Sunday, March 29, 2020

Dispatches from the Trenches

After three weeks of coronavirus self-quarantine, I ventured out to buy medicine and food. The streets had a third of their normal traffic. I hadn’t wanted to go out but mail-order prescriptions weren’t an option despite my repeated online enrollment attempts and no one at the pharmacy would answer their phone to arrange a delivery.  Fortunately, I thought, they had a drive-thru window so I wouldn’t have to wander about the drugstore or stand in line with sick people. I asked the clerk if she could add a box of face masks to my order. She said yes but I’d have to come inside for that. “Rather defeats the purpose,” I said. The irony was lost on her.

I entered Winn Dixie wearing a face mask and plastic gloves feeling like a refugee from a bad Halloween costume party. I passed a police car parked at the entrance. There’s something about walking past a squad car wearing a mask as you enter a store that creates an ominous feeling in the pit of your stomach. I hoped they didn’t think I was an inept, poorly-dressed robber. I pictured spending the night in jail and immediately regretted my hasty decision to wear my slippers to the store. The customers coming out weren’t wearing masks or gloves and I began to feel like the awkward kid showing up at the door of the fancy dress party and realizing that phrase on the invitation meant black tie, not funny animal costume.

I took a deep breath and wrapped my gloved hands firmly around the handlebar of a shopping cart and pushed it inside the store. See, I really am a shopper, I tacitly conveyed to the cops. I saw several shoppers, unmasked and ungloved. This was the dream where you stand before the class to read your book report and discover you’re still wearing your pajamas. Except I was fully clothed… and then some, conspicuously masked and attired as a Playtex gloves model.

Then, I saw a young woman turn the aisle. It was like staring in a mirror. Validation at last. I relaxed, feeling less foolish and becoming more confident. Observing her face mask and plastic gloves, I knew we were kindred spirits. I felt a bond and even though we maintained the mandatory six-foot distance between us, I felt oddly close to her. She looked cute in the mask and she was likely quite attractive beneath it and… Uh oh. I realized three weeks in quarantine was taking its toll.

I stopped at BJ’s. Another squad car outside. More empty shelves within. I left empty-handed, en route to Publix. Yet another police car parked outside a grocery store. I was sensing a pattern. Was this a precautionary move? Were they expecting customers to turn into a rioting, unruly mob fighting to the death for the last roll of toilet paper? My mind wandered. Do they even have toilet paper? If so, should I pick some up?

Everyone was masked here. I felt… accepted. It was the new normal. I waved a gloved hello. Everyone was courteous, keeping their six-foot distance. There was no panic shopping. Perhaps the panic shoppers had already raided the barren shelves that faced us. I mastered the art of substitution. I came in for chicken but bananas are sort of the same… if you don’t think about it too much. Or I could choose from their copious selection of wines and spend the evening in deep contemplation pondering the similarities of bananas to chicken, like a nostalgic 60s LSD trip. What else are you going to do alone at home, anyway?

A woman stepped into my aisle. I immediately noticed the sleek plastic face mask she wore. It was a white respiratory antiviral N95 face mask respirator and it put my flimsy surgical mask to shame. I was filled with envy. Three weeks in quarantine was definitely taking its toll.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"Party On!"

The younger generation exhibits a sense of entitlement combined with a lack of accomplishment. The Millennials (and their progeny) are the most selfish, self-centered, and blissfully ignorant generation in American history. What’s worse, they wear their ignorance as a badge of honor and their belief in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism (“Self-interest above all else”) as their adopted religion. (Are there exceptions? Of course, and maybe you’re one of them… but remember, it’s the exceptions that prove the rule).

Nowhere has this been more evident with the onset of the pandemic Coronavirus in February 2020. As the world faces a pandemic that promises to be greater in scope than the 1918 influenza – which lasted two years and infected 500 million people (a quarter of the world's population at the time) resulting in more than 17 million deaths – they blithely ignore warnings to stay inside and not interact with others so as not to spread the contagion. In fact, they deliberately do the opposite.

They congregate in public places; they hold “Corona parties;” they flood beaches and Spring Break spots in Florida – despite the fact Florida is home to the largest elderly population in the country. This is salient because initial reports from China and Italy (the first areas to be affected) show while victims under age 60 recover from the virus, victims over age 60 have a 15-to-20% mortality rate. Put another way, one-in-five will die. The mortality rate for those under 60 was reported at less than 1%. (The overall mortality rate for Coronavirus is 3.4%). So armed with the knowledge that they might get a bad flu bug but otherwise be okay, America’s youth adopted the mantra “Party On!”

The flaw in this reasoning is while their lives may not be at risk, they are spreading the virus to others – exponentially. For every individual they infect that person will go on to infect 3.5 more others; and those will infect 3.5 others. It’s like social networking or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. This is how epidemics and pandemics (i.e., a global epidemic) spread. And eventually that mass of infected people will come in contact with an older person over age 60 (your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors, your coworkers); or someone with a weakened immune system (due to an immune disorder like Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, Guillain-Barre syndrome, polyneuropathy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Psoriasis – there are more than 100 such conditions); or someone with an underlying condition like heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension; or someone who has recently had surgery or a prolonged illness or chronic condition that has weakened their otherwise healthy immune system. Know anyone like that? Because your “I’m not at risk. Party on” behavior WILL kill some of them.

It’s not all about you, Millennials. It’s about the people you are infecting and indirectly killing due to you selfish behavior. When you insist on spreading the virus in public gatherings because you are not personally at risk – that is selfishness to the extreme. Sure, you feel great; you don’t have symptom (although it takes 14 days for symptoms to appear during which time you may be a contagious carrier). Vanessa Hudgens, former Disney teen star, now 31 years old  tweeted: “Like, even if everybody gets it — like, yeah, people are gonna die. Which is terrible. But, like, inevitable?” That’s what passes for Millennial compassion and empathy. But when you hold “Corona parties” designed to spread the virus and post photos to social media tagged “#BoomerRemover” that’s beyond selfish: that’s malicious and a deliberate threat to public health that should result in criminal penalties. If someone with AIDS deliberately set out to infect as many people as he could, he would be prosecuted for attempted murder. The same rule should apply. Individuals need to take personal responsibility for their actions.

This is what happens when the “Me Generation” raises an even more narcissistic generation. Boomers failed as parents. They abdicated their parental responsibilities, opting to be their children’s “friends” not parents. They stopped spanking unruly children, both at home and in schools, thereby eliminating consequences for unacceptable behavior. Instead of awarding achievement, they gave trophies to kids just for showing up. Attendance was placed over actual accomplishment because God forbid their morale might suffer. So what was the lesson they learned? “I deserve it.” Why? Just because. Period.

They grew up thinking they are entitled to the best life has to offer without having to earn it, as every preceding generation has. Want to be famous? Start a YouTube channel. Want to write a book? Self-publish it. Want to be popular? Collect thousands of “friends” on Facebook. Looking for self-validation? Post your face pic or thoughts on social media, sit back and count the “likes” that come in. (Neil Armstrong went to the moon and snapped three photos; the typical teen posts three selfies a day!) This isn’t reality, folks.

Instead, we have college students who no longer view campuses as a place to broaden their horizons and debate opposing concepts in what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes dubbed “the marketplace of ideas.” Today’s college campuses are now “safe spaces” where opposing thoughts are banned because students complain they are too fragile to hear ideas that counter their belief systems. They fear words or ideas that may “trigger” them – and faculty members who express them are routinely fired. That’s not learning. It’s not education. And this isn’t reality, folks. We now have a generation unable to cope with life in the real world.

But they’ll have to, as new information shows Coronavirus can have serious health effects on those aged 18-to-54. It might even kill some. Oops. It also turns out Coronavirus isn’t a one-hit pony. It will be linger for 12-to-18 months and then come back years later… when Millennials are older and more susceptible to dying from it. But don’t worry kids, I’m sure the younger generations that follow you will be just as concerned and diligent in addressing it as you’ve been.

So sorry keeping my grandparents alive is messing up your spring break plans.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

A few years ago I stepped into an elevator heading to the top floor of a South Florida office building. There’s a certain elevator etiquette one learns to follow. It’s acceptable for the person already in the elevator to offer to push the button for your floor but after that the remainder of the ride typically takes place in silence. Riders stare straight ahead at the gray doors, or at the consecutively flashing floor numbers above them, or even at the floor but it would be a breach of etiquette to stare at one’s fellow passengers, let alone engage in conversation. These days, if a conversation does take place, it’s likely between a fellow rider and the unheard and unseen person at the other end of the small earpiece/microphone protruding from his or her ear.

So it was unusual on this particular day when I stepped into the elevator joined by another man from the lobby and the great gray doors slid together sealing just the two of us in the square car that he struck up a conversation. Not simply a perfunctory “hello” but rather an actual back-and-forth exchange as the elevator slowly made its ascent to the top floor. I don’t remember what we talked about, other than one comment he made, because it was mostly idle chatter to mark time until the gray doors parted like the Red Sea making way for Moses and freed us from our claustrophobic confinement.

His comment that stayed with me to this day was a favorable one about my appearance. People seldom comment (at least to me) about my appearance – oh, a few may remark on my dimples, and my dental hygienist always compliments my teeth but other than that my physical appearance tends to be rather unremarkable. (The only exception being when I’ve gained weight and people ask if I’ve lost weight, which is either a snarky dig or a kind way of saying “You don’t look as fat as you used to.”).

But this man was a stranger with no basis for comparison, no “then” and “now” images of me floating through his mind. He told me he liked my hairstyle and how good my hair looked, which made me wonder if I should cancel my hairstyling appointment that afternoon and if going through with my planned haircut might actually change whatever was making my hair look so good that a complete stranger would comment on it in an elevator.

It turned out he was an expert on hair and hairstyling, and had been a leader in the field since founding a revolutionary business concept in 1976. When he told me his name, I immediately recognized who he was because as a teenager I had heard him introduce himself and his business in countless television commercials with the famous tagline “I’m Sy Sperling, and I’m not only the Hair Club president but I’m also a client” while holding up a photograph of his bald “before” self. It was brilliant marketing that made him an iconic celebrity and catapulted the former swimming pool salesman and son of a Bronx plumber to enormous financial success: in 2000, he sold the Hair Club for $45 million.

Sy Sperling and I ended up walking into the same office, where he bid me goodbye as he walked off with his party. I said to the receptionist, “Do you know who that was?” She did, as he had visited the office previously, but always accompanied by someone. She remarked it was unusual for him to come in by himself, as he had a terrible fear of elevators and refused to be alone in one. Suddenly, the unlikely conversation we had shared in the elevator made sense. It had been a distraction to take his mind off the anxiety and fear of what is a surprisingly more common phobia than one might imagine. He had probably been dreading having to ride the elevator alone to the top of the building and the appearance of someone else, anyone else, was a godsend. I have my own anxieties and phobias so I know what that’s like. Yet, I’d like to think he sincerely did like my hairstyle. After all, nobody knew more about hairstyles than Sy Sperling.

Sy Sperling, 78, died February 18, 2020, in Boca Raton, Florida. He was a philanthropist who formed the Hair Club for Kids to provided free hair to children who lost theirs from chemotherapy, and left a portion of his estate to the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Burning Down the House

Young people are the future. They always have been, from the very first generation to the present one. They are the inheritors of civilization. It’s a bequest filled with enormous responsibility, as they must pick up the torch from the previous generation and pass it on to the next hopefully improving society while not diminishing it. It’s a task many young people of each generation are eager to assume and vocal about assuming. Stewardship of our society comes with many perquisites but also requires a great deal of preparation. Unfortunately, the current younger generation, while quite boisterous, simply hasn’t done its homework and is woefully unprepared to assume the reins to lead society into the rest of this century.

I didn’t always agree with TV political pundit Chris Matthews. I strongly disliked his attacks on Bill Clinton during that impeachment and it irked me that his questions were often longer than his guests’ answers, particularly his unique brand of rolling question that never allowed a guest to answer until Matthews finally ended his rant with “Your thoughts?” But I respected Chris Matthews for his knowledge and decades of experience as a journalist, speechwriter in President Jimmy Carter's administration, and chief of staff for Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. He knew what he was talking about because he had been in the trenches with the politicians of his day and, like myself, he had been a lifelong student of history and political science. He didn’t give opinions, but rather as Harlan Ellison would say, he gave informed opinions.

I also respected him because he spoke his mind. Sometimes, I and other viewers thought he was right; other times, we thought he was wrong. Matthews didn’t care. He told us what he thought, not what he thought we wanted to hear. He didn’t take positions based on television ratings or popular opinion. He didn’t say what management wanted him to say. Sure, like all television talking heads, he read off a Teleprompter but he would also speak off-the-cuff, like the guy sitting next to you at the neighborhood bar. When I was growing up we called that honesty and straightforwardness; young people today – who are easily “triggered” by words and seek “safe spaces” where they won’t feel threatened by divergent opinions – call it political incorrectness.

Chris Matthews called his television show Hardball. By definition, it was never meant to be a safe place but rather one where guests would come on and defend their various political positions. Matthews didn’t mince words. He wasn’t afraid to call people out or to question their statements or ideologies. He would push back in his interviews. He was the one who cornered Donald Trump on whether, if abortion should be illegal, then should women who receive one or doctors who perform them be sent to prison? On the March 30, 2016 Hardball broadcast Matthews repeatedly pressed the presidential candidate who finally said women who have abortions should suffer “some sort of punishment.” Last week, when Elizabeth Warren repeated an allegation her fellow presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg had told a pregnant employee “to kill it” Matthews pressed her for repeating an unsubstantiated charge. It was a ‘he said, she said’ situation and no one knows who was lying. But it was enough for Shaunna Thomas, president of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, to begin a campaign to have MSNBC fire Matthews. It worked; Matthews said his final goodbyes to viewers tonight and walked of the set of his Hardball show five minutes into the program.

There were two other incidents putting pressure on MSNBC to fire Matthews. An article by columnist Laura Bassett appeared in GQ in which she related Matthews’ inartful compliment on her appearance (he said he didn’t know why he hadn’t fallen in love with her) – which seems rather tame to me at a time when the president of the United States boasts about “grabbing women by the pussy.” The other incident, also recent, concerned Matthews’ historical allusion after Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses. His point was Sanders swept it in a blitzkrieg and politically, it was over.

Matthews said: “I'm reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940. And the general calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over,’ and Churchill says, ‘How can it be? You got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It's over.’”

Matthews, a student of history, was using an historical allusion to make the point that something was over almost before it had begun. He wasn’t insinuating the Jewish Bernie Sanders was a Nazi. That much was obvious to anyone except members of the least-educated generation in history. The progressive youth used it as a rallying cry to call for Matthews’ resignation. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing:  this is a generation that has no understanding of allusion, history, or political science and no respect for those who do. They wear their ignorance like a badge of honor and trade online barbs based on ill-informed soundbites. Their sum knowledge of history and the way our government and Constitution are supposed to work comes not from years of reading books, newspapers, and magazines on the subjects but rather from seconds of reading bumper stickers and tweets.

With our mandated focus on science and math to the exclusion of other subjects like history, civics, political science, literature, the arts, and even English, we have failed to prepare the younger generations to lead. We’ve taught them to value entertainment and pop culture more than the things that really matter. They’re not stupid; merely ignorant. And it’s not their fault because they were never properly educated. That’s the fault of the Baby Boomers who underfunded schools and teacher salaries resulting in the hiring of substandard teachers and who redesigned the curriculum to de-emphasize those essential subjects.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. These young people who have been coddled to the point where they must be sheltered from hearing opposing ideas and who have no clue as to how government is supposed to function or why things are the way they are (since that would require studying the past to find out) are poised to make major decisions that will affect everyone’s lives. Now more than ever we need people like Chris Matthews to speak out, to share decades of accumulated knowledge, and to offer informed opinions we may debate. Unfortunately, the effect of political correctness championed by the young progressives will be a chilling effect on free speech. Whoever replaces Matthews will think long and hard before opening his or her mouth. There will be no honest, unfiltered, off-the-cuff commentary. Not when the thought police stand ready to punish thought crimes. The next host will be politically correct, inoffensive, and fluent in Newspeak in today’s Orwellian culture.

The young progressives don’t want debate: they already believe their views are the correct ones, so what’s left to debate? Since they have no knowledge or appreciation of history, they have no use for anyone old enough to have lived through it, let alone learned from it, so they want to replace older people with young ones. We see this in the Massachusetts senatorial primary race, where Sen. Edward Markey – a 73-year-old Democrat with a progressive record of accomplishment, decades of experience, and expertise few of his peers have regarding the Internet – is being challenged by 39-year-old progressive Rep. Joe Kennedy, who promises “generational change and a fresh perspective.” Exactly what the hell is “generational change”? Replacing an old face with a less wrinkled one? And does this “fresh perspective” meant to replace experience actually consist of anything substantive or is it merely doublespeak for replacing someone old with someone young? The fact is, Markey has done more for progressive causes than any other senator currently in Congress. Progressives would be better served to focus on replacing candidates based on their policies, not their age.

None of this bodes well for the future. The torch is being passed to those unprepared to grasp it and they stand poised to burn down what they inherit.