Friday, January 20, 2017

Getting older

When you’re young, you never really consider what it will be like to get old. What I mean by that is that the idea of getting older is a purely theoretical one when you are twenty or thirty years old. You know that one day you will be old, but it seems far off and not much to get bothered about. And then one day, you are older, or at least at the age at which point you’ve lived more than half your life. You are no longer a middle-aged person. People start to view you differently, and you view yourself differently. You become more serious about the things that matter; after all, there is no time to waste on foolish things. At the same time, you learn to laugh at yourself more; after all, you’ve earned that right. You know who you are and you like yourself. You may not be as pretty, or thin, or fashionable as you once were when you were young, but you no longer care. Or you do care, but not in the same way. A good day is one when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, wake up without a lot of small aches and pains, look reasonably presentable for work purposes, and get yourself through the day without being unnecessarily bitchy or frustrated. But society won’t let you grow old gracefully. It insists on putting in its two cents on how you should look and behave. And believe me, it’s not easy facing certain people in society and telling them to mind their own business; that you want to grow old gracefully without a lot of plastic surgery, Botox and fillers. Or that you are not interested in pumping yourself full of hormones to become youthful again. I spend a fair amount of my weekdays with younger people, and I can tell you that I do not envy them their youth. I would not want to return to my thirties and to the uncertainty of those years. You’re still finding your way, building a career, clearing the jungle and carving out your niche. It’s fun but at the same time, it’s deadly serious and a lot of hard work, overtime and weekend work. And if you’re looking for a partner to share life with, it is hard work to find the one that ‘fits’ you. And so it goes. Maybe you find the right person, and then you might want to start a family, with all the work that entails. No, I don’t want to go back or to be young again. I’ve earned my stripes and I want to be able to leave the work world and to leave my projects and tasks over to those who come after me—the younger workers. One day they will be old and will face the same thing. More power to them until that day comes.

So why do people make stupid comments—about your getting older, about the fact that you no longer look the same or act the same as you did when you were younger? That you look 'different' than you used to look (translated--older, more tired, etc.)? When those comments are made to me, my answer is--of course I do, I'm older. I'm no longer thirty years old. Getting older is not a choice. It is not something anyone can do anything about. Why should people feel guilty about getting older? Why do they need to be reminded about it constantly? It is no one’s ‘fault’ that people get old. It’s just life. But society won’t leave older people alone. And many older people feel as though they have to act ‘younger’. I am not one of them. I am honest about feeling tired, about not having the energy I once had, about wanting a more peaceful life, about wanting to retire, about not wanting to be ‘on’ all the time. I don’t want to work full-time until I die. That’s my choice and that’s my right. And if you don’t like me for it, that’s fine—leave me alone. Find someone else to reproach. And if you want to harass me for getting older, again, leave me alone. I don’t want you in my life. As far as work goes, I want the younger people to take over my job eventually. I have no reason to cling desperately to it; it does not define me—it is not my identity. I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do work-wise and I’ve done plenty. I’ve done enough to last two lifetimes. I want to use my time doing other things—volunteer work, library work, working at an animal shelter or working at a garden center—who knows what time will bring? Whatever it brings, I’ll tackle it. Just leave me alone and let me grow old gracefully. I have some good role models—older folks who have aged gracefully--and they do not (and did not) apologize for being old or for getting older. And I have never made them feel as though they had to, never. I’m proud of myself for that when I see the stupidity around me, and grateful for the wonderful relationships I’ve had with the older people in my life. They shared their wisdom and showed me the importance of empathy. It’s them I miss (those who have passed on), not youth, and not the stupidity of youth and of a society that worships youth. My mother used to say, once you got old, you became invisible. She was never invisible to me, and older people in general are not invisible to me. Again I say, if you have a problem with getting older and need to harass older people to deal with your own insecurity and fear of death, you can disappear from my life. I don't need you in it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No guarantees

This past Monday afternoon at work I decided to go to the main cafeteria to buy a coffee and something sweet to pick me up. As I was waiting on line to pay, I noticed the woman in front of me, struggling to find her wallet in her knapsack so that she could pay. She was a bit agitated and was talking to the cashier in English. She found her money and walked away with her food, but I noticed that she was talking to herself in a perturbed manner as she walked away. I paid for my coffee and dessert and walked toward the exit door. I saw this woman and she caught my eye as I passed her. She was still ranting a bit about the price of the meal she had just paid for (probably not so strange since the cafeteria prices are rather high). I commented briefly about the high prices and was preparing to walk on when she commented that I spoke English and wondered where I came from. I told her that I was American and she said she was as well. She told me that she was traveling around Norway and that her mother had Norwegian ancestry. She also mentioned that she had now made it to Oslo and figured that hospital cafeterias might have some cheaper meals (wrong as it turns out). But then she asked me a question—how easy would it be to make an appointment to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist. I told her that the lines were long in the public healthcare system to talk to a professional but that she might try private healthcare organizations (similar to American HMOs). She explained that she had left the USA because Trump had been elected, and that she was extremely upset about that, and also that her mother was sick and that she just couldn’t cope with it all. She didn’t seem to want to go home. I took a long look at her—she must have been around fifty years old, in good shape, athletic—and I wondered then what the world was coming to. She seemed so lost and I felt so sorry for her. This was the first person I met who had left the States because of Trump, and he hasn’t even taken office yet. I gave her some information that I thought might help, and she thanked me profusely. I felt almost guilty for doing so little, really.

But then I thought about my own reaction to Trump’s being elected president; I was depressed for nearly a month afterward. I am no longer depressed, but I am wary and anxious about him and about the state of the world. I normally don’t react viscerally to an election, but I did to this one. I don’t like Trump or what he stands for. I think my country has lost its way and is moving in a dangerous direction. I love my country and I don’t want to see it or its people suffer. I simply don’t know what to do about it except to remain aware and informed. But I find it appalling that we cannot trust the media to deliver truth, and if we cannot trust the media, then we are on the road to perdition. I see no reason for optimism at present, but I will try to be optimistic, if only for the sake of the many young people I know and care about who want to inherit a world within which they can live and plan their futures. We owe it to them to give them a future. But there are no guarantees. Our grandparents and parents lived through World Wars I and II; they wanted futures too, but got war instead. They saw their lives turned upside-down and futures smashed. They experienced separation from loved ones, from spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, parents—family in general and friends. Many soldiers made the supreme sacrifice—their lives--at very young ages. Maybe some of them didn’t really know what they were fighting for. Perhaps most of them were just plain afraid, like most of us would be. No one wants war. But sometimes the wrong people get into power and lead us astray. There are no guarantees in life, and that is what causes anxiety and depression. I have renewed respect for the men and women who lived through and survived two world wars and returned home to try to rebuild their lives, in addition to those who gave their lives for causes they might not have understood. It could not have been easy for the survivors, and I do know that many of them suffered from post-traumatic stress and other psychological afflictions. Many in my grandparents’ and parents’ generations wanted futures too, and many of those futures were taken from them by death or put on hold indefinitely. It is food for thought at this point in time. There is no guarantee that we are not on the road to perdition, however it is defined or whatever shape it takes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Link to a beautiful short story--Road of Souls--by PJ Curtis

I read a beautiful short story last night by the Irish writer and broadcaster PJ Curtis, called Road of Souls. It was printed in the latest book I'm reading, entitled Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night's Journey Into Day by Phil Cousineau (https://www.amazon.com/Burning-Midnight-Oil-Illuminating-Journey/dp/1936740737). In this book, the short story is entitled The Last Prince of Thomond (not Road of Souls); it was apparently first printed in a book entitled The Music of Ghosts. I went online to try to find the short story printed for itself alone so I could share it with  you here, and found it at the Clare County Library in Ireland. Unfortunately I cannot print the entire story here because it would be copyright infringement. But I can include a link to the webpage with the story on the Clare County Library website:

http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/literature/ncww/road_of_souls.htm



Monday, January 9, 2017

Gamle Aker church on a winter's night

I was out walking last evening--a clear night, not bitter cold, and came upon Gamle Aker church which was beautifully lit up. A beacon in the darkness, and there's a lot of darkness now in Oslo. I am looking forward to longer days very soon; 3:15 pm is too early in the day for it to be pitch dark. Gamle Aker church is a very old church, thought to have been built between 1130 and 1160 AD. It's not hard to imagine that perhaps many spirits walk the cemetery grounds and the church, given that the church is so old and that its walls and cemetery grounds hold many stories, some known and some of which will remain untold. You can read more about the church here:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Aker_Church








Sunday, January 8, 2017

Women, men, careers and choices

I wonder about the consequences of certain behaviors—what they lead to and how they change people. I was talking to a good friend yesterday about careers and career progression, and we were exchanging war stories from our respective workplaces. It struck me that she is experiencing now some of what I experienced about ten years ago. In my case, those experiences led to a significant change in how I viewed workplace leadership, careers in general, my career, and career progression. I have come full circle when it comes to careers; I started my work life with real gusto. I wanted a career and went after it. That’s no different than what many younger women experience these days, just that at the time I did it (the late 1970s/early 1980s), it was still considered a ‘big thing’ to want a long-term career if you were a woman. I remember Ms. magazine and how it promoted women’s value in the workplace and the importance of a career in women’s lives. Feminism promoted the idea of women having a choice; they could choose the home or the workplace, or both. The latter proved to be quite difficult when I was young, because it wasn’t easy to give your all to the workplace and then at home with a family and children. Most of the women I knew at that time (in the USA) solved that dilemma in different ways; some were wealthy enough to hire nannies to care for their children, while others placed them in private daycare. Others worked part-time and gave up the idea of having a full-time career. They had a job that helped pay the bills but which gave them the opportunity to be with their children more. All of them acknowledged that it was not possible to be a full-time employee and a full-time mother, and whether they felt guilt about that was not the issue. They acknowledged that something had to give, and sometimes it was their taking care of their own children that was sacrificed for their career. I don’t know how most of them feel about that decision at this point in their lives (most are in their early 60s). The few women I know who have truly reached the top were and still are dynamos whose children respect them for the fact that they broke through the barriers that had hindered women. But again, those women had full-time help in the form of nannies or parents who were available to help them raise their children.

Sometimes now I look at the younger women I know, who have so many more choices than we ever did, and I don’t see their lives as easier than ours. I rather see them as much more difficult. Even here in Norway, where equality between the sexes has come a long way, there is still grumbling and dissatisfaction with the way things have worked out for women. Why? Men are expected to do more at home and to contribute equally to childcare and housework. But most of the polls show that women are still doing most of the housework and taking care of many aspects of childcare that men don’t seem to or want to manage. I have no firm opinion about it; I am merely an observer and a listener. I know many younger women who live alone and have no desire to have children, while others have married later and had children later in order to give themselves the opportunity to build a career. What I hear from many younger women who work full-time is that they miss not being with their children when they are working; they wish they could spend more time with them. Their consciences bother them a lot. I think it’s an instinct in women to want to be with their children; perhaps an instinct that men have as well. When children arrive, life takes on a different character. The future of their children becomes important, more important than their own lives. That’s the way of nature, a way of ensuring the survival of future generations. There is not enough time in life to do everything wholeheartedly. We cannot have it all—the perfect job, the perfect home life, the perfect social life. None of them exist. Guilt simply makes life more stressful. I am not saying we can eradicate guilt; I don’t believe we can nor should we. But there is a happy medium. There is a way of living life that does not require a person (woman or man) to sacrifice her or his all on the altar of the workplace, only to go home completely sapped for energy and willingness to take part in family life. I think it is wrong of workplaces to expect that, and yet, that is the definition of the modern workplace—more efficient, more productive, always can be better, always can top last month’s or last year’s sales—in other words, never good enough. Striving for more—more power, more prestige, and more money--continually. That is the nature of the workplace and perhaps the nature of human beings. But it does not lead to happiness, real happiness. It does not lead to any sort of internal peace, it ignores the needs of the soul and the heart. Because in the midst of the striving, the questions come. What am I doing this for? Why am I doing this? What’s the goal? Why am I sacrificing my family life for a job that will spit me out when the time comes to cut budgets and personnel? Why do we willingly sign our lives over to a corporation that cares nothing about us in the long run? Why do we do it? We have to start asking the tough questions. If we do, there is hope for change.

My career is nearing its natural end. I never had my own children, but I think if I had had them, I would have wanted to spend time with them. I say that however from the perspective of now. I really don’t know what it would have been like to have tried to balance children and a career. Of course I would have had help from my husband, but still, I think it would have been stressful. He and I have careers that are not 9 to 5, and they still demand a level of engagement that we cannot give them anymore. I want much more free time to pursue my hobbies and other activities. I don’t regret my choice of career or the financial and intellectual independence it gave me, but I can see why women and men choose not to pursue a career. It comes down to listening to yourself, to your heart and soul. If you know you don’t want to devote your life to a career and that you would rather stay at home with your children or work part-time in order to spend more time with them, then that should be a choice that society respects and rewards both women and men for. Such a choice is no longer ridiculed, but it remains difficult for many couples to make it work. Social trends and our culture have created the need for materialistic lifestyles that require that couples work full-time in order to make them possible. Something has to give. Some couples are choosing simpler lives—making do with less, moving from cities, working for smaller companies, starting their own companies, working for companies that allow them to work at home—all those things. I hope that society moves in that direction—toward smaller rather than larger, and toward less materialistic rather than more. I hope too that the right to personal choice, to following one’s heart, and to wanting peace of soul count for more in the years to come.   


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bird feeders and squirrels

My friend Jean has told me about the squirrels who manage to raid the bird feeder each winter, no matter how difficult it becomes for them to reach it. They really do think the bird feeder exists for them. So when I saw this photo and caption, I just had to share it.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Lights in the darkness--Christmas in Oslo

Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a God Jul! And Happy Hanukkah too, since it is being celebrated around the same time as Christmas this year. Enjoy these photos of lights in the darkness. It is very dark at this time of year in Oslo right up until the winter solstice. The days have been gray and foggy, and there has not been much snow (which helps to provide whiteness and light), so the sun and all the Christmas lighting are welcome sights for the heart and soul.















Monday, December 19, 2016

In the spirit of Christmas--a little treasure from my childhood

Enjoy!

An article worth reading--How Republics End--by Paul Krugman

A rather depressing article about the state of affairs in my home country, but important to read nonetheless, even in this season of cheer. More and more, I find less and less to feel cheery about. I feel as though the world is moving toward a dark place, one that we'll not be returning from. Perhaps that's how some people felt before the two world wars of the last century. I don't know. I cannot always trust my feelings to be correct (luckily), but I cannot shake the small feeling of doom that I walk around with each day. And this article merely confirms those feelings. I carry on doing all the daily tasks I've been doing for so long, but they are without much meaning. It is far more important to me now to make sure that friends and family are fine, that I have good connections with them, and that I have plans in place to see them. Because in the end, no matter what happens in the world, the only thing that matters is the people you love and who love you. Work falls away (and it won't bother me a bit), material things matter less, and it becomes important to do something positive with the assets one has accumulated through the years.  

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/opinion/how-republics-end.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0



Sunday, December 11, 2016

The beautiful song Fig Tree Bay by Peter Frampton

Lyrics to the beautiful song written and sung by Peter Frampton, way back when.......I'm glad I was a teenager when this music was being made. The memories I have of this song, and of many of the other songs on Frampton's album from 1972, Winds of Change, defined so much of my teenage years. This album also reminds me of my sister and of some of the long conversations we had before she moved away and school and life took over for both of us. Why is it that so many songs tap into memories that are both treasured and bittersweet? Is it the music that does that? I think it is. Last night I thought about music as language. Song lyrics are one aspect of this language, but the actual music is another. Music is a language that we cannot really explain. We can feel it and intuit the meaning behind some of the notes and chords we hear. Those chords and notes are capable of changing the way we think and feel--they influence the brain and that makes music very important as a tool to change people's psyches.

Here are the lyrics to Fig Tree Bay, and the video (from 2005) as well:

 "Fig Tree Bay"

Came to the island to find peace
And seek tranquility
Li-li-li-li
Started to drive
Finding nothing but warmth
At Fig Tree Bay
There's no time, who needs time?
Stop the clock at half-past nine
Take out some cheese and laze around

One day not Sunday
I found us a beach to hide away
Whispering waves
Shapes in the sand
Dream of centuries past
But who can tell
Sea shells and dogs' tails surround me now
The sun beats down
Give me the strength to speak my mind

All that we have clicking by
For your eyes and mine alone
Li-li-li-li
Maybe your hey-day
I glanced at the private movie star
Brown skin girl, please take us back
To where the sun beats down
Give me the time and peace of mind
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Friday, December 9, 2016

Psychopathy and evil

I read M.Scott Peck's People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil shortly after it was published in 1983 because I wanted to understand why evil people behave as they do. That interest came about because my path unfortunately crossed with that of a person whose behavior was unquestionably evil and whose sole goal was to suck all of the goodness out of my soul. Peck did not disappoint; his book has to be one of the most disturbing (and scary) that I've ever read, because he described individuals who had committed evil acts and who had no problems relating those acts to a psychiatrist, who just happened to be Peck. He wrote the following about evil:

“When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life -- particularly human life -- such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may "break" a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head". I would add that evil people often kill more than one of these attributes. That is their goal.

And then I got to thinking about a scientific article I read recently that I can highly recommend for anyone interested in this subject: The Psychology of Wickedness: Psychopathy and Sadism by J. Reid Meloy, PhD, published in 1997 in the journal Psychiatric Annals: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Meloy/publication/269476584_The_Psychology_of_Wickedness_Psychopathy_and_Sadism/links/54979b670cf20f487d31687f.pdf

Meloy wrote the following about psychopathy, and I cannot help but see the similarities between his description of a psychopath and Peck's description of evil:

"Some of the psychodynamics of the psychopath bring us closer to what we see as their evil, or their wish to destroy goodness. Psychopaths are aggressively narcissistic, and this aspect of their character pathology is often expressed behaviorally by the repetitive devaluation of others, not predominantly in fantasy, as we see in narcissistic personality disorder but in reality. Psychopaths generally do this for two reasons: first, to maintain grandiosity, or their sense of being larger than life, and second, to repair perceived insults or emotional wounds by retaliating against those they hold responsible. This repetitive devaluation of others, which may range from verbal insults to serial homicide, also serves to diminish envy.........Envy is the wish to possess the 'goodness' perceived in others. If the 'good object' cannot be possessed, it must be destroyed or damaged until it is not worth having".

Meloy goes on to describe how psychopaths can even manipulate the psychotherapists who treat them. That by itself is disturbing enough, but ultimately not surprising since psychotherapists are only human. He also talks about psychopaths' emotional detachment and inability to truly bond to other human beings. He writes:

 "......the psychopath appears most concerned with dominating his or her objects to control them. This pattern reduces threats to the psychopath and stimulates his or her grandiosity, but also diminishes the probability of empathy and inhibition of aggressive impulse. It is phylogenetically a prey-predator dynamic, often viscerally or tactilely felt by the psychiatrist as an acute autonomic fear response in the presence of the patient without an overt behavioral threat: the hair standing up on the neck, goosebumps, or the more inexplicable 'creepy' or 'uneasy' feeling. These are atavistic reactions that may signal real danger and should never be ignored..........."

So what do you do when you get that creepy or uneasy feeling in the presence of some (very few) people? When the only way you can describe the person in question to another person is to say that the person makes you extremely uncomfortable or gives you the creeps? What is it about them that triggers that response? What do you do when you do not want to be in the same room (or elevator) as them? I myself have met only two men whom I would describe as psychopaths. They were/are highly-intelligent people, intelligent enough to know how to read you and your body language. They know when they have found your weak points, and they will manipulate them for all they are worth. They are very charming and manipulative; these aspects could describe non-psychopaths as well, but the psychopath seems to have perfected both. It's hard to explain unless you've been on the receiving end of them. What I can say is that if a person leaves you in a complete state of bewilderment and self-doubt each time you talk with them, your alarms should go off. But what do you do when you understand that a person you have known for a long time, or a person you have worked together with for a long time, is a psychopath? When you know that that person has tried to destroy, without compunction, the lives and careers of several people you know? The sad thing is that there is no one answer and no easy solutions. The best piece of advice I could give is to try to avoid such people--give them a wide berth. Do not engage them.

If you have no choice but to deal with them (in a work setting, for example), I believe the best path to follow is to read about psychopathy in order to learn as much as possible about psychopaths. Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saying goes. In that context, I recommend the following article, Suffering Souls--The search for the roots of psychopathy, by John Seabrook, published in The New Yorker in 2008:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/11/10/suffering-souls

I also recommend Meloy's article (see link above) and Peck's book (https://www.amazon.com/People-Lie-Hope-Healing-Human/dp/0671454927/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=).


Thursday, December 8, 2016

A deplorable case--professor sentenced to ten months in prison for spousal abuse

Anytime you might think that academia is peopled by individuals of high moral caliber and ethics, think again. Like all other professions, it has its share of undesirable and seedy individuals. Unfortunately, the average person has a tendency to associate higher education with a certain amount of nobility and with people who behave in a moral and ethical manner. It simply is not the case and I can attest to this. I have seen a lot in my long career, but this recent story takes the cake. I'm sure there have been similar types of cases at the university, but they have never gotten this far, probably because the women involved did not pursue them all the way to a court case, as is often the case with spousal abuse.
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Aftenposten  Published 21.11.2016, at. 9:40 p.m. NTB
A professor at the University of Oslo has been sentenced to ten months in prison for having abused his wife over an eighteen-month period.
Oslo District Court found the man in his early 50s guilty of having beaten his wife in the head with a wooden hammer, of placing a chisel in her mouth and of having tried to strangle her.
The Court emphasized that the abuse lasted from March 2013 until October the following year.
Furthermore, it emphasized the significant potential harm of the actions and the woman's experience of psychological terror and fear that her husband would end up killing her.
The matter was first reported to the police in October 2014, while the indictment came two years later. The court took this time delay into consideration and noted that the normal punishment without this reduction would have been one year. Three days spent in custody were deducted from the punishment.
The professor is also convicted of having obstructed the justice system. According to the verdict, he sent an e-mail to his wife in which he threatened her if their situation should come to trial and conviction.
The court did not attach much importance to the defendant's admission of partial guilt concerning some abusive episodes because he denied that they were violent. The court did not otherwise find any extenuating circumstances.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving






























This photo is what Thanksgiving means to me this year--a harvest, not only of pumpkins from our garden, but a harvest of rhubarb, corn, beets, string beans, runner beans, snap peas, strawberries, black currants, red currants and raspberries--all from our garden. We have spent a lot of time making preserves and jams (strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, red currant and plum), and freezing down cut fruit for use in our morning smoothies. I have made rhubarb relish that is used as an accompaniment to meat dishes. And recently I made pickled pumpkin, which can also be used together with meat dishes; we tasted it for the first time last night and it was very good. I have learned to dry seeds for planting next spring. I am planning on buying a greenhouse so that we can grow tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that will need a bit more warmth and protection from the elements. God blessed us this year with a garden, and on this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the blessings that we have enjoyed this year. I have also shared our harvest with friends and family--there were definitely enough pumpkins to go around. I loved planting the seeds, watching them grow, caring for the plants, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. But the fun part was when people commented on the pumpkins--passing strangers and friends alike. And it made me feel productive to give some of them away to others--an accomplishment. After all, this was my first year as a gardener. Even I was surprised that everything I planted grew. The only vegetables I lost were spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, and that was because the slugs ate them. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a gardener and it only makes me look all the more forward to next year. It was Audrey Hepburn who said that “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” She's right. I do believe in tomorrow and I look forward to it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

World peace starts with peace of soul

The priest at yesterday's mass delivered a sermon about how the news media rarely present any positive news; the emphasis is mostly on the negative. War, murder, robbery, kidnapping, and other crimes and atrocities dominate the news. If something positive happens, it gets buried in the newspaper where no one will see it, and on the internet or TV it’s the same. And if negativity doesn’t dominate the news, celebrity worship does. The same priest stated quite clearly that world peace starts with peace in one’s soul. And he admitted frankly that it’s very hard to find that peace in your soul, because it’s drowned out by all of the factors competing for our attention 24/7, each one hoping to be the best at distracting us from what really matters in this world.

I will admit that the election this year did a number on my peace of soul. And then I started to reflect upon why that happened. And I realized that social media got me fired up, more specifically, several people on my Facebook friends list posted so many hateful anti-Obama and anti-Hillary posts that I was forced to unfriend them. I realized that in the eight years that I have been on Facebook, I have never posted anything hateful. When Bush was president, when Reagan was president, I did not go around disrespecting them. Many people take it for granted that they can bash President Obama any way they like. They do not respect him or the office he holds. They attack his race, they attack his wife's looks, they attack his birthplace, and so on. I would like to call them pathetic, but they are rather dangerous, because they have helped to erode the trust in the office of the presidency that has led to the unrest we experience now. Well-reasoned political criticism, disagreement and debate are welcome in a democracy, and if you disagree with your opponent, you agree to disagree without attacking your opponent's looks, demeanor or character. That's called civility and having respect for another person. The articles that some of these people have posted are literally sickening, and after having unfriended these people, I actually feel better. I don't feel tainted anymore; I've washed the muck off of me. I will be unfriending a few more people as time goes on, because there are still one or two whom I know will wait until Trump’s inauguration to spew more hate. It appalls me how much hatred there is of Obama. It’s actually quite depressing. I doubt that these people know what peace of soul is, and I doubt too that they understand the connection between it and world peace.

I am finally starting to get back some peace of mind and soul. I realized today that the types of people we surround ourselves with can go a long way toward supporting or destroying our inner peace. Taking the high road with some people incites their hatred, in that their firm wish is to drag you down into the muck where they live. Not happening. And if social media becomes purely a place to fling muck around, I will unfriend it as well, in order to keep my peace of soul. I am much more careful these days about what newspapers and TV news shows I read and watch, respectively. The same stringency has to apply to social media and to certain people on social media. No doubts in my mind whatsoever, and no regrets about unfriending them.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Can you trust these political news internet sites? You be the judge

Several people that I have now unfriended on Facebook (I have a feeling there will be a few more if the anti-liberal, anti-Obama and anti-Hillary hatred continues) were avid posters of articles from these sites. I have clicked on each one, and with one or two exceptions, was able to access each website. But I did get warnings from one or two sites that they may have malicious content, so forewarned is forearmed. One thing that most of these sites have in common is that many of their articles contain glaring grammatical errors and misspellings. They don’t give you the feeling that they can be trusted. My take on these news sites? They’re propaganda news sites promoting conservative politics and Trump, and are not serious about fact-checking or presenting the truth.




Saturday, November 19, 2016

When was America great? A short history of America during the past century

I’ve been reflecting upon the expression ‘Make America Great Again’. Trump made this expression the cornerstone of his campaign. Apart from the rose-colored glasses nostalgic aspect of it, I cannot find one period in American history that didn’t have social problems, unrest, wars, or unemployment. The America that we know was born of a successful, but bitter and violent break with Great Britain--the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). We experienced a bitter and violent Civil War (1861-1865) that pitted the Northern States against the Southern Confederate (slave) States--families against families, friends against friends and neighbors against neighbors. The war nearly tore the nation apart. It is estimated that close to 700,000 soldiers died, along with an undetermined number of civilians, making it the deadliest war in American history, but slavery,which was one of the main issues over which it was fought, was eventually abolished.

So bringing us to modern times, to what period in time do Trump and his supporters want to return America? There is not one decade in the past century of American history that has been without strife, unrest, war, terrorism, unemployment, or social problems. Following the devastating Great Depression (1929-39), the country needed to rebuild its infrastructure and to get people working again. FDR’s programs helped to do that. But I found out this past summer that FDR had his opponents, and that one of them tried to assassinate him in 1933. His name was Giuseppe Zangara and he was executed in 1933 for that crime. America became involved in WWII following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and that war did not end until 1945. The country had to deal with returning veterans and how to reintegrate them into American society; women’s roles also changed, as they were now encouraged to re-embrace home and family after having staffed the munitions factories while the men were at war. The 1950s saw the Korean War (1950-1953); the US involvement in that war was wonderfully depicted in the 1970 film M*A*S*H and the TV series M*A*S*H that ran from 1972-1983. The 1950s will be remembered for the intensification of the Cold War (1945–1991) between the USA and the Soviet Union and the rise of McCarthyism and blacklisting of people deemed to be Communists. Civil rights for African-Americans was also a dominant and polarizing topic in the period from 1954–1968, with the attendant protests led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The fight for equal rights for all Americans, regardless of color and ethnicity, was not a pleasant one in our history, and has never been, stretching all the way back to the protests about slavery in the years leading up to, during, and after the Civil War.

1963 saw the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; it remains unclear why Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy or whether he acted alone or was part of a wider conspiracy. His assassination and the reasons for it have been the subject of official inquiries and innumerable books and articles for the past half century. In 1964 America became involved in the Vietnam War. That war began in 1954 and ended in 1975, but its escalation and American involvement was what dominated the 1960s and early 1970s. I remember being in grammar school and discussing America’s role in this war; our teachers made us read the newspaper articles about the war and discuss them in class. It was an extremely controversial war that led to protests and societal division; many young people protested this war, not surprisingly because it was the young men of this generation that were being sent to fight in this war that many Americans meant we had no business fighting. TV news coverage showed the casualties of war and reported the body count in a way that most Americans had never seen or heard before. The anti-war outrage on college campuses also led to violent outcomes; one need only remember Kent State University in Ohio and the 1970 shooting of four unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard during campus protests. The music (think the Woodstock music festival of 1969), writing and art of that era, as well as the hippie subculture (often connected with the anti-war movement), documented the outrage and unrest. It was not unusual growing up to see the peace-and-love hippie icons juxtaposed with the ‘Archie Bunker’ types (think about the TV show ‘All in the Family’ that ran from 1971 to 1979). This is the era when we were teenagers, and it was impossible not to be affected by what we saw and heard. The Watergate break-in/cover-up was also the political scandal of the 1970s; the Watergate investigation and hearings led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and to forty-eight government officials being found guilty of burglary, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perjury, among other crimes.

By the time the 1980s arrived, the USA was involved in the Iran hostage crisis (1979-1981), which led to the loss of the presidential election by Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Reagan survived an assassination attempt in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr. During the Reagan years, inflation levels increased, in part due to his expansionary fiscal policies aimed at stimulating the American economy, including oil deregulation policies. In October 1987, Black Monday occurred. It was the largest one-day market crash in history. The repercussions were felt well into the 1990s as it ushered in a new era of stock-market volatility. The Reagan years were not without their own political scandals--namely the Iran-Contra affair. The Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran; the money from these sales was used to provide CIA aid to pro-American guerrilla Contras in Nicaragua (see Wikipedia for more information). The end of the Cold War occurred during 1989-1991; Reagan was praised for calling on Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, which did occur in 1989 and for working together with Gorbachev to end the Cold War.

The 1990s was a decade of prosperity for America. Kurt Andersen of The New York Times described it best in an excellent article from 2015: (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/the-best-decade-ever-the-1990s-obviously.html?_r=0):

America at large was prospering in the ’90s. The United States economy grew by an average of 4 percent per year between 1992 and 1999. (Since 2001, it’s never grown by as much as 4 percent, and since 2005 not even by 3 percent for a whole year.) An average of 1.7 million jobs a year were added to the American work force, versus around 850,000 a year during this century so far. The unemployment rate dropped from nearly 8 percent in 1992 to 4 percent — that is, effectively zero — at the end of the decade……..
From 1990 to 1999, the median American household income grew by 10 percent; since 2000 it’s shrunk by nearly 9 percent. The poverty rate peaked at over 15 percent in 1993, then fell to nearly 11 percent in 2000, more or less its postwar low. During the ’90s, stocks quadrupled in value — the Dow Jones industrial average increased by 309 percent. You could still buy a beautiful Brooklyn townhouse for $500,000 or less. And so on.
By the end of the decade, in fact, there was so much good news — a federal budget surplus, dramatic reductions in violent crime (the murder rate in the United States declined by 41 percent) and in deaths from H.I.V./AIDS — that each astounding new achievement didn’t quite register as miraculous. After all, the decade had begun with a fantastically joyful and previously unimaginable development: The Soviet Empire collapsed, global nuclear Armageddon ceased to be a thing that worried anyone very much, and the nations of Eastern Europe were mostly unchained.

The 1990s also saw the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center by Al-Qaeda in 1993, so that decade wasn’t all rosy and joyful. I remember that day very well, because my brother worked at the World Trade Center. I was working in San Francisco at the time, and spent the day trying frantically to reach him, without success. It wasn’t until late in the evening that he called me to tell me that he had taken the day off and had not been at work. He hadn’t become aware of what had happened until the afternoon because he had not heard the news. So that first terrorist attack on the Towers affected me and my sister too; you would not want to experience the feelings I had when I thought my brother and others might have been killed in the bombing. During the 1990s Bill Clinton enjoyed a successful first presidential period, but the second period was marred by the Lewinsky scandal. The OJ Simpson trial of 1995 and the 1998 grand jury investigation of Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky did not do much for elevating respect for the USA globally—they were media circuses that should never have happened. In many ways they helped to tarnish the good name of our country, at least for a while.

In 2001 George W. Bush succeeded Bill Clinton as president; his presidential era (until 2009) will be remembered for the Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11th 2001. Before that attack, no one had heard of Osama bin Laden, but after the attacks, the hunt for him began in earnest. Again, I was frantic that day as well, because my brother was still working in that area, having left his job at one of the Towers for a job nearby. But again, as fate would have it, he had taken the day off. Bush’s tenure was marred by the Iraqi WMD controversy, the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp‎ controversy. He did not succeed in hunting down Osama bin Laden; that was accomplished by the Obama administration. The 2000s were characterized by recessions and global financial scandals, as well as huge changes for the IT industry. The latter changes have impacted on the way we live now; nearly everyone is connected to the internet and now owns a cell phone, usually a smart phone. Cell phones have become an appendage, a part of us. We ‘don’t leave home without them’. The way we use cell phones and the internet has in turn impacted on how the media presents the news to us. Social media has overtaken the traditional news media as a news source, for better or for worse. The traditional news media are scrambling to keep up. The 2016 election will go down in history as one that was dogged by false internet news sites that are thought to have negatively influenced the election results. Most of them were rabidly pro-Trump and by extension rabidly anti-Clinton.

Trump supporters would have you believe that Obama has ruined America. I don’t see that or even understand what they’re talking about, but it’s clear that they’re not referring to Obama’s America when they talk about returning to a time when America was great. Are they talking about the 1990s? That was the Democratic Clinton era in the White House, Americans enjoyed prosperity, women were making good strides in the workplace, and gender equality and equal pay for women were accepted as the norm, among other things. Women had the freedom to choose between family and career, or to choose both. They could marry later and have their children later. The Trump folk would have to admit that a Democrat did something right, and it's doubtful that they would do so. The 1990s also saw great advances in science, with the advent of the genomics era and the impact of that on personalized medicine.

Given that Trump and his coming administration have a predilection for sexism, misogyny and white supremacy, I cannot see how the 1990s would appeal to them at all. So we go back further to the 1980s and the Reagan era. Women at that time had the freedom to choose between family and career, or to choose both, and many struggled with their decisions. But it was an exciting time for women in the workplace, and feminism had firmly taken hold. So the Trump folk cannot hold this decade up as a model era for American greatness either, because it simply doesn’t fit with the American values they hold dear. Let’s examine the 1970s. I cannot for the life of me envision that this decade, or the 1960s for that matter, could be of any interest to the Trump folk. These decades were peopled by hippies, counterculture people, rock artists, beat poets, anti-Vietnam war protesters, and civil rights activists, among others. Far too liberal and left-wing for the Trump folk.

Back even further to the 1950s. This is possibly the only decade that I can envision the Trump folk possibly liking. Minorities knew their place, women knew their place, white men had the power in society and in the workplace, and a lot of wonderful platitudes about God and country were uttered. Communism was anathema and Communists in all walks of life had to be rooted out. The Soviet Union was the enemy (and now Trump is courting Putin's friendship in an odd twist of events--you would have thought he and his administration would be anti-Putin). If you were a Communist, you hated God and Christians. Americans tend to forget that they don’t own God. There is no place in the bible where it says that the USA is God’s favorite country. It didn’t exist when Christ lived. So we should be careful about claiming God for ourselves when we talk about our Christian values and wanting to return to a time when America was great, especially if that time does not support true Christian values. The 1950s were hardly the greatest time in America, as I’ve described above.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. We enjoyed summer picnics with family, ice cream sundaes with family and friends to celebrate a successful school year, sitting on front stoops on summer evenings talking to the neighbors, playing with our friends, and taking vacations to the New England states and trips to amusement parks. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays were spent with family after we had been to mass in the morning. We went to Catholic grammar school, were taught by the nuns, and then some of us went our separate ways once it was time to go to high school. Life was fairly idyllic, as it probably is for most children who grow up safe and sound in good families with good parents. Once we got to college, our lives changed irrevocably, became uncertain, risky, and a bit scary. What would become of us, would we make it in society, would we get a job, would we succeed? Would we marry and have a family? Would we maintain our friendships? If I am nostalgic at times, it is for the times before everyone separated and went their own ways. When you could spend hours together with good friends and/or siblings and not think about time passing, when parents were still alive and in good health--all those things. Time doesn't stand still, and nostalgia is just that, a poignant and bittersweet reminder of happy past times. We cannot go back, no matter how much we might miss those times. Because each person has a period in his or her life that he or she might want to return to at times. But the point is that those times are as individual as the person who remembers them. They are not the same for all.

And that brings me back to returning to a time when America was great. We can't, because what truly makes America great is that has experienced, dealt with, and survived the problems that have been thrown at it during each decade since the early part of the 20th century. There isn't one best decade. America has been mired in controversy, wars and protests from the day it was born, and it has evolved, survived and flourished. It has kept its doors open to diversity and heterogeneity. It airs its dirty laundry to the world in a way that no European country ever has or will do. But despite Trump's win, I believe that the majority of America's inhabitants still believe in the real values on which it was founded—liberty and justice for all. That is what America stands for, and what I hope it always stands for.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A new America?

And so, for many people, the unthinkable happened last Tuesday, November 8th. Donald Trump won the presidential election. My husband told me before I had even gotten out of bed the next morning, and my first response was s**t. Not because it was a real surprise to me (it wasn’t), but because I sensed that the repercussions would be negative. And they have been, for many people. It was as though the world turned upside-down, strong hardy trees were uprooted, and nothing was the same anymore. It was finding out through the gloating of Trump supporters on Facebook, some of whom are friends that you thought you knew, that you don't really know them. I have resisted the desire to delete them from my friends list, but that may change if they continue to gloat. Because the gloating has a hard edge to it, and because there is little to no tolerance of beliefs or opinions other than their own; your different opinion is almost viciously dismantled. Some of them are white people of privilege, with nice homes, nice cars and money for vacations and eating out several times a week. They are not lower middle class; they have worked for the success they have attained and they deserve it, but now that they have attained it, they have forgotten how they struggled. They are angry at the minorities they perceive are taking away their jobs and who are getting healthcare for free. I know this may be a problem, but I don't know that Facebook is the place to tackle it or to vent your hatred of these people. I cannot believe some of the articles posted by some of these people. Why not get involved in politics yourselves? They say they are not racist, and I’d like to believe them. But I don’t know if I can, because they do not stand up against the appointment of the white supremacist Steven Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist. They are not furious about the fact that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a parade in December (on my birthday as far as I’ve heard) to celebrate Trump’s win. Because it’s not just Democrat versus Republican anymore; it’s white America against multicultural America (many of whom may be racist themselves, but that’s another story because they are not verbalizing their vitriol so I have no way of knowing and commenting on it).

My disappointment extends to the Christian community as well. I am Catholic, and during the summer when I was in NY, I listened to different clergy members in person and on TV basically endorse Trump from their pulpits. Why? Because he is anti-abortion. Many of us are; but I do not vote on that one issue alone. Many of the Trump supporters did just that—voted for him because he is anti-abortion. Maybe that makes them better Christians and Catholics than I am. I am not in a position to judge them since I don’t know what is really in their hearts. It’s a true dilemma for me. Should I have voted for Trump just because he is anti-abortion? Is that the definition of a good Catholic? Then I am not one. Yet Christ said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". I hope that Christ will judge me on every other thing I do for my fellow human beings—my fight for justice in the workplace, my standing up against the bullying I see around me—again mostly in the workplace, my embracement of people of all colors and religions (something I’ve done all my life because I had parents who did the same and taught us that—I have friends from Africa, India, Iran, Europe and the States, who are Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant and Catholic), my big heart that always makes room to include one more person into a social circle, my willingness to listen and understand the other side. Do I lose my temper at times and get angry? Do I lose my patience? Do I hate stupidity when I see it? The answer is yes to all those questions. And the answer will continue to be yes because I am a human being. There is nothing to forgive concerning the other side. The Trump supporters have done nothing wrong personally to me. And yet, I have moved away from them in my heart. I will be better off emotionally right now for having done so, even though I feel bad about saying that, because it doesn't sound Christian. We'll see what the future brings.

This past week has been quite upsetting to me emotionally. Before the election, I had a lot of anxiety, and after it, a lot of sadness. I feel sorry for American families who are split down the middle; sibling against sibling, parent against child—when it comes to who they voted for and why. Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and there is a lot to be thankful for. But it may be very difficult to focus on that because of the hurt feelings on both sides. I am not going to be one of those who calls for healing or tells people to get over it. I think this is one of the first times in my adult life that I have seen America wake up from its stupor to find itself possibly going over the cliff. I will tell people to stand up and fight for what they really believe in, even if it means that they cut ties with some people they know. Because isn’t that what Christ preached? He said "If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life". I’ve never really understood that preaching until this past week. Standing up for what we believe in may separate people, and it may cause grief and tears. But it may be the first real act of courage that we perform in our lives, whether we like it or not. No one said we would like it. We were not promised a rose garden on this earth.