The Deplorable Who Once Sat Next to Me

By David Adamson

Early most days I go to a nearby Starbucks. It’s a big store, with lots of seating. The choice seating if you’re alone is at one of the eight small tables arranged in a row along a faux-leather, padded bench.

Right after opening the crowd is sparse, but there’s always a cadre of regulars, mainly grey hairs who seek that padded bench. Through the years, I’ve formed what you might call a “coffee shop” friendship with some of them – we know enough about each other to ask a personal question like “How was your trip to the coast?” or “How’s that new knee working?”

David Adamson worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness. Learn more about David…

One regular I got to know was named Joe. He routinely came in about 15 minutes after me. He would search for a table with nobody next to him, then carefully unfold the local newspaper he brought clamped under his arm, and read it front to back as he sipped his coffee. Sometimes he would read silently at the table next to me if that was the only one left.

One day he sat down next to me, but instead of unfolding his newspaper, commented, “Manning could have used some blocking last night,” nodding towards my Bronco hat. After that, many conversations followed because he would sit next to me even if other tables were vacant. I learned he was a Pittsburgh Steeler fan because that’s where he was raised. Served in the Army. Got a degree in electronics on the GI Bill. Spent his career with AT&T traveling all over the world setting up transcontinental communications for big projects like ABC’s Wide World of Sports. In retirement, he kept busy wiring houses for Habitat for Humanity. Every few months he had to get shots in his eyes to slow the onset of glaucoma.

Our chats, though brief, were far-ranging – poisonous snakes, growing bluegrass in a desert, acrobatics, space travel, how to prevent ice dams. We never broached politics. The only hint I had ever heard of his political views was when he commented “those people in D.C. don’t have a clue what life is like out here in the West” in reference to Oregon needing more federal funding to fight fires.

The Wednesday morning after Trump won the election, I was in an ornery mood. From the morning of his pompous descent on the Trump Hotel escalator to announce his candidacy, I dreaded the possibility he could win. I was rattled that so many Americans could be fooled by such an obvious flimflam man.

As soon as Joe sat down, I bypassed our usual weather/sports pleasantries, and felt compelled to ask, “Joe, who’d you vote for?”

He smiled. “Trump. How about you?”

When I responded “Hillary Clinton,” he pulled his head back like he got whiff of feces. I continued, “Tell me it ain’t so. Why did you vote for him? Wow!”

“Honestly, I didn’t think much of either of them,” he confided. “But I couldn’t vote for Clinton. She belongs in prison.”

“Prison? For what?” Here it comes, I thought: Benghazi, classified documents on her private server, or fat bribes from Wall Street when she was a senator.

He hesitated, then answered, “Murder.”

I was stunned. “Murder? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Speaking in a low voice, as if this Starbucks was bugged, Joe explained the Clintons had been running a crime syndicate for decades. Politics was just an easy smokescreen. During the past 20 years, 42 people connected to the Clintons had died under very suspicious circumstances, like plane crashes and shootings. “Does the name Vince Foster ring a bell?” he asked.

“Yes, he killed himself.” I remembered the gist of the story from back in the 90s. Foster was a Clinton lawyer and family friend.

Joe shook his head. “Dave, that was no suicide. The media tried to sell that, and almost pulled it off, but no. There were two entry wounds. One in the mouth, one in the back of the head. Tell me how do you kill yourself with two shots to the head when you only need one?”

I couldn’t tell him how, so I asked why the Clintons wanted him dead. “Lots of reasons. He knew all the dirt, starting back in Arkansas with Whitewater. They say he had been messin’ around with Hillary. They found blonde hair on the body…”

“Joe, I find that hard to believe,” I interrupted. “Besides, it’s ancient history.”

“Believe it or not, it’s the truth. Listen to this. Right now, this very minute, they are involved in child sex trafficking. In New Jersey, they own a pizza business selling young girls to…”

I raised my hand, signaling him to stop. “I’ve heard enough. That’s ridiculous. Where do you get this crap?” I was so annoyed that I was looking at him as if he were an alien from outer space.

Judging by the look on his face, the feeling was mutual. His upper lip trembling slightly, he muttered, “It’s right there on the internet. Go look for yourself.” He turned away, unfolded his newspaper, and started reading.

Without another word, I got up and left. As soon as I got home, I Googled “Vince Foster.” Sure enough, multiple forensic investigations concluded Foster died from a single, self-inflicted wound. I intended to tell Joe that the next time I saw him.

But after that day, Joe never sat next to me again. It seems what happened between us almost two years ago is a national phenomenon.

I went on a reading binge in an attempt to understand this extreme polarization. My list included books such as Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Anderson, and Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg. However, none of these books, full of brilliant analysis, offered ideas on how to enlighten, convert or rescue Joe.

A month before the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton caused a firestorm with this comment: “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

She stopped before describing the other half. My guess it is all those Joe’s out there — those affable, well-intentioned, law-abiding folks who have lost their rational political minds and continue to support Trump. Having abandoned logic and empirical evidence, they cannot distinguish between the truth and manipulative, preposterous, exaggerated, fictitious, deceptive or fear-mongering lies.

Consequently, they are easily influenced by Russian trolls and extreme right wingers propagandizing from the Dark Web and major social media platforms. Upon reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first indictment, I got the chills realizing these destructive internet subversives, thousands of miles away, understood Joe better than I did.

No wonder our nation is in such a deplorable situation, and the table next to me in Starbucks is empty.

Why don’cha speak English?

By John Gascoyne

Politely stated, English is a polyglot language – a tongue derived from many sources, many parent tongues.

Less politely said, ours is a mongrel language, a convoluted bastard tongue resulting from someone doing a cannonball in the gene pool.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Thus, when someone archly asks, “Why don’cha speak English?” they are, however unknowingly, demanding you speak a tongue with deep roots in Spanish, Greek, Italian, German, French, Latin and, yes, the sometimes indecipherable English that is spoken in England. Other languages have contributed to the verbal and written stew.

Before the commie-crazed and hyper-religious days of Dwight D. Eisenhower, our nation’s motto was “E Pluribus Unum” – “From many comes one.” This original and still-beautiful motto speaks of a country populated by immigrants from many other nations coming together as one homogenized and functioning social entity. (For this discussion, we’ll stick with the Doris Day happy, happy view – and not talk about thousands of people who were kidnapped and brought here, the many thousands who originally owned the place and were largely subjugated after we got here.)

E Pluribus Unum could also be said fairly of the English language – one tongue born of a great many other tongues.

Try explaining this to a Bunny Bread-white person who is yelling at someone else: “Speak English, this is America and that’s the only language we allow.” The common Facebook rendering of such an encounter most often deals with someone having the audacity to speak Spanish in public. Speakers of other tongues, while less numerous, still have to deal with the same nonsense.

Perhaps an armchair trek around the country will reveal some reality problems in speaking the redneck conception of our common language. Let’s start with names in English – as spoken in the U.S. – that sound disturbingly Spanish.

If you live in Colorado, as too many of us do, you’re living in a state that, in pure American English, should be called Dark Red. Moving on, we learn that, properly, California needs to be called Lime Oven; Nevada – Snow-covered and Florida – Land of Flowers. The name of the state known as New Mexico comes from Nuevo Mexico, and Texas was originally a Native American name, later Hispanicized.

“We need to be able to stand next to someone being criticized for using their own beautiful native tongue, to put a hand on their shoulder and just stand there with them.”

Around the nation, there are many, many dozens of Spanish-named towns, cities, counties, islands, rivers, and lakes. If we decide to cater to the “pure” English aficionados, we’ll need to organize a great many re-naming committees. One of the most eye-catching changes will occur when the Sangre de Cristos Mountains become the Blood of Christ Mountains.

Recently, there have been instances of Native Americans using their own language and being chastised for not “speaking American.”

It would be nice to think that pointing out some of these realities to the haters would help them to shut the hell up. We’re beyond that. Thanks mostly to the loser of the popular vote, a scary percentage of our fellow Americans are caught in a downward spiral of mind-crippling fear. Unable to admit to or contend with that fear, their default position is to spew hate-filled vitriol.

We’ll either get over, through, and past this nonsense or we won’t. In the meantime, we need to be able to stand next to someone being criticized for using their own beautiful native tongue, to put a hand on their shoulder and just stand there with them.

 

The True Privileged Class

By Bear Gebhardt

I recently recognized that I am privileged—that most of us are privileged—in ways that our President is not. Such recognition of my own privilege helped me find more compassion for that underprivileged man.

Here’s how it happened: I recently found myself hooked on a very well-done, in-depth, four-part  Netflix documentary called, Trump: An American Dream.“   It’s a picture-window into his personal history (raised in a mansion in Queens),  his view of the world (“some people are predators, some are prey”), and his adult “deal-making” philosophy (“I win when you lose”).

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

Watching the last episode, it suddenly struck me how truly rich I am, and how impoverished, in very simple ways, this poor rich guy is. I saw how I often experience life’s authentic abundance in ways that in the long run truly matter, nourish and sustain not only me but those around me. I don’t own a private jet or a yacht or tropical island with servants requiring privacy fences. I have never talked with bankers about billion-dollar projects or loans.

Still, I’m rich, privileged.

Watching this documentary,  I recognized what riches my ordinary life offered that I would have missed if my destiny had been different.

And with such insight, I was also struck with what the “born rich,” and the famous and powerful, usually miss out on, if they are not careful.  To wit:

  • Our President has never in his life had the small but genuine privilege of remembering to take out the trash on trash night
  • I suspect this man has never been privileged to play, and laughed for hours, at a  nickel, dime and quarter poker game with old buddies—a carpenter, a metal worker, a plumber, and a college professor.

    Has Donald Trump ever had the privilege of weekly coffee chats with old geezers?

  • Our tea-totaling President never savors a nightcap, with an intriguing book and the approaching midnight hour
  • I suspect The Donald has never had the privilege of a shared laugh with his wife while the two of them made up the guest bed in their guest room on the morning before their guests arrive.
  • Has Mr. Trump ever had the privilege of writing a late-night haiku about the beauty of life, with the train whistle sound in the background?
  • This President has never had the victorious feeling of getting his backyard fountain to work again, with his own hands, his own shovel and electrical tape, after the fountain’s sudden and mysterious shutdown.

    Scrabble and potluck for Donald Trump–probably never.

  • Has Mr. Trump ever felt the privilege of getting an email from his favorite cousins, announcing they’ll be stopping to visit, just passing through?
  • Has our President ever known the privilege of discovering his favorite chocolates on a “two for one“ sale at his neighborhood store?
  • I suspect DT does not know the deeply enjoyable privilege of a monthly scrabble game and potluck with old friends
  • I suspect he has never had the privilege of a regular, once a week coffee chat with fellow geezers held at the local grocery deli.
  • Has he ever had the small joy of checking off the final item on the grocery list at the grocery store, heading for cashier?
  • Has he ever felt relief at discovering an empty check-out lane at the grocery store with the cashier waiting for the next customer?

    Writing a late-night haiku? Not a pleasure the president has likely ever done.

  • Does he know the modest comfort, gentle pleasure of seeing the “auto-deposit” of this month’s social security payment?
  • Does he know how satisfying it can be to empty the dishwasher?
  • I know this President has never been able to say, simply, “good night, love,” to his spouse of forty-five years as she goes one more night upstairs to their shared bedroom.

Watching the documentary, it was clear the man in the White House is not a man like most of us. His life experiences have deprived him of privileges that  98%, even 99% of the men on the planet share every day. Thus, his basic expectations are different. His reality, his priorities are different. He has never, I would wager, mowed his lawn.

Somehow, these insights helped ease my alienation. The America he wants to “make great again” is not the already-privileged life in America that I know and my buddies know, my family knows, that most of us know. He’s never, I would guess, had the privilege of taking out the trash.

Our simple daily pleasure, obligations, privileges are what make life in America, and on this planet, worth living. The privilege of laughing with our kids, our spouses, our neighbors, our long-term buddies. The privilege of making little things work again—the backyard fountain, an oven light, a garden gate.

What do you think? Take the short poll at the end of this article.

Rather than getting “the bigger picture,” it struck me we can find wisdom in getting the “smaller picture.” What’s really important? The relationships we have with the people under the same roof. The relationships we have with people we have worked with, been in business with. The trust we have in each other. Trust that we are, at root, looking out for each other.

Which we are. A long, happy life has convinced me of this: we do indeed look out for each other, when we can, where we can, as a basic life value. This is true “privilege.”

We don’t need, as our President has insisted, a “killer instinct” to get along, to get ahead. “Ahead” meaning more love in our lives, more peace, more good-will and happy camaraderie. Even if we should be President of the United States, if we have not love, have not peace, have not humor, and the simple privileges of life, what have we?

Sometimes, it’s useful for ordinary, everyday people to talk to each other, remind each other, about ordinary things, and what makes life worth living. What makes this life truly privileged. This seems to be one of those times.

Born in the USA

By Mary Roberts

I lay on my yoga mat in savasana, the sweat dripping in my right ear. The teacher walks around with lavender-infused cold face cloths she places in our open palms. I put it on my forehead, covering my eyes. I feel the tears well up. No one knows that I’m crying. Hot yoga makes us all look like we’re weeping.

Mary Roberts is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Click here to learn more about her…

My mind can’t settle. Trump had just declared the worse dictator in the world to be his bestie and, despite his abhorrence at ripping children from their parents’ arms, said he had to do it because the Democrats made him. Earlier, he had disrespected our oldest and most loyal allies, flipping them off as he ran away from any serious trade discussion or relationship-building, something an ignorant dictator would do.

I feel sick, like I can’t breathe, and think it must be the heat in the room or the high humidity, old memories of Boston summers when even the breezes from the ocean couldn’t dissipate the oppression we all felt, lying still and spent on the front lawn.

I don’t know why I’m crying—is it a sense of hopelessness? A sense of overwhelming disappointment in the GOP? I read that it’s now called The Cult of Trump, formerly known as the GOP. Is it helplessness in the face of 24 hours a day of lies, stupidity and Nazi-like adherence to a hate-filled agenda? Or is it that I can no longer talk to people I know who are Trump supporters? They smile at me and say that I’m just mad we lost.  I want to punch them.

Lying there, I feel like a loved one has died. Someone larger than life, someone I didn’t even know that I loved.

How some people feel about the state of America today: Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. Click here to learn more about the scene and to watch a video of it.

It dawns on me that it’s my country I’m grieving.

I’ve been fighting with it for so long (I’m a flower child from the 60s) that even when Obama arrived with hope and change, I was hesitant to expose my heart to a country that had for so long denied its culpability for the continued violence against minorities, had never apologized for its vicious treatment of native Americans, its misogyny, its hate of LBGTQ, its warmongering for oil, etc., etc. It took a couple of years and some changes, but I grew proud of where my country was headed, who we were aspiring to be. I was a little giddy with the beginnings of a nascent love.

What do you think? Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

And then it left me. My country turned and without even a “see ya’ around” changed into a stranger with no morals, no compassion, no idea of what the Constitution and the Rule of Law means. Now it’s just another business meant to keep the richest happy and the poorest miserable because, after all, it’s their fault.

I want to love my country and perhaps that means you and I do something together.

We must fight back and shout “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore” from the rooftops, like Howard Beale in the film classic Network. We must call our Congresspeople. I call Colorado Senator Cory Gardner four times a week and tell him to find his cojones and speak up. Don’t swear on the messages, though. They’ll delete them.

We need to call everyone we know for the next few months and tell them to vote in the mid-term elections. Leave that message all over social media. Make sure all newly-minted voters vote.

It means we must financially support groups that are trying to help the immigrants, like The Florence Project and Catholic Charities. We must give money to the ACLU so we can sue the entire Trump administration for being idiots who circumvented the Rule of Law. We must attend protests whenever and wherever they’re held.

We need to talk to people about what’s happening and if they say, “I can’t hear anymore,” we’re polite but we insist on it. This is too important. I’ve heard that we should talk to Trump voters, but I can’t. They’ll say something about a few more meager dollars in their paycheck or new manufacturing jobs or how the other countries have treated us like a cash cow. I don’t have time for them. There are more of us than them. Frankly, I think they secretly hope we can stop this madness, but they don’t know how to get out of the cult.

The yoga room has cooled off and I get up to leave.  I almost didn’t come to class, seeking to wallow at home in my own impotence and righteous anger. Maybe the first thing we ought to do is take care of ourselves with yoga, a massage, or a walk in the woods with a goofy terrier. I’m feeling better, but my heart is still too tender to test it by checking my news feed and finding new horrors that the Trump administration has concocted in the last hour.

I turn on Pandora and listen to the old protest songs of the 60s. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come:

“There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”

I sing along. I remember. I’m ready. Again.

 

Learn more:

June 28, 2018: Immigrant children are appearing in court alone.

June 30: ACLU says government wrong to detain families.

June 30: As masses of Americans gather to protest, Trump golfs and blames the Democrats for immigration policy.

Trump’s ICE Agents Break At Least Four Ten Commandments By Stealing Kids

Trump’s immigration agents should disobey orders to tear families apart

 By Bear Gebhardt

Conservatives and liberals quickly agree (though for different reasons) that our current immigration system is badly broken.

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Bear Gebhardt is a writer living in Colorado. Learn more about him…

There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrant workers and their families living in the United States. Sixty percent of them have been here for 10 years or more, and 3.6 million of them arrived here before their eighteenth birthday. (The average “Dreamer” was six years old when she or he was first brought to the United States.)

The current United States immigration system offers no reasonable, safe, easy, or fair path for these workers to obtain the documents they desperately need to continue working. For instance, a significant number of these undocumented workers—somewhere between 35 percent and 50 percent—at one time had viable work permits, but were forced to overstay their visas because our current regime does not recognize their brick and mortar value to the economy. Again, the system is broken, on both ends. Most everybody agrees. It needs to be fixed.

In the meantime, just how broken it is can be seen by the recent push to enforce the “letter of the law” of this broken system.  Recent actions by the agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency puts a majority of these agents in the extremely immoral position of being ordered to break at least four of the Ten Commandments. Even more importantly (if that’s possible), it makes these U.S. agents vulnerable to being personally charged under international laws first established at Nuremberg.

Obviously, the Ten Commandments give us at least a  basic hint of what moral and immoral action has meant to human beings over the past many millennia.  Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, writes, “there are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run contrary to the proper nature of human beings. . . these are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow human being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain, that is wrong.”

So, what are the ICE agents doing wrong?

 “Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother” is a cross-cultural moral injunction going back at least 3,000 years, with evidence of 5,000, even 10,000 years and more. Honoring the family structure recognizes these fundamental relationships as true, necessary and irreplaceable for human health and survival.

Blitzer-FamilySeparation

Under its zero-tolerance policy, the Trump Administration has taken more than 2,000 children away from their immigrant families in the last two months. Photograph from The New Yorker and by John Moore / Getty.

When ICE agents follow orders to remove children from their parents and place these children into warehouses, warehouses with cages, these agents are breaking a fundamental moral human law that goes back millennia. They could be, and should be, held accountable.

 “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Stealing children from their parents and stealing parents from their children must surely be recognized as one of the most horrific thefts possible. This is true even if some local warlord or bureaucratic regulation makes such child theft temporarily “legal” in that particular part of the jungle, that part of the world. Again, thou shalt not steal is a moral law that goes back millennia. When ancient kings wanted to torture their enemies, they stole their children.

Thou Shalt Not Lie (Bear False Witness.).” When ICE agents tell the parents and the children, as they do, that this is only a temporary condition and that it will be over soon, they know—and the parents know—that this is a lie. Being “ordered” to lie does not change a lie into a truth. The agents are lying, and they know they are lying. Because of the backlog caused by recent crackdowns, undocumented workers arrested in the U.S. are now held for weeks, months, even years. “It will be over soon” is a lie.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” We don’t know how many physical deaths are caused directly by ICE Agents “following orders,” since such statistics are not kept, or at least made public. We do know that high-speed chases, dangerous terrain and inhumane smuggling tactics have led to thousands of immigrant deaths. Can ICE agents be held directly responsible for this? Hardly, and yet they are part of a system—following orders in a system—which does lead directly to such human suffering.

And certainly their actions have led to the “deaths” of the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people. Jesus said, “If you just think of committing this sin, you are doing it.” His understanding was that inflicting mental “death” should be seen as real as physical actions leading to death.   

“Do not Put Any Other Gods in Place of Me.” ICE agents are required to put the ICE system, procedures, rules and behavior ahead of—in place of—their own inner moral compass. There may be a few—a very rare few—ICE agents who experience a perverted personal pleasure at the wailing of children and pleading of parents as they “follow orders” to enforce the regulations of the broken immigration system. But we have to assume, just because we know the ICE agents are human, that most of these agents feel deep angst and sorrow as the results of being forced to follow such orders.

And this brings us to the Nuremburg Trials—those trials which were held at the end of World War II to judge those who had been participants in the horrors of both mass incarceration and mass extermination. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Laureate who helped bring down the Soviet Regime by documenting the horrors of the Gulag, considered the Nuremburg Trials as one of the highest expressions of human moral evolution.

“Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.”

It was at the Nuremburg Trials that the international standard was established: “Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.” Even more importantly, it established that there are in fact immoral actions that we, as human beings, in every part of the globe, recognize as being, indeed, truly immoral.

What ICE agents are currently doing with our broken immigration system is wrong. They know it, when they go home to their families at night. We know it, when we read about it online and in our daily newspapers.

What can we do about it? Speak out, like we are doing here in this essay (please share). And let all of our ICE agents know we support them when they refuse to follow immoral orders.

Conservatives and liberals can agree: We don’t want another cause for Nuremberg Trials, here after the current administration has ceased to rule. The immigration system we now have is broken, does not work. Let’s not make a false god of this broken system.

Learn more:

 

 

We Are So Mad!

By Alan Vitello

I Was So Mad!

That’s the name of the 1983 children’s book by author and illustrator Mercer Mayer. It is a great book that features Mayer’s recurring character, Little Critter. The book was one of our son’s favorite back in the days when we read to him at bedtime.

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

In the story, Little Critter is mad…really MAD…at everything and everyone: his little sister, mom, dad, grandparents, the fact he can’t draw on the walls or play with his sister’s toys—you name it…he is MAD!  He’s sooooooo mad, in fact, that he decides to run away.

Back in the days of bedtime reading, little did I suspect I Was So Mad would turn out to be much more than a favorite book. Now, It seems like the saying “I Was So Mad” is standard operating procedure for our society in this age of digital media, social media, and the dreaded “fake news.”

As I started to write this article, I Googled, “Outrage Fatigue.” That’s a real thing. It basically means we are so outraged by the continual and seemingly never-ending stream of news stories or social media posts that we simply can’t be outraged anymore.

With apologies to readers who may get outraged by the use of acronyms, I call this condition Chronic Outrage Syndrome (COS). Here’s the thing, our entire modern society is awash in outrage. We are outraged by a countless number of things every day. We are so outraged by so many things—in this hyper-partisan and politically fractured era in which we find ourselves living—that outrage is actually becoming our normal way of seeing the world.

Never read the book I Was So Mad? Now’s your chance. View the short video at the end of this article.

Another serious toxic societal disease that has befallen us: Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). It means we are easily distracted by whatever shiny object (or news story or social media post) that happens to catch our eye at any given moment. We are completely fascinated with that object…until the next shiny object comes along.

Mercer Mayer created this lovable anthropomorphic “Little Critter” character resembling a cross between porcupine, hamster, hedgehog, and guinea pig. The first time the public saw Little Critter was in Mayer’s 1975 book Just for You.

Often, COS and SOS skip along together, gleefully grasping each other’s nefarious hands.

When that fevered frenzy besets us, our thumbs usually go into overdrive texting and twittering and posting, responding to an offending Facebook or Twitter post or news story. Our goal: responding with a level of bile and vitriol commensurate, and usually beyond, the level of the offending words.

We become immersed in accusations, recriminations, finger-pointing, name-calling and all manner of ad hominen attacking, just to prove the thing that set us off is totally and completely wrong, that the doofus who made the original post is a complete irredeemable dunderhead, and too stupid to recognize just how stupid he, or she, really is.

Example: Remember the London attack in March 2017 when a terrorist drove a car onto the sidewalk of Westminster Bridge outside of the House of Parliament, mowing down 40 people, five of whom were killed?

A bystander whipped out his selfie stick, while on Westminster Bridge, and snapped a picture of himself as first responders were responding? Remember him? You don’t remember? Click here and you’ll find an article about Selfie Guy caught by someone else’s camera.

Social media went wild, 300,000 comments calling him “The Worst Human EVER!” and other nasty names. (Gee. The worst human EVER! Now that’s something—there have been some pretty bad humans.)

Remember to take the short poll at the end of this article, please.

Anyway, I’ll bet—since we’ve been bombarded with endless “worst ever” incidents since then—that you have forgotten how mad you were when you read about the Selfie Guy. I have.

The outrage against Selfie Guy had absolutely no context. Based on that one image of him, it’s impossible to tell what he was actually photographing. Himself? The crowd? First responders? Or trying to see above the crowd? We don’t know. Nor do we know who he is or, why he was there, or if he had a relationship to the victim or police. Was he a journalist? A witness? In shock? Nothing. But it was the perfect storm for COS and SOS. There was worldwide shiny outrage…until the next outrage came along.

It’s time for us as a society to grow up, to grow out of being “the Outrage Generation.” It’s time we stop (as my, now, all grown-up, son would say), being “butt-hurt about everything.” We need to cure ourselves of the twin evils of COS and SOS before it’s too late.

Mercer Mayer’s popular I Was So Mad book show’s how Little Critter’s family says no to everything he wants to do, including keeping frogs in the tub, angering Little Critter. He announces his intention to run away, a vow that only lasts until his pals show up and ask him to play baseball with them. The book is an excellent exploration of the emotion of anger and appropriate behaviors and responses—something many of us can benefit from nowadays.

Nonetheless, we continue using COS and SOS to poison our own the well where our critical thinking is stored. We lustily continue gulping every drop of poisoned water. It’s slowly killing. We are slowly killing us.

Here’s the really crazy, crazy thing: We don’t have to drink the poison. Evolution has made us smart. We have big brains and, generally speaking, those big brains have served us very well.

Here’s my advice on how to keep the COS and SOS poison out of our lives:

View ideas and opinions (and even scenarios like Selfie Guy) as if they are little pieces of colored glass inside a kaleidoscope. Hold them up to a light. Turn the kaleidoscope ‘round and ‘round and watch the colored pieces continually rearrange themselves in patterns. And consider: there are many, many ways to look at the same pieces of colored glass, or the same bits of information, as the light passes through them.

Let’s try looking at the arrangements of others without pre-judging before we ever set an eye on the universal kaleidoscope of our own lives. Let’s learn to talk about those arrangements and our own arrangements in reasonable, rational, and respectful ways. Let’s find the context, the backstory, the picture behind the picture. Let’s discover why they’re arranged as they are.

Most importantly let’s allow ourselves to put our big brains to work. Outrage without context is just another shiny object, another distraction, another gulp from a poisoned well.

Let’s keep away from COS, SOS and the poison. Let’s not be Little Critter.

 

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Watch this 9-minute reading of I Was So Mad:

 

The Fault in Our NFL Stars

By David Adamson

While channel-surfing the night before Super Bowl 52 early in February, I happened upon the movie “Concussion,” a biopic about Dr. Bennet Omalu. He’s the neuropathologist who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) while performing a post-mortem on the brain of a 50-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2002. For some reason, the movie made me remember Charlie Tolar.

David Adamson worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness. Learn more about David…

In the hot summer of 1963, a few times a week I’d drive to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, to study football. The quiet campus might seem an unlikely place to do that being it was a tiny, academically oriented liberal arts school with a football program still running the antiquated Single-wing. However, that July it was the site of the American Football League’s Houston Oilers pre-season training camp.

The highlight of my education was to witness Charlie Tolar, the 5’6″, 210 lb. fullback, run the notorious Oklahoma Drill, the basic test of football cajones. A ball runner, behind a blocker, faces a defensive player waiting a few yards away. On a coach’s signal, the blocker tries to open a hole for the runner, while the defender tries to shed the block and tackle the runner. The players are confined in a narrow space between dummies so hard contact is guaranteed.

In those days, security and crowds weren’t issues as they are today, enabling me to get close to the action. At the time I was a 5’7”, 150 lb. high school football player. Tolar was one of my heroes. With teen naivety, I dreamed by doing enough calisthenics and drinking four egg milkshakes, I’d develop Tolar’s battle tank physique (it didn’t work).

Tolar was nick-named the Human Bowling Ball because of a strange quirk for an offensive back—often he didn’t try to elude tacklers. Instead, he would put his head down and run right at them. He used his head as a weapon.

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Because Tolar ran so low to the ground in the Oklahoma Drill, when the taller tacklers got low to stop him, their plastic Ridell helmets would crack so loudly you would blink, then he’d sprint away. Other would-be tacklers tried to straighten him up with a forearm shiver to his face, only to find his helmet attacking their ribs, groin, or solar plexus. Again unstopped, Tolar would trot back with blood dripping from his nose onto his powder blue practice jersey.

Charlie Tolar

Back then, the only face protection worn by running backs was two bars to prevent their teeth from getting knocked out. Noses were expendable, as were most other body parts.

Tolar epitomized his generation of pro players (including my brother, another of my football heroes). Their game was more physical, untamed, and merciless.

Between then and now, the NFL game morphed from sport to spectacle, and the league into a wealthy corporate brand starring very elite athletes who compete in a game that is, as one sportswriter described, “regimented and stylized violence.”

Today’s NFL players are bigger, faster, and stronger due to year around training guided by state-of-the-art exercise and nutrition science. They enjoy more protection: faces shielded by cages or plexiglass; knees fortified with braces; ribs, kidneys, necks, hands, and elbows padded with the same advanced materials used by soldiers in combat.

Dr. Bennet Omalu

These players are too expensive to risk unnecessary injury. The average NFLer ’s career is already down to 3.3 years. The league has banned the most punishing old-school techniques like clotheslining, forearm shivers, low cut blocks, leg whips, blindsides, and crack backs that fractured ankles, knees, and sometimes necks in the good old days. And, no surprise, the Oklahoma Drill is near extinct at NFL most practices.

However, despite all these safeguards, as Dr. Omalu revealed, football remains 100-percent risky for anyone who plays it due to a thorny physics problem—there is no way to protect a player’s brain. Helmets only protect the skull. The brain is three pounds of tissue which is mainly water and has the consistency of jello. The incredible forces generated by NFL’s superb athletes in those breathtaking collisions ends up working against them. Although all their other highly conditioned body parts may be able to abruptly decelerate and safely absorb the shocks, the brain’s momentum is not slowed until it bounces against the inside of the skull. (To fully grasp what happens then, see this presentation by Eric Blackman of the University of Rochester.)

When Dr. Omalu, a Nigerian immigrant, presented his troubling findings to the NFL, the league first tried to demonize him as an ignorant, foreign non-fan and have him ousted from the medical profession. However, as more neurologists, including some NFL team doctors, studied his evidence, they concurred.

So did the NFL Players Association. Players suspected something was going wrong before CTE had a name. Too many veterans, even young ones, were experiencing medical symptoms like headaches, dizziness, memory loss, anxiety, depression or, worse, exhibiting bizarre behaviors—spousal abuse, random outbursts of aggression, and suicide. (Worth noting: Dr. Omalu suspects OJ Simpson’s criminal behavior might be due to CTE.)

Reacting to the backlash from players (including a lawsuit), fans, and TV sponsors, the NFL has taken steps to reduce brain injuries. The NFL’s official website reports:

The NFL has made 47 rule changes since 2002 to protect players, improve practice methods, better educate players and personnel on concussions and strengthen the league’s medical protocols. The NFL deploys 29 medical professionals on the sidelines for each game. Working with the NFL Players Association, the league enforces a concussion protocol for players that has been instrumental in immediately identifying and diagnosing concussions and other head-related injuries.

A concussion protocol is better than nothing, but not much. Other than rest, there is no definitive medical treatment for a concussion.

Unfortunately, Dr. Omalu suspects repeated hits to the head, whether or not they result in a concussion, cause brain damage. There is no way to determine whether a player or veteran has CTE without microscopic examination of the brain post-mortem. It is to difficult to diagnosis in a living subject because CTE shares symptoms common to a host of other brain diseases. What is most insidious about CTE is that it seems to be a chronic, progressive disease. It can take years, even decades, to manifest itself.

For the NFL, CTE remains a brand-threatening morale and PR problem that just won’t go away. More and more parents, including NFL players, don’t want their kids to play football. Fans’ ardor for the game might cool knowing their entertainment might cause their heroes lose their minds.

Last year, University of Boston researchers examined 111 brains of deceased NFL players which had been donated by their families. A shocking 110 indicated CTE. That, of course, was a biased sample. Probably not every former NFL player has it, or if they do, will ever exhibit symptoms. As yet, there is no empirically quantified risk profile of whom, and how many, will develop it. But clearly playing football is a roll of the dice in high stakes game of brain roulette. Some players are lucky, others are not.

On Super Bowl Sunday, I sat before the TV to root for the underdog Eagles, concerned they had a big challenge to overcome. Superstar Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had suffered a concussion just a couple weeks before in the playoffs, had miraculously recovered. In compliance with the NFL’s concussion protocol, “independent neurological consultants” cleared him to play.

Artwork that accompanied the New York Daily News’ 2017 four-part series on CTE and the fate of football.

Early in the second quarter, Patriots receiver Brandon Cooks took a vicious hit to his head, leaving him sprawled motionless on the astroturf. As medical staff gathered around him, the TV network cut away for ads. Waiting for the game to resume, I Googled Charlie Tolar on my iPad to find out what became of him.

Turns out Charlie Tolar died of cancer in 2003 at age 65. When he wasn’t playing pro football, he worked for Red Adair, the famous Texan who traveled around the world with a crack team to extinguish and cap dangerous out of control oil well fires. Among the many remembrances of Tolar was this from a fan who fondly recalled seeing him:

“…hit helmet to helmet with a defender in a college game. Both busted their helmets, both went down hard. Charlie was up and back in the huddle as if nothing happened. They carried the other guy off the field.”

Among those who knew him personally, nobody hinted he had any post-football cognitive problems. I hope he was one of the lucky ones.

 

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