Christmas is approaching, but many of my family’s traditional get-togethers have been canceled. One of them is our cousin’s Christmas party called Droby Fest. For those who are uninformed, a Droby is a Slovak sausage made from various ground meats, rice, and potatoes. It is usually baked wrapped with bacon, and it was one of the classic dishes that my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.
As far as I know, Droby sausage can’t be bought; you make it. I have some less-than-fond childhood memories of turning a hand-cranked meat grinder for hours. Besides my past grinding torture, I love Droby and look forward to eating it every Christmas.
My cousin, Ken, took over the manufacturing of Droby for the Cousin Christmas party, which is a pot luck affair of salads, main dishes, and desserts. Droby Fest is one of several other cousin-wide get-togethers that were canceled in 2020. Others included the Kousin Kampout and the KFR (Kuna Family Reunion).
My cousin Kathy suggested that in place of Droby Fest we do a recipe exchange and ZOOM call. Somehow that morphed into my niece, Jeannine compiling all of the recipes into an on-line cookbook, which then became a family history/cookbook/photo album. As far as I know, Jeannine and my cousins Kathy and Kris have formed a committee to accomplish this monumental task.
I contributed a couple of recipes, but Jeannine also needed old photos. Unfortunately, most of my old pictures were on old computers… and we all know what happens to old computers. However, I remembered another option. Around 20 years ago I wanted to digitize old family photos, burn them on a CD, and give copies of that CD to my siblings. At that time, I also labeled names on the photos as I knew that pictures without identification would be useless to future generations.
All that I needed to do was to select the photos and email them to my niece. However, there were two problems.The first was finding the CD ROM that I burned 20 years ago. The second was finding a way to play a CD ROM since none of my current computers have a CD drive.
After some searching, I found the photo CD, and luckily Julie has a plug-and-play CD drive that she uses to watch old TV shows. I connected the drive to my MacBook, inserted the CD ROM, and held my breath. It loaded! However, there were no thumbnail images, so I had to manually click on every single file to view it. Since the process was a bit of a pain, I thought I would get some extra mileage for my efforts and post some of the photos here. Grab a cup of tea and come down my memory lane. These are common photos of a typical family, wholly unremarkable… and because of this, I find them charming. (but I may be biased)
Thanksgiving was altered this year, of course. For over 25 years, we have hosted Julie’s family, who arrived from 4 states. Bedlam would rule from Wednesday through Saturday with every bed, couch, and floor occupied. It was the right kind of bedlam.
Being a physician, I have been able to keep up with COVID research, and months ago, I knew that the holidays would be a difficult time. I concluded that we could not responsibly host Thanksgiving this year. In October, I sent out a family-wide email to announce that fact. This action was sad for me and hard for Julie.
During the pandemic, I have lived a sheltered life. Not an isolated experience, but a sheltered one. I interact with Julie and my at-home daughter Kathryn, I see my friend Tom, plus a few other friends, and I phone and email a couple others. I don’t feel lonely. I have adjusted to my new life, and I accept it.
Three of my children have resided outside our home during recent months. Two were away at college, and my oldest daughter lives with her family in central Illinois. My own children became my stress. They would be spending the holiday with us, each of them a potential virus vector. I was worried about my health. I had a genuine fear that they could bring a coronavirus interloper back to Naperville. The thought that I was afraid of my own children gave me a sense of shame. I can’t ignore reality. It was what it was.
My kids have all been responsible. Both of my college kids have carefully adhered to their school’s COVID guidelines. My oldest daughter and her family have also been compliant. All of their actions have been consistent with safety. Intellectually, this was comforting, but thinking and feeling are sometimes unrelated in my brain. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a day dedicated to giving thanks. I am most thankful for those who I love. How sad that COVID could turn them into objects of fear.
Last Saturday, I picked up my daughter from her university, an 11-hour round trip. Thankfully, the normalcy of seeing her calmed some of my fears. By the time we returned home, my son had arrived from his school; his presence also quieted me. My oldest daughter Anne came on Thanksgiving day. She made a point to tell me that she had just tested her family as a precaution for her trip.
My friend Tom is making his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, but his mother-in-law won’t be attending. My sister, Nancy didn’t host her usual dinner, but her daughter Shari dropped off complete meals for her and my brother-in-law, Mike. My sister Carol also stayed home alone, but several of her kids brought dinner and treats to her. The virus may have halted get-togethers, but it can’t stop love.
Each of my kids has their favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I couldn’t simplify our meal. However, one thing did change this Thanksgiving, my children. They have always been helpful kids, but this year they became helpful adults. Dinner prep became a family affair. Kathryn made the Jello “salad” and the mashed potatoes. Grace baked and helped with various tasks. William made the green bean casserole and the corn casserole. My wife, Julie, made the sweet potatoes, and I took care of the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.
By the time I heard my oldest daughter’s car pull up, I was genuinely excited to see her and her family. They seemed equally happy to be spending the day with us.
Thanksgiving was filled with laughter, conversation, and too much food. After we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we went on a walk. The weather was clear, and the temperature was crisp. I marveled at some of our neighbor’s Christmas decorations but didn’t feel the least guilty of my more simplistic plans.
Anne and her family left for home. The rest of us settled into another Thanksgiving tradition, the viewing of Jean Shepard’s “A Christmas Story.” I have seen this movie so many times that I can recite the actor’s lines with authority.
In many ways, Thanksgiving was business as usual. In many other ways, it was completely different. That is what this virus does; it modifies normal.
A month from now, it will be Christmas. Another family holiday altered by the coronavirus. This year our cousin celebration is canceled. Also, my nephew, Tommy, won’t host his Christmas Eve party.
We always travel to Julie’s family in Minnesota during Christmas week. However, the Minnesota Christmas party will likely be shelved. COVID cases will certainly increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making such a get-together foolhardy.
The year 2020 will be as notable as the year 1918. In many ways, we have advanced in 100 years. But in many more ways, we have not. Just like then, politics overruled logic. Just like then, we had to fear those who we most love. Just like then, our lives were placed on hold. However, just like then, we will eventually move forward. Life will go on, Thanksgiving dinners will be held, Christmases will be celebrated. Yet, I believe that parts of our lives will be permanently altered. Not all of those changes will be negative.
Many have rediscovered the simple pleasures of reading a book, playing a board game, and conversing. Personally, I have gotten into the rhythm of cooking dinner with my kids regularly. I am comfortable being with myself. I am grateful for routine pleasures.
I am focused on simplicity rather than excess. I relish a sudsy hot shower, a walk with my kids, a Netflix movie with Julie, a cup of coffee with my friend, Tom.
At the same time, I am saddened that Violet, the campervan, has been more idle this year, and my personal goal to photograph rural towns has been placed on hold. I accept these losses, but I do so with grudging awareness that my adventure years have a finite expiration date.
Life is what you make it. I refuse to put my life on hold, waiting for things to return to normal. Today I choose to make the most of what I have, and I will focus on that fact rather than on my losses. I accept myself, flaws, and all. As I love those around me, I will also love myself. I choose to be thankful.
A dear friend of mine was upset when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. My friend was convinced that Hillary was the best choice, and she was shocked that she wasn’t elected despite polling data that foretold that she was the clear leader. My friend believes to this day that the 2016 election was rigged. However, such a belief was never supported by the Clinton campaign or the Democratic Party.
Two weeks ago, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and became the president-elect. Like Clinton, conspiracy theories have been flying about the illegitimacy of that election by the opposing party.
I was hanging out with my friend, Tom, at the townhome that he is renovating. As scheduled, a concrete truck pulled up, its cement barrel slowly spinning. We were getting ready to pour the basement floor that he had previously dug out. The cement truck’s driver was a friendly and chatty man. Within moments of his arrival, I knew that he was 62 years old, had two artificial knees, and was counting the days to his retirement. Without direction from me, he started to talk about the election. “I’m a Republican, and I like Republican policies. I don’t want to live in a socialist state. I think the election was rigged; ya know what I mean? How could Trump have so many votes in Pennsylvania and then have Biden take the lead overnight?”
Last weekend thousands of marchers descended on Washington to denounce the election results with the “Stop The Steal” March. This event was held with our current President’s support, who even made a guest appearance drive through, waving to the crowd. Recent tweets from Trump have stated, “I WON THE ELECTION,” and “I concede NOTHING!”
A few days ago, I scanned the AM radio dial and dipped into several conservative radio programs proclaiming the same thing, that the election had been stolen from the President. Their proclamations are contrary to overwhelming evidence that the election was fair. This rhetoric is not only being espoused by the President and these outlets but also by leaders in the Republican party.
High-level Republicans have either supported the idea of a “rigged” election or have refused to congratulate President-elect Biden on his victory. These same individuals have celebrated and acknowledged Republican victories from the same ballot. Backchannels reports that some Republican officials support Trump’s attempts to discredit the election simply because they want to appease him.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by the Trump administration, questioning the vote-counting validity in states where he lost. Most of these lawsuits have been summarily thrown out of court due to a complete lack of evidence. Despite this reality, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, talks about having incriminating evidence that he will reveal “soon.” A tactic that he has used in the past to drum up outrage. He has yet to support his claims. As I write this, several large law firms have dropped out of their efforts to defend the President, most likely to save their reputations.
As a bystander, these events seem surreal. As a citizen, they are frightening. All sound and credible sources have concluded that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. This is going to happen, so why has there been so much bluster to the contrary?
I don’t claim to know the inner thoughts of Donald Trump or the inner workings of the Republican Party, but each is likely working towards their own self-serving goals. Contrary to their statements, their actions are not supporting democracy; their actions are hurting democracy. So what possibly could be some of the reasons for their actions?
A significant concern for the Republican Party is the upcoming runoff Senate elections in Georgia. These types of elections tend to have less voter draw than presidential elections. A lower Republican voter turnout could favor the Democratic candidates, as Democrats have been mobilizing voters in that state. By beating the “Stop The Steal” drum, Republicans keep their base active and engaged. This could be beneficial for them in these two critical elections.
As far as Republican politicians are concerned, there appears to be a genuine fear of Donald Trump, who continues to bully and cajole them. Mr. Trump has a base of 70 million voters, and that is nothing to ignore. However, these politicians seem to have forgotten that their loyalty is supposed to be to the American people, not Donald Trump. Their sycophant behaviors will likely come back and bite them in the future. Mr. Trump has no problem throwing people under the bus when it suits his needs.
As far as Mr. Trump’s motivation is concerned, there are several possible explanations. He may believe that he can’t lose at anything. He was raised as a privileged child who got his way. His upbringing emphasized destroying the competition as normal behavior. His father rewarded winners and despised losers.
When he has failed at businesses in the past, he has been able to find a savior to rescue him or a loophole to protect him. This would be the first time that such options are unavailable to him, as his legal challenges seem more theater than anything else. The idea of losing appears to be anathema to him, as indicated by his retorts of regularly calling his enemies “losers.” The term “loser” has more significance to him than it would have to the general public.
It is also possible that Mr. Tump’s actions center on his desire to gain attention and be in the spotlight. A lame-duck president gets less notice than someone who is “fighting for the American way.” His “love of the crowd” is well known. His need to be praised may be heightened since he knows that someone else is about to gain his former limelight.
Beyond personality issues, Mr. Trump may be creating this crisis to further his own financial and power interests. If he can continue to control his base, he becomes an influence peddler who can make or break other politicians. In this scenario, he would become his own “group” no different than other power groups, like evangelical Christians.
He may be gearing up for a career after politics. He loves being in the media, and he has had success as a reality TV host. Keeping his following engaged could offer him ratings boost if he decides to launch his own TV show or “news” network. He has embraced conspiracy theories and fringe groups, and he would have a following among fellow believers. He is already making dismissive comments about his former ally, Fox News. This could signal a move to his own network or a show on more radical networks, like Newsmax. A video outlet that makes Fox News look progressive.
Unlike other presidents, Mr. Trump has retained control of his businesses and has significantly profited by merging the presidency with those enterprises. He has generated many millions by charging the US government for services and has benefited from other governments who have stayed at his properties. Leaving the presidency would limit this income stream.
Mr. Trump will have to deal with legal issues when he is no longer President, and many of these issues are not all pardonable by a presidential mandate. As President he is protected from prosecution, and it is to his legal advantage to continue to hold this office.
There are reasons for both the Republican Party and the President to question the election as it serves both of their needs. However, it does so at a high cost to the American people. Mr. Trump gained celebrity status by his name-calling style of divisive behavior. His popularity has motivated Republicans to vote not only for him but also for his political allies. However, his divisive actions have harmed the overall fabric of our democracy. A country divided can not stand, and this reality is even more evident during a national emergency, such as the COVID pandemic. At a time when we need a national message, none is being heard. Instead of looking for solutions, we continue to look at who to blame. The Chinese, the WHO, the Democrats, 5G cell towers, and the list goes on.
The country must move towards national solutions now, and it is imperative to transition to a new president in January smoothly. Every day lost could mean lost lives.
In some ways, I can forgive Mr. Trump for his actions, as they are wholly consistent with how he has conducted himself for his 74 years. We all knew what we were getting with him; some chose to turn away from reality as they embraced his promise of a great America. However, I have fewer kind feelings towards all of the other politicians who have latched onto his coattails for their power-hungry purposes. By doing so, they have placed their own needs first, which has sometimes placed the people’s needs last.
This is not to say that all Republicans are evil or that all Democrats are right. However, it does indicate that we cannot move forward as a democracy as long as our officials behave like spoiled five-year-olds who have to get their way.
I hope Mr. Biden can reach across the aisle and start a healing process. However, I’m fearful that the Senate he knew is a memory rather than a current reality. With that said, all pendulums swing, and at some point, our officials will likely move from a position of opposition to one of cooperation. This has happened when past emergencies have threatened our nation. However, this does not seem to be the case with the COVID pandemic- a disaster that impacts the nation’s health, economy, and international standing. I believe that this is the case because the pandemic was politicized. I hope that this polarization will change once Mr. Trump is out of the office. There are some indications that this metamorphosis may be occurring, as some Republican governors are changing their position of “individuals right to choose” to a more rational stance that emphasizes public health.
Trump’s bi-line of “Make America Great Again” is an idea that resonates with many. However, you can’t strengthen a country by blaming other nations and organizations for our failings. A resilient government needs to be healthy on the inside, and the only way to do that is to be inclusive and cooperative with all individuals. Eliminating or hampering entire groups weakens our country, as does a culture of divisiveness. To make America great again, we need to be doing the exact opposite of what we are currently doing. We need to even the playing field for all; political parties need to work together; leadership needs to role model and demonstrate appropriate behavior. We need to rely on experts instead of opinions when making decisions that impact millions.
Our waring political parties were present before 2016, the Trump administration just capitalized on this disharmony. If we continue to be divided, there will be no winners; we will all lose. January will come, but it will be business as usual if we haven’t learned our lesson.
It’s 3 AM on election night, and I am awake. Julie rustles in bed, which signals that she is also up. I flip on our bedroom TV to check the election results with feelings of both anticipation and dread. Soon we are talking about the election, potential political outcomes, the state of the country, and the state of the world. Such discussions are best left for more awake times, and in a predictable way, our conversation turns from global events to the state of our relationship.
In previous posts, I have inferred that I never had a male role model growing up. The concept of what it is to be a man is something that I had to observe from third-party sources and personal experimentation. I determined my role as the ultimate defender of my family. I feel that it is my responsibility to make sure that they are loved and provided for. I take this commitment very seriously. I’m not sure where (or from whom) I got that idea, but it is firmly entrenched in my psyche.
As a child, I was not given a strong sense of self-worth at home. Conversely, I was given an inflated sense of self-worth in other settings. This was confusing to me. I was the kid that the nun said that God had plans for. I was the curve breaker on school exams, the unique thinker, the problem solver. These experiences have made me a leader rather than a follower—a decision-maker, rather than one who implements others’ proclamations. However, my early home life also had an impact on me. I can be overly sensitive. I have a soft underbelly. I need to be loved. I am happy with my personality and secure in my role. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few frayed edges.
Which brings me back to the election night and a complaint from Julie that I can be too self-assured, too confident, and (the zinger) arrogant. I have to admit that that last modifier shook me, as I don’t see myself as an arrogant person. I don’t see myself full of self-importance, and I don’t feel that I am superior to others. However, her critique suggested that others may see me in this way. That was disturbing to me.
Dear readers, I feel that there is a difference between decisiveness and arrogance. When I make a decision, I am confident in that decision. However, I am open to others’ opinions, and I am more than willing to change my position based on a compelling counterpoint. I consciously surround myself with smart people who also have strong opinions, and I believe that some of my best life decisions have been made by embracing their ideas. Unfortunately, this incorporation process happens internally in my head, and it is not necessarily telegraphed to the greater world.
In regards to Julie, I felt that I needed to make amends to her. I think she is an exceptionally bright person who has altered and guided my thinking in countless ways. I told her as much that night, but the episode made me think beyond our pillow talk. I wondered how many other people I valued saw me as arrogant and how that impression impacted how they interacted with me. I felt it was better for me to err on the side of asking for forgiveness rather than justifying my behavior.
It is now Sunday, at 6:30 AM, I get out of Violet the campervan and head up the long driveway to Ralph’s house. I have known Ralph for almost 30 years. I consider him a close and valued friend. I reach his front door, and it is already open. I hesitate, as I’m not sure what COVID protocol he is now following. I elect to open his storm door and shout, “Ralph, are you in there?” “Come on in,” was his reply.
Ralph and I have made deliberate efforts to get together since I retired. We go on long walks and eat breakfast together. I look forward to our meetings and leave them anticipating the next one.
We start our hike. We enter the Illinois Prairie Path, then walk through Lincoln Marsh, then through Wheaton’s stately homes. “Hey, Ralph, can I talk to you about something?” “Sure,” was his reply. I recite a truncated summary of my conversation with Julie. “Ralph, if in any way you have felt that I have acted arrogantly towards you, I want to make amends to you. I listen to you, and I value your sharp intellect and common sense. I am a confident person who believes in himself, but that doesn’t mean that I disregard your ideas.” I pause-pregnantly. “Mike, do you have terminal cancer or something?” Ralph asks seriously. “God, I hope not,” I reply.
Our conversation slides in a different direction, politics. We offer each other ideas on what has been driving this era of partisan sycophants. Ralph’s insights focus on the emotional side of partisanship. His approach is different than mine, and I enjoy thinking about this situation in a different way.
The first point that he makes concerns the concept of morals. A person’s beliefs form morals. Morals become established laws for an individual, and once baked in, they no longer require a high level of intellectual scrutiny. Instead, morals have a vital emotional component, and feelings determine right vs. wrong. To quote Ralph, “So some people have firm moral resolve that overrides all logic, and everything is based on moral judgment first, and that evidence is wrong. They believe that they are experts and therefore do not need other experts such as scientists because they are correct.”
This got me thinking of a couple of examples:
Example one It is wrong to take another person’s life. This is a moral belief that is almost universally accepted worldwide.
Example two The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. Sixty-five percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Therefore the maximum number of individuals in the US who would hold this belief is 65%. In Japan, the number of Christians is around 1%, so 99% of individuals would not believe this in that country. I cite this example to illustrate how one belief can be firmly accepted in one region and almost wholly rejected in another.
Example three Donald Trump is doing a great job. According to Gallup Daily Tracking from October 27, 2020, 46% of Americans approved of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is doing a terrible job. According to the Rasmussen Report, November 4-8, 2020, 47% disapproved of Donald Trump.
Here we have an example where roughly half of the US population approves of, and half of the population disapproves of Donald Trump. Both opinions of the president are based on a firm belief either for or against him. By viewing these opposing beliefs as moral convictions, it becomes easier to see how polarization can occur. Each side defends their position while ignoring any evidence that is contrary to it.
Ralph also talked about the process of politicization. To quote Ralph again, “Others are highly politicalized, and they are very vocal and pushy about their beliefs. They expect others to see their side – they will only seek out their side because otherwise, they would have to compromise and be open to others – which means giving in – there is no compromise as compromise is defeat.” The significance here is once something is politicized, the option of compromise is eliminated. Politicalization turns political and non-political things into a contest that can only be resolved by destroying the opponent, who becomes the enemy.
I think of those individuals who get all of their news exclusively from conservative (Fox News) or progressive (CNN, MSNBC) outlets. They are comfortable with these skewed editorial opinions, as they are consistent with their politicized beliefs.
I started to talk about the election, then I did a little personal disclosure, and then I got political again. How is all of this connected? My intent in this post is to explore what makes us who we are and how what may seem like a positive trait (being confident) can be interpreted negatively (arrogant) by others. In my case, how do I stay true to myself while not offending others? I am not suddenly going to become passive, but I can make an effort to acknowledge others opinions clearly and directly. I also must make amends when my actions have hurt or disturbed someone, even if my actions were unintentional.
Things become more complicated when dealing with individuals who are driven by moral conviction and politicized ideation. These characteristics are based more on feelings, and therefore are less subject to a good counterpoint. When someone believes in something strongly, they will find individuals and situations that support their beliefs. Conversely, they will avoid or denigrate individuals who have opposing thoughts. This can make accepting new ideas difficult, as emotionally held beliefs are wired more deeply than those strictly intellectual.
As a country, we are roughly divided into polar opposite halves. How can we find any common ground? I believe that the best approach consists of an honest dialog between opposing sides. The goal of the dialogue is not to convert the other persons. Instead, it is to understand their point of view. I may like vanilla ice cream, but I can accept that your choice, chocolate, is good too- we can both be right.
Although we may have specific ideologies, many of our life goals are the same. As a society, we separate ourselves based on a few bullet points-such as our views on gay marriage or immigration policy, but we are more than bullet points. As a group, most of us want freedom, security, health, and the ability to pursue our dreams. We want a safe shelter and healthy food. We want our kids to have options. We want to determine our futures. We want an even playing field. We have much more in common than what we hold as differences.
A nation can’t move forward if rigid non-yielding ideologies fracture that country. However, with compromise and understanding, all things are possible. Remember that joining parts of a structure makes that structure stronger, not weaker.
*Ralph told me that he gleaned some of his thoughts from the podcast, “The Hidden Brain.” He recommends that podcast.
Many traditions start by accident, and their significance has more to do with surrounding events than the actual behavior. Somehow, these habits intertwine; random activities fuse into a cohesive bundle that becomes an entity onto itself. And so it was with our Halloween celebrations.
It is now time to take you back to the early 1990s when I was a divorced father of one who was on a 2-year hiatus from dating. A self-imposed break based on my experience that relationships were too much work and held the potential for too much pain. I had decided to establish a single life, and to do so with earnest enthusiasm. I bought a two-story Georgian, and with the help of my sister Carol, I decorated it. It was a real home, not a motorcycle poster bachelor pad. I felt happy and at peace during those years. I could do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. I didn’t have to worry about accidentally offending someone. No one was hurting me, and I was hurting no one.
As in most things, there was a flip side to my happiness coin. I recall one Friday night where I was dealing with the agony of stomach flu. “My God, I could die tonight, and no one would know or care until I didn’t show up for work.” It was a sobering thought, but not of sufficient gravity to change my lifestyle. That change would require a random meeting.
As with many of my well-formed plans, my dating hiatus was about to alter. I had met someone at a work meeting, and I was starting to date her. Her name was Julie, and she was leaving her job as clinical director of Mercy’s eating disorder program and transitioning into a Ph.D. candidate at UIC. We had met during her last week at Mercy, and we had quickly become inseparable.
The previous Christmas, my boss, Vince, had given me an enormous gift box from Niemen Marcus. He said the present was a thank you because I had made him so much money that year. The gold-wrapped cube was overflowing with every high-end delectable imaginable. Of note, it also contained a jeroboam of Dom Perignon.
I ate or gave away most of the treats, but I was at a loss about what to do with the Champagne. It sat in my refrigerator.
Then Halloween arrived. I had bought an enormous amount of candy in preparation. Mostly Hershey Bars, Kit Kats, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. To be on the safe side, I also had an emergency bag of penny candy-jaw breakers, candy corn, and the like. I didn’t want to run out of treats and seem cheap to my neighbors, so I had enough candy for two Halloweens.
Julie had agreed to come over to help me answer the door, and in return, I had promised her dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking a meal, and she was agreeable to Chinese carry-out. In those days, we had a decent Chinese restaurant just around the corner. I dialed up “Chan’s Kitchen” and placed an order.
I have to confess that I have little sophistication when it comes to alcohol. However, I knew that Champagne didn’t age well, and my bottle had been sitting in the fridge for nearly a year. I asked Julie if she would like a glass, and she said, “Yes.” Beyond plastic water tumblers, my beverage glassware consisted of a few wine glasses. I put them into service and poured two generous glassfuls. I pushed one of them over to Julie, who was already heavily into the Mongolian Beef.
We toasted “To Us” and quickly downed our first glasses. Champagne is a tricky beverage for the naive and ill-informed. For me, it tasted like a sour grape-flavored soda rather than a high alcohol content beverage. Julie felt similarly. It was easy to drink… and we had so much left in the bottle. I poured another glass, then another.
The doorbell started to ring, and we elected that we would take turns answering the door. It seemed like the kids’ costumes were getting ever cuter with each sip of the Champagne. Soon we were both rushing to greet the costume wearers. I was now distributing handfuls of candy into each pillowcase and plastic pumpkin that was thrust before me. It wasn’t long before I was giving handfuls of candy to the supervising parents that accompanied their charges. Everything and everyone seemed happy and magical… that is until I started to feel dizzy. The dizziness progressed, and I began to feel sick. I had to keep both feet on the floor to prevent the room from spinning. Julie was feeling similarly. Luckily, by then, most of the trick-or-treat merriment had ended.
Despite our mutual sickness, we look back on that day with fondness, and we have used it as a framework on which to build our Halloween traditions. From that point forward, we would celebrate Halloween by passing out candy and eating Chinese food. However, we did exclude Champagne. The remembrance of my post-Dom headache insured that omission.
Our children came, and we had to adjust. I would walk with them, and Julie would pass out candy at home. We would still reflect on the amazing costumes we saw, and we always ate Chinese food for Halloween dinner. That is until this year.
I have written a lot about modifying celebrations during this COVID crisis, and I think I have been successful in doing so for many of these events. However, there was something different about this Halloween. I didn’t want to reformulate the holiday; I wanted to ignore it. I wanted it to be just another day.
Julie said that the City of Naperville had published guidelines for Halloween, and they had a PDF printable poster that could be hung on the door to tell trick-or-treaters that you were not participating this year. I asked Julie how she felt about canceling Halloween, and she was on board, so I printed up the sign and hung it on our front door. Scanning Facebook told me that others were taking a different approach and that they were readying to pass out candy. I started to feel guilty, but that guilt wasn’t enough for me to take down the sign.
At 3 PM, I was sitting in my study’s leather easy chair. Without invitation, Julie came in and sat in my desk chair. Shortly afterward, my daughter Kathryn joined us and perched herself on my old oak rolltop desk. Reflexively, we looked towards the room’s windows and onto the street beyond. The number of kids trick-or-treating was lower, but there was still a significant number of “hunter-gatherers.” Some were solo; some were in surprisingly large groups. Some had masks; others did not. I can’t say what my “roommates” were feeling. I’m unsure of what I was feeling. The best descriptor would be one of being disconnected with an overlay of sadness. I wanted the day to be over.
We had talked about ordering Chinese, but no one made an effort to pick up the phone. Julie and I decided to watch a movie on Netflix, and Kathryn retreated to a book. The day ended.
I’m a proactive person; I am a problem solver. I can be criticized for having too optimistic of an attitude. I can be accused of being too Pollyannaish. I was none of the above this Halloween.
For me, Halloween is the gateway celebration for the winter holidays. This year we will not host Julie’s family for Thanksgiving. We had been celebrating with them for over 27 years. With raging infectivity rates it is possible that we won’t be traveling to Minnesota to celebrate Christmas- a 28-year tradition. I believe that my Halloween apathy is a symptom of the more significant loss of these events and that these losses represent the more significant loss of this last year.
It is difficult for me to be happy when COVID infectivity rates are approaching 100,000 individuals a day, and when our death count is moving past 230,000 human lives. We are in a time when our leaders seem to have a greater ability to name-call than to lead. When it is necessary to hide political beliefs, less you offend someone by just uttering the name of a candidate. When selfishness supplants selflessness and the rule of power for the people has been replaced by a drive for power. Instead of moving towards equality, we seem to re-establish supremacy based on skin color and bank account balances. Instead of joining with other countries to work towards common goals, we choose to insult their leaders. Instead of using our scientific and technical knowledge to move away from planet-killing fossil fuels, we deregulate industries and escalate our eventual climate demise.
Is it any wonder that Halloween had little meaning for me this year? In so many ways, I feel that we have lost more than the year 2020; we have lost a generation of progress by embracing a Lord of the Flies mentality.
Golding published that novel in 1954 when I was one year old. How is it possible that we have moved backward? Why is it that self-serving values seem to trump a sense of community? How can we be so focused on short-term gain and so myopic when it comes to long-term solutions?
Halloween didn’t happen for me this year; Thanksgiving will be altered, Christmas may go missing. I’m willing to mourn these holidays if such grieving somehow fuels movement towards a juster society. My voice is small, but it can become loud if added to a chorus of others. Let us sing together for both ourselves and our children.
Last week I wrote about COVID fatigue. This week I thought I would write about COVID awareness. I did a similar Q&A to this one early on in the pandemic, and in retrospect, it has proven to be accurate. That blog post was based on available data at that time. This blog post is based on more current information. My goal is to present these questions and answers in an understandable format, as I believe that knowledge is power.
I am a physician who trained at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Although I specialized in treating disorders of the mind (psychiatrist), I was trained in all areas of medicine as a medical student. Before becoming a medical doctor, I obtained a graduate degree, where I studied microorganisms’ biochemistry. I have also worked in research centers, where I participated in basic research on cancer and multiple sclerosis. Years ago, I was part of a research team that used monoclonal antibodies as a research tool. It is incredible to see these agents now being used to treat medical illness. Although I’m not a specialist in infectious disease, I can read scientific information and determine good data from bad information.
What is this virus?
This virus belongs to a large family of viruses called coronaviruses. These viruses have a common characteristic: they have a “crown” (or corona) of protein spikes on their surface. These spikes can attach to specific receptors on host cells, which allows the virus to inject its contents into the cell. The virus uses the “machinery’ in the host cell to reproduce (or replicate). This process, and how the body reacts to it, can cause illness and death.
How does one contract this virus?
The virus has to enter a host’s body through a vulnerable site. These places include the mouth, nose, and eyes. You cannot contract the virus by just touching it. However, you can touch a contaminated surface and then rub your mouth, nose, or eyes to inoculate yourself with the virus. You can also contract the virus by more direct means. If someone with the virus coughs, they send a spray of droplets into the air. The virus can exist in very high concentrations in these droplets. If they land on your face, they can infect you. These droplets are pretty heavy, and most of them will fall to the ground within a few feet of being “coughed up.”
It now seems likely that the virus can also float in the air. In these situations, the virus can travel further.
Can you tell me more about airborne spread?
It is likely that the virus can be spread in smaller particles that are expressed when a person exhales. These particles are lighter, so they can travel further and potentially infect a person who is further away than 6 feet from the infected individuals. However, the conditions have to be just right for this to happen-I’ll talk more about that later.
If you understand the answers to the following question, you will have a firm understanding of the relative risk of any activity that you may want to do.
The most important answer in this post:
What are the factors that make it likely that someone will get infected by this coronavirus?
The number one factor is called “the infectious dose.” That is the number of particles of virus needed to cause a successful infection. Different viruses have different infectious doses. It is unclear how many virus particles are required to cause a COVID infection, but the number is likely considerable. In other words, if you somehow accidentally inoculate yourself with only a few viral particles, you won’t get sick. Four main factors determine if exposure to the virus will infect you.
The concentration of the virus-the higher the concentration, the higher the infection rate.
The length of exposure to a virus-the longer you are in a place contaminated with the a virus, the more virus you are exposed to.
The viability of the virus-viruses are fragile. A freshly expressed virus will be more potent (virulent) than one that has been drying on a surface.
The vulnerability of the host. For instance, individuals with weakened immune systems can be infected by fewer virus particles than a person who has a robust immune system.
How likely is it that you will infect yourself with a virus by touching an inanimate object (like a package) and then touching your face?
It is doubtful that you will infect yourself in this manner. If there is a virus on a surface, it is likely that the virus’s concentration is low and that the potency is low. However, there are some cases when the risk can be higher. For instance, an infected person coughs into their hand, which you then shake. You then touch your face and inoculate yourself. Or a person coughs on a hard surface like a credit card touchpad. Immediately afterward, you use the same touchpad for your transaction. You then rub your nose.
Beyond specific cases, it is unlikely that you will contract the virus from an inanimate object. There is no compelling evidence that you have to wash your groceries or sterilize your mail.
Then I don’t have to wash my hands?
NO, YOU HAVE TO WASH YOUR HANDS AS RECOMMENDED. It is a simple precaution that is easy to do. We are always touching our faces with our hands. By making hand washing routine, you eliminate those times when you could be exposed to a high virus concentration.
Why should I socially distance?
Remember that it is proven that you can contract the virus by respiratory droplets and that these droplets can only travel a short distance. By staying at least 6 feet from individuals, you place yourself in a safer zone, as most large droplets will have fallen to the ground before then.
This airborne thing frightens me? Do I have to be afraid to breathe?
NO. Airborne transmission seems to be most significant in specific situations that cause higher viral exposure to the recipient. These are situations that increase small particles in the air, such as talking loudly, shouting, and singing. These airborne particles then need to be trapped in an enclosed space (like a room). Lastly, a person needs to be exposed to this environment for a more extended period. Here are a couple of examples where airborne infections could occur:
Attending a church service where there is singing.
Hanging out at a bar where there is a lot of loud talking and shouting.
Having a leisurely meal in a noisy restaurant where everyone has to “speak up” to be heard.
What is a super spreader, and what is a super spreader event? Why do these individuals and events occur?
There seem to be specific individuals who can spread the virus more effectively to others. Also, there appear to be situations that seem to spread the virus to more individuals than in other cases.
We understand some of the reasons for this (see my answers above), but we still don’t fully understand why some people or situations are more infectious than others.
What can I do to protect myself when flying?
Airplanes have effective air cleaning systems, and so it is most likely that you will become infected by a person who sits close to you on an airplane rather than someone who is many rows away. Therefore it is critical that everyone on a plane wears a mask. Also, try to keep your hands to yourself and consider some eye protection. Wash or sanitize your hands as needed.
Are outdoor rallies safe?
In general, a well ventilated outdoor event will be safer than a poorly ventilated indoor event. However, you can make such an event even safer by socially distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask. Remember, if someone close to you has COVID, they can quickly transfer the virus to you by their proximity in any setting.
Why should I wear a mask? The CDC initially said I didn’t need to. What about my civil rights?
The CDC based its initial recommendation on two factors. The INITIAL data didn’t support layperson mask-wearing, and there was a shortage of masks needed by first responders. Their recommendations changed when it became abundantly clear that masks (even homemade ones) could prevent the spread of COVID. This fact has been shown over and over; it is not in question. Masks save lives.
As far as your civil rights, let me be direct, if you believe that not wearing a mask somehow demonstrates that you are a patriotic American, I am here to tell you that you are being played, and played most cruelly. This simple act (mask-wearing) can not only prevent you from getting sick; it can save the lives of others.
We do things all of the time necessary for both our’s and the greater society’s safety. It is illegal to drive while intoxicated, you are not allowed to smoke in public places, and factories are not allowed to dump toxic chemicals into our public water systems. These are just a few of many examples. Please don’t be played by others. Masks save lives.
Why do some people die from COVID, and others have no symptoms?
There are likely many factors, but the answer to this question is that we don’t completely know. However, we do know some groups are more vulnerable than others. Older individuals and those with certain medical conditions are at the highest risk. However, sometimes young and healthy individuals die from this disease too. It also appears that some younger individuals develop problems after they recover from their initial infection.
Do we have a cure for this virus?
Contrary to what you may be hearing from politicians, the answer is no. However, data has been examined from many thousands of cases, and we have been able to refine our treatment of this disease based on that information. We know that certain drugs, like steroids and anticoagulants, can help with recovery when given in the right situations and at the right time. Other modalities, like serum treatments and monoclonal antibodies, may help some individuals. We are getting a handle on when a person needs assistance with their breathing and what works best to treat particular issues. As our knowledge improves, so does the survival rate of infected individuals.
Is it true that we have more cases because we are doing more testing?
This is an outright lie, a manipulation to make things sound better than they are. There is no other way to say this. We know that we have more infections based on multiple streams of information that include testing results and hospitalization stays, community information, and COVID mortality numbers.
Testing gives us a window into the virus’s activity at any location and also lets us know how successful our efforts are in combating a virus in any particular area. Any action to limit or discourage testing is criminal, in my opinion. Limiting testing allows the virus to flourish. Limiting testing makes it worse for everyone. Imagine if someone said that they were going to limit unwanted pregnancies by limiting pregnancy tests. Ridiculous, no?
I need to get on with my life, but how can I?
Go back to the “most important answer” above. What we can do for a week is different from what we can do for months. What is the safest way to work? How can I socialize responsibly? How can I modify my life to get what I need while being safe? Base your decisions and actions on thoughtful reflection and reliable data. In life, there are reasonable risks and foolish risks.
Why are some people asymptomatic and others very ill?
At this time, we don’t know.
Can asymptomatic people spread the virus?
It is unclear how infectious asymptomatic people are, but YES it appears that they can infect others. Some asymptomatic individuals genuinely have no symptoms. Others may have mild symptoms that they ignore. Still, others may be infected and will show signs in a day or two. If you practice CDC guidelines, you are in the best position to protect yourself.
Will I be back to normal once I recover from COVID?
We are seeing cases where individuals have long-term effects that range from neurological complications to breathing problems. It is unknown how these individuals will be impacted years from now.
I don’t follow CDC guidelines and I’m fine. Therefore, COVID is a hoax!
I’m glad that you are both healthy and lucky. However, a single (or small group) of individuals does not determine a pandemic. The data is out there, the numbers are in the millions.
Is a vaccine the solution to all of our problems with this virus?
NO, but it is a critical step. At this time, we still don’t know how effective a vaccine will be, or how long its effectiveness will last. However, once it is determined to be safe and reasonably effective, I plan on getting innoculated.
Will we get through this?
Of course, we will. However, we need to use the information we obtain from this pandemic to implement changes to deal with future pandemics effectively. Remember, knowledge is power.
I hope this Q&A has answered some of your questions on COVID. To the best of my knowledge, the answers are accurate as of 10/29/2020
BTW Comments have been turned off as I was getting hundreds of SPAM messages from a Spanish bot. If you want to email me, you can take my web address prefix and add @gmail.com.
How many months has it been? It started for me sometimes in March. Or was it earlier? I remember talking about it in February because we thought about traveling to New Mexico, but I still wasn’t focused on it. I believe it really hit home when I returned from New Mexico on March 11th and saw that the airport was nearly empty. On that flight home, I discovered that my daughter and son’s universities were transitioning to online classes. Then, a few weeks later, Governor Pritzker shut down Illinois by issuing a shelter-in-place proclamation.
That order added a level of fear, but also a strange sense of odd excitement in me. The isolation order brought back memories of the 1967 Chicago blizzard. A time when everything was closed and a time when everyday life was on hold. I didn’t yet comprehend the difference between a 5-day snowy shutdown vs. months of lockdown.
When I came back from New Mexico, I was surprised to see empty shelves at Walmart… and there was no toilet paper! I couldn’t even buy a pack online, so I resorted to buying a case of industrial, commercial stuff- the TP that no one wants to use. Twenty-four hours later, Amazon sent me a notice stating that I had canceled that order (which I did not). I went on another online search and bought a case of TP from a hotel supply company. Several weeks later, that case plus the one that Amazon said was canceled BOTH arrived. Two cases of sandpaper quality TP. Bonus or bogus?
The kids were back at home, and Julie and I had gone from empty nesters to a family of 5 in a matter of a week. Spaces had to be re-allocated to accommodate them and their particular needs.
Everyday grocery items like pasta and white flour were nowhere to be found. Hand sanitizer and Lysol products had gone missing but could be bought if one was willing to spend ten times their average price (I chose not to). People were walking more; they would wave and say hello to me as they crossed the street to avoid me. The kids and I found some construction paper in the house that we cut into hearts, and on which we wrote inspirational sayings. “Breathe,” “Joy,” “Be Strong,” and dotted the front windows of our house with them.
The stock market, which is my primary source of retirement income, took a tumble, and I panicked. However, I tried to remind myself that I was still more fortunate than many.
I relied on my medical and scientific knowledge as the COVID threat intensified. Wrong information and spurious conspiracy theories were flying, and so I sorted through the facts vs. fiction. I did my best to educate others.
Initially, there was a temporary feeling about the crisis. It would end soon…but it didn’t. Days blended into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Holidays muted. Get-togethers canceled. The initial “crisis novelty” wore off.
As a retiree, my position was different than many. I didn’t need to renegotiate my work life. So I focused some of my technical energy on Julie by setting up a secure video conferencing platform for her to see some of her patients remotely.
It slowly started in me, a strange feeling. It wasn’t depression, but I didn’t feel happy. It wasn’t laziness, but I really didn’t want to do anything. It wasn’t anger, but I was irritable. It felt like I was separating from the world around me. I wasn’t disconnecting; it was more of a sense of not connecting. It didn’t feel terrific.
It was time to put on my psychiatrist hat and to make changes in my attitude. I would like to tell you some of the ways that I have been coping and share some general concepts that may help you emotionally deal with the pandemic and its resulting isolation.
Our home went from 2 individuals (one who was still working) to 5 individuals at home 24/7. We each found spots where we could have some private space. For example, I used my study and built a “nest” in a leather chair next to a window. My daughter claimed as her own a section of public space, our family room. She “built-out” a chair and end table with those things that were important to her-her phone, computer, and water bottle.
For those of you living alone, it is also essential to have zones to do different things. This can be accomplished in any sized space, including a studio apartment. Where you sleep should be different from where you eat and work.
Keep it clean!
When you have nowhere to go, it is easy to let yourself go. After all, who cares! The reality is that you should. I feel fortunate that I can step into a steaming hot shower whenever I please. I feel better about myself when my body is clean, and my teeth are brushed.
Tidiness goes beyond personal hygiene. A disordered house makes you feel disordered. Keeping surfaces clean and dusted, and putting things away can add a sense of serenity. It is especially important to keep things orderly when you live with others. Messes can accumulate quickly, and with them comes resentment. Disorder can prevent you from doing things that you need to do. You are less likely to make yourself a healthy dinner if you have to first wash pots, clean dishes, and clear off a messy countertop left from the morning’s breakfast.
All individuals in a home have to work together to maintain such an environment. This is not only necessary, but it also adds a sense of teamwork. Kids feel better about themselves when they accomplish tasks.
You may be a team of one, or you may be living with many. If the latter is the case, it is imperative that basic ground rules be established. Naturally, everyone should share in everyday tasks, or at least accept responsibility to accomplish joint goals. For instance, one family may decide that they are going to cook their meals together. Another family may determine that one person will cook meals, and someone else will clean the bathroom.
Perhaps one parent did all of the house cleaning in the past. Is it still fair for that individual to do all of the work now that others create greater mess and have more free time? These are the kinds of questions that have to be addressed during any significant life-change.
Two of my kids have returned to university, so there are now three adults (including me) remaining at home. I still do most of the house cleaning, but we share more meal-making tasks, and everyone is expected to clean up after themselves. Your needs and rules may differ.
When possible, it is essential to vary your environment. In the beginning, I walked a lot, but that wasn’t enough. I started to spend time with my friend, Tom and incorporated him into my COVID circle. Just seeing a different human improved my morale. As time has grown, I have gently increased my circle further. On occasion, I will visit my siblings. These visits have been in COVID safe settings. I also call people regularly (some daily), and I email my in-laws once a week. Doing these things has helped normalize the last few months.
A touch of the old life.
I live in an urban area that is rich with carry-out and curbside options. A cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts’ drive-through or a delivery pizza on a Friday night can add a little normalcy to my day.
Projects and tasks.
At the beginning of the year, I was heavily involved in doing some odious tasks-like cleaning out my crawl space. Once shelter-in-place started, I lost all interest in these extracurricular activities. However, I have been slowly trying to return to “extra” jobs. I have made a few modifications to my campervan and have slowly started to rid myself of needless junk. It isn’t much, but accomplishing even a small task makes me feel like I’m moving forward instead of backward. I would suggest that you come up with some things you want to do and then do them. Spending a few minutes a day on a task that you need to do (but don’t want to do) can give you a sense of control.
View the whole picture.
Is it possible that there is some sort of an upside to this crisis? As strange as it may sound, the answer is yes. My wife has a friend who says she formed a deep new friendship with someone she met right before COVID. They have been communicating through emails and phone calls and have really gotten to know each other.
I’m cooking a lot of meals with one of my daughters, and we are not only having a lot of fun, but I feel like I’m getting to know her on a totally new level. Every coin has two sides.
Politics and pandemics.
Our greater community can help all of us adjust to change. I love watching videos about the homefront efforts that brought our country together during WWII. When we feel like we are part of the greater good, it is easier to accept imposed limitations. Local, state, and federal governments need to focus not only on physical practices (like mask-wearing) but also on the patriotic side of doing the right thing.
Over the years, I have known folks who lived in isolated parts of the country. They had to travel great distances to go to the grocery or hardware store, and their nearest neighbor was miles away. Yet, they were happy and content. They didn’t feel deprived; instead, they felt blessed with what they had. We create our expectations, and we determine what is satisfying and rewarding.
Don’t be an ass.
COVID, COVID isolation, COVID shortages… the list goes on. Yes, life with COVID can make people irritable. Several folks have told me of customer service interactions where the person on the other end of the phone was rude, inflexible, and downright mean. During times of stress, it is MORE important to make an effort to be kind. Kindness is not a weakness; it is a strength. When you are kind towards someone, they will often respond similarly to you. Even better, they may pass on their goodwill to someone else. Being angry may temporarily make you feel powerful, but the overall destructive energy it generates is poisoning to all parties, including the perpetrator. Consider doing random acts of kindness.
It is not all or nothing!
The longer someone has to do something, the less likely that their actions will be perfect. It is also expected that their efforts will need to be modified over time. You may have enough food in your cupboard for a few days, but eventually, you will need to go to the grocery store and break your perfect isolation.
It is easy to let go of the safeguards that you had in place. A safe gathering can grow to one that is unsafe. You may decide that you really don’t need to wear a mask or thoroughly wash your hands. An internal desire to return to normal may turn reasonable changes into foolish actions that put both you and your loved ones at risk. Assess how you can expand your world with an eye on what is safe and what is not. I just visited my brother-in-law and my sister. The three of us met on their semi-enclosed, well ventilated back porch. This was safe. However, it would be unsafe to have a big family party in their kitchen.
Be radical with your acceptance.
I talk to people who regularly say to me, “When will this be over!” They are waiting for everything to go back to normal. They are putting their lives on hold. The fact is that things may go back to normal, or they may not. However, the best approach is to radically accept our current life situation; otherwise, a “why is this happening” attitude can turn into sadness and anger. Radical acceptance is not “giving up.” It is an acceptance that there are things that we cannot change in our lives. Radical acceptance allows us to move forward and prevents us from being stuck in an endless cycle of self-pity.
Gratitude is the attitude.
Turn your cup from half-empty to half-full. Start your day by writing down 4 or 5 positive things about your life or situation. Then read your list and ponder on it.
Consider some of these thoughts, and make your day a little bit brighter.
BTW Comments have been turned off as I was getting hundreds of SPAM messages from a Spanish bot. If you want to email me, you can take my web address prefix and add @gmail.com.
On a recent rainy day, I sat in the big leather chair in my study. With my MacBook on my lap, I watched a series of YouTube videos. Most had at least one ad that played before, and many videos had ads that played during their short program. It was pretty unbearable.
On that particular day, I was struck by the number of ads that supported the adoption of a graduated state income tax for Illinois. Dubbed the “Fair Tax” in the commercials, the ads showed happy citizens who were ecstatic that they were paying lower state taxes. Lower taxes seem like a good idea, but why would a state that is chronically short of cash lower its taxes? Something about the ads smelled like fish that was left out on the counter for too long.
It is well known that Illinoisians pay higher total state-imposed taxes than the vast majority of other states. Would the adoption of this new amendment really help our citizens? I decided to investigate. Currently, Illinoisians pay a flat state income tax of 4.95%. With the recently proposed amendment, lower-income individuals would pay less, but by how much? The rate for those making $10,000 to $99,999 would drop from 4.95 % to 4.90%. To put that into perspective, someone making $10,000 would only benefit by $5. However, families earning $250,000 would jump to a tax rate of 7.75%, an almost 3% increase.
Technically, families making less than 100K a year would benefit from the new tax structure, but the actual benefit would be relatively small. The devil is in the details. This amendment also allows for future increases in taxes. This would mean even higher taxes on the rich, which could increase the already alarming exodus of these folks to more tax-friendly states. The law says it is OK to raise taxes, as long as it is done for all income groups. In other words, everyone would get a tax increase.
The amendment that allows for a small tax benefit today could translate into a tax increase in the future. I don’t think those people in the ads would be smiling if they had the complete picture. Illinois is famous for mismanaging its budget, and with the passing of this amendment, any shortfalls could be resolved by merely increasing everyone’s state income tax rate.
Presenting half-truths to manipulate the public seems to be the nature of political advertising.
I have already posted my concerns about cable news editorial shows and how their twisting of facts has helped create an ever more partisan and divided nation. However, political ads take bias to a new level. Many ads are now “attack ads.” They talk less about a candidate’s policies and more about their opponent’s flaws.
Lyndon Johnson used one of the first successful attack ads in his 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater. The iconic “Daisy” ad showed a little girl picking the petals off a daisy while the announcer counts down. When he reaches zero, the ad cuts to a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud. The implication being that Barry Goldwater was a warmonger who would lead us to utter destruction. It was an extremely controversial ad when it was released. However, it would be considered mild in today’s political climate.
Using selectively edited sound bites, modifying or adding additional sounds, and using unflattering or distorted photos of an opponent have become commonplace. Emphasizing an opponent’s errors without balancing them with their accomplishments is a given. All of these factors yield a distorted impression of the opponent to the voter. Most voters won’t investigate further.
The 1950s was the dawn of the computer age, and Ed Greenfield felt that he could exploit this new tool to modify human behavior. He called his idea “Project Macroscope,” and he enlisted academics from prestigious institutions from around the country. Greenfield and his team collected data from surveys and publicly available sources to create a database that could be statistically analyzed using a computer. His company, called Simulmatics, pitched the idea to the Kennedy presidential campaign and was contracted by them. Simulmatics guided the future president on addressing specific issues to voters, like his Catholicism (at the time, it was felt that this was a negative attribute). The impact of Simulmatics’s advice on the 1961 election remains unclear. However, Simulmatics claimed that they won Kennedy’s election, thus ensuring ever more complicated data collection and analysis in future elections.
More recently, the British firm Cambridge Analytica has been in the spotlight for their role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Cambridge Analytica used social media sites (including Facebook) to gather information on how vulnerable a particular person was to persuasion. They used a personality test developed by the University of Michigan that resided in the public domain. It was designed to give an OCEAN score, the acronym standing for, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This score gave Cambridge Analytica knowledge on how persuadable someone was. That innocent-looking “what’s your personality” quiz that you may have taken in 2015 was a weaponized tool used to manipulate you. How so? Combining information from the personality test with other data could determine who could be persuaded to vote for a particular candidate. Once selected, that person could be bombarded with psychologically designed ads, articles, and other media that could move the voter away from one candidate and towards another. Do you recall seeing a lot of ads against Hillary Clinton calling her “Crooked Hillary?” If so, you may have been targeted by Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge likely impacted the outcomes of elections in many other countries before the U.S. presidential election. Also, Cambridge has been implicated in swaying the Brits to adopt Brexit.
Beyond being manipulated by political campaigns, political pacts, and influential individuals, foreign entities have used social media and advertising to influence voters with misinformation. It has been shown that Russia applied psychological techniques on various social media platforms to discredit Clinton in an effort to have her lose the 2016 election.
It is unclear how coordinated these efforts were, but it is clear that a multi-pronged attack against any candidate has a synergistic impact that supports offshoot organizations and ideas. QAnon comes to mind, a fringe right-wing conspiracy “group.” Some of their ideas include the belief that the Democrats (and others) are Satan-worshiping pedophilic sex traffickers and that Donald Trump is secretly working to defeat them. Other crackpot themes that they ascribe to include their belief that Michele Obama is a man in drag, and that a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. is the epicenter for the above-mentioned sex trafficking ring. As crazy as this all sounds, the number of QAnon true believers has grown and even includes politicians.
Running a single successful attack ad can cost a presidential candidate a million dollars, but many feel that it is money well spent. However, misinformation spread by memes, “articles,” manipulated video clips, and “testimonials” are relatively inexpensive. They can be customized and targeted through the power of media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Politicians seem less interested in presenting the truth and more interested in manipulating the voter. Third parties can stir the flames further as they can exceed the almost non-existent ethical limits that a politician campaign will employ. A campaign may present facts falsely and misleadingly, but a third party can call the opponent a blood-drinking, pedophilic cannibal without expecting any reprisal.
The bottom line is that ads, memes, opinion pieces, and false articles do little to inform prospective voters. Their misinformation is in direct contradiction to a democratic process, as it denies the voter the accurate information that they need to make an informed decision. The only way to inoculate oneself from such misinformation is to avoid it. In the recent past, I advised you to stop watching cable news editorial shows. I am now strongly urging you to consider all ads, memes, and other political media you encounter in emails, social media, and YouTube as potentially false and misleading. If you are interested in voting for the next president, explore their actual record and vote based on that record and their platform. No candidate is perfect, but you need to weigh their accomplishments and their failures to understand who they are and what motivates them. Attack ads will cease to exist when they are shown to be ineffective. However, in 2020 that is not the case, so you need to neutralize them by not engaging in them.
4:18 AM… (beep) “I’m here.” (parked in front of my house)
4:19 AM… (beep) “One sec.”
And so started another day, and another trip to Michigan. My friend, Tom has an ambitious plan to turn fallen oak trees into flooring for the townhouse that he is renovating. He has a source for the trees locally, but he has to transport them to a sawmill in Michigan for the first stage in their reappropriation. Tom has a trailer, and he can take up to 3 logs at a time, but he will need at least 11 or 12 logs to get enough lumber for the job.
It will take multiple trips to get the logs from Chicago to the Michigan sawmill where they will be cut into boards. Once cut they will be transported to Indiana where the greenwood will be dried into finished boards. It is quite the process.
Tom asked me if I wanted to go along with him on these trips, and I said, “Yes.” Why you may ask? For a few reasons:
-I travel well with Tom, and I enjoy going on adventures with him.
-We are both individuals who are filled with wonderment over simple things. We like to explore.
-I felt that it would be safer if he had a co-pilot to keep him company.
I got into Tom’s dually and we started our journey to the Michigan sawmill. And so our adventures began.
I know that a lot of people are going a bit stir crazy with pandemic isolation, so I thought that I would share parts of our adventure with you via photos that I took along the way. The photos are from our first 4 trips.
When I was younger, I thought about my goals and dreams in terms of “me.” What did I want to do? What did I want to accomplish? What did I want to experience?
When I married, I thought about goals and dreams in terms of “we.” I had to consider another person’s aspirations. My desires were still important, but so were my wife’s.
With children, our mission statement changed to “us.” We all had needs, and all of those needs had to be considered. At times, one person’s wants would take precedent, and at other times someone else’s would. Often, we would find a middle ground. Living in harmony meant compromise. I couldn’t have my way all of the time, but it was acceptable to have it some of the time. By being flexible, I was able to appreciate other’s viewpoints. In many ways, the consideration of their needs improved the quality of my life. I shifted from a self-serving “me” to a more balanced “us.”
Along with that change came an awareness that happiness and satisfaction were not found in the latest “toy” or trip. Contentment was found in relationships, a spiritual life, and a connection with the greater world around me. Service was more satisfying than selfishness.
That is not to say that I became a co-dependent vessel of a person. I believe that my needs are just as important as anyone else’s in my family. Also, the move to “us” didn’t require that we all became clones of one another. I didn’t have to lose myself and blindly agree with those around me. However, I needed to respect their opinions and acknowledge that their thoughts were just as valid to them as mine were to me.
When our founders came to America, they accepted the harsh realities of a primitive existence because they wanted to gain something they felt was more important. For some, that something was the freedom to worship as they wished. Their individual beliefs were different than the mainstream beliefs in their native England.
The emphasis of individual rights has been a hallmark of our history, and we venerate individuals who, by their supposedly singular actions, have gained great wealth, status, and power. The past gave us icons like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison. More recently, we admire Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. We are taught that their individualism and focus made them wealthy, powerful, and successful. We somehow equate these characteristics with happiness. Of course, that is not the case. It is also not the case that these individuals were islands unto themself. For instance, Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb; he refined a device that had been worked on by almost two dozen other inventors. His real genius was his ability to market this idea. Bill Gates didn’t create MS-DOS (the precursor of Windows); he bought the code’s rights and then tweaked it. Some may argue that Mark Zuckerberg didn’t come up with the idea of Facebook; he likely appropriated the concept from fellow Harvard students, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Beyond these truths, all of these individuals’ real success was wholly dependent on the legions of others who offered their hard work, expertise, and opinion. We celebrate the individual, but we should be celebrating the team. Without the group, none of these superstars would have had the level of success that they did.
As Americans, we continue to be obsessed with influential individuals who, by their drive, live a life that most of us could only imagine having. Many of us want to be like these people, and we want to have what they have. When we can’t realize their status, we settle to connect with them by association. We join their ideological club, and we worship at their altar.
This focus on individualism without compassion has created a country of citizens who believe that the world is supposed to meet THEIR needs, celebrate THEIR ideas, and validate THEIR beliefs. They view life in terms of absolutes-winner vs. loser, black vs. white, good vs. evil. Life becomes a reality TV show where victory is achieved when the other person is destroyed and humiliated.
In such a scenario, morals and values become cliches, stage devices to justify real objectives. In such a world, global decisions are based on singular desires. We support actions that offer us a job now but destroy the environment for all in the future. We deny healthcare to our fellow citizens, so a relatively few insurance company stockholders can become more affluent. We denigrate individuals who we perceive as different from us to maintain a false sense of power and superiority. In the process of achieving these goals, we lose sight of the fact that we live in a society, and that societies function best when all members have a seat at the table.
I’m writing this the day after the first presidential debate of 2020. A discussion that celebrated tactics over substance, insults over content, and rage over rational. A debate of rude interruptions. A debate that was incoherent and useless to the viewer. A debate where lies were presented as fact. A debate where “winning” and embarrassing the opponent was more important than offering a vision for a future. It was a shameful event: a global embarrassment and a mockery of a process intended to educate and inform.
We will all vote as we see fit this November. However, I would ask you to consider what is best for our country, instead of what seems to be best for you. I pray for this.