Returning to politics for a moment, this is “journalism” at its best... (Insert sarcasm)
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Returning to politics for a moment, this is “journalism” at its best... (Insert sarcasm)
A few more in the series of random thoughts:
• I miss the days when our president actually had a “strategery.”
• Re: The strange and blustery weather that brought 70-mph winds to the D.C. region, leaving hundreds of thousands without power: “Even Mother Nature is pissed at Trump. We are just caught in the crosshairs.”
• I’ve found playing the Live at Maxwell’s version of "Hayday" by The Replacements to be oddly soothing while shopping at Home Depot, aka the ninth circle of hell.
Three videos well worth your time, given our current political climate...
Remember when Ronald Reagan used "Born in the U.S.A." as an introduction for his speeches because, not listening to the lyrics, he thought it would be a rallying call? I wish our current president would do the same with this song.
Speaking of our (expletive deleted) leader and Jason Isbell songs, I'm waiting for Weird Al or "Saturday Night Live" to do a parody replacing "Anxiety" with "Insanity."
"Nothing there to corrupt you
Nothing there to live up to
There's no place further down
Turn it off or turn around"
Post-Alabama election random thoughts after voters picked Doug Jones over Roy Moore and the horse he rode in on.
• Well, I'll be damned. There is a Santa Claus.
• I've found Charlie Sheen's comeback role. He can go into full make up, wig, and fat suit, and play Trump on basic cable. TruTV has its first Emmy winner, I'm sure.
• Dear Mr. Bannon (aka Angel of Death),
Welcome to your cold day in hell. Have a piece of coal to warm you up.
Sincerely, The Electorate
Food for thought as we start another work week in the cold.
I believe in the First Amendment, with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I believe government should work for the people, not in spite of the people. I believe responsible citizens should have the right to bear arms if they so choose. And I believe in honest, forthright debate on platforms such as this one.
I don’t believe in hate. And I’m exhausted by the vitriol.
No more swastikas. No more torches. No more violence. No more trotting out the same old, same old statements about “the other side” who may be your neighbor, or God forbid, someone you call your friend. It’s not OK.
Sadly, our leader thinks our fragile democracy is some kind of a schoolyard game, casting himself as chief bully in charge. He acts like a 2-year-old and screams at the top of his lungs (or fingertips) every time he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it.
It’s what he knows how to do best. And a significant portion of the population, a portion that has been overlooked and ignored by politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades, is frothing at the mouth to join him.
They rally behind him when he calls you:
• “Damned dishonest” — the news media
• “Obstructionists” — Democrats
• “Weak” — the two GOP senators from Arizona, one of whom has brain cancer.
• “Animals” — illegal immigrants
All these quotes came occurred during a rally in Phoenix, when Trump went off script and on to a 75-minute rant that was all “us” (his base) vs. “them” (the rest of us). When the base was at its most boisterous, he used a familiar refrain to describe those in favor of removing Confederate monuments: “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”
I get history and heritage. Members of my family have used language that would be considered racist or insensitive now.
Were they products of their time? Yes.
Should we overlook the fact that they had flaws, just like we all do? No.
If they were living today, would the language they used 50 or 60 years ago be acceptable? Absolutely not.
I have tried to teach my children about their history and their family heritage, both good and bad and always in context. I have tried to explain that the views of others are valid, even if you disagree with them.
Hate is not valid.
Does that level of sensitivity make me “politically correct”? Does the fact that I don’t want to go back to the days of coal, separate but equal schools, and the persecution of others simply because of their religion or skin color make me a “wimp,” an “obstructionist,” or “weak”?
I don’t think so. You may think differently. And that’s what democracy is all about, even though the mess caused by the freedoms we have can show our worst sides.
Two more thoughts from the ensuing discussion on Facebook:
• Regarding Antifa (an alt-left group): I'm not in favor of political nihilism under any circumstances. My problem is that the elected leader of our country is failing to demonstrate leadership in any way, shape or form, and extremists are filling the void.
• On the media’s reporting (or lack thereof) about Antifa: Extremists filling the void applies to news media as well. Fox News perfected that, and our country suffers for it because we can self select news according to our values and beliefs. (And BTW, my definition of a progressive is one who eschews violence.)
First day of school photos. Houses flooding. Stories of everyday heroes. More rains coming. More tears flowing. The same ole' political snark. Richard Nixon 2.0. Strong will amid desperation and determination.
"I read my news feed today, oh boy..."
After Hurricane Harvey, I decided to back away from the political posts for a while. While in Texas for nine days earlier this month, I managed to (mostly) bite my tongue. But I need to clarify three things before I do my dead-level best (again) to shut up about this:
1) Every time something went wrong in Washington from Jan. 20, 2009 to Jan. 20, 2017, it was not Obama's fault. (Boldface "not" with italics for emphasis.)
2) If those are the semantics you choose to use, that everything that goes wrong in government is the fault of the president, then where is your criticism of our current administration? Where are the calls to lock him up, or at least some of the crooks he has working for him?
3) Please don't confuse my politics with my dislike of the current person in the White House. I wasn't a fan of Bush II, but I'd sit down and have a beer and a conversation with him. Probably would have a good time, too.
My dislike for Trump goes beyond politics. He's an abhorrent, greedy, narcissistic, hypocritical, disturbing, soulless, race baiting human being blind to anyone's needs except his own. Instead of a commander in chief, we have a spoiled toddler in charge. And personally I find that frightening.
• Maybe this quote from a Washington Post analysis explains the 90+ degree temps and humidity around here this week: “Trump has turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first place.”
• And in other news, life on the freeways in the Greater Washington area has been miserable all week. Our traffic arteries are clogged and in need of a bypass.
Charlottesville, Harvey, Irma, Maria, North Korea, NFL, Las Vegas: How many more things have to happen before we can unite as a country?
And yet, we seem further from intelligent discourse than ever. All you have to do is look at the most recent incident in this two month news cycle nightmare.
Talking about possible, reasonable gun control measures should not be verboten in the wake of what happened in Las Vegas. It's an intelligent, next step outcome that recognizes the tragedy of a madman's actions and access to an arsenal.
Or, to put it in more heartbreaking terms, all you have to do is read this post I copied from a young friend:
"I've lived through through three different events all with the same headline, 'Deadliest Shooting in American History.' I'm 16 years old."
A few random thoughts from the past week:
• Line of the day: Treat others how you'd like to be treated and we'll all live happily ever after.
• RIP to Sam Shepard, a renaissance man and true artist, in many more ways than one.
• Beyond proud of Nicholas as he starts grad school in Elon's iMedia program, and grateful for the time we've had together during his "funemployment" tour.
• My life's hashtag should be: #justcan'twaittogetontheroadagain. This week, I drove to Norfolk for a dance conference, then turned around and went to Pittsburgh to move Emma into school, where she is working as a "resident educator" — most of us call them RAs — this year. Look at how much our girl has grown up since the far left picture was taken at the start of her freshman year last August.
On the political front…
• This is life at the White House:
• Breaking "news": Revolving doors with gold plated T's belatedly installed in West Wing at cost of $1.2 billion. Trump blames media.
• And one more on the subject courtesy of Bloom County.
• I just blocked @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. Symbolic I know, but given how constipated our Congress is these days, I thought it was the bigly move.
• Trump's trans ban and McConnell's health care push can mean only one thing: We're living in Pleasantville: The Horror Musical. #NoTransBan
• There are a lot of things I could say about the actions of our country's "leaders" this week, but I don't want to get into some keyboard pissing contest that shows yet again how polarized we are as a country. (Liquids are not good for keyboards anyway.)
Instead, I will leave you with this...
It's Saturday night and I've been home alone reading/watching the news. My blood pressure is elevated, even though it could be worse, as I dip my foot/toes into the well/cesspool of crap that defines our country's politics today.
The conclusion I reach, after truly making an effort to look at things from all sides, is a simple shake of the head in disbelief. How can anyone who voted for our current president say, definitively, that he has been a good leader for our country, both domestically and on the world stage? Amid the fake news BS, the misogyny toward women, the blatant nepotism, etc., health care debacle, etc., Russia, etc., how can you say he and his GOP-led Congress have made positive change for our country and its citizens?
Sorry folks, in this case there are no mulligans, just a poorly scripted reality show, albeit one with better production values. So, to my friends whose political views skew on the other side of mine, I'd like to know, are you:
2. Thinking you might have made a poor choice?
3. Thinking you might have made the wrong choice and are feeling the slightest twinge of guilt about it?
4. Thinking that everything is just dandy.
If you decide to go with #4, please elaborate in words of more than two syllables.
End of rant.
This post generated more than 100 comments on Facebook from all sides of the spectrum. (If you’re interested in reading them, go here.) Even though I said my “rant” was over, I felt compelled to weigh in a couple more times. Here's what I wrote:
• I love having friends who are across the ideological spectrum. In fact, I urge my kids all the time — and being the child of a first grade teacher, I come by repetition genetically — to breathe for a moment and take a serious look at the other side's position on any argument before they reach a definitive conclusion. That's one reason this bothers me so much, because I've tried very hard and very deliberately to look at it from all sides.
• The problem I have with much of today's media is that it is — on all sides — a bunch of shouting heads who mistake intellectual masturbation for facts. Media conglomerates are run as businesses. Ratings drive advertising and profits. And opinion, not facts, drives ratings. So here we are. Thank you, Roger Ailes, who was the first to see the true profit in that.
Sadly, instead of ignoring it, others found themselves forced to emulate it. What truly disturbs me about the "fake news" phenomenon is that we have become so jaded about the state of our current political system that anything we don't ideologically agree with has to be made up by the other side. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think that's the case more often than not.
What disgusts me is the fact that some evil-minded people are willing to use fake stories by certain outlets to promote their agenda, and because all nuance has been lost amid the shouting, we don't see it for what it is. We all know the opinion analogy. Why can't we state our views without acting like assholes?
I've been trying to refrain from entering the Trump fray on Facebook, knowing that saying anything about the current shit show we live in will both alienate and embolden people. But this column by David Brooks — someone I don't always agree with, BTW — nails it on the head.
On a related note, I was fortunate to see "Come From Away" last week in New York. It tells the story of how a small Newfoundland community bound together to help airline passengers stranded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Without being overly political, the show is beautiful, a salve on the wounds of history and a temporary respite from our current situation. It is a ray of hope in increasingly dark times.
A few from the “It’s Not Spring Yet (!) Random Thoughts” file….
• Welcome, my friends, to the day that never ends. All I want to do is go outside, go outside...
• Spring-like weather. Spring-like allergies. And then the temperature drops 60 degrees. It’s a rollercoaster ride that never ends.
• Why I don't like Duke basketball...
• Professor Chris Poulos touts a word he learned at a dinner in 2013: exhaustipated — too tired to give a crap. (Courtesy of my friend Mike Clark)
• The new PP: Potty Police.
• I interrupt this political commentary hiatus for a moment to note a contradiction. Our president puts his name on everything ... everything. And yet, he doesn't seem to want the health care bill to bear his name. Of course, as another friend noted, the phrase "Trumpcare" is an oxymoron in and of itself.
• And finally, you gotta wonder if Steve Earle would be on Jeff Sessions' iPod...
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
I’ve always enjoyed the music of X, which straddled the world between punk and country and remains incredibly relevant. They were part of the great Sire Records roster in the 1980s that also included Lou Reed, Talking Heads, The Replacements, The Blasters, and Los Lobos, among others, and X’s first four albums are considered classics.
As much as I like those albums, which featured the original lineup, I’ve always had a soft spot for “See How We Are,” the 1987 album that includes Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July” and the terrific title track. In the wake of the election, “See How We Are” has become my earworm.
Recently, on Facebook, I decided to ask my friends which hit song best describes the Cold War flashbacks we’ve been having since January 20. My suggestions were R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but they came up with a fascinating playlist that includes:
• Sting: “Russians”
• Billy Joel: “You May Be Right” and “Big Shot”
• Gary Jules: “Mad World”
• Gus Black: “Today is Not the Day to F--- With Me”
• Eurythmics: “Sex Crime”
• The Clash: “Rock the Casbah”
• Nena: “99 Red Balloons”
• Tears for Fears: “Everbody Wants to Rule the World”
• David Bowie: “This is Not America”
• Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime”
The more I thought about it, I realized X had another appropriately titled song — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.”
11:33 p.m., December 31, 2016
Well, if all goes well in the next half hour or so, I can say we survived. And then some. (Given the rash of creative talent that has passed away this year, "and then some" seemed like a proper qualifier.)
It's truly been a year of great highs, lows and transitions: 20th wedding anniversary, high school graduations, moving kids in and out of new homes, Broadway, a movie, First Lady shout outs, college, new jobs, travel to 18 different states (some multiple times), Paris, Zurich, new business, old business, stressful business, deepening friendships, learning opportunities, missed opportunities, sinus infections, the flu, global uncertainty, and the love of family.
As my kids move into rapidly into adulthood, I've tried to be a better father, in as much as my role is shifting from professional schlepper/caregiver to advisor, helper and confidant. As our home moves to a (mostly) empty nest, Jill and I have gone on a series of adventures that I hope will continue for many many years to come. It's nice when you can do that with someone who is both your best friend and the great love of your life.
I'm increasingly aware of how the traits that our parents passed on to us are being forwarded to subsequent generations, and how a seemingly innocuous incident that occurred decades ago can have long-term effects on your life. (Spoiler alert: This is not a new revelation caused by binge-watching "This is Us," although the show is highly recommended.)
And, I'm increasingly aware of how fragile life really is. How short it is in the grand scheme. How much we need to live it for as long as we can in a truthful, caring, and loving manner as possible.
I was born 17 days after the Baby Boom era ended, which means I was part of the Generation X transition plan. This year, more so than any other, we saw the loss of so many people who were part of the fabric of my life from birth.
A partial list of those we’ve lost in 2016: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Gary Shandling, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Prince, Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the new “Star Treks”), Gary Marshall, Marni Nixon (voice of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn in three classic musicals), Gene Wilder, Curtis Hanson (director of “The Wonder Boys”), Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds.
Hell, even Nancy Reagan didn’t want to stick around for the possibility of a Trump administration.
And tonight, scanning the last-minute headlines to make sure Betty White was still safe, I saw that we lost William Christopher, who played the loving, bumbling Father Mulcahey on M*A*S*H.
Say what you will, but I'm glad to see this turbulent year gone. Like many, I'm concerned about what the future holds, not just here but around the world. I'm also concerned about the lack of empathy our society — not everyone, I swear it's not that blanket of a statement — shows toward traditionally marginalized populations.
So if you're lucky enough to give a significant other that kiss in a couple of minutes, take a second to think about love, what it means, and what you can do to spread it around.
Thanks for reading my latest rant. Here's to a better year in 2017. Let's live it up...
Less than a month out, here are a few more random thoughts about baseball, politics and other things…
• Is it flu season? Or is this feeling coming because I'm a Nationals fan during the playoffs? At least I can get a shot for the latter by walking to a nearby cabinet.
• In case you’re wondering what my qualifications are for that last statement, remember that my childhood was spent in the Houston area, where the playoffs and Rolaids marched in solidarity every fall.
• Dear Mr. Stump: Thank you for proving yet again that misogyny and vitriol are alive and well. I've never seen such anger and hatred in my life as I’m seeing in the days leading up to this election.
The GOP on November 9.
• On a somewhat related note, Mr. Obama’s approval rating is higher at this point in his term than any president since Ronald Reagan. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a turnaround.
• Having been to Pittsburgh twice in the past two weeks, I’m beginning to think Pennsylvania is one of those states where the red light and the orange cone should just hook up and call it a night.
• Speaking of travel, here’s an on-the-road question: Why do hotels that charge $200 a night leave you with single-ply toilet paper?
• Twitter is the new People Magazine. You can read all you need while sitting on the can.
• And the best news yet …. The boy has a job for the next couple of weeks!
With only thirtysomething days until the election (thank goodness), I guess it’s not surprising that this edition of “Random Thoughts” is heavily tilted toward politics in some way. So here are some observations from the past month or so.
• Pronoun Trouble: As the son of a middle school history teacher, I think I've finally figured out one of our country's biggest problems: We have pronoun trouble.
Every time I try to make a seemingly rational comment about this election, or one that at least merits more discussion, I get lumped into the "you people" group. But if I remember my history lessons correctly, "We the people" is how it should work.
• What Matters: Several weeks ago, I made a "mistake" when I said "all lives matter." And while I believe that to be true (as we all should), there's no question that the antagonism and, at times, outright hatred that folks in power display toward African-Americans is just wrong.
Just because you have an itchy trigger finger, or are afraid of a person just because the color of their skin, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation frightens you does not give you or anyone else the right to do what is done over and over and over.
Put the damn guns down. Stop this uninformed hatred. Take 60 seconds and use the brain you were given before you hit "Post."
For God's sake, this has to end now. Please.
• Wise Advice: Courtesy of the Internet, here are some things to think about:
• Drop the Mic: No matter how you feel about the issue, this is campaign ad is one of the best I've seen in years.
•Dear Former Gov. Perry: Charles Durning did it better. Sincerely, Cast and Crew of "So You Think You Can Dance"
• Mr. Breathed Continues to Hit it Out of the Park: Rather than watch the first presidential debate, Jill and I went to watch a somewhat meaningless major league baseball game. What did you do?
• Post Debate Observation: Fact averse (n., adj.): Epidemic affecting voters across the nation.
• And finally…: Perhaps my eyes deceive me, but doesn't Kathy Bates look like she's auditioning to play David Bowie's role in the "Labyrinth" sequel?
As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements. Turns out that Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, is too.
According to the music blog Pitchfork, Replacements biographer Bob Mehr said that if elected, Kaine would be the first fan of the group to serve as vice president. Kaine, who was born in Minnesota, has noted in past interviews that his favorite album is “Let It Be,” the 1984 effort that brought the Minneapolis group major label attention.
Now if we can just hear “Gary’s Got a Boner” at the inaugural gala.
I hope we don’t wake up after the election and say, “We’ve been trumped.” Wonder what the Brits are saying today…
When you know you shouldn't click on the link, only to find yourself drawn like a moth to the light. And the light turns out to be a bug zapper. Dear Lord... (Feel free to fill in the rest.)
Regarding the Stanford University athlete that received a slap on the wrist for a rape conviction, this tweet was the best response I've seen, courtesy of @LaurenDeStefano: "If someone's a rapist and an athlete, they're not an athlete who made a mistake, they're a criminal who can swim."
I can sympathize with the father's heartbreak, but not with his words/actions or the judge's.
Given all the negatives in this post, I thought I'd end with a nicer thought: You don't have to be smart or talented, handsome or pretty. You just need to be kind.
Weather and other unrelated random thoughts from a waterlogged brain....
Dear Mother Nature:
Shrek called. He wants his swamp back.
p.s. Please stop being such a pain in the ass.
• It's been so wet and rainy here that I thought briefly about building an ark. Then I quickly realized Trump would want the naming rights and ditched that plan.
• Mixing politics and Broadway: Sondheim should write a sequel to "Assassins" and call it "Casting Stones," featuring characters playing Dennis Hastert, Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr.
• At what point does ambition segue into nostalgia?
It's difficult to believe it was just a week ago that I embarked on a 60-hour trip from New York to Tampa to Northern Virginia to move our daughter's stuff home. Now that our garage is sufficiently stuffed with stuff again, here is a summary of random thoughts from the long drive home.
Day 1: Monday
• Flying from New York to Tampa, I spent three hours on a packed airplane — window seat — with Edith Bunker and Sophia from The Golden Girls. Neither stopped talking the entire flight. One leaned over and raised my window while I was trying to take a nap, then explained three times in two minutes that she's "class-tro-phobic." I could resurrect the sitcom stereotype and run for five seasons on that material alone.
• The weather is nice in Florida, but reminds me of growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast. That’s the last time I remember seeing I saw a mosquito drive past in an Escalade.
• Not to make a political statement, but folks down here don’t seem to remember that the war ended 151 years ago. Of course, I know people in Texas who refuse to believe it ever joined the Union.
• I’m in a 12-foot moving van from Florida to Northern Virginia with no CD player or aux cord and spotty FM reception. The local AM conspiracy theorists are coming through loud and clear though.
I want to ask how it's possible to be so pessimistic and paranoid given their proximity to the happiest place on Earth, then realize I'd rather not know the answer and start searching for a sports talk channel. It’s gonna be a long trip...
• Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for “The Road,” his post-apocalyptic tale about a father and son traveling for months across land that has been destroyed by an unspecified cataclysmic event. Pretty much sounds like I-4 between Orlando and Jacksonville.
• Seeing a billboard for a heart specialist between ads for Cracker Barrel and Golden Corral seems sort of beside the point, doesn't it?
• In its next session, the Florida legislature sincerely should consider making an orange cone the state flag. That is, if Pennsylvania and Texas don’t beat them to it.
• Spotted on I-95 after crossing the Florida line: One F-150 towing another F-150. In many states you’d say that was someone helping out a friend. Given the political climate in Georgia these days, it feels like Ford is making a commercial for Brokeback Mountain.
• Speaking of I-95, it’s time to paraphrase Robert Earl Keen with, “The road goes on forever, but the party never begins.”
• Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up, even if you’re working on next-to-nothing sleep at a Best Western off I-95 somewhere in the sticks of South Carolina... George Mason University received $30 million from the Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous donor to rename the law school after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. The name they came up with was The Antonin Scalia School of Law, which translates to ASSoL or ASS Law.
Needless to say, I’m sure the Kochs weren’t happy to hear this. The name was quickly changed to The Antonin Scalia Law School.
I needed that.
• I’ve stopped at a couple of places along the way to take pictures. Future stories/photo essays coming up, I’m sure.
• My grandmother rode her first horse in her mid 70s. I feel like I’ve been riding one for 800 miles.
• One stop was in Summerton, S.C., where I spent several months researching a story for the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Almost 12 years after that story was published, not much has changed in this small town … sadly. (More on that later, too.)
• If Pedro from South of the Border ever becomes the billboard spokesperson for 1-800-Kars4Kids, I promise you I will hurt someone. Consider that a given.
• Post-Pedro billboard observation: North Carolina's internal conflicts are exposed in a 10-mile series of advertisements for Jesus and adult novelty stores that use the name Adam & Eve.
• Not much to report in Virginia. Thank goodness.
• Made it home around 9:30, about 60 hours after leaving New York. Now that all is said and done, I have driven more than 1,000 miles in 2+ days, loaded a small apartment, taken some pics and made it home alive to tell the tale.
Not that I haven’t been telling it all along.
There have been multiple instances this week to indicate a full moon is out there looming like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. That, or the zombie apocalypse is upon us.
Either way, between the Super Tuesday results, the follow up debates, the discovery of a knife on the OJ Simpson property (now there’s a flashback), and all of the other things that have happened, it’s been a weird week. I had to check the meds I was on to see if side effects included hallucinations two weeks after use, but no luck.
Here, just in case you’re curious, are the examples of said apocalypse, along with a few other random observations.
• Despite our nation's ripe history of political satire, few things about the state of our country's politics are funny right now. What Trump says and charges, seemingly off the cuff, is frightening in many ways, but absolutely no laughing matter.
It's no wonder that several musicians' whose work Trump uses to provide background music at his rallies have said, more politely than he would, "Thanks but no thanks."
I think I've solved the background music problem, and managed to find a smile at the same time. Wonder if they'll play this at the convention when Trump and Christie are introduced...
• Actual story in today’s Houston Chronicle: “A former teacher who believes Barack Obama used to work as a gay prostitute seems well on her way to joining the Texas State Board of Education.” Come on, Texas. Really? First, Ted Cruz and now this... WTActualF?
• Further proof that we’re living in a strange world: I met someone this week who claimed mental illness doesn’t exist. Of course, his rant was accompanied by frequent sips of bourbon and attempts to use the f-word as a noun, adjective and verb.
• Hint to employers: Your business culture is dysfunctional when staff members start suggesting the Betty Ford Clinic as a possible retreat site.
• Back to national politics: If Trump, God forbid, does become president, his Secret Service code name could be "Agent Orange." Ted's would have to be "Booze Cruz." This advertisement brought to you by the Campaign for Sensible Leadership. Please vote.
• Finally, amid the conjecture assaulting our brains, let’s end this week’s stroll down memory lane with a simple fact: Hard work doesn't make you successful. It greatly enhances your opportunity to be successful. There's a difference.
A few random thoughts from the past week or so…
• On Antonin Scalia: The only way a Supreme Court justice can leave is by voluntarily resigning or dying. As with anyone who dies, I'm sad for his family who is mourning his passing. I am not sad for the rest of our country, however.
• That said, Vox Policy and Politics just published a fascinating piece by Dara Lind that notes the close friendship between Scalia, by far the most conservative justice, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s most outspoken liberal. It notes that even people with vast differences can disagree vehemently and still be friends. Wish that were the case in the rest of the world.
• Two very different trains of thought. Both are applicable this month.
• Baby barf line of the day: "Sarah Palin, one of Trump's surrogates..." Ewww on so many counts.
• Drivers suffering from Post Traumatic Snow Disorder apparently have forgotten their coping skills and brought out the stupid again. Joy.
• The next time someone bitches about it being 70 degrees at Christmas, show them this...
From the Capital Weather Gang: "Computer models that came in between 9 p.m. and midnight forecast very substantial to historic snowfall amounts for the D.C. area Friday into Saturday night or Sunday morning." How about three seasons, Mother Nature?
The only reason Sarah Palin endorsed Trump is so she could see Tina Fey again on this week's "Saturday Night Live."
Speaking of Palin, she has about as much chance of being relevant as she does of being named “Mother of the Year.”
Headlines you should not read during lunch: "Elton John honors David Bowie, duets with Demi Lovato."
Amid the NFL playoffs, Kardashian trending updates, and chatter about the presidential debates, an overwhelming number of you took time out to send notes marking the second year of my second half-century on the planet. Thanks again to each and everyone of you. It means a lot.
Perhaps it was the trip I took to the zoo earlier this week, or just the general state of affairs that prompted this...
I try not to get political on social media, other than the occasional tweak of how government runs (or more often, doesn't). But I don't know which is worse, the vitriol and hatred that continues to come out of Donald Trump's never-ending RSS feed of a brain, or the fact that Ted Cruz's campaign tag should be "Proven Hypocrite" instead of "Proven Conservative."
As a Texas native, I can't help but wonder what the electorate in my home state was thinking when they elected Cruz to represent them. If Natalie Maines was "ashamed" that President Bush was from Texas, what would she have to say about Cruz's candidacy?
Given the craziness that surrounds the month of December in our family, it should come as no surprise that I’m not the most sentimental person when it comes to Christmas. Between the political rhetoric we are seeing on the election trail, the warm weather and the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, it feels a lot more like summer than winter.
Except for the birthdays, that is.
Still, that hasn’t stopped me from a new edition of “Random Thoughts: Holiday Edition.” This one collects my favorite randoms from Facebook and Twitter and includes a couple of NSFW photos that you might enjoy.
Let’s start with the photos… Each illustrates a thought or two below.
• Donald Trump on the eve of Christmas Eve: "Peace on Earth and goodwill toward ... HA! Who am I fooling?!?"
• I'm starting to think Mother Nature's timeline was thrown off by the fact that the Hallmark Channel starts showing Christmas movies in July. If Hallmark starts showing college football bowl games, I’m cutting the chord completely on cable.
• This “Saturday Night Live” skit reminds me of my father. Sad thing is, Dad couldn't decide whether to stare at his action figures or play with them, making him the eternal tweener when it came to toys. (BTW: The teen in the blue sweater in the commercial is Jeremy Zorek, who was small boy on the “Billy Elliot” tour. Time flies.)
• Which is the fantasy here: Santa or better presidential candidates? I think it's the latter.
• Pre-Christmas Saturday: When running a few errands takes on a whole new meaning.
• Note to the guy mulling a Home Depot gift card purchase for his spouse: Don't do it.
• What's the difference between Stump and Trump? One has been chopped down, while the other needs to be...
• If parenting is survival of the fittest, then I really should go to the gym more...
• Not a Christmas song. Just one I can’t get out of my head — “Still Trying” by Nathaniel Rateliff.
• Want to see some cool pics? Check out my FB page at www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow. (Yes, kids, some of us old people still use Facebook.)
• All fall, something was missing. Turns out it was the master's degree I need to help my kid survive the college app/audition process. (She's doing fine, BTW.)
• These posts brought to you by Procrastination (aka a writer stalling while trying to figure out the lead for a freelance story). Grr.
Thanks to all who've followed my stream of nothingness. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. #stoptheholidaymadness.
I’ve been working on a number of different projects recently that have kept me from writing for the blog. However, that hasn’t stopped the random observations from popping up on Facebook, Twitter, and other places:
Here are a few in case you missed them, along with a couple of blog-only originals:
On the Parenting Front…
• In case you're wondering, the writers of "The Middle" get the majority of their material from secret cameras stashed in our house.
• In terms of the sheer amount of heavy lifting and sweat involved, menial labor has nothing on parenting.
• Question for those with much higher powers than me (no golf experience required): Is it possible to get a mulligan for the past few weeks? I'd appreciate it...
• Some days, being the parent of multiple teenagers feels like you have a constant stream of flu symptoms that originated on a remote "Lost"-like island. This is one of those days...
• "It can wait" — tagline about texting or what you should have said to your child on those rare blissful occasions when you feel a decent night's sleep coming on? Oh well...
• For a photographer, the phrase "Aww, shoot" takes on a whole new meaning...
We Have Pictures, Too!
1. Excuse the language, but anyone who knows me well (or has ridden with me while I'm driving), knows this is the story of my life. Only I would have taken a better picture...
2. For the man who thinks RedRum is a drink, or a hair color treatment. (I borrowed the photo; the caption is mine.)
3. Pear-shaped cat walks three steps from suddenly near empty bowl, takes a siesta in protest.
4. How I’ve felt at times over the past month. Enough said…
And In General…
• Call me a master of the obvious, but this was the best headline I read about the Tom Brady saga: "We've wasted 7 months talking about deflated balls."
• Speaking of the NFL, all of my teams suck again. And that’s reality, not fantasy.
• There’s no question, however, that sports can teach some great things, as evidenced by this video. If it doesn’t make your day and make you tear up just a little, I’ll be shocked.
• Now trending on social media: Abby Lee Miller is the illegitimate daughter of Paula Dean. (Just kidding, but I had you there for a moment, didn't I?)
• Correction of the Month, courtesy of the New York Times: An earlier version of this article misidentified the animal Jacob deGrom broke a finger castrating. It was a calf, not a cow.
• I had a great time shooting the UNITE to Face Addiction rally on the National Mall earlier this month. It was a fantastic, truly meaningful event. Looking at others’ photos from the day, I found myself in the bottom right corner of one. Kinda cool…
• Managing my time as a freelancer is much harder than managing people, but it all works out in the end. (I hope...)
Now I leave you with my favorite political statement from the upcoming elections, courtesy of Mr. Berkeley Breathed, Esq.
Recently, I shared a photo from PrideFest Milwaukee that had an unexpected response. The photo said simply: “I don’t think the worst thing that could happen to me is raising a child who is gay. I think the worst thing is to raise a child who is cruel to those who are gay.”
The post got an amazing 745 likes on my Facebook page, as well as a few of the anticipated responses that come when you share something that has long been part of the culture wars. I stand firm in my beliefs, but the reaction also is one reason I don’t post much overtly political stuff on Facebook. My friends/acquaintances cut across the political spectrum, and there’s no reason to incite one side or the other. Enough of that is going on as is.
However, one response is worth examining in more depth. It came from a person who wrote, “The worst thing is to raise a child who is intentionally cruel to anyone … not just gay people.”
No one disagrees with that, but the statement somewhat misses the point of the post, which calls attention to a group that has been abused and disenfranchised for some time.
Long ago, I realized that children are not inherently racists/misogynists; more often than not, they’re puppeting what they hear from parents and family members. The danger comes when intolerant thoughts become ingrained beliefs and values.
This is a simple fact: You can talk to, influence, help, offer, beg, plead, hope and pray, but you cannot "prevent" someone from making a bad decision.
No matter how far we’ve come as a country, all you have to do is read the headlines and it becomes clear that intolerance and anger toward people who are different from us still has a strong grip on many in our nation. For every two steps forward, we take at least one step back, sometimes more.
And we only have ourselves to blame.
Quote of the month from Rosanne Cash: "You want to know where you come from and who you are connected to. From the most simple — tracing back your name — to the most complex of what sticks to your DNA over eternity. The musical lineage I have. The emotional and spiritual lineage I have. What my kids will get from that. All of those questions become really important. They certainly did for me."
Here are some other random (and for the most part more tongue-in-cheek) thoughts from the past month:
• Snow days make you realize there's a fine line between togetherness and trapped.
• The morning after daylight savings time takes effect: There's no way it's already 11 a.m. Oh, yeah...
• If you want to know why parents do what they do sometimes, blame Daylight Savings Time and the groundhog. That covers at least 90% of it this year...
• Some days you wake up and feel bitter. At other times you are grateful. The latter definitely applies this morning, despite a night's sleep that feels like the cat's siesta on the ottoman.
• After the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament: So UNC is smarter than Harvard. At basketball. Barely...
• So, if you're deciding to run for president, you think you'd be smart enough to purchase your domain name in advance. Don’t believe me? Take a look at www.tedcruz.com. (Not surprisingly, the page no longer exists at the apparent “request” of the Cruz campaign.)
Dear Mother Nature: With regard to your seemingly ongoing disrespect for those of us who live on the East Coast, all I can say is live through this lingering allergy/cold/curl up in a fetal ball feeling. Then you'll understand why my acronym of choice for you right now is GFY.
On behalf of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.
Get ready for a rant. But first, a few questions to warm you up.
What will it take to improve the state of our country’s mental health care system? When will our elected officials stop being so polarized and shortsighted about the lack of funding, beds, and available care? When will health insurance companies get their hands out of our wallets and take steps to promote mental as well as physical wellness?
I’m not terribly optimistic. Nor was I terribly surprised when a study released this week said more than half of teens with psychiatric disorders go untreated. Also not surprising: Those who do receive treatment get it more often from school counselors, pediatricians, and probation officers instead of mental health specialists.
As a country, we should be ashamed.
Yesterday, a Virginia state senator and former gubernatorial candidate was stabbed multiple times at his home. The culprit: His 24-year-old son, who received an emergency mental health evaluation on Monday but was sent home after authorities could find no psychiatric beds in Western Virginia.
Today, Creigh Deeds is in the hospital in fair condtion. His son, Gus, is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
My wife and I have a teenage daughter who has been diagnosed ADHD/bipolar, a genetic one-two punch that leaves her vulnerable to irritability, manic highs and deep, deep lows. Throw in a propensity for anxiety — one that manifests itself in physical tics that are often painful spasms — and it is a constant struggle for her to manage her mood.
Bipolar, or “it” as we used to call the disorder, lurks just below the surface, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. One day you have rapid, pressured speech and feelings of invincibility; by that evening, you might see anger, extreme sadness, or the desire to do absolutely nothing.
In some ways that last description fits many teenagers who don’t have a formal diagnosis and a list of prescriptions a mile long. But what makes “it” so special is that it takes those typical teen urges and impulses and puts them on red alert.
As Kate’s parents, we have tried almost everything medically imaginable to help. Testing, doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, prescriptions. We’ve taken hard-line stances and tried to use kid gloves. What we’ve discovered is that what works one minute won’t necessarily work the next, and that’s exhausting for all involved.
Especially for our daughter.
Sadly, the survey results released Monday were almost predictable. More than 10,000 teens participated in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement, a project led by Duke University professor E. Jane Costello. Of those surveyed, only 45 percent who have a psychiatric disorder received treatment in the last 12 months. Among the providers, mental health specialists ranked behind pediatricians, school counselors, and probation officers.
Not surprisingly, the survey said those more likely to act out — i.e. the ones with ADHD, conduct disorder, or oppositional defiance disorder — were the ones most likely to receive services. Those with phobias and anxiety disorders were least likely to get treatment.
Costello understated it when she said people don’t “take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should … despite the fact that these conditions are linked to a whole host of other problems.” She blamed that in part on the lack of consistent care and the limited number of qualified mental health professionals who can address the issue.
That’s something we’ve encountered when trying to find help for Kate. She has received the most assistance from caring people at her high school, even though it took us some time and a bunch of red tape to find the right fit. But due to a shortage of child psychiatrists in the area, she’s had only two since she was diagnosed — one an old-school practitioner who didn’t bother to have a computer, the other a doctor we found three years ago.
Neither takes insurance; like all child psychiatrists we’ve spoken with, they prefer to leave that paperwork to the parents.
Our options also are limited if we have to take our daughter to the emergency room for treatment related to her condition. The hospital will not let her stay overnight; if she is stable, she is sent home. If further (read “emergency”) treatment is needed, we have the option of one facility in Maryland, one in Washington, D.C., one near our home in Northern Virginia, and one in Richmond, 90 miles away.
And that is only if they have an available bed at that time.
Once admitted to one of those four facilities, all of which have the warmth of your average jail cell, the patient is kept until they are considered “medically stable” — no longer a threat to self or others. At that point, insurance — if you’re lucky enough to have it — stops paying. The bills, more than $1,000 a day, start adding up if you want to (or are allowed to) keep the patient there for additional treatment. Oh, and psychiatric services — remember the no insurance factor — are a separate bill.
And we wonder why it is so difficult for people to receive treatment for mental health issues in this country?
Fortunately, earlier this month, the Obama administration finally brought some “parity” to the process when it issued rules that require health insurance plans to offer the same coverage for mental health and substance abuse claims as they do for medical and surgical procedures.
Prior to the rules being put into place, most insurance plans would pay 80 percent for medical care and only 50 percent for mental health claims. Now, thanks to those rules, insurance plans must cover the same number of inpatient hospital days for mental and physical illnesses. Insurers also can’t require many of the onerous preauthorizations — a bureaucratic maze in their own right — for mental health care like they did in the past.
The rules are not perfect; Medicaid recipients and the Children’s Health Insurance Program still don’t have mental health parity requirements. But they are a great first step.
And before you jump into the Obamacare debate over this one, note that the law was passed in 2008, as part of a gigantic Wall Street bailout that then-President Bush signed. It has taken five years for the rules to be issued, a shame in and of itself.
There has always been a stigma of shame, along with a stinging level of insensitivity, around people who have mental health issues, especially among our young people. It's only when tragedy occurs — like the mass killing in Newtown, Conn., last year, or the one yesterday in Virginia — that attention seems to be brought to the topic. Ironically, research has shown the mentally ill are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators.
Bipolar and ADHD do not have symbols, like pink ribbons or the faces of cute children, that we can rally around. Instead, those symbols — the faces of people like our beautiful daughter — remain largely anonymous.
How many more tragedies will it take before we finally wake up?