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triumph

Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog

 

It’s happened. Presidential debates, at least on the Republican side, have descended to the level of a reality TV show. In last night’s forum, I was waiting for someone to throw a chair or a punch in the best traditions of  a Jerry Springer episode, or for Donald Trump to tell his opponents they were fired. Instead, he only conjured up vulgarities.

 

Granted, the Republican field was pretty crowded this year (seventeen candidates), and it’s hard to be heard in a crowd without some shouting and grandstanding. But the candidacy and rise of Donald J. Trump has taken the discourse to new lows. Regardless, or more likely as a result, he has a massive following which no doubt reflects the mindless, media-muddled attention span of the electorate and the general dumbing down of society. People are following his Carnival Candidacy like sheep to the slaughter, so I’ll say what others hesitate to: voters are being careless in supporting Trump. The fact is that he is vying for one of the most important jobs in the world, and with his childish attitudes and demeanor he couldn’t even pass an interview at McDonalds. I understand people are frustrated and mad at Washington gridlock, but gridlock is preferable to chaos. It is a check against extremism and often prevents us from making bad mistakes. President Trump would be a big one.

 

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Trump, the Insult Candidate

 

In Thursday night’s debate, Trump referred to his opponents as “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted.” Can you imagine Hillary Clinton calling Bernie Sanders “Comrade Sanders” or even “Colonel Sanders?” It would be shocking, yet we have come to accept this childishness from Candidate Trump. It’s entertaining, like a sit-com. Criticize the Democratic candidates for their policies or pasts if you will, but at least they have substance and class. Their discourse doesn’t look like a high-school debate practice. Trump stands on the stage imperiously like a schoolyard bully, throwing taunts and deflecting criticism of his empty statements with well-practiced arrogance and bombast. He hurls invective like Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, pooping on his opponents (to borrow a Triumph catch phrase). His temperament is inappropriate for the office he is seeking and is beneath the dignity of a world leader. While I recognize that many people like him for this unorthodox brashness and willingness to say whatever is on his mind, is this really a quality we want in a president? Do you think for a minute he would hold his insults back from the leaders of Russia, Iran or North Korea? When George W. Bush called these countries the “Axis of Evil” it caused an uproar, but Trump would be criticizing Putin’s pecs, Khamenei’s headdress and Kim Jong-Un’s hair (some irony there, to be sure). The more disturbing thing about bullying and insults is that they are usually practiced because the perpetrator doesn’t have anything more intelligent to say.

 

Trump may seem like a regular guy who “tells it like it is,” and this is a refreshing change from the scripted, on-message politicians we’re accustomed to. But the race for the presidency is not an episode of Survivor. There’s quite a bit more at stake, and the childishness, inflexibility and lack of depth that Trump is exhibiting now is not limited to the primaries. He would behave the same way in office, and I don’t want a president who calls his critics and other world leaders names like a two-year-old. Strength and toughness is admirable, but in Trump’s case it is packaged with far too many negatives.

 

The presidency requires one to be diplomatic, measured and adult. One must respond, not react. Trump has shown time and again – as in every debate – that he cannot do this. He lashes out the minute he is criticized, because in his mind he is beyond reproach. No one does things better than him, as is evident by his constant bragging and generous use of superlatives when he speaks of his supposed accomplishments or abilities (given this nature, it is highly likely that most of his accomplishments are grossly exaggerated). He does this so much that it’s tempting to start believing his own false narrative. When something is repeated often enough, it can become indistinguishable from the truth. In this sense, he is a very dangerous leader who could easily convince people of atrocious and extremist positions (he has already started down this path with his denigration of entire classes of people. With Hitler it was Jews and gays, with Trump it’s Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants). An electorate usually gets the leaders it deserves.

 

If you’re entertained by Trump, great. Go watch The Apprentice. But don’t reward him with a seat in the Oval Office. Distinguish strength from bullying, frankness from insult, and reality from fantasy. Vote for an adult.

Merge starts with ME

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Back when I learned how to drive (which wasn’t all that long ago), there was a maneuver called merging into traffic. When you were on a highway entrance ramp, you would adjust your speed as you neared the end of the ramp in order to enter the flow of traffic safely and courteously. Have you noticed that hardly anyone does this any more? You are much more likely to see a hurried driver barrel onto the highway without making any effort to assess the flow of traffic: “Woo hoo! Here I come! Get the hell out of my way!” These drivers put the responsibility on existing traffic to get out of their way, when in fact it is supposed to be just the opposite. When we join a preexisting group or conversation or flow of traffic, we wait our turn for others to welcome us.

Bad merge manners are such a common occurrence that I wondered if perhaps the rules of the road had changed over the years and no one told me (just like many have not been properly informed about the new “move over” laws). So, I consulted the 2015 edition of my state’s driver’s manual, and here’s what it says:

Whenever you want to change lanes, you must check that there are no vehicles in your way in the lane you want to enter . . . changing lanes includes: moving from one lane to another, merging onto a roadway from an entrance ramp, and entering the roadway from the curb.

Drivers are further advised to look over their shoulder when merging. Ha! When is the last time you saw someone do that while entering the highway? It’s so quaint that it conjures up images of ’60s housewives in the family car craning their necks while backing up (think Samantha Stephens in Bewitched, even though she could get by with ignoring the rules of the road)

So what are we to make of this change in habit, and when did it happen? Is it a result of technologically advanced vehicles and safer roadway design, or is it just another instance of modern rudeness and lack of consideration for others? Is it confined to the younger generation, which doesn’t have the patience for such nonsense as old-fashioned courtesy, or has the older generation also succumbed to the rudeness of their younger counterparts?

I drive sixty highway miles a day, and pass twenty-six entrance ramps along the way. The large majority of the time, drivers enter the highway without looking. I know this, because frequently I have to move over to avoid hitting them. I shouldn’t have to. I know that drivers violate minor rules of the road all the time, but this particular issue irks me because I see it as symbolic of something that has been happening gradually over the years: a growing lack of consideration for others and an attitude of entitlement that says life is all about me.

I was in the grocery store earlier today, another area where people have to share a congested space, and observed a slightly overweight younger woman in one of the store’s motorized carts. Did she need it? I don’t know, but let’s assume she did. She was driving it as if she were on a golf course and not in the narrow confines of a grocery store, talking on her cell phone all the while and also shouting instructions to her friend who was two aisles over. A trifecta of rudeness! Did she consider that perhaps even one of these obnoxious activities might be annoying the people around her? Who cares? It’s all about me!

Maybe manners should be taught in school, because they clearly aren’t being learned in homes like they used to. Does each generation really get ruder and less considerate of others? It’s a frightening thought. Has this been going on for over a century, and how long can it last? All I know is that if I were whisked back in time to 1915, they would probably consider me an appalling boor.

The Shrinking Teens

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They should call this decade the Shrink Years, and I don’t mean the kind that makes you lie on a couch – though we all may be needing of one of those soon. Have you noticed that everything is getting smaller? Five pound bags of dog food are now 4.4 pounds. Half gallons of ice cream, which hardly exist any more, went from 64 ounces to 56 ounces to 48. Coffee, which used to come in a one pound (16-ounce) can, is now 13 ounces. So we can’t even use the words “half gallon” and “pound” to refer to our favorite products any more. It won’t be long before we can’t call a big bottle of soda a “2-liter.” Everything from a loaf of bread to crackers to the number of pages in your favorite magazine or newspaper has gotten smaller. Which means, of course, that everything is costing us more, as much as product manufacturers would have us believe otherwise. That box of Kleenex? It started out at 200 per box, and is now down to 160, or 20% less. You’re going to need to buy another box a lot sooner than you used to.

Manufacturers have all kinds of tricks to keep you from noticing these changes. One of their favorites is to change the shape of an item (especially bottles) or the way it’s packaged so you don’t notice that it got smaller. They’ll spin these changes as exciting and improved, when they’re anything but. Sometimes they introduce a product enhancement at the same time they shrink the product in an attempt to distract you. If you notice a package or feature change, be suspicious. They’ll also gradually raise the price of the (now smaller) product and then put it on “sale,” which means you’re really paying the regular price when it’s “on sale” – no, wait, you’re actually paying more, because it’s smaller. See how that works? They’ve shrunk the size and charged you more! Double play!

The few products that haven’t succumbed to this trend boast their bona fides on their labels: “Still 18 ounces!” Peanut butter manufacturers tried this for a while, but eventually caved. They’re now 16 ounces. You’d be hard-pressed to find a consumable item in your home that hasn’t been reduced in size in recent years.

Added to the fact that we now get less in just about everything we buy is the widespread incidence of declining wages. The same game of “less is more” goes on in the workplace, too, so we’re getting it on both ends. Most big companies have found clever ways to pay their people less and take away benefits they used to enjoy. Job titles are eliminated and new ones invented, forcing people to “step up” to a new position that looks an awful lot like the old one, except it involves more work for the same (or sometimes less) pay. The alternative? “Voluntarily” step down and accept a pay cut. Long term (read: high-paid) employees are given good reason to want to leave because to stay means swallowing a lot of self esteem by sticking with a company that basically abuses you. Thank you, sir, may I have another? Companies know people have few choices since they’ll face the same abuse elsewhere. What’s a self-respecting employee to do? What’s even more insulting is that companies usually spin the changes as beneficial to the employee! They figure their workforce is not only desperate, but dumb, too.

Companies also prefer new (read: younger) employees because they don’t know, like the older folks do, how much better things used to be. The newbies don’t know that they’re now being asked to do the same amount of work that used to be done by two (or more) people, so they probably won’t complain or be disgruntled. They don’t fully realize what a stressful, multi-tasking hell they’re stepping in to. To them, it’s just the way things are, and probably always have been. Does this mean they’re not as affected by it all as someone like myself, who lived through the much more prosperous and easy-going ’80s and ’90s? Yes, to some extent. The new generation pays the price without knowing it, whereas I pay it and know it. Ignorance is bliss. We both pay, but it’s so much worse to know you’re getting a raw deal. It’s hard to not feel taken advantage of, to not lose faith. We may not be living in a depression, but the past decade has felt pretty depressing to me. We’ve suffered a persistent, gradual shrinking, a taking away, one that slowly nickels and dimes you, hoping you won’t notice. But when you add it all up, much has been lost.

Cell drone

cellphoneIt’s time to stop calling cell phones “phones.” Sure, there are those who aren’t happy unless they are blathering endlessly at every conceivable moment – you can spot (and hear) these oh-my-god-I-can’t-be-alone-for-five-minutes chatterboxes in checkout lines, in waiting rooms,  and at symphonies and funerals – but for most flesh and blood humans, making and receiving calls is not the main use of their device. They’re cameras. They’re mp3 players. They’re compasses. They’re televisions. Not too many years ago, a multifunction device like this was called a PDA, or personal digital assistant. That seems a much more appropriate, all-encompassing term for a gadget that does everything but iron my pants (though maybe if I left it out in the sun long enough . . .) Let’s bring that acronym back, because, just like same-sex couples who struggled for years to find an appropriate word for their significant other and finally settled on “spouse,” “husband,” or “wife,” sometimes the original way is best. And while we’re at it, can we update those “FOOD – PHONE – GAS – LODGING” signs along the highway? You have a better chance of finding a Howard Johnson’s – or Howard Johnson himself – off the highway than you do a pay phone. And besides, you could always borrow the phone in the car behind you. Just pull over, get out, and adapt the hitchhiker’s sign by extending your pinky as well as your thumb and hold your hand up to your ear. Someone will stop. Of course, they’d have to get off the phone first.

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My call is really important to you? Funny, I didn’t feel very special when I was on hold for five minutes while a computer assured me every thirty seconds how important I am. In fact, I felt a little – I don’t know – like when I was two and the doctor told me that needle the length of my arm wouldn’t hurt. Why not be honest and have the recording say, “We don’t really care enough about you or your problem to devote appropriate human resources to handling your call. Try sending us an email and we’ll get back to you in a few days if we’re not too terribly busy.” Some companies have even taken to dissuading customers properly right up front by telling them, “your wait time is ten minutes.” Ten minutes? Does anyone really wait that long? Anyone with a life? I’d hate to be taking that call. Why not just take a cue from most online retailers and not even provide a customer service phone number? At least they’re honest about not wanting to talk to pesky customers or listen to their stupid problems. They just send them to a dizzying array of FAQs and help forums and the dreaded “knowledge base” to force them to help themselves until they’re so bewildered that even they don’t want to deal with their problem. It almost makes you long for an India help center. You could be rude as hell to those people and they’d treat you with Gandhi-like respect while you made them repeat everything they said three times. At least there was always the thrill that one of them might crack and tell you where to stick it, just like that doctor’s needle. But that’s what spurned telemarketers are for.

Faded Glory

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I stand alone in a tranquil sea,

weary witness to a forgotten land

strewn with golf balls, abandoned vehicles and dusty sand,

barren, rough-hewn, this I command,

on a bleak and blustery afternoon,

silent sentinel of the promised land.

 

Reliving fame and glory past,

my closeup, when glistening eyes were cast

on two brave men of the postwar age

who propped me up so I wouldn’t flop

on the Times front page in a photo-op.

 

Now I blend with the view

as I blanched o’er the years,

a black and white relic of past frontiers;

my red for valor, and freedom’s blue,

just a ghostly pallor, turned a pale-white hue.

 

Little has changed in this airless dearth,

though they sent their cameras to check my berth,

to glimpse the glory left behind.

I’m praised by words on a nearby plaque

that trumpet my worth but reflect the sun back,

rendering me blind:

 

“Here men from the planet Earth

first set foot upon the Moon.

We came in peace for all mankind.”

 
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