Thursday, August 29, 2019

Aging in Place

Folks often ask, “so how’re you doing?  And sometimes I respond, “Who knows . . . the Shadow knows.”  And that goes over the heads of most folks under, say, 70. See, I used to listen to the radio during the 1940s, sitting in our front room in our flat on Second Avenue, near 71st Street.  And I listened to “The Shadow”, Fibber McGee and Molly”, “Inner Sanctum”, and others of that early ilk.  Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of man. The Shadow knows.”

But then, because I really am aging, I sometimes respond, “Aging in place.” And not everyone gets that, but most do.  It means, sort of, “well, I’m hanging around, mostly in one place, and I’m getting older every day.”  Mainly, it’s a signal that I no longer make any significant contribution to mankind.  Hanging around . . . some might say, “waiting to go”.  Now the trouble with that phrase, is that you don’t really “go” anywhere, when you end this existence on earth.  No, you simply cease to exist. Which to my mind is really weird.  If there is a god, she apparently didn’t think that one through.
But, in any case, it is what it is.  But, the important thing about all this silliness about life and its potential ending scenarios, is that there is great reason to look on each day as a gift. Open it carefully, and treat it with respect. You may not get another one tomorrow, but, if you do, open that one carefully and treat it also with respect.

I have now lived beyond the point in the aging game where any of my family members survived. Mostly, the women ended it all around my current age, mid-80s. The men generally didn’t make it that far. To be fair, we didn’t know as much about preserving life during the 1940s – 1980s when most of my aging family “left” this life.

So, does any of this mean anything?

Well, what it means to me is that we might want to consider leaving the place at least slightly better than when we entered it.  And by “better”, I obviously don’t mean financially “better”. I mean, somehow, kinder, or more humane, civil.  Now it is clear that individually we can’t simply make war, or poverty, or Donald Trump disappear. But collectively, assuming we continue to care, we of course can make such things happen.  Mostly, we make such momentous occasions happen by the simple process of voting.  All of the idiot, lazy louts who failed to show up at the polls in 2106, because “their candidate” didn’t make it onto the ballot. And they weren’t going to vote for Hillary. So, instead, they sort of voted for Trump, simply by not showing up.

So, we all need to do our bit. Even if you decide to vote for the “least-worst” you still need to do that.
And, even beyond that minimum activity, life offers lots of ways to make our world a slightly better place.  For example, the Cabarrus County Literacy Council recruits lots of volunteers like me to tutor folks who wish to learn English as a Second Language, or, as in my case, who wish to learn to read. I currently tutor a 58 year old man who simply never learned to read, despite having acquired a high school diploma. How could you acquire a high school diploma while being unable to read?  Well, mostly, he used to guess on tests, had his sister help him with homework, and relied on his teachers simply passing him through each class. No one either knew or cared that he couldn’t read. He somehow learned to cope, with his brain filling in something when he couldn’t read. But, I am working with him to remedy that deficit. And, I am making his life slightly better. My wife used to tutor a man in DC who couldn’t read, but he worked in his company’s mail room. He operated by recognizing people and he knew their first initials. But now he was actually learning to read, so he might be able to read to his grandkids.  Again, she was making his life a bit better.
So, it turns out, there are lots of little things each of us can do to leave this world a slightly better place than when we entered.

But, I am also increasingly aware that, as we “age in place”. We need to understand that aging thing and what it means to our earthly body.  Knowing that none of us can live forever (too bad, huh god??), we all still need to become increasingly aware of the changes that could make our few remaining years more or less difficult.

Our friendly neighborhood orthopedic surgeon tells us he has one big rule—DON’T FALL.  Easier said than done, huh? Well, one of the things I have noticed increasingly is that our propensity to fall seems directly related to paying attention. You know that thing about “Multitasking”?  Many people think they multitask all the time. We talk on the phone, while writing an e-mail.  We chat while driving, or maybe we listen to the radio while driving.  Or, we walk up or down stairs while our mind wanders. But the science says, conclusively, that our brain cannot actually multitask. What our mind does instead is rapidly switch from one task to another—we “serially monotask.” Now mostly, we get away with the charade of multitasking.   But often we “come a cropper”. While we are chatting on our phone, we fail to see the guy stopping in front of us suddenly, and we fail to stop before ramming into him.  But if we are “aging in place”, we often open ourselves up to falls. We walk downstairs while thinking of something we need to do, and we fail to notice that we are not yet at the bottom step, and, so, we tumble down the last two steps, perhaps banging our head on something hard.  Or we pay too little attention to the rug in front of us, and we fail to pick up our feet enough, and, so, we tumble.

These little occurrences increasingly dominate as we “age in place”.  There is, of course, no real “solution” to these little events of the aging, except, perhaps, to being more aware.  If we pay attention to the little things and stop the myth of multitasking, we really can avoid some of the nastier side effects of the aging process.  I think of the simple process of walking up and down stairs. Normally, we pay no attention, and instead do something else mentally while we walk.  But if instead, we focus on this simple process, holding on, really looking, we can in fact reduce the number of those nasty things called falls.

And if we pay attention pretty much all the time to what we are doing, we can avoid at least some of the nastier side effects of aging in place.  I have the habit, for example, of carrying too many things at one time, instead of making more than one trip.  I guess, when we are 25, we can pull off such stunts. But less so when you hit that magic 80 mark.  Note please, when you are in your 80s, you are old by almost any standard.  And when we hit that stage, we need to quit pretending.

We need to pay attention. In the early morning, when the sun begins to arise, go and observe the effects. It is glorious, but one must put down one’s phone while observing. When you walk in a garden and see an especially enchanting flower, or butterfly, again, stop and observe. Don’t multitask. Monotasking has real advantages, but even more so as we age.

Aging, it turns out, is not for sissies. It needs to be treated with respect.  Pay attention aging folks, pay attention.

Oh, and do go to the polls and VOTE. We really do need to rid our world of Donald Trump and his gang of thugs. Please, vote, and even there, pay attention to what you are doing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


“Hey, so can I buy you”, said the fool? 

“Hmmm, I don’t understand. We’re a part of a country. What do you mean, Can I buy you? You do understand that isn’t the way things work, don’t you? I mean, of course, you’re joking, right?”

Well, it’s a bit less than clear actually. Our dearly beloved president seems not to understand much of anything actually.  He seems to believe that he can do anything he wants, and that everything is for sale (see, The Art of the Deal), and it’s always only a matter of the sale price. I assume that means that if Trudeau sent Trump a missive to the effect, “Hey, we really like New York, and intend to buy it. What’s your best price?” Trump would consult with the guy who actually wrote “The Art of the Deal” and try to come to some price level, at which bargaining could begin.  The fact that he doesn’t own it (New York) would be viewed as irrelevant. He is the president, so he can do anything he wants, right?

This is the real risk with Trump. Yes, he is evil, i.e., he does things almost anyone would consider evil. But that he is clueless, knows nothing about almost everything, knows no boundaries, respects no one and no thing, therein lies the risk of our president.  Eventually, someone around him says, “No, you can’t do that”. And then he gets pissed and fires that someone.  Have we ever seen a turnover at high levels of our government such as we have seen since Trump?  I don’t think so.  He fires folks like he’s still on The Apprentice. And I think he actually doesn’t understand that there are rules to live by as President. Because he has never followed any rules. He simply acts, whimsically, all the time, and the subject matter is irrelevant, because he doesn’t understand anything.

So, how could we even imagine giving him the keys to the nuclear arsenal? How could we trust him to make rational decisions about War and Peace? How could we trust him to make decisions about the future of America, and maybe even The World? Well, clearly, we can’t. Yet we are doing those exact things. Why are we acting so obviously recklessly? An interesting question, that.

Partly, I believe that the people in charge, republicans mainly, are star struck with their power. They have been given this power by the American people, and by God, they are going to hold on to it. That they may be destroying the wellbeing of the country, or the values and principles on which the Nation thought it was founded, matters less than the sheer fact of power.  Like money, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We can see that clearly whenever Mitch McConnell says or does something. He seemingly always acts in his self-interest, i.e., staying in power.  If that self-interest collides with what is best for America, Mitch’s priorities always take precedence.

But, I think something else is also going on, and it is broader than the self-interest calculations of republicans. People actually voted for Trump, despite knowing almost everything about him worth knowing. He was/is known to be a complete narcissist, a sociopath, ignorant, and perhaps stupid almost beyond imagining, a core racist, a likely Neo-Nazi, a misogynist, and . . . well, more is unnecessary. You get the point. And knowing all those things, people still voted for him.

We actually know that Hillary won the election on the popular vote.  But, given our system, he won via the Electoral College. That’s the system by which we reward small states for being small—the tyranny of the minority. Whether that system needs to be trashed in view of the Trump election is for another day.

But, that more than a few thousand folks decided to vote for Trump is what is at issue here. How could that be? In this country? Approximately 62.9 million people voted for Trump.  That’s million, not thousand. How could that be?

Well, apparently, we have a lot of angry people in this country. Some of those people are, like Trump, racist. Some are militant white nationalists, maybe even neo-Nazi’s. Some despise women (remember Hillary??). Many (millions??) fiercely oppose all forms of abortion. Many more oppose anything to do with homosexuality. Many, many Americans seem really angry at Government, per se.  Hillary represented the status quo of Government. Trump was the Great Destroyer. They voted for the Great Destroyer. And that “Make America Great Again” slogan? It was interpreted many different ways. But first and foremost, it presumed that America was not now (then) as great as it had been in bygone days—you know, those days before our first Black president, before the Clintons and everything they stood for.  Remember, many, many people still idolized that dim bulb Ronald Reagan (St. Ronald of Reagan), the man who sold arms to Iran in exchange for hostages and then used that money to buy arms for terrorists in Nicaragua.  Reagan actually believed in that Laffer Curve, and gave us the largest deficits in the Nation’s history. He made it ok again to be a racist.  But they loved him, despite all that.

And over the years, as we traded away our industrial might for lower prices, many people suffered, and they blamed government—they didn’t/don’t care what government—irrelevant. Trump represented the opposite of everything they loathed in this country.  That he was stupid, or racist, or whatever, they did not care. He wasn’t Hillary. He was not part of the existing power structure, and so they voted for him.

But what they did not know in voting for him, is that he not only doesn’t care about them, but he does not care about anything but himself. And, further, he is profoundly ignorant, and seemingly, profoundly stupid. Now stupid means the relative absence of intelligence, or reasoning ability. It relates to the brain’s ability to bring in information and to make sense of that information. Ignorance is different. Ignorance means the absence of information, and is often related to the absence of education. Arguably, during our education, we acquire information on a variety of topics. That information is then processed by our brains to give us an understanding of the world, and pathways to expanding that understanding. Stupidity implies an inability of the brain to process and make sense of such information.  Trump seems to lack both qualities. That is, he seemingly has no real understanding of the world in which he lives. And, beyond that lack, when presented with information, he seems to lack an ability to process the information in useful ways.  He simply acts and reacts according to how it makes him feel. He especially looks for applause. He desperately wants to be rewarded with shouts of Huzzah, with smiles, with pats.

Now, I think the voting public remains relatively unaware of his real failings as a human being. Whenever Trump is criticized, Fox News, yells Lies, and Trump yells Fake News.  And because his public desperately wants to reject that other world, they respond in kind. They yell, “Lock her up”, or “shoot them”, whatever suits their mood.  But what they do not understand is that he is an even bigger risk to them than anything his opponents would have been.  Because he is profoundly ignorant and even stupid, he can and already has made decisions about our nation that threaten its very existence.  His tax approach, his environmental stances, his approach to both allies and foes alike seem to most informed folks disturbingly hostile to rationality. He is, in fact, an existential threat to our very being. But his supporters have not yet figured that out. They are still too angry, and they continue to blame all their woes on the past and on anyone who represents that past, i.e., the Democrats.

And so the campaign goes on, his perpetual campaign. He doesn’t really govern; he campaigns. Even when he golfs, he is campaigning. Every meaningless jibberjabber coming out of his mouth, is in the interest of keeping him in power, because it is the only thing that will soothe his savage beast mentality.  So, unless enough folks get off their asses and actually vote, we will have him for another four years. And we actually may not survive as a democracy for such a period.

So, if you care about survival, people, you better get off your couches, switch off the TVs, and ready yourself to throw him out of office in 2020 by VOTING.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Rage, Racism & Murder: The World of Donald Trump

Rage, the wonderful world of Donald Trump in America.  The number of countries that never have mass shootings is very large, so America stands out. Also, the world in which a mass shooting triggers immediate action by the head of government (think New Zealand) also overwhelms America, the author of “Do-Nothing: Send Thoughts and Prayers”.

What the hell are we to think about this increasingly violent, rage-filled and heavily armed nation? The right wing says it’s all about video games . . . or maybe it’s really all about the mentally ill.  Or maybe we just need to arm more people. Yeah, that’s it, we need more folks armed with assault rifles, so we can have shooting sprees everywhere we go. How about your next elementary school assembly, where all the six-year olds now carry AR-15s? Yeah, that’d stop the mass murderers.

But seriously, what is going on here?

Well, mainly we have lots of folks with motives. Oh, they were there before Donald Trump. But just like Reagan made it ok again to be a racist, Donald Trump has made it ok again to hate and take violent action against “The Other”.  See, he has opened the gates to people acting on their outrage. He asks his crowd of adoring fans, and what should we do to stop them (them being Hispanic immigrants, or Muslims, or just anyone who despises him) and they shout back “Shoot them”.  And what does he do? Well, he laughs.  And now they know that it’s ok to shoot them, anyone they hate.

See, when people murder, they need both a motive and a method.  So, our dear president is supplying them—all who hate and wish to kill—a motive. He is telling them that they are being threatened by “the other” and it is ok to hate them and to act on your hate. No, he never said publically, “well, I suggest that you get your guns and begun killing Hispanics, Muslims, Blacks, et al”. But he acted to incite his crowd to rage and to tell them it’s ok to be violent towards people you hate.

And the Method? Well, clearly, the NRA provides the method. The NRA, and all its members, lobby Congress to prevent anything even remotely sensible about gun control.

It isn’t guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people (wrong NRA, it’s people armed with guns . . . see NRA, guns are the necessary element in a shooting-killing).

All it takes to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun (wrong NRA. The good guys with guns are all over the place, but most of them –cops excepted—hide under the table, or in the bathroom when the bad guy with the guy is doing his thing).

It’s crazy people, not us normal people, doing this killing thing (wrong NRA, because you have personally prevented any legislation aimed at preventing crazy people from owning guns).

We need to arm more people—teachers, students, presumably workers at WalMart, and all workers at Gay bars (wrong NRA, arming the teachers among us, or, heaven forfend the students, will simply trigger more violence, and will likely not stop an armed NRA thug armed with a submachine gun who bursts in the door and just begins shooting anyone in view).

The NRA and its members have no solutions, and they are not in the business of finding solutions. They are in the business of selling guns.  Asking the NRA for help here would be like asking General Motors for help in reducing the number of automobiles sold to the public.

No, the NRA is definitely part of the problem, not part of the solution.  In fact, we should seek out information on which members of Congress receive money from the NRA, or any of its disguised, black money affiliates. Any such Congressperson should have an immediate negative campaign launched against him or her.

And what, if anything, does this crap have to do with the Second Amendment? Well, really, nothing. The so-called Second Amendment was intended to sustain state militias, not individual members of the public? And what does it have to do with the right to own weapons for personal use, e.g., hunting? Well, again, nothing. There is no plausible use for assault weapons to protect one’s home, or to hunt game, even big game.  These weapons should be taken off the market and removed from all private ownership. Assault weapons should be bought back from private citizens and then destroyed. And then all such weapons should be banned for sale, except to the military, or formally organized, armed police forces. Within days of the killing in New Zealand, such legislation had been passed and the guns were removed and destroyed.

But here, the NRA argues to its members that they must resist such efforts by the government, on the basis that the government is the reason citizens must arm themselves. Their argument essentially, is that government is always potentially evil, and must be resisted.  Yet, all evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. That is, our government is relatively benign, when compared with the fairly crazed NRA advocates, and the folks shooting up innocents in public places.  It is, in fact, the NRA and its advocates who are the problem regarding violence.

The NRA has now reached the point that we should consider designating it as an agent of domestic terrorism.  The NRA members should really consider seriously letting go of their membership, and themselves lobbying for banning domestic assault weapons of all kinds for sale to anyone. The NRA is not ISIS, mind you. It is not the NRA itself that is going around shooting innocent civilians. And no one is suggesting that it is. However, the NRA is but one step from that stage.  And it doesn’t matter anyway. The NRA has officially supplied the means and its members have taken up the empty spaces and filled them with domestic terrorists.

Now you can ask why ordinary citizens, even ones armed with such weapons, would commit such unspeakable violence upon innocent people? Well, fairly clearly, they are unhinged.  But, more to the point, they are people who are insecure to the point of terror. Yes, they are clearly terrified individuals, who have been taught that certain other people are responsible for all the problems they have personally, or fear they may have.  The Other, they have been told repeatedly, are acting now to take away their jobs, rape their sisters, and destroy this fair land in which they live. That, friends, is the constant rhetoric adopted by our pseudo-President, Donald Trump. He claimed his office through means, fair or foul, but he obtained that office through a campaign of hate against “The Other”.  He is all about HATE, because HATE gains him supporters, supporters who are devoted, and loyal, mainly because they have stopped thinking.

The Donald claims he is the least racist person in the world. Clearly, again he is lying. How does one know Donald Trump is lying? Well, whenever he opens his mouth and words begin tumbling out, he is lying. And so long as he can continue spewing his hate-filled rhetoric against “The Other”, his supporters will continue killing innocent people. That trend will only slow down, if not stop, when Donald Trump and his legislative band of thugs, is removed from the public scene. And we don’t do that by killing them. We do that by VOTING people.  Voting is the mechanism of civilized people. Guns and killing are the mechanisms of thugs. So, how long will we tolerate thugs running our government? We will see. We will see.