate outburst on that Thursday when he seemed to lose his mind just a little bit as he suggested Clinton-aligned conspiracy and actually called out Democrats.

Then let's remember his op-ed in the Washington Post declaring that he is an independent and impartial justice, a piece that would not have been necessary if it weren't for his outburst on that Thursday. And isn't the Washington Post one of those many bastions of "fake news" as ascribed by 45? I'm not sure how to reconcile that.

Let's remember the 2,400 law professors who believe Kavanaugh is unfit for the Supreme Court.

Let's remember the likelihood he lied under oath about ridiculous things so chose an inordinately absurd path when he could have said,
Look, I drank a lot when I was Georgetown Prep. I behaved badly. And I wish I had simply said to Dr. Ford at the beginning of all of this that while I don't recall this incident and I stand by my assertion that I am not guilty of what she has alleged of me, I'm horrified on her behalf that this happened to her. I'm horrified that any women believe they have no voice if they have been the victims of sexual assault. I'm horrified our justice system does not do more for women while, at the same time, carefully protecting the rights of the accused who may be unjustly accused. The law requires balance. Justice demands balance. If I have the honor of being confirmed as a justice to the Supreme Court, I pledge that I will do my best to be that representative of Justice who seeks balance while affirming and upholding the Constitution. I will do my best to ensure that the Constitution, designed to represent all Americans, does, in fact, represent, protect, and support all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, gender, race, or creed. Because that's what Justice demands.
But he couldn't because most of that would not be true, but dang, it would have been an awesome sound bite!

Instead the Committee wasted time inquiring about his drinking and ralphing (weak stomach? really? that's the best you could do? dude, you had better not eat anything spicy while on the Court for the next 30 years) when he could have handled that without pretending he was some weak-stomached angel. He could have asserted he made bad choices when he was young, as many of us did, and then said he learned from his errors and has worked hard to become a man of integrity.

But he didn't. He and the GOP played an entirely different hand.

Let's remember this was the closest vote in history.

Let's remember that Manchin abandoned his party to get re-elected so it will be fun to see how that works out for him.

Let's remember how hysterical Lindsey Graham got, even as he accused women of being too emotional and hysterical.

Let's remember how the president mocked Dr. Ford in his support of Kavanaugh, perhaps not realizing though likely not caring that when he mocked Dr. Ford, he mocked every sexual assault survivor.

Let's remember how the Democrats were not blameless in this fiasco. Though Feinstein claims her office did not leak Dr. Ford's letter, just as we have to wonder if Kavanaugh told the truth, we have to wonder if Feinstein told the truth.

Let's remember that Democrats and Republicans are going to do their best to cash in on this Kavanaugh mess and try to leverage it like crazy to their own advantage, adding more bricks to the incivility walls and pretty much ensuring bipartisanship hasn't a snowball's chance in hell.

But more importantly, let's remember that all of these clowns--Republican, Democrat, and any other label--work for us. Our taxes pay their salaries. Don't let them tell us what we need to believe.

Let's tell them what we believe and make it clear what we want them to do.

We won't agree on abortion. There are those on the right who believe abortion should be banned at all costs. I'm not a proponent of abortion but I still have to wonder why the federal government thinks it has any right to tell a woman what to do with her body. If they want to "protect" women's bodies from abortion, they'd better first protect women from sexual assault.

We won't agree on guns. I can't even begin to attack that morass but we have to be clear that no one wants to abridge anyone 2nd Amendment rights, but there are a lot of us who have to wonder why you need a semi-automatic weapon to go hunting if the whole point of hunting is to prove you're smarter than the animal and if part of hunting is the rush of tracking and making that single shot. Seems like a semi-automatic weapon means nearly any numbskull can kill a deer, but also wreck the skin and the meat in the process.

We won't agree on immigrants although all of us are immigrants, even if we have to count back several generations.

We won't agree on gay rights. We won't agree on a whole host of things, but we ought to agree that in this country, unlike in any other country, we have the right and freedom to be who we are.

Unless we've completely forgotten why the early colonists fought the American Revolution, have forgotten why they wrote the Declaration of Independence, and why they drafted the Constitution.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Yes, remember Kavanaugh.

Monday, October 1

I'm a moderate Republican and. . .

A few days ago I found out there are some folks who think I'm a liberal Democrat. I understand why. I do and that's fine. We read and see and understand how we choose to interpret through our lens and perspectives and if I don't always say something with which you agree then. . . . Whatever.

However, that's part of the problem. We're not listening and we're not asking clarifying questions. Instead, we're making assumptions, trolling, making death threats. I cannot even begin to wrap my head around all of the complexities we face just now and it's just going to get harder as both sides of the political aisle insist on getting more and more entrenched.

So a couple of thoughts that seem random but aren't, at least in my head. First, many of us have read Chinua Achebe's brilliant book Things Fall Apart. I'm not going to give you a book report or even a book review because what strikes me is that in this book, the protagonist, Okonkwo, consistently tries to control everything. Achebe references Yeats's poem "The Second Coming", specifically the line "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." I remember when I first read this line I sensed immediately what Achebe might have meant, though it might have simply been the way the line and novel resonated with me. My thinking was that the tighter we try to hold on to things, the more we try to control things, the greater the tension and, sooner or later, the center will not hold and everything will collapse. I feel like that's where we are with the Kavanaugh story.

Too many people have chased after different things that appeal best or most to them and, well, it's a disastrous mess. Disastrous on more levels than I can imagine or try to articulate. And this mess is merely one of many as politicians get more firmly entrenched into positions from which they have no recourse but to dig deeper and shout more loudly.

I wrote my piece about #whyididntreport. After that, when talking with a friend, other recollections surfaced. Mostly small stuff but, even still, it was reminder that too often young women are simply not safe with older men. On the other hand, there are often young women who are acutely aware of the control they can have over men by simply whispering a threat. Either behavior is reprehensible and I worry we are too far into the abyss to find our ways back.

So this whole Republican thing. Yes, I'm a moderate Republican and I worry that my party has lost its mind. I'm not too sure about the Democrats either because right now there is just a lot of positioning that seems mostly about proving the other guy is a nitwit or some immoral monster or both.

I was thinking, though, about why I'm still a Republican because, given the behavior of the party over the past few years, well, I don't even. I'm not going to talk about this administration because I know that's incredibly controversial and my hope and prayer is that this president is an anomaly. However, having said that, my further hope and prayer is that people will wake up and pay attention to how a democracy can and should work, and by "people" I mean both voters and politicians.

Even so, I'm a fiscal conservative and social moderate. I think that's a biblical position. Oh yes, I'm also an evangelical Christian. Now I'm not a theologian and don't pretend to be one, and I've no doubt some of my former students can sort out my exegetical mistakes but my position is fairly simple.

I'm a fiscal conservative because we are charged to be good stewards. I'm a social moderate because we are charged to care for the widows and orphans, for those who cannot care for themselves. I also believe the Bible teaches us to care for them until they are able to care for themselves because as we are good stewards of all things, we also help others become good stewards of their capacities, skills, and abilities.

Sure, it's a lot more complicated than that for many of the issues that face us, but I think it really gets down to some fundamentals we've forgotten or choose to ignore. First, James 1:19 which reads
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
But you should think about reading this guy's blog which is powerfully articulate and thoughtful on the topic of Brett Kavanaugh. Second, three of the hardest verses in the Bible:
Jesus replied:“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).
I'm fairly confident that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. God is much greater than either party. God does not bless one and condemn the other. He knows our words are not often what is really in our heads and hearts. He knows how we are able to dissemble and rationalize. Politics and perspective of patriotism or anything else notwithstanding. 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
It's likely there are times I err more liberal than conservative on some issues, especially when it comes to the care and treatment of women and children as well as for those who are fighting so hard to be successful. And I'm okay with that.

Friday, September 28

Kavanaugh. Ford. #WhyIDidn'tReport

I'm appalled by the behavior of most of the members of the Senate during the course of the Kavanaugh confirmation. I'm not so impressed by the disingenous and clearly coached dissembling of the man who is likely to be the next Supreme Court Justice, who called out Democrats, some specifically which makes me question his ability to be objective once he has that coveted lifetime appointment.

Kavanaugh is not the victim though he has been victimized, to some extent, by the process. This could have been avoided but, instead, the Senate, once an august body, has allowed itself to fall to the level of playground fighting and name-calling. Pathetic.

Lindsey Graham wants corroboration.
He added: “It’s a factual decision. … Unless something new comes forward, you just have an emotional accusation and an emotional denial without corroboration.”
I was 6 and he was 13 or 14. I was staying at his house because his mom was good friends with my mom and my mom was in the hospital giving birth to my sister. He came into the guest room and climbed into bed with me. He wanted to touch me and wanted me to touch him. That was it. Just touching. I can't corroborate that Mr. Graham, but I remember this powerfully and distinctly though it was nearly 60 years ago.

I was a college sophomore working at a law office part-time to help pay my college expenses. He was older (seemed ancient by my standards) but was probably only in his 40s. He had a habit of drinking lunch and when he came back to the office one day, he called me into his office, closed the door, and pressed me against the wall and tried to kiss me. When I pushed him away, he laughed and told me that he was my boss, that he'd let it go this time. I quit that afternoon. I can't corroborate that Mr. Graham, but I remember this powerfully and distinctly as well.

With emotion and without emotion.

I can't prove it. I never reported it for the hundreds of reasons young women give for not reporting such incidents. I remember being scared that his mother would walk in and that I would get in trouble. I was 6. I was not the aggressor nor the assaulter. I was never around him by myself after that, but it never occurred to me to say anything to anyone. Why? Because. Just because, but also because I felt like I might get in trouble somehow.

And that suggests a deeply embedded way of thinking about the roles and behaviors of girls and boys. Why in the world would I, at 6, think a teenager wanting to touch me was my fault or that I might be in trouble?

The president seems to think that if assaults were "as bad as" we say they are, that we would file charges. Seriously? How cluelessly blockheaded are these men? The ones who grope women and think they can get away with it because they're in positions of power?
Were the assaults on me "bad enough" to report? I have no idea. But I know why I didn't report and it is as much because I believed the men in charge wouldn't listen as I wondered if somehow it was my fault.


And yet, that is how the Senate makes me feel.

All of this mess did not have to happen.

Judge Kavanaugh may have grown up to be a decent, honorable, and hard-working man who loves his family and is good at what he does. He could have said that even though he does not recall the incident, he is deeply sorry for the shock and trauma Dr. Ford experienced and hopes that in his work he can work harder to champion the kind of respect all men should have for the bodies and persons of women.

And now not only do I not trust Kavanaugh to be a respecter of women and their bodies, but I do not trust any of the GOP to care one whit about women. Period.

What's even worse is that women and girls of all ages will realize that is pointless to report because they won't ever be believed unless they have corroborating evidence, which is as ludicrous and stupid as it is insulting and offensive.

Tuesday, August 14

Willow Creek: A reflection

Willow Creek is about four miles from my house. I've been there a couple of times. I've never been drawn to go to church there; it's always seemed too big and just, well, too much for me. I have good friends who go there and love it there and those friends are now grieving for their church, for their leadership, for their community.

Because Willow is in my community backyard, it's hard not to know about all of the stories. The local papers lead with those stories though, I have to say, with some restraint. There doesn't seem to be much glee, no sense of schadenfreude.

It was with interest and some trepidation, then, I read the opinion piece "As Willow Creek reels, churches must reckon with how power corrupts."

Over the weekend I was talking with a friend of mine about the difficulties (too small a word) in which Willow Creek finds itself. I've never been a fan of Bill Hybels and I think some people who know me know that. Just had to do with the whole megachurch thing which isn't my thing. I've never read his books and I've heard him speak exactly once. It was fine. Anyway, I told my friend I was imagining what it might be like to have been in a position to try to hold someone like Hybels accountable. Honored, at first, I think, to be part of the inner circle. Easy enough, perhaps, to suggest he rethink something when they were first starting in that Palatine theater. Easy enough to be that partner and spiritual critical friend in those first years of growth. But then he was able to build Willow Creek. THE Willow Creek. That huge campus in South Barrington. And with that he became not just Bill Hybels, but BILL HYBELS.

Now maybe if I'd known him since the beginning I'd be okay having that, "Hey Bill, you wanna keep it real?" conversation with him. Perhaps challenging a few things that seemed a bit out of line. But if I'd joined the ministry team after the opening of the South Barrington campus, I wondered if it would be harder. I wondered if some would think, "Who am I to question Bill Hybels? I mean, it's Bill Hybels!" And then the man and his reputation become something larger than they are and should be because the more deferential the people become, the harder it is to be humble. I'm just guessing, of course. I cannot presume to speak for Mr. Hybels or any of his associates.

I had a weird flashback while I was thinking of how hard it might be to try to be the one to suggest that Hybels was behaving badly and suggest he curtail some things. I worked for a company called Trintex that became Prodigy. At the time of the company's genesis, the corporate giants that were a part of this experiment were CBS, IBM, and Sears though it wasn't too long into the experiment CBS got cold feet and pulled out. Anyway, John Akers was then CEO of IBM and Eddie Brennan was CEO of Sears. A lot of the technology employees were from IBM including my director, Paul. We were going to a meeting during which we would be doing a "show and tell" for the board and Mr. Akers and Mr. Brennan. Paul and I were in the elevator headed up to the conference room when Mr. Akers got on the elevator. I thought Paul was going to stroke out. I was too young to be awed, but I was excited to be a part of the presentation and I recognized Mr. Akers when he got on the elevator. Mr. Akers had a piece of lint on the lapel of his navy blue suit (with a very thin chalk stripe). I said, "Excuse me, sir" and motioned to his lapel. He smiled and brushed it off. Paul's eyes nearly popped out of his head. I know this is not at all like holding Bill Hybels accountable for his actions, but this recollection came back to me because I realized then that Paul never would have said anything. He was too much in awe of the man. Who was just a man with some schmutz on his lapel. What I also must note is that throughout the meeting, both Mr. Akers and Mr. Brennan were just nice people. They didn't seem to be too impressed with who they were or what they did.

That brought back other recollections of men and women of positions of power who abused them. I remember being in a meeting for which several people had been required to prepare reports for the president. One of the directors got up and started to speak. Within minutes, maybe seconds, the president started to shred him mercilessly. Everyone went mute. We were all terrified of her. And, what we all agreed upon when she was nowhere near was that she was terrible at her job. But it was easier to keep our heads down and try to do our work as well as possible.

I think it may be harder to help manage the power perspective of a pastor. He or she is a person of God, after all. God! Who messes with God? And so, I read the article with interest. It's easy to say that structures should be in place to help hold leadership accountable. There's a whole Willow Creek Association to do that, but what if those structures can't withstand the personality? What if there is too much concern that the reputation, the image must be protected at all costs? What if that leader is too able to keep the more insidious side of himself or herself hidden? What if some people see glimpses of it and say nothing because they figure they must be wrong or must have misunderstood, that it must be them not that leader?

Leaders of churches are human beings with all the faults and flaws attributable thereto. Did Willow and Bill Hybels become victims of their own success? Is it because of the growing celebrity status they shared--Willow because of Hybels and Hybels because of Willow?

This is what I do know. Many of the people of Willow Creek are grieving. I'd be willing to bet they're not entirely sure what they're grieving other than the Willow Creek they know and love is under attack, isn't what it was even a month ago. They're grieving the change. They're grieving the people who aren't members who think they know more than they do. They're grieving because there are people who think that somehow Willow Creek deserved this comeuppance.

As I said, I've never been a fan of Willow Creek. It's too big for me. But the people I know who go there are people of profound faith. Their spiritual needs are met there so Willow has to be doing something right.

As they steer this course, seeking new leadership, regaining their footing, being introspective and reflective of what they do well and what they need to change, the evangelical community needs to pray with them and for them. It's not just big churches that falter. It's not just celebrity pastors who stray. This could happen to any pastor in any church anywhere. The on-going story is just less likely to be told on an international stage.

My hope and prayer are that Willow Creek will be a model of recovery going forward, not just a morality tale of how the mighty can fall.

Sunday, July 22

I'm an emotional fraud, sort of

Mother-daughter relationships are complex. That's an understatement, of course. And I can speak only from the perspective of the daughter.

My mother and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years. I could go into grand detail, but I'm not really interested in whatever emotion that might prompt. I'll just say this: she hit; I learned to take it or duck, and to lie really well; I got out as soon as I could. In spite of all of that, I was still awed by her for many years.

Here's an example of why she awed me. She decided to learn how to scuba dive when she was 65. That was after she'd beaten breast cancer which required a double mastectomy. Over the years I was surprised she didn't play the "cancer survivor" card more often, but she didn't really see herself as a victim. Anyway, when she decided she wanted to try scuba diving, she went all in. Took the lessons, bought the gear, found a group of people she could diving with pretty regularly. When the dive group broke up after a few years and for reasons I could never fathom (I know you got that), she hung up her dive gear. Whenever she took up something new, she took it on full tilt until it was over and when it was over, that was that. Most of the time, it was over because a particular group of people couldn't or didn't stay together. She was oddly but fiercely loyal to that group.

She was, though, a terrible mom. At least that's my perception. My sister is six years younger than I and no doubt has a different view. My stepsiblings met her much later so they have a view I often didn't recognize. My dad was an alcoholic, though pretty benign in his behavior if he wasn't wrecking a car. Fortunately he hurt only himself and the cars. She was the one who went into towering rages or who simmered with anger until a word or a look or something just made her explode. She did change after they finally divorced, but it took a great while for some of the edges to begin to smooth though we were still often at odds. I do know one reason why and it galls me: we're very much alike in temperament though very different in many ways. I know why that's true, too: I've worked hard not to be like her in many ways so I'm very aware that much of who I am and what I am is because of her, directly and indirectly.

But I don't like her.

When I was in elementary school, probably about 6th grade, she told me that she had to love me but she didn't have to like me. That stung then and for many years after. I've come to understand that. It is, I have found, a sentiment shared by others. In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Rocky Wirtz, owner of the Blackhawks stated that he loved his father, but he didn't like him. Given what was shared in the article--in some ways a teaser for a book coming out in October--it seems that Rocky and his father had a relationship much like I had with my mother. Tempestuous. Conflicted.

I don't love her because I have to, but because she's my mom. I know the love I feel for her is different and partially because she's my mom, and that I have all these horrible, painful memories I have to set aside because she's not that person any more.

When I first started realizing and acknowledging her dementia, it was weird, uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, confusing, perplexing. I was an emotional wreck sometimes. There were times she was the ugly, mean, condescending, spiteful person I knew so well. Other times I could tell she was scared and uncertain. And sometimes that wickedly funny sense of humor and sharp intelligence would shine through. Even as an adult woman, I was still terrified of making her angry so navigating some of the difficult decisions of getting them to move to assisted living felt like walking through an emotional minefield: her emotions and mine. She was in denial, of course. And when there were moments of recognition that things had to change, she was a bit more agreeable but certainly fought to say it would be only temporary. No one goes into that mental darkness willingly.

Even now that funny Mom shows up or that smart, clever Mom makes a comment that startles and amuses me. She is less mean and ugly about people, though I've still seen that eyebrow raised when someone says or does something and recognize that brief look of judgement. 

As with all of us, we have to take the good and the bad with the ugly. All of us are all of that.

Just recently I posted a picture of my mother with the observation that during a recent visit she didn't recognize me and that was the first time that had happened. She wasn't sure of who I was in subsequent visits, but she seemed to recognize a friendly face and I could still make her laugh. I got a number of lovely comments after that and that's when I realized what a fraud I am.

I take care of her because it's the right thing to do. I take care of her because that's my responsibility.

What annoys and frustrates me is that I want her to be comfortable and I know how mad she'd be if she were aware of what's become of her and sometimes I miss that really irritating, ungrateful, self-centered, smart, funny person, but not all of the qualities of her former self. But we can't choose the parts we like and ignore the rest. All of those qualities made her who she was, who she is.

I don't know any more if I don't like her. I can't tell. But I know I'll keep trying to take care of her because it's the right thing to do. And because she's my mom.

Tuesday, July 3

The Power of Information

We live in the Information Age. Some of us survive in the Information Age, nearly or occasionally overwhelmed by the onslaught of a continuous cacaphony of sound bites and spin amplified by the flood of media bits and pieces we get through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more (I don't Snap though I have an account).

In 2016, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum spoke of the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution. In this article, Schwab spoke of the disruption already being caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution because of such technology as "artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing." Watch the 11-minute video and be a little afraid, a little awed, a little perplexed. The more technologically complex our world, the more complex and important the need for information literacy.

I don't think there is a simple binary response to what Schwab discusses. It takes some reflection and thinking.

But the point of mentioning the Fourth Industrial Revolution is acknowledging how incredibly fast information is available to us and how MUCH information is available to us. Because there is so much, we each likely tend to find the sources most manageable and often that also means the sources that most appeal to our individual perspectives. Perhaps without meaning to, we shelter ourselves from differing opinions and perspectives. Soon, because of the onslaught, we isolate ourselves from differing opinions and perspectives because it is easiest, because it is less upsetting, because we hear what we want to hear and so we no longer have to reflect or think. We can just be outraged or concur with like thinkers.

The people of the United States like to think our government is a democracy. A simple definition of democracy is "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." There are some who people democracy is dying in the United States, that we haven't been a democracy for some time, and that we might still be able to recover a true democracy is "We, the People" can get our collective acts together. (I've before bemoaned the fact that too many people forget that "We, the People" are, in fact, the federal government. So when they wonder why there isn't any change at the federal level, they need to check the last time they actually went to a poll to vote or got involved in any way, shape, or form with exercising their voice as a citizen. Those folks in the White House and Congress work for us and they need to be reminded of that now and then.)

However, for us to get involved and to be truly informed on the issues, we have to do more than listen to our favorite commentators and read or watch our favorite news sources. It's extraordinarily rare that any of them offer an unbiased telling of the news or provide a sufficient context. We have to trust ourselves to do that. And that is why I encourage you to read Vicki Davis's blog post: A Gullible Population is a National Security Issue.

If you're already a bit weary of reading, I'll overlook the potential irony that reading is too much work for you and will attempt to summarize some of her key points, but I exhort you to find time later to read the whole blog post on your time. It is well worth your time.

First, the concept of "weaponized social media" is not new. Vicki notes that cyberweapons have a clear intent. Note her emphasis that weaponized social media seeks to leave people "angry or confused." Think how many times you've seen someone share something through social media and note how outraged they are, and that people have to do something to make sure "it" is stopped. Think about how many times you have simply reacted to that person's outrage without doing any research on your own to test the veracity and validity of the post.

Second, Vicki digs deep into some of the ads that caused such dissent, frustration, and outrage among the American people. As she notes, people responded to some of these ads in very real ways because something tipped in them, some message rubbed an already sore spot or inflamed a sensibility that had been simmering. People simply responded and often, it seems, without thinking and without wondering about the source.

Third, and perhaps most importantly,
information literacy is a massive national security issue.
This makes the work educators and parents do with information literacy and digital citizenship an imperative, not something that would be nice to include if we only had time. It's not just the purview of library media specialists.

It also means that we have to be conscientious in the way we behave with social media. Not liking for the sake of liking, not sharing simply because whatever we saw or read seemed to strike a chord.

A professional acquaintance recently shared something on Facebook by a well-known blogger. I took a bit of exception to what the blogger had to say and I did some research on what he said. I wasn't going to post because, well, who am I? That guy is famous and people flock to hear him speak and share his pithy posts and read his books. I'm just, well, a person who likes to do research and has a healthy dose of skepticism as part of her DNA. But I thought he was wrong or a bit to pithy though, in the end, he made a great point. That made me wonder how many people he lost before he got to the most important point and why he might have lost them, which made me realize that information literacy isn't just about doing research and testing the veracity of sources, but it's about tenacity and being will to hear or read ALL of the words.

So information can be powerful. We can give it more power depending on how we support it and how we share it.

We need to be informed. We cannot be gullible to believe all that we hear and read and see; we must be willing to do due diligence to test the authenticity and veracity of what we hear and read and see. We must be cautious and responsible about what we choose to share and we must be thoughtful about why we choose to share something.

Friday, June 29

A reflection on why and how and faith

Earlier this week I was at ISTE2018. ISTE stands for the International Society for Technology in Education. There were about 24K attendees from all over the world, quite literally. There were thousands of exhibitors in the Expo Hall at McCormick Place. In addition to hundreds of sessions, there were playgrounds and poster sessions. There were dozens of options for every hour of the day. It can be just too much.

I'd made a decision before this particular ISTE that I was just going to go with the flow. There are lots of people I'd hoped to be able to see but knew that without planning it was going to be impossible. It's the purest of serendipity when you run into people you know at an event the size of ISTE.

I also decided I was going to take a lot of selfies and I wasn't going to get a lot of those tags to add to my name badge. Why? Well, that's the point. The why.

You may be familiar with Simon Sinek's Golden Circle. He did a TED talk in 2009 and published a book, Start With Why, that same year. a while ago and his concept--and book--have shot to the forefront of many folks' thinking.

Why? It's a simple question, one of my favorites. Young children love to ask this question and for good reason: they are trying to understand the world in which they are becoming a part. Sinek reminds us that we each need to start with our "why?"--why do we get up every morning? 

My why is actually quite a lot like the example of the young woman in  Chapter 1 of Find Your Why: because I want to help people be and become their best selves, to help others to excellence with excellence.

It occurred to me before this conference that I needed to recharge; I can't help others become their best selves unless I'm able to be my best self. So I worried less about what I wore and who I might see and with whom I might be seen and focused more on what I might learn.

To me, that is part of the how. How do I become my best self? How do I further support my why? 

Faith is also part of the how because it fuels my thinking of the possible. Each day is a gift brimming with possibilities. Faith reminds me that God is in control. Faith encourages me because God can guide me as I strive to seek His will to do that to which he has called me. And that brings me back to my why, which is to help others be and become their best selves, to help others to excellence with excellence.

I'm in a weird place in my life. Old enough to start to wonder if people think I'm too old to be capable or to do what younger folks can do. Old enough to know how little I know and how much I have yet to learn and how much I want to learn, but also with clarity of what I don't want to learn.

I get impatient, yes, when I feel like I haven't been asked to do something that I believe is a great fit for me. But I can't control what others decide or want, so I continue to seek opportunities that may lie elsewhere. Because that which is the best for me in a given situation to do best what I do best is out there. 

I'm happy about the folks I got to see and hug at ISTE. I have small regrets there were some I did not see or get to hug, but I hope they know I love them just the same.

In the mean time, I'll process what I've learned and heard, and all that I've collected because I've still got a lot of reading and thinking and processing to do so. And that is my why right now: to continue to learn and expand my own knowledge and capabilities as well as my circle of professional acquaintances and friends because sometimes others will be the best resource I can offer those with whom I get to work. In the quiet of these hot days, I will read and think and write and learn. That is my how. And I believe with all of my heart that in the days that lie ahead will be possibilities to help others to excellence and with excellence that I cannot imagine.

Friday, June 8

The Demon of Dementia

BrightFocus Foundation
My mother has dementia. Over the past four years, I have witnessed her slowly slide into a mental oblivion. For a while she was able to put thoughts together and express herself with some coherence. While her recollections were occasionally humorously fantastic, some of her older recollections were spot on. There were times I'd take her out and she'd make comments that made me want to correct her, but I soon realized that she articulated what was in her head and whatever connections made sense to her so I let it be. In fact, there were times I learned more about her as a result of those connections that often made me want to pause and process a bit.

I went to see her a month or so ago. We don't live in the same state and I try to visit her at least every other month although I'm beginning to feel as though I need to try to visit more often. She had obviously declined further, which came as no surprise but that still didn't make it easy to witness. I sat with her while she cleaned the tines of her fork and then spent several minutes attempting to spear a piece of macaroni. She didn't seem frustrated. I found myself getting more and more tense as I tried to appear to be patient and not just reach out to do it for her.

I saw her again just after Mother's Day, a day we didn't really acknowledge in any real sense. I found myself sitting with her at the table again and found myself again clenching my hands in my lap as she fiddled with her food, though part of it was simply trying to figure out how to eat it. Early on the house caregiver picked up the half sandwich and put it in Mom's hand and did the same with another resident. She explained, "Sandwiches are easy to eat once they have it in their hands but they have a hard time remembering how to pick it up and eat it."

One of the other residents has a small dog. I have thoughts about the wisdom of a small dog, even leashed or especially leashed, in a converted duplex with 7 or 8 people most likely using walkers or wheelchairs, but the dog and her owner are there. The dog was whining and begging to come to the table; her mother was talking to her and trying to shush her. My mother turned to me and said, "I want her." I explained the dog already belonged to someone. My mother lifted that eyebrow and said very clearly and in a tone of voice I well remember from days gone by, "You wanna bet?"

So she can't really eat a sandwich by herself, but if she wants something, she can, in fact, put her mind to it. Disturbing, Daunting. Intriguing.

Some months ago I was having a weird headache and my doctor sent me to a neurologist to get an MRI of my brain. The headache thing proved to be nothing of concern (he said he could give me meds but it was hardly worth it and I should report to my doctor if the headaches in that location continued; a few weeks later they were gone). I'd asked about dementia and did tell me there were no indicators in my brain. At that time. He explained a lot about what doctors know about dementia, but also acknowledged there is a lot they just don't know.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, terrifies me. I'm fascinated by the tests, by the attempts to diagnose sooner. I'm fascinated by what I might do to try to make sure this doesn't happen to me though I also know there are no guarantees.

I have a sense of what might have contributed to my mother's descent into this particular hell of which she is, oddly, not aware. That is the blessing in disguise because I tell people how angry she would be if she knew this was happening to her. She didn't seem to go through the panic of losing her memory but mostly because she was in denial that it was happening; I realized that later. There are dozens of things I would do differently had I know then what I've learned over the past few years. Nothing prepares you for those subtle shifts in behavior so it's easy to be in denial or to delay getting any medical evaluation because you don't want to overreact. However, if I'd known sooner about her situation, I could have made plans differently and less jarringly.

I know that my living situation is very different and it's not likely that I'll repeat her particular scenario. I also know that once I hit 65, all bets may be off but that I can do particular things to try to reduce the risk.

What's interesting is that keeping the brain active and learning is not one of the main factors listed to reduce dementia risk: not smoking (check), drinking in moderation (check), regular exercise (gotta work on that), and healthy diet and weight (more exercise will help with the second of these), stress reduction (exercise will help with this, too), and good restorative sleep (huh; exercise could help with this, too). But I won't stop keeping my brain active and learning just in case researchers change their minds. ;)

I can't tell, though, which is worse: watching her decline and wondering what will happen next or wondering about my own situation. I couldn't remember the word "dustpan" the other day. Never mind I haven't mentioned a dustpan in possibly years, but I freaked a little that I could not remember the word. And then the round and round starts to happen as I do a sort of mental awareness and alertness check. Because wondering what will happen next is the best anyone can do. No one knows enough about this disease and it progresses differently for everyone.

What gets harder is to know how best to handle medical situations. Earlier this year my mother had an infection that required hospitalization followed by time in a rehab facility because of the antibiotic that had to be administered. That little jaunt did nothing good for her liver. When she seemed to have another flare-up of that particular bacteria, the nurse practitioner wanted to put her on a heavy-duty antibiotic that would require home health care and would nothing good for her already battered liver. The infectious disease doctor agreed with me that because my mother wasn't symptomatic, there was no point in stressing her liver and, given her age (88), palliative care made sense. The nurse practitioner was not happy with me, but we're now with hospice palliative care. Mom is visited weekly by a chaplain, a social worker, and a nurse.

At this point in my life, the best I can hope to do is keep her as comfortable as possible, do a better job of taking care of myself, and not let the concern about her or me consume me.

Wednesday, June 6

My Commencement Address

I wasn't asked to give a commencement address, but if I were. . .

Family members, friends, faculty: You are here today to celebrate a loved one’s graduation. It’s been 4, 5, 6. . .maybe more years in the making, but that day is at long last here. You will weep, you will laugh, you will heave sighs of relief, and you may yet groan a few more times when some of the final bills arrive. But, in the end, we all must believe that the entirety of this experience has been and will be worth it. 

Your stories are worth telling and I hope you will have the opportunity to do so. In fact, you may have noticed a booth in the lobby as you came in and some of you may have already availed yourselves of it. You are invited to tell at least part of your story: recording a message about your loved one’s journey to this giant stepping stone from university to what we call “real life.”

And now, to those of you who have one foot raised in anticipation of the final literal or figurative walk across this stage: that moment when you are handed what symbolizes this threshold of an end and a beginning.

What people typically say during a commencement speech has to do with celebrating what you have done so far and looking forward with boldness and anticipation for what you will yet accomplish, what you will yet become. Students are given admonitions to be men and women of integrity, to continue to challenge themselves, to be unwilling to settle for less than their best. Students are exhorted to discover their true passions and to strive to follow their dreams to help make the world a better place.

Of course speakers are making a lot of assumptions about you. We’re assuming you want to make the world a better place. We’re assuming you have hopes and dreams beyond paying off your college debt. We’re assuming you want to be a person of integrity and good will, that you want to do more and be more than you imagined possible. Maybe all you really want right now is a nap.

But right now all of us are caught up in the moment. We’re dazzled by the bright, freshness of possibility and opportunity. Some of us older folks are reflecting on the blur that was our own graduation, wondering what lofty words were shared with us and what we were challenged to try to be and do. Well, other than gainfully employed. I wonder how many of us have thought about the message we might write to our younger selves if we had the chance, now that we’re definitely older and quite possibly wiser.

This is the letter I would write to my younger self, the one who sat in that huge convention center with my department classmates and played dots on the program with my friend Gordon—yes, that much I remember.

Dear Elaine:
Don’t sweat the small stuff, not that you usually do. You have an idea of what you want to do next and that’s good. You have a plan, sort of. But you already know that plans change because of the thousands of factors you don’t even know to consider. This will be true for the rest of your life, so go ahead and make plans but be flexible. In fact, as much as you are able, be prepared for the unexpected because those unexpected turns may lead to the very best adventures.

Life is an adventure, by the way. It’s a collection of episodes, wrong turns, new people and situations, opportunities that don’t come to fruition and unexplained doors opened at random times. I could get preachy here but you’re not yet ready for that, but I’ll let you know that nothing is a surprise to the Sovereign of the Universe. All of those machinations of trying to make things work out a certain way will likely lead to greater frustration so, in the immortal words of Elsa, let it go. (Even without the character reference, you know what I mean.)

Do I have any actual advice for you? Sure. Look around you. Look up and around. There’s stuff going on in this big world and you’ll miss a lot of the important stuff if you’re constantly looking at your phone (which you don’t actually have yet so this will make more sense in time). And when you look up and around, take the time to wonder about the world around you.

There will always be negativity in the world. There were always be those who will believe the worst about anyone and everyone. Be better than that. When you see people, SEE people. See individuals, see personalities, see possibilities, see undiscovered talent. There will always be some people who are better able than you in many things and people from whom you can learn. There will always be some people who just set your teeth on edge. See them all as individuals and be prepared to learn even from those who make you want to scream. You have to trust me on this.

Most importantly, perhaps, don’t stop learning. I don’t mean just school learning because a lot of the most important things you’ve learned in this collegiate journey had nothing to do with the classroom or a content area. You learned from the way professors handled themselves; you learned from the way you interacted with your friends, your classmates, and those people foisted on you during group work who did nothing or not enough. You learned a lot about yourself and you learned some valuable skills, some of which you won’t recognize or realize for a while.

At a commencement address you will hear in the future, a provost will say that college is not a parenthetic; it is not just that bit between life before college and life after college. It is a part of your life experience. I cannot express how much you have learned about yourself and about the kind of human being you will be because you will not even know about it for weeks, months, even years.

Yes, graduation from college is a singular event. Not everyone gets to do this, and it’s possible that some in your graduating class and waited a lifetime to get here. It marks a significant milestone in the making of you though it is by far the last significant milestone in your life.

There will come a time you will look back on your college days—many of which you will choose to forget and some of which you will just forget. You will see these days much differently, and that’s part of life and learning in life, through life.

But today you are looking ahead. You are looking towards Possibility and towards Adventure. So go and be and do. Inhale deeply. Feel profoundly. Wonder. Be amazed. Learn whenever you can even about stuff that intrigues you. Be curious. Be prepared to be wrong, to be hurt. Laugh. Cry. Hug. Be considerate of others. Be passionate about what moves you. Be nice even to those who aggravate you. Be content. Push the edges of your boundaries. Be reckless on occasion but try to moderate the stupid. The world is a strange, frustrating, terrifying, aggravating, and amazing place. Experience as much of it as you can and learn from those experiences.

And now it’s time to put this particular experience behind you and take the literal or figurative step into your future. So go, and never lose your curiosity and your sense of wonder about the world.

Thank you.

Sunday, April 22

The Third Place, Mall Space, and Other Not-So-Random Thoughts

Recently Starbucks (Apr 2018) has been in the news for wrong reasons but also some more positive reasons as the CEO Kevin Johnson asserted Starbucks has long wanted to be "the best third place in our lives." I confess that phrase was new to me. Set that aside for a moment.

Over the weekend much has been made of the closing of Carson's because of the inability of Bon Ton to do whatever it needs to do to keep the stores opening. That has led to hand-wringing over the impact on other retailers which means ancillary impact on shopping malls. Hold that thought, too.

Then I heard and read about warehouses. Warehouse demand outpacing supply. Shortage of warehouse space driving construction. Lots of warehouse projects in the works. Then as I was rambling through the news, I saw some articles about solar farms. Hold that thought as well.

I realize a lot of this news is highly localized, but based on my reading, I'm guessing the Chicagoland area is not the only one with a similar confluence of challenges.

Now, back to the third place. Ray Oldenburg was an urban sociologist who seems to be the one who popularized the idea of the third place. In the early 1990s he noted the need for third places, especially as suburbia became a thing.
Most needed are those 'third places' which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase 'third places' derives from considering our homes to be the 'first' places in our lives, and our work places the 'second.'
The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends...They are the heart of a community's social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.
For a time, America's malls were the third place for many communities. But then malls started to decline or changed in character, and Americans looked for other places to be that third place.  It became even more evident in 2008 when Starbucks made it clear it wanted to be a community third place.

So this idea of a third place is a powerful one. But I started to wonder why all these folks looking for warehouse space of different type and sizes didn't look at emptying malls. And then I started to wonder why people wanting to build solar farms didn't look at the roofs of emptying malls. And then I started to wonder if there might be a way for malls to be repurposed as storage/warehouse space for some organizations and if their roofs couldn't be converted or used as small solar farms--though I've no idea of the cost involved to build a solar farm or how big it needs to be to matter.

Then I also started to wonder why those emptying malls couldn't become different kinds of third places. Maybe community K-12 schools, along with business, university and/or community college, and public library partners, develop really amazing makerspaces for kids AND adults. Maybe even training locations for adult learners who want to develop or work on literacy skills, computing and coding skills, or other skills that are becoming increasingly necessary.

Maybe solar farm owners/developers/management firms make use of potential labor development as they build their mini-solar farms.

Or maybe some of that roof becomes a rooftop garden that also supports a community college or park program in horticulture, agriculture, and more.

Then I wondered if some of those warehouse projects could be targeted. I've no doubt that places like Amazon keeps track of the predominant kinds of stuff shipped to specific areas so geographically popular items could be stored in those warehouse for more immediate access and delivery. Or even for pickup.

I'm not an urban or suburban planner so I don't know the limitations and I'm sure there are a zillion reasons why some of these ideas won't work. But that's really no excuse not to consider "out of the box" possibilities that focus on the current and future needs communities for services, jobs, and education; for rethinking mall spaces and third places.

Tuesday, April 10

Sliding towards the abyss: What the Sinclair Broadcasting story and others like it MIGHT represent

The New York Times
On April 2, 2018, The New York Times reported that dozens of news anchors read the exact same broadcast. The Times further reported that "[i]t included a warning about fake news, a promise to report fairly and accurately,. . ." and invited viewers to go to the organization's web site if they had any comments.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published the entire script. This is creepy enough--this pre-emptive strike to try to assure viewers that Sinclair Broadcasting is not broadcasting fake news, that its reporting is indeed unbiased and strives not to be one-sided. I know I was not alone in being immediately suspicious that perhaps they protested a wee bit too much.

Then there were stories about employee contracts with unreasonable non-compete expectations. And today Newsweek published a story about an employee's experience of being sued for the balance of her contract. This particular employee, Lauren Hills, noted that she believes some people are afraid to leave their jobs because of the financial penalty. Legal experts are being quoted, noting the lawsuits are "unprecedented" and "punitive."

Many of the stories are similar, likely coming from the same baseline story with each reporter finding its own experts to comment on the situation. But let's say there is some truth to what former Sinclair Broadcasting employees are saying. The scripted message is disturbing enough in my opinion.

As I was reading and hearing the story about people being afraid to leave the company for fear of being sued, for fear of some sort of retribution, I felt sick. I've been reading a lot of novels situated during World War II and I cannot help but reflecting on how similar some of these situations are to the rise of the Third Reich.

I'm not an expert on World War II or the Nazis, but there are eerie similarities to the instances that people are afraid to disagree for fear of some sort of retaliation, that people are willing to go along with the horrible or distasteful because what seems to be good seems to be good and beneficial.

I find myself in the same weird, disorienting, and perplexing situation. This morning I read that the sharks are circling Paul Ryan who may or may not have signaled that he will step down as Speaker. The two who seem to be in positions to be selected to take over are flexing and finding ways to appease the Freedom Caucus to be elected as Speaker.

But then I read a story in the Wall Street Journal that Ryan hopes to overhaul welfare reform "as Republicans prepare to release a new, five-year farm bill that would impose tougher work requirements to get food stamps." Well, part of me applauds that because I would like to see some revamping of the federal regulations for welfare benefits and more incentives for people to get jobs. I agree with the possibility of this Republican position but I need and want more details.

Meanwhile, however, remaining members of a diminished Cabinet are eviscerating regulations that protect the environment and consumers while they pick the pockets of the taxpayers for trips and protection details. The Nazis plundered households and museums of their artwork. Our government officials seem just to be using money in ways that please them and doing so without trying to hide it.

Because there is such a dizzying number of stories coming at us from a multitude of sources, I fear the American public has no more outrage. We outraged out. At this point when it is reported that the Trump brothers may have taken a pleasure trip to Dubai at taxpayer expense, we shrug: "Yea, so what else is new?"

When it is reported by a number of sources that 45 has a sort of "signer's remorse" (Vanity Fair) and "hopes to back off from US$1.3 trillion spending deal with cuts to domestic programmes to offset deficit" (South China Post, but there are others from which to choose), again we just shrug because it is chaos as usual in the White House.

There have already been complaints about the lack of diversity in the Trump administration and then there was the photo of this year's White House interns. I don't know why people are surprised there is little diversity in this group of interns. Some might say, "At least there are young women in the photo!" and others might note there are some darker faces in the photo. Yes, it could have been worse, but it's still bad.

Meanwhile, with the presidential campaign underway--and you know it is, even if you refuse to admit it--there is already shredding and divisive rhetoric. The ugly seems to be our new normal.

So I'll end with two potentially unrelated thoughts because they're something I've been thinking about as I've read my World War II novels. First, Newsweek published a story in which a Buchenwald survivor stated that the United States feels like Germany before the Nazis took over. We seem to be in a twisted place because the whole of our country is twisted up by the extremes of both parties, but their emboldened rhetoric and by the apparent inability of many people to differentiate from that which is bombastic propaganda-like "news" and that which might be actual news. The media hasn't helped itself and still struggles with its breakneck breathlessness to try to be the first to a story that may or may not have legs.

Second, what would it be like if everyone with a drop of immigrant blood in them simply stayed home one day, provided they could afford it. I know that many who have many drops of immigrant blood could not afford not to work and would be afraid not to show up for fear of retaliation, something else that makes me irritable, sad, confused, angry, and fearful for my country. I'd say let's do this on the 4th of July, but many folks get that day off anyway. Although if everyone else stayed home and made it hard for others to celebrate, that would be a statement. Or we could all stay home on September 17. The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. So much of what we're arguing about is because of the Constitution (which, in my opinion, far too many people haven't actually read--along with the Bill of Rights or any of the rest of the Constitutional Amendments).

September 17 is already Constitution Day. It was first established in 1940 as "I am an American Day." The movie produced by William Hearst to celebrate American citizenship was, I think, in some response to the Nazis. In 1954, a high school girl wrote an essay titled "I am an American." And in 1966, to try to promote patriotism, a short piece titled "I am an American" was read before every game at Purdue University. Maybe part of what we do that day is focus on what it really means to each of us to be an American.

So instead of making the day about immigrants and immigration, we could make it a day about the founding of this country and what it means to protect and support the Constitution, what it means to try to ". . .establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." If everyone whose family or ancestors came to this country, whether recently or generations ago in the hope of something new and fresh and without fear of tyranny simply stayed home to celebrate the Constitution, what could that say? If everyone whose ancestors came to this country under duress but have, like their ancestors, persevered and fought for the promise of America simply stayed home to celebrate the Constitution because they, too, are "We the People," what could that say? Or what if we gathered in parks as "We the People" and as those who have come in hopes of becoming one of "We the People" and shared what it means to us to be an American AND actually listened to what each other has to say, just listened to each other. What could possibly come of that?