Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Quotes for weary souls

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. --Robert Louis Stevenson

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. –Epicurus

It is as necessary for man to live in beauty rather than ugliness as it is necessary for him to have food for an aching belly or rest for a weary body. --Abraham Maslow

Rest when you're weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work. --Ralph Marston

Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do. --Eric Hoffer

Some of our life experience makes us weary of love and make it difficult to forgive others. –Parvathy

We all get weary sometimes, and we tend to think that life is what makes us weary. --Joyce Meyer

We can be tired, weary and emotionally distraught, but after spending time alone with God, we find that He injects into our bodies energy, power and strength. --Charles Stanley

Christian, learn from Christ how you ought to love Christ. Learn a love that is tender, wise, strong; love with tenderness, not passion, wisdom, not foolishness, and strength, lest you become weary and turn away from the love of the Lord. --Saint Bernard

If we grow weary and give up, the goal remains for someone else to achieve. --Zig Ziglar

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. --Paul the Apostle

We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously He once waited for us. --Charles Spurgeon

I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary. --Charles Spurgeon

I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral. --Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Remembering Frank

I found out yesterday that one of my former bosses at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where I worked in the 1980s, passed away this past August. Frank was one of the cytometry triumvirate at the Laboratory for Investigative Cytology together with Zbigniew and Myron. Myron passed away in 2013 after battling pancreatic cancer for six years. I remember when I interviewed for the job of daily manager of the flow cytometry core facility, I ended up interviewing with Myron and Frank, as well as with Don, who was another senior scientist in the lab. I had experience in biophysical techniques from my first job, and I guess that contributed to my getting the job. 

Myron, Zbigniew and Frank were wonderful men to work for, and I treasure my time in their lab. I've written about this lab several times before in this blog. I had most to do with Frank on a daily basis. He was my immediate boss and he taught me everything I know about flow cytometry. There was almost no scientific question he couldn't answer, and he was generous with his time and help. He was also very protective of his employees and stood firmly on our side whenever conflicts arose with external labs. He seemed to be unflappable, but when he did get mad, which happened once or twice in the seven years I worked with him, it was best not to be on the receiving end of his anger. I pitied the scientists who ended up having any sorts of conflicts with him. They knew that without his help, their projects would become stranded. If he thought something was stupid, he said so, complete with sarcastic comments and a roll of his eyes. And he was usually right. He didn't waste his own time or others' time, and he didn't allow anyone else to waste his employees' time. He put his foot down firmly and simply stopped the nonsense in its tracks. I learned a lot from him about how to protect my own employees through the years. I could wish that some of my other leaders in recent times were as good a leader as he was.  

I have fond memories of my time in the lab--we worked hard together and traveled together to conferences. In August 1987, our lab went to a Society for Analytical Cytology meeting that was held in Cambridge, England. It was my first trip abroad, and I was so looking forward to having a proper British tea experience. I am quite sure that I never shut up about it, and probably drove most people around me crazy. But when we got to Cambridge, I wandered around the city together with Frank and Jola, a postdoc in the lab, trying to find just the right tea shop. It had to be just the right one. Frank was very patient while I hunted around and settled on just the right one. And then we enjoyed great tea, good scones, raspberry jam and clotted cream. I was in heaven. I'm sure Frank humored me, but that was the kind of man he was--he had infinite patience with people he liked, and I was one of them. 

I also remember that all of us (there must have been at least six or seven of us from the lab who traveled to Cambridge) decided to go punting on the river Cam. Frank and another senior scientist Jan took turns trying to punt, which turned out to be not at all easy. Steering a large boat without banging into the other boats and without losing your balance were quite challenging. Frank managed it, but just barely, and I remember thinking that it would be terrible if he fell into the river. There were a couple of times when he and Jan very nearly fell into the water. The fact that Frank was the consummate New Yorker--well-dressed, with nice shoes and leather jacket--would have made falling in even worse as it would have ruined his clothing and shoes. But that was Frank; I don't think he considered the possibility that he could fall into the water or that he couldn't learn to punt. They didn't fall in, and they did learn to punt. Other things I remember about him--he smoked too much, and we were always trying to get him to quit cigarette smoking. One of his technicians would bring him a big bowl of sliced carrots, celery and cucumbers so that he wouldn't smoke on Great American Smokeout Day in November of each year. But he never quit as far as I know. I also remember that at one of our lab parties at his Manhattan apartment, he played Roxy Music's Avalon album for us. To this day, I cannot hear the song More than This without thinking of him. 

As fate would have it, I met my husband Trond at the same conference in Cambridge when he came to sit with our lab group one evening at one of the local pubs. That was the kind of lab group we were--welcoming to others from all countries. You could sit down with us and just start chatting. Our lab in New York was multinational, with scientists from many different countries--among them Poland, Italy, Sweden, and Germany. Scientists visited the lab while traveling through on their way to other meetings in the USA. My husband did just that; he said that he remembers seeing me in the lab when he came to visit Frank and the others. I don't remember that. But we did end up meeting again in Cambridge. Even though I moved to Norway, I stayed in touch with the Memorial lab. Working there was one of the best experiences of my life. 



Thursday, February 18, 2021

Stick to your business

Many years ago, my husband and I had the privilege of working in a large lab in California headed by a man whom I can only call a visionary scientist. He was one of those rare scientists who made things happen, whose ideas were ground-breaking and game-changers. It was an exciting time in our lives, when we ourselves were still young scientists who hadn’t yet built scientific careers. Even then, I was an observer in terms of watching how he led his lab, and I learned a lot from him. For starters, he surrounded himself with talented people who were smart and who worked hard. He expected a lot from them, but the rewards for producing were good. He was good at picking the right people to have around him—a good blend of visionaries like himself as well as scientists who were able to translate his ideas into practice using ingenuity and inventiveness and the more technical scientists who were able to use these new ideas and procedures to answer specific questions and to generate more questions. In all cases, these scientists were concerned with the practice of science, and they stuck to their business, to what they were good at. He was also an excellent grant writer who had paid his dues working in national government labs for most of his adult life; he had learned the practice of science and managed to draw in quite a lot of funding for the lab that he headed.

I remember that he visited us here in Oslo some years later. I picked him up at his hotel to drive him back to our house for dinner, to which we had invited another couple who also worked in science. It was a pleasant evening. But what I remember most was the conversation I had with him when we were driving to our house at the beginning of the evening. I had just finished my doctoral work and was starting on my postdoctoral work, but I had some misgivings about pursuing an academic career. I was describing to him my different interests and how I felt pulled in several different directions. I remember exactly what he said to me--‘stick to your business’. That was about twenty years ago. Since then, the world of academic research science has changed tremendously, and it has become harder to stick to the business of just doing science. Business administration, leadership education, public relations and social networking have become part and parcel of an academic scientific career. To some extent, they always were, from the standpoint that it was good to know how to run a lab or to run a research group, but they weren’t the main focus. The main focus was always on the science. Nowadays, it is quite different. There is a multifocal approach to science that I don’t think benefits the profession because the multifocal aspects are time-drainers. Academic scientists are pulled in all directions now; they are supposed to be scientists, grant writers, business leaders, networkers, sales people, administrators, technical managers, and personnel managers. They are expected to understand complicated accounting and budget practices. They are expected to understand a multitude of bureaucratic procedures, all of which involve complicated legal aspects having to do with e.g. patient confidentiality if one works with patient data. One should understand the use of databases, registers, and complex statistical programs. There are lengthy leadership courses to attend so that one can become a good business leader. There are courses having to do with animal welfare if you plan on using animals for experiments, courses about good clinical practice, how to biobank, how to use quality registers, how to create quality presentations, how to write fundable grants, LEAN for hospital administration, and so on. It all ‘sounds’ good in theory, but in practice, they all take valuable time away from the actual doing of science, which is the only activity that will make you a good scientist. Working in the lab and actually doing science are what make you a good scientist. Reading scientific articles, coming up with new ideas based on what you’ve read, trying and failing, making mistakes, learning and following procedures and recipes, making solutions and buffers, reading technical manuals for complicated instrumentation, writing and publishing scientific articles, writing grants—all of those things will ensure that you become a good scientist. Taking a course here and there to learn a new lab procedure that will aid your scientific project is a good idea. Mentoring Masters and PhD students is also a good idea and will help you become a good mentor and manager. Training research technicians and working closely together with them on research projects will make you a good manager, or at least reveal to you whether or not you will qualify to be a research group leader. The rewards for such mentoring and training will be competent workers and independent thinkers who will further your research projects. That is sticking to your business. Attending generalized business leadership courses, although interesting, will not make you a better scientist. But nowadays, it is the norm to be all things to all people. In the space of twenty years, academic science has become less scientific and more business-like. It has been a strange evolution that I don’t think has been beneficial for the profession. The overall idea is perhaps that scientists should be able to adapt themselves to any profession if necessary. But the visionary aspect of science loses out. The purity of science loses out. Academic science has moved in a more mundane direction, concerned more with business administration/practices, PR, salesmanship, networking, self-improvement, public speaking, and interpersonal skills than with much else. Yes, it helps to be able to hold a polished presentation, or to know how to network, but something has been lost in the process. Perhaps it is what I call the eccentricities and difficulties of science and scientists. The practice of science is not supposed to be smooth and predictable, or controllable, or able to be perfectly regulated. The unpredictability of doing research, the not knowing how it all will turn out, is what makes academic science interesting and rewarding. It is the eureka moments in the lab that one remembers, those moments when you know that the practice of pure science is worth it. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Fight or flight response to the daily media bombardment of our lives with fake threats

It is possible to become extremely weary of the current climate of hysteria, conspiracy theories, arrogance, paranoia, continual anger, hostility and the sowing of divisiveness everywhere one turns. The media should be very careful moving forward, not to foment divisiveness and hysteria at every juncture. It simply is not healthy to live each day in 'fight or flight' mode in response to anger, threats or stress. Adrenaline (epinephrine) levels rise and lead to rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, anxiety, excessive sweating and palpitations, among others. This response is necessary when we are faced with real threats where we need to escape in order to survive. But when we watch tv, read newspapers or look at other media that cause us constant anger and stress, we open ourselves to a lot of unnecessary health problems. 

There are so many irritating situations and people that abound these days. The media latch on to them and blow them up or out of proportion. They exaggerate their importance. Their readers or viewers end up yelling at the tv or becoming angry at what they read in the newspapers, and they anger and irritate family members who have null desire to be sucked into that black hole of anger on a daily basis. Each day, we allow media versions of the daily miseries around us, to invade our living rooms. Each day, we allow ourselves to get angry, stressed, confused, hysterical, and our bodies thank us by raising our levels of adrenaline and cortisol so that we can fight the threats. The problem is that this daily practice leads to unhealthy bodies. We can't be constantly on the alert for threats. Like adrenaline, cortisol is also produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol narrows the arteries, while adrenaline increases the heart rate. The combined effect of both hormones is to make the heart pump harder. Another effect of cortisol is to stimulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism to provide energy for the body in threatening situations, which can in turn increase appetite. Weight gain and elevated cortisol levels can often go hand in hand. It makes sense that these are not physiological states that one would want to experience often during each day in response to 'fake' threats. 

The media may say they are interested in presenting the facts, but even the few that try to live up to that ideal do make serious mistakes or find that their journalists are not always ethical human beings. 'Fact-based' stories can end up being anything but. I am fed up with newspapers that do not wish to be labeled tabloid newspapers, yet their headlines are nothing more than click bait. The editors know that the online versions of their newspapers will garner many views if they include click bait headlines. So they do. This doesn't make them ethical, it makes them greedy. It shows me that they are only interested in beating their competition. They're not really interested in the truth. They're part of the problem, since they help to create anger, divisiveness, and conspiracy theories in the quest for money. Greed is the root of all evil. Greed is the root of the insanity we are witness to in our present societies. 

Let's rid our daily lives of the fake threats. I am slowly reaching the point where I no longer want to know what is going on in the world on a daily basis. I'm happier not knowing. If I need to stay updated, I can briefly skim an online version of Reuters or the BBC, where the hysteria is kept to a minimum. And an added benefit is that I don't have to see too many headlines about celebrities doing stupid things or making stupid pronouncements about things they know nothing about. Because that's another thing I'm fairly fed up with--the entire celebrity culture. I simply don't care about any of them. They're no better than any of us, they're just richer, and as such, also represent the insane quest for money that permeates our societies. 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Quotes about ethics

Ethics are moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity (definition from an online dictionary). Given the utter lack of ethics that abound in American politics at present, I thought some reminders about ethics, in the form of quotations by different individuals, some well-known and some not, would be relevant. Perhaps just reading some of them will re-inspire politicians to want to behave ethically. We need all the help we can get.

In just about every area of society, there's nothing more important than ethics. --Henry Paulson

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. --Albert Schweitzer

Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life. --Albert Schweitzer

Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind. --Albert Schweitzer

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. --Thomas A. Edison

A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world. --Albert Camus

That's a central part of philosophy, of ethics. What do I owe to strangers? What do I owe to my family? What is it to live a good life? Those are questions which we face as individuals. --Peter Singer

Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar. --D. H. Lawrence

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do. --Potter Stewart

Apart from values and ethics which I have tried to live by, the legacy I would like to leave behind is a very simple one - that I have always stood up for what I consider to be the right thing, and I have tried to be as fair and equitable as I could be. --Ratan Tata

You don't teach morals and ethics and empathy and kindness in the schools. You teach that at home, and children learn by example. --Judy Sheindlin

Great people have great values and great ethics. --Jeffrey Gitomer


Monday, February 8, 2021

Amid the din, the need for silence

If there is one thing I will remember about the pandemic in 2020, it would be noise. The year was noisy, full of the sounds of boring, drilling, hammering, chopping, sanding floors, heavy construction, renovation, vacuuming, loud radios playing while all of the above occurred, and the loud coarse voices of the construction workers to accompany it all. It seems as though every apartment in our co-op complex decided to embark on some type of renovation project. It’s been a super annoying year in that respect. Apartments to the left of us, over us, under us. This is what the pandemic has wrought—young couples with money to burn, ripping out kitchens that are under three years old to put in new trendy state-of-the-art kitchens (that no longer even resemble kitchens), knocking down walls to create open spaces, moving kitchens to where the bedrooms used to be, and so on. Nowadays, the sky’s the limit when it comes to apartment design. There’s nothing you can’t do, it seems (except knock down a support wall). The problem of course is that someone’s kitchen ends up being situated over someone else’s bedroom. Or someone’s extended bathroom ends up situated over someone else’s walk-in closet. It’s a mess of rooms; no one really knows where bedrooms or kitchens will be located from apartment to apartment; it’s anyone’s guess.

2021 will hopefully be a less noisy year. But there is no guarantee. Last week and this week saw the installation of new fire alarm equipment in the hallways of our co-op complex—with the attendant drilling and boring through concrete to run new electrical cables from basement to attic. Working at home has been and is a challenge when faced with this kind of noise and last year’s noise. During the spring and summer I could take refuge in my garden, where there is peace to be found. The only noises there are the buzzing of the bumblebees and the chattering of the birds. Those are sounds I love.

I read recently in the NY Times that marine life is dealing with a similar problem—unbearable ocean noise (In the Oceans, the Volume Is Rising as Never Before - The New York Times (nytimes.com). The article states “But humans — and their ships, seismic surveys, air guns, pile drivers, dynamite fishing, drilling platforms, speedboats and even surfing — have made the ocean an unbearably noisy place for marine life”. It doesn’t surprise me that this is a problem at sea, when it is a huge problem on land. Again, I conclude that many human beings are uncomfortable with quiet, because when they experience quiet, they might begin to think and reflect upon the state of their lives, and they can’t abide that. Better to have the television on 24/7, or the radio, or to have their earphones on listening to music on their smart phones. Whatever can distract them from the unbearable experience of getting to know themselves.

Not me. I want quiet, I crave quiet. I crave the absence of noise. I look forward to the day when the boring, drilling, hammering, chopping, sanding floors, heavy construction, renovation, vacuuming, loud radios playing while all of the above occurred, and the loud coarse voices of the construction workers, come to an end. I will pop open a bottle of champagne and happily listen to the cork popping and not much else. I will rejoice in the silence. I will raise my glass in a toast to the silence.

 

Today's guest blogger--Mary Jo Johnson--writing about tools for organizing your workday

Guest author--Mary Jo Johnson

This article is published by paulamdeangelis.blogspot.no based on a Content Marketing Partnership with the author Mary Jo Johnson. 

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5 Best Tools that Make Organization at Work a Breeze


Organizing your workday can be very tricky. Whether you belong to a big or small enterprise, getting through the gamut of workday tasks will always have its challenges. With the popularity of remote work gaining a strong foothold in today’s “new normal,” managing your workload while making sure that everyone stays connected and on top of things has become twice as hard. 


It can be a bear trying to get everyone on the same page. Too many tasks, meetings and collaboration, new information coming in daily, new employees joining, old ones leaving, trying to preserve and update knowledge within the company — how do you not get lost in the chaos?


Luckily, there are tools out there geared towards organizing your work and helping you run your workday more efficiently. There are hundreds of them floating around the interwebs and you can get lost in the chaotic list of organizational tools, ironically enough. So how do you choose the right one for you?

Choosing the right tool

First, you will need to take stock of what you have and what you need. What kind of service are you looking for? Are the tools you found equipped with the features you need in your organization? Compile a list of possible apps that might be useful for you. 


Second, once you've compiled a list of possible organizational tools that you might use, consider their ability to address all the things that you need them to do for you. If you can find just one tool to do all the organizational tasks you need to be done, then why get two or three separate tools to do what one platform can do?


Third, read up on the reviews. You’ll need to hear what actual clients have to say about the tools you are considering. Feedback is a key component to an informed decision; and once you’ve picked the tool/s you need, return the favor and write an honest and constructive review. 

Fourth, test them out. You really won’t know if the tool will work the way you envisioned it if you don’t try it out. Go through your picklist and take the tools for a test drive. Put them through the tasks you need them to run and see how well they hold up or how fast and efficiently they can accomplish those tasks for you. 

So now that you have the initial steps in choosing the perfect organizational tool for you, let’s delve into our list of tools (our absolute top favorites!) that we think might just be what you need.

The Best Organizational Tools for Work

Trello

Let’s start our list with Trello. This is a project management and organizational tool that uses task cards and project boards. This tool allows you to write down your daily tasks into virtual cards, assign due dates, and add attachments. You can invite your team and assign tasks to them, as well. 

Their project boards allow you to put your visualizations into an organized platform where you can monitor your project’s progress. You can collaborate with your team regardless of where each of you is based. It is very easy to use, and best of all, Trello syncs across all your devices. 

Slab

As their headline says, Slab is a “knowledge base that democratizes knowledge.” It’s a nifty tool that lets you create, store, and organize your data. It also integrates well with your existing tools, so there would be no need to replace your stack and relay new instructions to team members. Its Unified Search feature allows you to pull any needed data from any of your existing tools. Sweet, right? This shaves off time trying to remember which tool has what data. Another useful feature is Slab Topics, which not only organizes data into folders and tags, but also provides relevant context for easier browsing, learning, and transferring of knowledge within the company.

It also offers dozens of templates from industry leaders to get you inspired and give you ideas一so whether it’s onboarding new employees, documenting weekly team meetings, or creating user manuals, Slab has an extensive library of templates designed for your organizational needs.

And a bonus: it’s easy enough to use that creating and organizing can be done even by the least savvy members in your organization.

ProjectManager.com

If you manage large and diverse teams, you might want to consider ProjectManager.com. This award-winning tool has over a thousand integrations including Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Dropbox, Slack, and Google Apps. 

It has Gantt charts, kanban boards, and task lists. They have project management software, planning tools, and project dashboards among other things. You can collaborate and plan projects with your team quickly and easily. It works on both PC and Mac and doesn’t need any downloads or complex installations. 

Box

Box is one of the most secure cloud storage services available today. You can choose with whom you want to share your files. You can store all your confidential business information into the Box Drive and rest easy that it will remain secure. 

It is also integrated into Mac Finder and Windows Explorer so you can use it in both Windows PC and Mac. You can edit any file, even CAD, in your browser and it will automatically be saved to Box. 

The app itself takes up little disk space. It allows sharing large files without having to download anything. You can just share the link to your files with your team. It doesn’t bog down your systems with large downloads, and it allows for easy and real-time collaboration within your team. 

Microsoft OneNote 

If your company has a subscription to Office 365, you most likely have access to Microsoft OneNote, a great and secure collaboration tool that organizations can utilize in project management, process improvement, and daily operations. OneNote is ideal for managing projects with members in multiple locations as the tool allows real-time correspondence and feedback. 

A feature called SharePoint allows teams to create their own “wiki” and organize and store large amounts of information in one place, making streamlining ideas and resources easier for everyone. 

Conclusion

No matter how busy you get or how chaotic your workdays seem to become, there is always a tool, or several, out there that can help you keep your tasks and schedules organized. These things are there to make your work a lot easier, your collaborations more fun, and your team engaged no matter where each of you is based. All you need to do is find the right tools that will work for you. 


Friday, February 5, 2021

Friendships and a similar core of moral decency

I get it. Everyone is tired, mentally and physically, after a year of nothing but Covid-19 pandemic news and one of the most divisive and destructive presidential elections in American history. Tempers are frayed, patience is thin, and energy levels are low. I am experiencing all of these things, and I know others are too. The toughest thing to deal with has not been the pandemic, strangely enough, but the sadness of coming to terms with the realization that there are friends and acquaintances that I really no longer want to know or have in my life. I just don’t know how to tell them so I haven’t for the time being. The friends were never close friends, but they belong to an earlier time in my life, and at that time, they were kind people—kind to me and kind to others. We reconnected on Facebook after many years of no contact. The people they are now could not be described as kind. I would rather describe them as hard-hearted, cynical, critical, and mean. Unfortunately, they were and still are Trump supporters who bought into the ‘Stop the steal’ conspiracy and all of the other nonsensical conspiracy theories that abound. They won’t condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene for her wild and divisive rhetoric and nonsensical viewpoints. They won’t condemn the hoisting of the Confederate flag in the Capitol building during the Capitol invasion. Heck, they haven’t condemned the invasion itself, and that by itself is cause for concern. They are still posting aggressive and bullying posts on social media that push the 'election was stolen' conspiracy, that Biden is a terrible person--the entire package. 

As I recently wrote to a friend of mine, I want friends whose core of moral decency is similar to mine. I don’t have much time for anything else the older I get. Good friends challenge us to see the other sides of issues, but in a positive way, not in a mean-spirited or negatively critical way. Not in a bullying way. If they love us and like us, they will not be ‘in-your-face’ aggressive toward us. If they love us, they will not be deliberately unkind or mean to us. You are rude, mean or aggressive to people you don’t really like; you don’t have to be, but if you are, it’s because you don’t like them. If you say you love or like someone, then you will strive to treat them well, to be nice, to be respectful, to be positive when criticizing them—all those things that make up common moral decency. Yes, we can be tired or exhausted, but the old adage, ‘count to ten’ rather than say something you might regret, is very applicable for situations that can annoy us with loved ones. How much do you value the relationship you have with others? Continual rudeness, aggressiveness, unkindness or deliberately provoking or needling others are simply ways of telling them that they don’t matter to us, that they are of little value to us.  


Thursday, February 4, 2021

One long scream

Some people will assume that this is a Covid-19 post because of the title, but it’s not. The pandemic is a part of what I write about, but it’s not the sole focus. One long scream has been building for years in many workplaces, not just mine. But during the past decade, life in my workplace changed irrevocably for many. As in, there was no going back to what was, only moving forward to what could be. The focus became the future. The past was never talked about; the history of my department, how it came to be the way it was, was unimportant. Those of us old enough to remember the past, or who had worked there long enough to know about it, were told that it wasn’t important; no one wanted to hear about it. The present was just ignored in favor of the future. But the present was what needed to be dealt with, except that no one knew how to deal with it or wanted to deal with it because the problems were too many. So it was ignored in favor of all the fancy buzzwords, slogans and catch phrases that would create the future that ‘everyone wanted’ or said was important to have for the sake of productivity and effectiveness. When we were children that was called ‘let’s pretend’.

I don’t mind playing let’s pretend. It’s just that let’s pretend has gone on for many years, and has worn down those employees who tried as hard as they could to implement the many changes and trends that were laid on the table and prioritized. The problem was that there were too many changes and trends, and one could never be certain which change or trend was the one to be prioritized, since priorities shifted on a monthly basis. Courses in how to lead were important, but they didn’t produce better leaders. They produced leaders who were only interested in forcing their employees to adapt to change for change’s sake. There were never good explanations for why this or that change or trend was important. Employees who were resistant or critical were pushed aside, and are still pushed aside, in favor of those who are receptive to every change or trend that gets suggested. It doesn’t matter if the changes or trends cause a lot of upheaval, waste time, are ineffective, or lead to demotivated employees. The leaders and their loyal employees continue on, while those who are critical find it harder and harder with each change to start over and plod on, dreading the next major change, the next trend to attack the workplace that its leaders will embrace warmly and force down the throats of their employees. The pandemic has brought to light how stupid some of these trends that workplaces adopted without question actually are. One of them is packing as many employees as possible into tiny offices, with little room to move or to spread out. Another stupid trend is open office landscapes—placing an entire workforce into one large room, no individual offices, no dividers, no cubicles, no privacy, no quiet time, constant distractions, and a lot of noise. The party line was that open office landscapes were conducive to interaction, communication and collaboration. Employees should embrace them without question. The reality was something else entirely. Most employees want and need some private time, some quiet time, at work. That’s the purpose of offices—one can close a door and shut out the noise if one needs time to think. But that was no longer ‘allowed’. The reason for open office landscapes, as we all know if we cut through the piles of bullshit that have built up, is to save money. Workplaces save money by forcing their employees to sit in one large room together. The pandemic however, has shown just how stupid this trend is. Suddenly the hunt is on to find new solutions for dealing with this problem—the spread of Covid-19 (or any virus for that matter)—in an open office landscape setting. So the solution has been to tell employees to work from home if they can. That must really rub some leaders the wrong way; after all, they lose the ability to totally control their employees. I’ve seen other solutions that have to do with erecting Plexiglas dividers between adjacent desks, or enclosing individual desks in Plexiglas cubicles. It seems to be a return to some kind of individual office thinking. Dare one hope? Can one dream?

I’ve come to the conclusion that leaders and employees who can shift from one change to the next, from one trend to the next, without problems, are surface skaters. They are not interested in depth; it’s unclear what they are really interested in except control. They should be interested in depth; they should be listening to their employees. Because not to do so is simply to invite trouble. Some few do at present. But most do not. They have their visions and preferred ways of doing things, and they simply expect employees to fall in line. After a decade of multiple leaders, multiple leadership styles, fragmentary visions, shifting priorities, stupid changes, stupid trends, wasted time, wasted breath, useless meetings, endless budget cuts (to no avail), poor strategies, poor planning, yet more meetings to undo what was decided upon two or three years ago that took up valuable employee time—some employees experience only one feeling—the desire to scream into the wind, into the boundless future that was promised them, the golden land of promise and opportunity, the utopian landscape, where all workplaces are effective and productive, where all work output can be measured and controlled, where all employees can be controlled. It’s one long scream, a primal scream, a plea really for a return to sanity and to peace, a plea for a return to a time when freedom from control was still to be found in a workplace.


Monday, February 1, 2021

The Catholic church and Trump

I correspond at Christmastime with a friend from my college years who just happens to be a Catholic priest. This year we’ve gone back and forth since Christmas due to his support of, and my lack of support of, Trump for president. It surprised me that he was a Trump supporter, but I’m finding out that a good number of Catholic priests supported Trump for president, and rallied for him from their pulpits. I’m also finding out that this did not sit so well with many of their parishioners who could taste and smell the hypocrisy of this blatant support of a man who basically has little to no understanding of Christian principles and behavior. I am not trying to change my friend’s mind, but I want to present the other side, as it were, because it strikes me that the Catholic Church doesn’t really pay much attention to or listen to its followers. Perhaps it doesn’t need to do so, but I think it would behove them to do so.

The American Catholic church’s blatant support of Trump has upset many parishioners who react to the hypocrisy--how we as normal Catholics have been told for years to ‘abide by the laws of the church, to avoid adultery, to not steal, to not worship idols, to follow the commandments’. Sex outside of and before marriage are mortal sins according to my priest friend, therefore adultery must also be. Yet Trump was held up as a savior of the USA in many Catholic churches, because he is (presumably) anti-abortion. He is also a liar, a cheater, an adulterer, but those sins were not discussed from the pulpit. Yet priests have been lecturing about the evils of sexual immorality for years when it pertains to normal married couples and young people. Yet during the entire pedophile scandal, there was not one peep from the pulpit about the crimes of pedophile priests, how they belonged in jail, how they had betrayed the loyalty and confidence that parishioners had in them. Likewise with Trump--no criticism of him, only held up as savior. Cardinal Dolan in NYC was/is also a Trump supporter, and he has been criticized roundly for failing to acknowledge how parishioners felt about this: (https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/05/04/cardinal-dolans-praise-president-trump-was-pastoral-failure). People who are staunch Catholics, who go to mass every Sunday, who pray and read Catholic literature--are quite upset about the utter hypocrisy they are witness to, as I am. The Church will surely endure, but it lost many followers due to the pedophile scandal, and perhaps its support of Trump will result in the same. The Church can say that it is no problem to lose followers, but perhaps it should still take a look at why they leave. The reasons are not always frivolous, as is often stated by well-meaning priests who have their heads in the sand.

And just as a reminder to those who thought otherwise, the Church was forced to deal with the pedophile scandal by external organs and institutions. It did not seem as though they took it seriously enough, at least in the beginning. They reassigned pedophile priests to other parishes. They wished to deal with it as an internal matter, and it is not. Pedophilia is a crime. The children who were victimized were hushed up, pushed aside, and held down by church leaders who knew what would happen if the truth came out. These children did not choose to be ‘victims’ of evil behavior. Neither did their parents.

I have never particularly identified with any societal group. I don’t trust group mentalities, and that includes blind loyalty to any religion. I am not blindly loyal to science either. My loyalty is to God and Jesus Christ. I will speak up when I see wrongdoing, as do many Catholics. We don’t interpret Christ’s words ourselves; we read the Bible and know what we have been taught through the years. After many years of Catholic education and churchgoing, we can at least do that. Apart from the pope when he speaks “ex Cathedra” about matters of faith and morals, the clergy are human and fallible. My father always made the point that the church was a human institution, founded by Christ, yes, but run by men; I believe that GK Chesterton made the same point. Priests are human beings first, and fallible like the rest of us.  

Trump is not a good example for children, nor for marital partners be they male or female. I know both married male and female Trump supporters. There is nothing Christian about one partner in any marriage spewing out his or her belligerence and aggression toward their families who don’t share their blind worship of Trump, who don’t want to listen to their constant daily screaming about socialism and the end of America. Trump is not holding a gun to these people’s heads and telling them to behave this way. But they bought into his hype. Misery loves company. Trump’s anger and frustration with his own life have seeped into the minds of these people in an insidious way. They are not poor, downtrodden or victims. Trump is no longer president, and they are still spewing their rage and frustration. They are acting as though they have been victimized and that the country will go down the drain with Biden--illegal immigrants flooding into the country, taking jobs away from Americans, etc. etc. Who has ‘victimized’ these people, I ask? They are privileged beyond their wildest dreams--they own their own homes, several cars, they have hobbies and they travel, they eat out, they have good jobs and good incomes. What the heck is wrong with them? They should know better. 

If there is a role for the Catholic Church in all this, it is to support a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Or a ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ philosophy. Isn’t that what we are called to do as Christians? It doesn’t mean that we have to necessarily like everything about our neighbors or other cultures, but ‘do no harm’ is a good mantra. My view of Christian behavior is for the most part shaped by my parents, who tried to live a Christian life as best they could. If they had their prejudices, they kept the basest of them to themselves, as I wish most people would do. I don’t want to listen to you spew your bile and your hatred. That’s MY prerogative. My soul will be forever glad for my parents’ good example. My mother always said ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. She also said ‘you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. I do believe that Trump could have learned something from my mother and my father about how to behave.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Tenet, a movie I can't recommend

Tenet is the latest movie from Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed it. It stars the talented John David Washington (Denzel's son), a charming Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh in a brutal role, and Elizabeth Debicki in a strange role. Did I like the movie? No. I'm sure there were many people who did. But it's hard to believe this is the same Christopher Nolan who made the fantastic Interstellar

Tenet is billed as an action and sci-fi film, but in my opinion, it doesn't work well as either. Or rather, it should have been one or the other. As an action film, it's entertaining to watch--fast-paced and good action sequences. Like a modern Bond film. I'm willing to suspend my need for a totally logical plot if action movies are entertaining. But they have to make some sense. Tenet should have remained an action thriller without the added sci-fi element, because the idea of inverted time made no sense to me, was not well-explained, and simply served to muddle the plot. As Collider.com explains, "the basics of time inversion is that someone in the future invented some doodad that allows time to flow backwards. Therefore, certain elements are flowing backwards through time. Their trajectory has become inverted." Oh kay. My question is why? Why is this interesting? Toward the end of the film, when the blue and red groups of soldiers (regular time and inverted time soldiers) are advancing and retreating multiple times, it was enough to cause whiplash. It made me dizzy. I kept wondering when it was all going to end. I kept thinking--please stop. I kept wondering how many times we needed to see fire and smoke pulled back into windows and doors, like what happens in backdrafts. Except that this was to illustrate inverted time? How many times did we need to see that? One or two times was ok, more than that, no. I have no desire to sit through this film again trying to figure it all out. Once was enough. And that was NOT how I felt about Interstellar, which I've seen at least three times at this writing. It is not enough to throw the idea of inverted time out there for us as moviegoers to figure out. That's the moviemaker's job. Better luck next film, Mr. Nolan. 


Friday, January 29, 2021

FDR, the New Deal, and socialist programs

I am currently reading Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley. It’s a very well-written account of Franklin D and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marriage, which cannot be described as conservative in any sense of the word. The backdrop for a good portion of their marriage is of course a major era in American history. FDR was an ambitious man, and set his sights on the governorship of NY State and on the presidency of the USA (with tremendous support from Eleanor, loyal employees and friends) at a time in the USA when the Great Depression had just about decimated society and normal living as the country had known them up to that point. The stock market crash in 1929 led to the collapse of banks. People lost their savings and homes, jobs were scarce, unemployment high, and there was widespread poverty. His weaknesses as a husband do not detract from his strengths as president--strong leader with excellent ideas for how to renew America. But I imagine he would have been an impossible man to live with--huge ego, very ambitious, wilful, jovial, charming, used to getting his way, aided and abetted by a mother who interfered royally in his marriage to Eleanor. Eleanor was also headstrong, but her obstinacy evolved out of the disappointments that she faced living with a man who mostly put himself and his needs first, even more so after he developed polio. She liked people, as did FDR, and surrounded herself with them. Many of their employees and friends lived in the same house as the Roosevelts for shorter or longer periods; 'they both enjoyed communal living' as Rowley writes. FDR lived his life as he saw fit, and extended the same courtesy to Eleanor, who did live her life as she wished once her children were mature. But I leave that to you to discover when you read the book. Suffice it to say that theirs was an open marriage in the true sense of the word. At the same time, they had a lot of respect for each other, were good companions, and were supportive of each other’s ambitions and professional desires. Theirs was a modern marriage that most of us would never opt for, even in these modern times, likely because divorce is more acceptable in our era than it was in theirs. But money also helped smooth their life together; they lacked for nothing. If they wanted to purchase a new house or a cottage, lack of money was no hindrance. Yet, they were very empathetic to the plight of Depression America and to the poor, and their legacy bears that out.

Herbert Hoover was the president before FDR. He believed in raw capitalism without any government intervention whatsoever. At that time, there was no bank deposit insurance as we have today (the FDIC--thanks to FDR), no federal welfare, and no unemployment relief. Hoover was adamantly opposed to these types of ‘socialist’ programs that would weaken/destroy American individualism and self-sufficiency. Hoover felt strongly that FDR’s ‘socialist’ agenda (minimum wage, old-age pensions, farm relief, unemployment relief through public works, bank deposit insurance) would destroy the country and warned the public that America under FDR would lead to the USA embracing Communism. FDR believed the opposite, and set about remaking America under his New Deal, instituting the National Recovery Administration (minimum wages, maximum weekly hours of work), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (aid to the poor), the Public Works Administration (building of bridges, roads, schools), the Tennessee Valley Authority (building dams), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (planting trees, digging reservoirs). We can thank FDR for many of the ‘socialist’ benefits that we enjoy today. FDR knew that some people, despite their best efforts, simply don’t make it, and his point was that it was the duty of government to help them. This attitude is, dare I say it, almost Christian.

The USA did not become Communist under FDR. It strikes me that many of the current arguments used against President Biden at present are similar in tone to those used against FDR. The Trump supporters I know are constantly screaming about how the USA will become a socialist country under Biden. And I have to ask--how will that happen? What does he stand for that is so ‘socialist’? Increasing the minimum wage? About time, if you ask me. Basic healthcare for all citizens? About time, if you ask me. Cheaper college education? About time, if you ask me. At present, the only people really doing exceptionally well in America are the exceptionally rich--who have no problems buying homes, owning property, buying planes or cars or boats, traveling, educating their children, or buying the best medical and legal care they can find. The middle class, which most people in my parents’ generation belonged to, has changed dramatically. It’s hard to know where most people fit these days. Most people I know own their own homes or apartments, can afford to travel, can afford to eat out, and can afford basic medical care. But exorbitant medical costs due to medical emergencies (e.g. expensive cancer treatments) might wipe them out, likewise outrageous legal fees in connection with a lawsuit. Most of the people I know have good medical insurance, but they still watch their expenses (do they need that dental appointment or MRI now or can they wait?). The children of some of them attended college on scholarships, as I did when I went to college and graduate school. I additionally received tuition assistance (TAP) from NY State because my father was unemployed at the time I started college. Thank God for that socialist program. Without such programs, many of us might not have gotten the educations that we received. Yes, God helps those who help themselves. Everybody knows that, and most people want to work and make a life for themselves and their families. But God forbid your father or mother or both became sick or died, when you were about to start college. In Hoover’s time, most people would have said to you ‘tough luck, you’re on your own. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop feeling entitled’. And you probably would not have attended college, because only the rich could afford it. Nowadays, you can afford college thanks to the social programs that are in place to help you. I think it’s much better to live in a country with ‘socialist’ programs than to live in one run by someone like Hoover. That’s just my opinion. But before you disagree with me, think about some of the benefits you've enjoyed courtesy of 'socialist' programs. And then I'll be willing to talk to you. 


Saturday, January 16, 2021

The long road to where we are now

I think we have to go back to Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation in order to gain some perspective on the controversies that defined Nixon’s presidency and how that influenced the political atmosphere henceforth. I believe there is a lot to learn from our past, because the two-party polarization we see now has always been a part of American politics to some degree. But in recent times, it has been magnified and strengthened by social media and a relentless press, and at present, is simply out of control.

I was a teenager when the Watergate scandal unfolded. I sat and watched the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973 together with my father, who was at home on sick leave at the time. Nixon resigned rather than be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal. The Republican president Gerald Ford pardoned him in 1974, a pardon that was quite controversial; Ford justified the pardon by saying that he did not want to subject the USA to a trial that would only have further polarized the American people, who had already endured the Watergate hearings. After Ford came Democrat Jimmy Carter, who served only one presidential term (1977-1981); he was a forward-thinking president when it came to energy and conservation policies. He was followed by Republican Ronald Reagan who served two presidential terms (1981-89); his oratory skills and charm served him well, even though he was sometimes considered a lightweight because he had formerly been an actor. His economic policies--Reaganomics--introduced Americans to ‘supply-side (trickle-down)’ policies that supported decreases in taxes for corporations in order to stimulate economic growth. The intent was that corporations, since they would now ‘save money’, would use those savings to create jobs and to benefit the rest of the economy ("trickle down" theory). His economic policies were controversial. His foreign policies were rooted in anti-Communism ideology and quite bold, especially his challenge to Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall. Conservatives in both political parties embraced him when it came to his economic policies; I have to wonder if this was because he was a skilled orator and good communicator. I can remember heated arguments among the people I know/knew about his presidency; I was not a Reagan fan at the time, but when he challenged Gorbachev, my respect for him increased quite a bit. After Reagan came Republican George H.W. Bush, who served one term only (1989-1993); perhaps the most controversial decision he made was to involve the USA in the Gulf War. But his presidency did play a major role in the reunification of Germany. Bill Clinton became Democratic president in 1993 and served two presidential terms (1993-2001); while he enjoyed high approval ratings for his economic policies and his attempts to broker peace deals as part of his foreign policies, he was impeached in 1998 by the House of Representatives (but not by the Senate) for perjury and obstruction of justice when he lied to conceal his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He did complete his second term in office. The Lewinsky affair overshadows most of what otherwise occurred during his presidential terms. Clinton was followed by Republican George W. Bush who also served two terms (2001-2008); some of Bush’s most controversial actions would have to be the invasion of Iraq in the futile search for weapons of mass destruction (that were never found), and his handling of Hurricane Katrina. He was followed by Democrat Barack Obama who served two presidential terms (2008-2016); perhaps his most controversial policies are ‘Obamacare’ (the Affordable Care Act) that a number of my friends were opposed to since they were afraid of losing their private health insurance policies, and his support for same-sex marriage and gun control. While I do not think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, it was not of his doing; the Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee nominated him for the prize. I don’t know if anyone has ever turned down the prize before. His presidency was responsible for the capture and death of Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001. ‘Republican’ Donald Trump became president in 2016, defeating Hillary Clinton; she won the popular vote but he won the Electoral College. It was not an optimal start for his presidency, which has been riddled with controversy since day one.

I bring up this timeline of the presidencies (with help from Wikipedia) in order to make the point that something went majorly wrong in American politics during the Clinton presidency in terms of the rise of (morally scrupulous) fanaticism. One has to wonder about the underlying reason. It is hard to fathom just how ridiculous the Clinton impeachment, which was televised in 1998, looked to the rest of the world. It is hard for me to fathom how it gained the momentum it did. Internet was still in its infancy, and social media did not exist. Had it existed, it would have been even more unbearable for all involved. My husband’s father (Norwegian) labelled it a farce from day one. You’ve got to wonder what happened to the minds of intelligent people who essentially impeached Clinton for lying about a sexual affair he had with a young woman working in the White House. His lying about it pales in comparison to the current occupant of the White House, who lies about most things, forces others to lie for him, spouts fake news and demands that his followers buy it and be loyal to him. While I don’t condone Clinton’s infidelity, the infidelity itself was a private matter for him and his wife to deal with. If Hillary wanted to remain with him; that was her choice, and ultimately it was her choice. The actual impeachment proceedings were a joke; when you look at them now your first instinct is to cringe. And I can imagine the rest of the world cringed as well, for how it embarrassed the USA. Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s role in the entire sordid mess, Linda Tripp’s betrayal of Monica Lewinsky--taping the conversations Lewinsky had with her and turning them over to Ken Starr (who was already investigating the Whitewater scandal that involved the Clintons), bringing in a blue dress with semen stains on it in order to further the case. Starr was obsessed with taking down Bill Clinton, with destroying him personally, and you’ve got to ask the question--WHY? He managed to humiliate Clinton and Lewinsky; Lewinsky found herself nearly unable to live down her affair and have a life afterward, and it didn’t help that Clinton never apologized to her for essentially misusing his position and taking advantage of her. Yes, she could have said no and should have said no. But she didn’t. However, she didn’t deserve the life that ensued following the revelation of the affair. But Starr managed something else--he managed to humiliate himself and to ensure that his legacy will be the story of a fanatical man obsessed with personally destroying Clinton. At least that’s how I see it, and I’m no historian or political scientist. 

If one behaves like Ken Starr did toward Clinton, one must expect repercussions in the political arena for years to come. Tit for tat. Revenge politics. There are many Democrats who never forgot how Clinton was treated and humiliated, and how the USA was humiliated on the world stage. For a country that prides itself on ‘separation of church and state’, it certainly seemed as though the ‘tar and feather’ brand of religion (religious zealots) had overtaken the government, aided and certainly abetted by the evangelical movement, most of whom seem to be greedy charlatans. The moral finger pointing had started. Some few people decided that they had the moral qualifications to decide how others should behave. Christ would probably have called them Pharisees.

During the two Bush administrations, there was partisanship, criticism, bitter disagreements, and controversy. But Bush junior was never treated the way Bill Clinton was treated. He was faithful to his wife and honest about having had an alcohol problem when he was younger, so the Democrats and the press couldn’t exactly accuse him of immorality. Both the Democrats and Republicans criticized him for his handling of Hurricane Katrina as well as for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But he had to contend, like the rest of the USA, with the 9/11 attacks. There was no time for frivolous attacks/attempts to destroy a man’s life and character when the country was united against an external enemy.

Trump started the fanaticism ball rolling again when he questioned whether or not Obama was born in the USA (the Obama birtherism conspiracy theory). He did this long before he even became president. He pushed this fake news story for all it was worth. He played the public humiliation game--let’s humiliate Obama--a game he was already quite skilled at from his earlier dealings with NYC politicians, his own family, and other businesspeople. It’s his favoured technique for inciting the masses and gaining loyal followers. In this case, followers who are white supremacists, racists, would-be racists, and those who simply were looking for a bully pulpit to speak for them. He forced Obama to produce his birth certificate to confirm that he was born in the USA. Trump’s alliance with the Republican Party meant that the Democrats had to fight against a man who revelled in being a pathological liar, pusher of fake news, and an inciter of many forms of bad behaviour, right from the start. When you start off by personally attacking your opponent, you know exactly what you are doing. You are taking the low road, and defining for your followers the road they are to take as well. The low road enables the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the bullies, and the underbelly of society, to come out into the open. And they did, in droves. What we see at present is the culmination of years of drinking at the poison well by Trump’s followers--a well that provided a steady intake of fake news, conspiracy theories, white supremacist ideology, fanaticism (aided and abetted by evangelical charlatans), Christian churches that refused to stand up against him, an alt-right and conservative press that lapped up his every word and that enabled him. While Trump can often come across as rather stupid, he was intelligent enough to know exactly what he was doing during these past four years. He exploited the polarization in American politics for all it was worth, for his own ends. ‘Divide and conquer’ is a tried and true technique used by despots to gain power and to keep it. He may not be responsible for the huge chasm that exists between liberals and conservatives, but he certainly exploited it with his outrageousness and lack of boundaries. The Democrats may have fed into this narrative by going after Trump and the Republicans with claws out and fangs bared, to destroy them as they felt the Republicans had tried to destroy Clinton. It’s definitely a real possibility that some of them think and feel this way; I cannot help but think that their hatred of Trump is a response to how Republicans treated Clinton. Perhaps for some, these past four years have been payback time. But payback comes at a high price--the ripping apart of America.

And here we are, in January 2021, wondering whether or not Biden, who is trying to take the high road and to focus on the crucial issues at hand, will succeed. Washington DC is an armed camp, tensions are running high, and violence is expected. One hopes that there will not be more deaths. You can ask whether all of this enmity is worth it, but you’re not likely to get a rational answer from anyone. The situation is out of control, and everyone knows it.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Picnic at Hanging Rock--the movie and the series

Picnic at Hanging Rock--the movie--came out in 1975 and was lauded as a great film. Indeed, its director, Peter Weir, of The Last Wave fame, went on to make some hugely popular movies, among them Witness, Master and Commander, Green Card, and The Truman Show. The Last Wave, with Richard Chamberlain, is a masterpiece of a film about a lawyer defending several Aboriginal men accused of murder, who falls under the spell of the Aboriginal culture; he begins to have premonitions about a last wave, which may or may not be a huge tidal wave or a tsunami. The film was released in 1977, two years after Picnic at Hanging Rock, which I never saw until recently. I watched it after I had seen the BBC television series of the same name (now available on the streaming channel Cirkus here in Norway). Although most reviewers and viewers preferred the film, I preferred the television series. 

I have not read the novel by Joan Lindsay on which both the film and series are based, but I plan on doing so. That said, I found the series to be quite good, and I liked it better than the film version, probably because it was longer and viewers could get better insights into the characters and what made them tick. Additionally, I had read movie reviews that kept mentioning how eerie the film was; I thought the series was far more so. It really got under my skin. I do agree with the naysayers that the series could probably have been shortened to four episodes instead of six, but regardless, it held my interest throughout.

I liked that series viewers learned a lot about the main characters--where they came from, their backstories. The series got the chance to really flesh out the characters. They took liberties with the actual story, I am sure of that. But it worked. I liked the dreamy atmosphere that hovered between the natural and the supernatural, I liked the flirtation with subtle horror and madness. Was satanism or witchcraft involved in the disappearance at Hanging Rock of four women from a Victorian era girl's school? Were there evil spirits there, or spirits protecting the rock against trespassers? Was there a time warp into which they slipped, never to return? Why did watches stop in the vicinity of the rock? Were they murdered by local men in the area, or did they commit suicide? Their bodies were never found. One of the women does return, but unfortunately, she cannot remember anything that happened, and that by itself unnerves most of the townspeople as well as the school staff. A run of bad luck ensues, and the wealthy parents whose daughters go to the school begin to withdraw them, one by one, which leads to a crisis for (and eventual suicide of) the headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (played by an excellent Natalie Dormer). 

There are many theories as to what could have happened to the girls. The film and the series tantalize us with possible answers, but never really make clear what actually did happen to them. Apparently that was the ending in Lindsay's book as well, although she purportedly wrote a a rather bizarre ending that never made it into the published book. The ending of the film and series give viewers some ideas of what probably happened to the missing girls, but it remains up to the viewers to intuit how large a role the atmosphere at the rock and legends surrounding the rock played. The series moved slowly in terms of building up to the reality of the horror that occurred; a creeping sense of creepiness as it were. I do not agree with the critics of the series that the focus was not on the picnic. It was, in every episode: it is the backdrop in every episode. The fact that the girls went missing affected just about everyone at the school, and each episode revealed that in one way or another. Bad fortune found a number of them. The music was a good accompaniment to the goings-on--eerie at times, dreamy at other times. 

I suggest watching the 1975 film first, and then the television series. The acting in both is very good, but I prefer the acting and cinematography of the television series, as well as the ever-present intense atmosphere of foreboding in the series, even in daylight. I did not get that same feeling from the movie.  


Sunday, January 10, 2021

When people think they are god

Time moves us on, away from unpleasant events and unpleasant people. Given enough time, chaos evolves into calmness and life begins to feel more normal. Balance is restored. That is the way of the world. Nature for example, continues to do what it always has done. Provide us with beautiful views of sunrises and sunsets, of pristine lakes, of snow-covered mountains, gorgeous gardens and green forests. But where there is beauty there is also brutality. Where there is life there is also death and decay. Where there is paradise on earth, we know that there is also hell on earth. We know that from all of the nature documentaries that drive those points home. We are careful when we are in nature, because it is wild and unpredictable. There are earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, landslides--natural catastrophes that we cannot prevent or warn about with 100% effectiveness. We cannot just wander onto a mountain covered in snow and ignore avalanche warnings. We would not sail a boat out onto the ocean in the middle of a hurricane. We use reason to create a relationship with nature that we can live with, in order to co-exist peacefully with it. Sometimes we try to subdue it and sometimes we are successful at it. But we cannot tame it. 

Nature is a reminder that there is good and evil in the world. Both exist independently of man. If humans had never set foot on the earth, there would still be gorgeous sunsets and hellish volcanoes and tsunamis. There would still be gentle animals and brutal ones. There would still be life and death. 

Human beings did set foot on the earth. Mankind became a part of nature, and has even tried to dominate nature. But humans will never succeed at that. Human beings have tried their best during all the centuries to dominate nature and other humans in the quest for power and greed. Many humans don't understand this obsession with power and greed; I am one of them. When this obsession gets out of hand, as it has especially during the past decade, nature supplies a correction that we are forced to focus on because if we don't, it means that many human beings will die. The current pandemic is a good example of such a correction. A vaccine may help to control it, but there will come other pandemics. There have always been, and always will be, bacteria and viruses that infect animals and humans. They exist in nature, independently of man's existence. Sometimes human beings make critical mistakes, that lead to bacteria and viruses getting the upper hand. Sometimes those mistakes are made in the name of greed and power. Hubris is a major failing in human beings, and has far-reaching consequences. Hubris says that man can do whatever he likes in and with nature. He cannot. 

I bring all this up in light of the current political situation in the USA. Nature does not care about Donald Trump, nor does he care about nature. That is a problem by itself. Corrections will continue to come regardless of whether he cares or not. But if he was more respectful toward everything, he might contribute to a world where respect for the power of nature increased. As it stands now, he does not understand his role as leader or even why he exists. He has abused his position and disgraced our country. His gods are greed and power. The irony is not lost on me that it is under his administration that a pandemic arose. From a scientific point of view, I know that it is merely a random event in nature; it could just as well have arisen under Biden. But its emergence in the age of Trump is simply one more reminder of the importance of having respect for nature, for its wildness, its unpredictability, its brutality. It is a reminder that we cannot ignore the natural world because it doesn't 'fit' with our plans. He is not a person for whom respect is important. I would imagine that if he could, he would bend and destroy nature to suit his purposes. He thinks he is God.


Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten's coverage of the US Capitol invasion by Trump's thugs

 


This was the Friday January 8th coverage in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten of the invasion of the US Capitol by Trump's thugs on Wednesday January 6th, a day that will live in infamy. The first fifteen pages of the newspaper that day were devoted to this news story. On Thursday night, the main television news show at 7 pm on NRK devoted the first 35 minutes of its newscast to the same story.

Anyone who thinks that the USA lives in a vacuum or can live in a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the world, is deluded. Like it or not, what happens in the USA affects the rest of the world, which by the way was horrified at the events that unfolded in Washington DC on Wednesday January 6th. This is not supposed to happen in the USA. 

To all those who participated in the invasion, remember--the deaths of five people are on your consciences. You are pathetic individuals just like your leader. You have dragged the good name of the USA through the mud. You showed the world just how deluded and evil you are. You embarrassed the country and committed major crimes, and my hope is that you all rot in prison for years to come, together with the man who incited you to action--a pathetic piece of shit and an evil man. I feel sure that there is a special place in hell for men like him. My hope is that his future suffering befits his crimes. 


Bullying and mob mentality

I remain surprised by the lack of self-insight that I experience when I interact with some Trump supporters on social media. I remain surprised by their rudeness, their ‘in-your-face’ aggressiveness, their refusal to accept that Trump lost, their loyalty to a man who would normally not give them the time of day, and their lack of loyalty to their country. Because if they were really loyal to their country, they would never accept Trump’s behavior, his public statements, or his blatant disinterest in the wellbeing of the country. They would never accept his sedition if they were really loyal to their country. 

Those I am referring to are ‘friends’ on Facebook that I know from earlier times in my life. They were kinder people then. They no longer strike me as kind people now. They strike me as bitter people, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. They have ALL the material things one could want--big houses in the suburbs or out in the country, several cars (all new), well-paying jobs, and good educations. They travel where they want, when they want. They’ve raised families and have had an amount of privilege that many people will never experience in their lifetimes. Have they worked for it? Yes, they have. Do they deserve their nice lifestyles? Yes, they do. I would never question any of that. What I question is their lack of self-insight when it comes to the blessings that they have. I know people who have worked just as hard as they have, many at their own businesses, who simply have not been successful for reasons that have nothing to do with whether they worked hard enough or not. They struggled or have struggled all their lives to make it in American society, without a safety net. Most of them managed to just break even; they managed to pay their bills but never had a fraction of the material goods that I’ve described above. Unfortunately, success in America is defined by how much money you make and by the amassment of material goods over the years. In my parents’ generation, if you had poor health, or lost your job, or never owned your own home, you were a loser. Society was harsh then too. But harsher now. I’ve said many times before that it’s nice to have money and a comfortable lifestyle. But it does not make you better than those who do not have what you have. That is the uncomfortable message of Christianity. If you have a problem with the message, then perhaps you should choose another religious persuasion that suits your narrow views, or no religion at all. Christ said that ‘the poor you will always have with you’. He meant poor in the material sense, but I’m sure he also meant in the spiritual sense. Because his message (The Gospel of Mark 8:36) was also ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ Also an uncomfortable message. If you have all you want, and become unkind and unchristian (spiritually poor) to others less fortunate than yourself, you have lost your soul. There is a lot of spiritual poverty in society at present. There is a lot of meanness that surprises me, given the amount of material wealth that most Western societies enjoy.

One of my friends on Facebook says she loves Trump because society is ‘unfair’. This somehow implies that Trump has done a lot to rectify the unfairness that she sees in society. She doesn’t elaborate, but I can guess that she means that he stands for overturning the federal and state programs that help the needy/those defined as needy or those looking for a better life. She means that she does not get the privileges that some of these people get. I’m sure there is an element of truth in what she says, and if so, those problems should be rectified. Perhaps she does not qualify for some of the federal and state programs set up to help the needy. In her case, I don’t know enough about her economic situation to say whether or not she would qualify as needy. But she is one of those that posts aggressive and bitter memes, and fake news memes, like so many of the Trump supporters I know on Facebook. You would think their lives are awful, but it’s quite the opposite in most cases where I know about their lives. They have so many material blessings that they should be on their knees thanking God for them.

I am not a member of or loyal to any political party or to any specific politicians. I am loyal to my country, even though it is pretty messed-up at present. I try to think for myself amid the cacophony of constant news programs on television, social media, and printed media. I have never been a ‘group’ person and never will be. I dislike groups because many of them end up with a mob mentality, as in ‘let’s bully those who don’t think like us’. It’s not just Republicans who do this; Democrats have also gone down that road. Just check out some of the more liberal tweeters on Twitter. Neither side is free from blame. We are where we are in society because of the lack of self-insight on both sides of the political spectrum. Trump came along and exploited the widening gap, making it even wider. It served his political aim, which was to be a king of some sort--a benevolent bully as it were. I remember a girl with whom I went to school who was bullied mercilessly by the ‘cool’ girls in the class. I have never forgotten how they treated her, and all these years later, I still remain sceptical to the personas they present publicly on social media. It’s perhaps unkind of me to say this, but I can't help thinking ‘once a bully, always a bully’. Of course, they can have regretted their earlier behavior and become better people. I hope so. But I knew at an early age that one's behavior was a choice; you chose to be a bully, or you chose not to be a bully when faced with the possibility. If you chose to bully others, you knew exactly what you were doing. Just as Trump does. Just as his supporters do. Mob mentality. 

I would never post and have never posted hateful memes concerning conservatives and Trump supporters. I am not planning on becoming a rude person in response to rude people. I will continue to try to take the high road in most situations. Of course it has happened that I have gotten angry or lost my temper and taken the low road. We are human and we fail. But we can make amends and the important thing is to be able to say that you’re sorry. I’m waiting for some of the Trump supporters I know to say that they’re sorry they supported him and that they were rude and aggressive to family members and friends. But I don’t think they will publicly. Many of them may be privately ashamed that they supported someone like him. That’s a start. I think many of them need to work on self-insight, on trying to figure out why they needed a bully to be their mouthpiece for their nagging discomfort with themselves. They need to figure out why they lined up behind the bully. They need to figure out why they harbor so much hatred and anger. That would go a long way to restoring some kind of sanity in society.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Good riddance to a bad leader

Those of you who know me and who have followed my blog during the past decade know that I have written frequently about bad leaders and bad leadership. The definition of a bad leader can certainly vary from person to person, but in my book, a bad leader is one who does not appeal to the best in people, but to the worst. A bad leader is one who finds the basest character traits and behaviors in all human beings, including himself or herself, and elevates them to something noble. Traits and behaviors such as narcissism, selfishness, egotism, aggressiveness, violent talk, bullying others, harassing others, greed, cowardice, making fun of others, being deceitful, lying, and lack of accountability for one’s actions and speech. I could go on, but you get the picture.

All of these traits and behaviors I’ve mentioned describe Trump very well. They perhaps describe his supporters to some degree, but I have a problem with this aspect, because many of the Trump supporters I know call themselves Christian, are good people, would never think of behaving the way he behaves, and would not teach their children to behave in this way. So what is the explanation for Trump’s popularity? I think it is horrifying that half of the US population voted for this man. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want Biden. They wanted Trump. They like him. They see him as a great leader. They see him as a Christian. This is what I don’t understand, and what I would like them to explain to me. How is he Christian? Is it so simple as to say that because Trump says that he is anti-abortion or holds a bible (upside down, no less), that this is enough to label him a Christian? What about his making fun of a man with cerebral palsy at one of his rallies? What about his vulgar view of women, of wanting to grab women by the pussy? What about his making fun of John McCain, who served the country in Vietnam and suffered greatly as a POW, something Trump never did? What about all the lying, the lack of accountability, the chaos around him, the lack of reflection, the lack of interest in a peaceful life? What about the constant aggressiveness and anger in tone, speech and behaviour? How come there exists such a huge disconnect between what he says and does, and what his supporters want to believe about him? Because there is a huge disconnect, there is no denying that.  

I have written a number of posts about him. I had his number a long time ago. He is a bad leader and a dangerous one, because he basically encourages others to do his dirty work for him. I’m guessing he’s always been like that, so it’s nothing new. He is a mouthpiece for the disgruntled in our nation, but they in turn do his bidding. It’s a sick and abusive relationship he has with his supporters. Unless you’ve been bullied/harassed yourself, you will not understand the dynamics of such a relationship. You can fight a bully, or you can cave in to him or her. If you fight a bully, you risk being physically attacked, verbally attacked, threatened, having your name dragged through the mud, and having your family suffer consequences as well. If you cave in, you ‘make a deal’ with the bully that if you do his or her bidding and keep your mouth shut, you will be left alone. You will not be attacked or hurt. The bully controls you because you fear him or her; the bully brainwashes you to think that he or she is your protector or savior, that your behaviour prior to caving in was what caused the bully’s aggressiveness toward you. You learn not to say anything that may offend the bully. That’s a sick relationship. Trump exploits others--their weaknesses, their cowardice, their lack of motivation. That’s why he is a dangerous leader, just like Hitler was. Trump uses the people in his administration as his personal lackeys; their loyalty is all that matters to him. In a similar way, Hitler rose to power because those who worked for him turned a blind eye to what he said and did, and did not stop him. Those that tried to stand up against him were fired or re-assigned to positions in places where they could have little impact.

We should learn from history. There is no guarantee that the USA must remain a democracy; the only guarantee we have is that good people stand united to fight those who want otherwise. Trump wanted to be a dictator. His followers don’t see it that way. He is a bad leader; his followers don’t see him that way. The good thing is that our founding fathers drew up a system of government that divided political power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Power is not concentrated in one place. The president is not a king or a dictator; he or she does not have absolute power. That is a good thing and that is what will save the USA from becoming a fascist country. Trump has been a test of how well that system works. In the final analysis, the system has taken a severe beating but has survived, in no small part due to the judicial branch that rejected most of his attempts to undo the election. Trump himself is nothing more than a failed president, a bad leader, a bully, and a coward. That is his legacy, and history will not be kind to him.