On Academia

The death of Queen Elizabeth II along with the much-publicized seizure by the FBI of classified documents in former President Trump’s Mar Lago Resort, have overshadowed a decision made by the Ohio Court of Appeals against Oberlin College.  The Ohio Supreme Court refused to take the case on further appeal that the Gibson Bakery had filed against the school on charges of defamation and tortious interference.  The final judgment, made by the Appeals Court, awarded the Gibson Bakery 36 ½ million dollars.  The Gibson Family, whose bakery is located across the street from Oberlin, has had a 137-year history in the town of Oberlin.

Oberlin College is by no means a rinky dink college.  Historically, it’s admissions’ policy has been stringent in accepting only students who can handle a rigorous academic schedule.  It is clearly one of the most touted and prestigious schools in the Midwest.  Nonetheless, shoplifting by Oberlin students has existed there for years.  However, the present case went beyond the typical adolescent pranks.  The troubles began on November 9, 2016, when Allyn Gibson, who is white and both son and grandson of the owners, caught Jonathan Aladin, a Black student at Oberlin, trying to buy a bottle of wine with a fake ID and holding two wine bottles under his shirt.  When Aladin fled the store, Gibson chased him outside whereupon two of the student’s friends assisted him in attacking Gibson.  Subsequently, the three students pled guilty to various charges.

End of story, not quite.  Meredith Raimondo, Dean of Students, along with other members of the Oberlin administration, rather than investigating the validity of student discontent, actively participated in their protest.  Fliers sent out by the students were further supported by the administration.  Moreover, the message about the Gibson Bakery, written in bold capital letters, said:  RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT OF RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”  As Neil Hutchens, a professor of higher education at the University of Kentucky commented: “It wasn’t so much the students speaking; it’s the institution accepting that statement uncritically.  Sometimes you have to take a step back.”

Another twist in this case was the University was not fighting a big corporation, such as Walmart or Amazon, but rather a small family business that had long served the community and college.  However, this type of small business is not equipped to sustain the losses from such a protest.  Oberlin, whose tuition is around $62,000 per year, not including room, board and books that amount to at least another $20,000, is neither a school for the poor or those hurting in money.  The financial resources of Oberlin, as compared to the Gibson family, make the latter’s victory in court appear similar to that of David when he slew Goliath. 

There is a sense of youthful idealism and romanticism possessed by students of college age.  Many of us were there at one time in our lives.  Corporate America and its capitalistic proponents are forever being questioned along with the status quo by an age group given to challenge and rebellion.  Often both university and faculty give too much encouragement to the grievances and protests that adolescents may have against such institutions. Teaching students critical thinking in viewing the world with an open and curious mind is an asset of any  liberal education.  However, this goal can lead to very unhealthy consequences when racial categories, embodied in identity politics, presume guilt on the “other,” in this case, a young white male who was attempting to thwart a robbery at his store.

   Two Memorable Events

       

Two memorable events this past week held my attention:  The first was Serena Williams’ challenge to defy all odds and add to her record of 23 major tournament wins in her quest of winning the U.S. Open.  The other was the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of what was at the time the Soviet Union.

Prior to the Open, Serena had said she was prepared to accept the post-tennis phase of her life and pursue other interests she has developed in her business and in spending more time with her family. Regardless of the outcome of her performance at the Open, she was receiving plaudits for her contribution to the tennis world. Her showing on the courts opened the gates for other players of color, female and male, to participate in what, with few exceptions, formerly had served as a cotillion for white competitors.

Insofar as both white and Black Americans alike cheered Serena on, Americans, for a brief moment, had suspended their angry discourse embodied in identity politics.  I, like so many of the rest of us viewing the U.S. Open hoped that somehow, she could pull off the unlikely feat of beating players of a higher ranking that were far younger than her 40 years.  And after she defeated Anett Kontaveit, the second seed of the Tournament, we started to believe that she might do it.  However, all hopes were dashed in her next match, in which she fought valiantly, but lost to Ajia Tomijanovic.  Even the great ones, such as Serena, are subject to the passing of time and its effects on the human body.  You could see that she was struggling in the third set of the match by her bodily movements and facial grimaces, but given her competitive nature and strong determination, we were kept hoping. 

The death of Mr. Gorbachev recalls what this very unique and brave man tried so hard to accomplish during his management of the Soviet Union.  He was a leader who saw the decay and rot of the society he attempted to repair.  And with the crumbling of the Soviet Union precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the many countries that had been a part of the Soviet bloc now crying for freedom and democracy, to the West he looked as if were a savior. The abrupt changes creating what appeared to be newfound democracies served as the thesis of the philosopher, Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama postulated that human history was moving toward an idealized form of government through the mechanism of liberal democracy.  Now that idea appears more like a fairy tale than any sort of utopia that Fukuyama had predicted.

Prior to Gorbachev’s arrival on the scene, because Western leaders had been continuously disheartened by his uncompromising predecessors, there was little trust, at first, in this new head of State.  But Mr. Gorbachev looked at the empty store shelves, surrounded by the gloom of his fellow Russians, due to the waste inflicted by the command-bureaucratic system.  Furthermore, much of the expenses contributed to the military machine at a steep cost to the well-being of his people. So, he began to introduce what was termed petroiska or rebuilding and glasnost or openness. In implementing this totally new vision of the Soviet Union, he knew he had to alter the past strategy of his precursors that underpinned the Cold War.  Consequently, Gorbachev initiated a thaw in the relations of his people with the West.  After meeting Gorbachev, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England, relayed to President Ronald Reagan and the world the following message: “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”  Soon after, Gorbachev and Reagan engaged one another in an historic agreement to dismantle much of each side’s ballistic missiles. 

The Daily News, a popular tabloid paper in New York City, reflected the sentiment of the West when it’s headline in the late 1980’s read:  Gorby Comes to New York.  it felt like a cataclysmic event.  There was joy in the streets.  Indeed, Gorbachev, or Gorby as he had become affectionately called, proved to be a much different leader than his political forbears, and had won the hearts of his former Western foes.  Unfortunately, his own people did not share this very high regard viewed by the West.

So, what went wrong? Several years ago, Lisa and I were on a trip to New York in which we had to change planes in Charleston, North Carolina.  Upon boarding my wife and I sat next to a woman who had led a management training in Charleston.  Although fluent in English, she had a slight accent that sounded to me Russian.  When she showed us her card, her last name Romanov, verified my thoughts.  When I inquired about her name, she confirmed that she was related to the very distinguished Romanov family that had belonged to the reigning house of Imperial Russia for about 300 years until the Russian Revolution in 1917.  Intrigued by both her name and person, I asked her if she had lived in Russia during the time of Gorbachev and the breaking down of the Soviet Union.  She nodded yes and, she then related a rather sad story about her life during her teenage years.

She revealed to me that her father had been in the Russian Navy and had secured what sounded like a sinecure in the Politburo.  However, when the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed, he lost his job, became despondent staying at home, not knowing what to do with himself.  Almost overnight he went from having a prestigious job to having nothing at all.  The consequence of this loss resulted in the dissolution of her parents’ marriage insofar as her father had apparently lost all sense of purpose and value. Because many Russian people suddenly found themselves out of work, she told me her father’s plight was not unusual.  Although I don’t recall how she came to America, it was evident that in New York City she had gained a modicum of success as a management consultant with a program she had designed on her own in conjunction with being an athletic trainer. I believe the situation she described about her father reflected the underlying chaos that must have existed in Russia when Gorbachev was at the helm.

I think what this woman experienced, though a microcosmic event, helps illustrate the reason Gorbachev, though freeing the Soviet Union, did not save it.  Deep down Mr. Gorbachev still considered himself a member of the Communist Party so his intention was not to eradicate what currently existed but to reform it. So, he was not a revolutionary with the intention of tearing down a system and replacing it with something better.  To reform a system whose foundation has been one of coercion, fear and corruption is a tall order for anyone human to fulfill.  Gorbachev came to understand this in his later years when he commented: “The old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working, and the crisis in the society became even more acute.”  It would have required a great deal of strategic planning and cooperation to fill the vacuum of so many positions lost.  Perhaps it actually would have required a revolution of sorts to accomplish this goal.  But Gorbachev did not want to sever, completely, the ties he had with the Politburo.  Sadly, Mr. Putin, a successor, has replaced the goodwill and hope of Mr Gorbachev with a reign of war and terror.

Comedy of Errors

  

Recently my wife, Lisa, and I were greeted with a slew of back-to-back mistakes by people that we had paid for their services.  The itinerary of errors began when I contacted a moving company to transport a car from Connecticut to a younger brother’s home located North of Daytona Beach.  The salesperson I spoke to indicated that the charge would be $1029 of which the driver would receive $850 with the remainder of $179 going to the company.  I arranged for the driver to pick up the car that Thursday.  When I asked when he thought the car would arrive in Florida, the company rep told me probably 3 to 4 days after the pick-up date.  I alerted my brother to expect the car Monday or Tuesday as I had been informed most drivers prefer not working on Sundays.  That Friday morning, I received a voicemail from the driver, Vince, saying he would be arriving that evening inasmuch as he wanted to make it home to Miami that same evening.  Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with my brother to let him know he needed to be home that evening and to pay the driver $850 upon arrival of the driver.

The early pick up went well but the story does not end here.  A few days later I saw on my credit card a charge of $239 rather than the quoted $179 from this same firm.  A call to the company indicated that I had been quoted the wrong amount and, the truck driver was only supposed to receive $850 and not $800.  The agent’s supervisor told me that they had sent the correct amounts in an attachment but when I looked at the original email, in which I had signed my name accepting the deal, there was no attachment.  When I asked him to check the email he sent me, he explained that once I had opened the attachment, it was no longer available on his end.  Although I am not a computer maven, this sounded like pure balderdash. Before filing a dispute with the credit company, I contacted my brother who told me the truck driver only had asked for $800.  Because my older brother and I had agreed to pay the shipping expenses, no money was lost as the total of $1029 remained the same.  Consequently, I did not dispute the charge.  My miscue was not insisting that they send a contract that apparently never had been attached to the email I received.

The next string of errors occurred when my wife and I were confirming plans with a hotel before starting our trip that was to begin right after the negotiations with the moving company.  Our trip to Washington State included visiting a friend who lived in Everett, Washington and then proceeding to Port Ludlow where we had gone every summer for 20 years prior to the pandemic.  When I called to confirm our stay, I was utterly surprised in discovering the hotel in which I had booked the reservation had no record of it.  Insofar as it was a Hilton Hotel that we were to stay at, I thought it would facilitate matters by doing it through Hilton Honors.  Luckily, we were able to keep our reservation because we had the email confirming it sent to us by Hilton Honors.  Initially, one of the staff was going to charge us $250 more than the original reservation I had made for the same two days.  But upon sending the confirmation of the reservation, the staff member connected us with the manager who acknowledged our reservation! We had made these reservations before inflation had imploded throughout the economy.  

But, once more, it doesn’t end here.  I had made a reservation with Hilton Honors that I had canceled before making the reservation in the lodging preferred by both my wife and I. But a few days before leaving we got an email from that hotel confirming our stay.  Hilton Honors clearly were not acting honorably inasmuch as they had never canceled this reservation after stating they would.  I immediately contacted the hotel and, fortunately, they did not charge me for canceling the reservation.   A word of caution to all would be travelers:  Beware.

Next, we arrived in Seattle and went to pick up the car I had contracted to rent for our 2 ½ week stay in Washington.  All set to go, luggage in the car, I turned on the ignition and to my surprise (at this point, nothing should surprise me) there was barely one quarter of a tank of gasoline.  When I reported this to the attendant, he said he would mark it down and all I needed do was return the car with a quarter full of gas.  However, I explained to him that I had prepaid the company for a tank of gas rendering his offer worthless.  The attendant scratched his head, said I was right (agreement at last) and told us to wait, 5 no more than 10 minutes, and he would fill the tank for me. No future contact for reservations in the immediate future, I took a deep breath, we got in the car ready to begin our vacation.

Par for the course these days appears the plethora of errors one faces as a customer.  I suspect part of this has to do with the fast pace of society brought on by the internet.  The lack of physical contact distances the customer from the server creating an impersonal sense of connection.  The one personal touch I felt was when the attendant at the car rental willingly went to fill the car with gas.  Rather than just being an internet contact, I actually had met him.  The other errors committed were made by people with whom I had little or no contact with beside the phone.  The frequent poor performance of people I have interacted with on the phone has reduced the level of trust I have had in their following through with the results promised.

Such experiences make it easier for me to identify with how and why many people have lost trust in our institutions as well as the business world.  So, in actuality, this is less a comedy or errors than what seems to be a sad commentary on the state of customer service in today’s fast paced world.

Categories
Baseball

Tribute to a Baseball Hero

When we think about baseball greats names such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, among many others, come to mind.  The late Vin Scully never played in the big leagues but he added as much, if not more color to the game than all of the many great baseball players.  I only wish the American League, because as many of you know, I am a diehard Red Sox fan, would have an announcer whose skills were equal to those of Scully.

Mr. Scully impressed me the few times I heard him broadcast.  He drew an unforgettable picture of Roberto Clemente, the amazing outfielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he once described his throwing arm: “Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”  But an even more memorable statement from Mr. Scully came when the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta on April 4th, 1974. Hank Aaron, the modest but great star of the Braves, had 714 career home runs and was tied with Babe Ruth for the most home runs ever hit by any player.  At the time, many fans viewed Ruth’s record as sacrosanct, and he who dared break this unbeatable record would be committing an act of heresy.  Aaron received many death threats.  Sad, but unfortunately quite true.  When Hank Aaron hit the 715th home run against the Dodgers, Mr. Scully was broadcasting.  His reaction to this momentous occasion was the following:

“What a marvelous moment for baseball.  What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia.  What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.  A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all time baseball idol.”

Living in Southern California I am surrounded by Dodger fans.  Needless to say, I have heard and read much of Mr. Scully since he died a few days ago.  The many good deeds he did for others have been echoed by friends I know.  Growing up on the East Coast, I was a Red Sox fan with my second favorite team being the New York Giants.  However, once the latter team relocated from New York to San Francisco I lost my allegiance to them.  Nevertheless, my two favorite players of all time remain Ted Williams of the Red Sox and Willie Mays of the Giants.  Much to the woe of Dodger fans, Mr. Scully proclaimed Willie Mays to be the best player he’d ever seen, and it was Willie Mays who joined Mr. Scully, in the broadcasting booth for the latter’s final game on October 2, 2016.

Thank you, Mr. Scully, for making the great game of baseball that much greater.  And thank you, Mr. Scully for making baseball so understandable and exciting to those who listened to you over 67 years.

Roe versus Wade Revisited

Previously, I wrote a blog entitled:  Let Women Decide What to Do with Their Bodies, where I explained the rationale for my being on the pro-Choice side of this highly contentious issue.  Little over a year ago I told my wife, Lisa, that the Supreme Court would never do away with the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions throughout the country.  I had believed the right to an abortion had become embedded in the American mind such that it was a law here to stay.  However, I was mistaken insofar as the recent vote of 6 to 3 by the Supreme Court overturned the earlier decision in 1973 made by the Supreme Court that legalized abortion. 

As Bret Stephens, columnist for the New York Times, pointed out:  The   original decision came from the Supreme Court, the least democratic branch of government rather than the more appropriate law-making Congress or state legislatures.  Furthermore, the Court has become more of a political instrument rather than a body where decisions would be made free of any political leanings or bias.  When Robert Bork, a legal scholar, in 1987 was rejected by the Senate because of the expression of his views (that later became known as “being Borked” when one did not get approved for a promotion etc.), subsequent Presidential appointees have learned how to negotiate the Hearing Process by skirting major issues and reciting bromides.

During the Confirmation Hearing of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, he was asked by the democrats whether or not he would be in favor of overturning the decision made in Roe v. Wade.  His response was that he would not be inclined to change what had become precedent and had been reconfirmed with the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in which the court upheld the right to have an abortion. Accordingly, he appeared to support stare decisis, the doctrine that courts will adhere to precedent in making their decisions.  During his Hearing, Judge Kavanaugh remarked that the Casey ruling hadmade a precedent on a precedent.  However, in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, he was one of the six Supreme Court Judges to overrule both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey by stating that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion.  Since Bork was “Borked,” Senate Confirmation Hearings reveal little to us about how potential judges think and how they might rule on certain issues.  

Many conservatives. who applauded the court’s decision of Dobbs, have commented that the notion of stare decisis is not written in stone. That is to say, all court decisions do not have to necessarily follow stare decisis.  Here, I am in agreement with them.  An example where precedent was not followed is the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson rendered by the Supreme Court in 1896.  This decision upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.  As we know, a more accurate reading of that decision would have been:  separate but unequal.  The doctrine supported what was to become Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations.

In 1954, the Supreme Court went against stare decisis in the Brown v. Board of Education, where it ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal had no place in public education calling segregated schools “inherently unequal.”  Furthermore, the plaintiffs in the Brown case were found to have been “deprived of the equal protection of the law provided by the 14th Amendment.”  

In the case of Roe v. Wade, however, I would argue that stare decisis is relevant when one considers what the polls reflect regarding the national sentiment of that court decision.  Thus, polls have repeatedly shown that over 60 % of Americans favor the legalization of abortion with only 19% saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.  Moreover, conservatives who favor minimal government interference are now claiming the right for government to interfere with a woman’s body.  Dobbs will not end abortion but will more likely result in the unintended consequences of forcing women, many of whom with limited financial means, to travel long distances to states that still allow legal abortion.  This will add unnecessary stress on the lives of these women.  I’m afraid to say, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the solution has become the problem. 

Social Media Clones

Upon attending a concert given by Olivia Rodrigo, I recalled an episode on the Twilight Zone, They All Look Like #12, that I had seen back in 1964. In his introduction, Rod Serling says let’s imagine the year is 2000.  We are now 22 years past that year projected by Mr. Serling but, I regret to say, ever closer to what was portrayed in the Twilight Zone in that episode.

The episode tells of how a young girl, Marilyn, aged 18, is being told by her mother that it is time for her to go through the transformation process in which she can look exactly like a model exemplified by the number 12 figure.  She is urged by her mother, Laura, and her friend, Valerie, to go through this transformation as they tell her: “What girl would not want to be beautiful.”  But Marilyn remembering the strong feeling she had for her father, who we later discover has committed suicide to avoid the decree of transformation, replies: “Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.” Toward the end of the episode, Marilyn says her father cared about her as a person and not what she looked like.  We see her futile attempt to escape with her being apprehended, placed on a bed, and the doctor telling her mother the procedure is done.  She gets up and sees that she looks beautiful but a clone of her friend Valerie, #12, at which point the viewer hears Rod Serling’s voice in the background: “Portrait of a young lady in love with herself….In an age of plastic surgery and body building and an infinity of cosmetics those and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future which after all is the twilight zone.”

There is little doubt in my mind that Olivia Rodrigo’s album, Sour, shows a unique brilliance with great potential for such a young woman.  However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog, her songs are all laced with a sadness (as reflected in the album title, Sour) where social relationships with young males have gone awry.  I believe much of the troubled feelings expressed by Rodrigo is reinforced by social media.  Thus, from the period between 2019-2021 suicidal attempts by female adolescents increased by 50% resulting in a much higher rate of hospitalizations for them than adolescent boys.  The pandemic may have contributed to this alarming statistic by causing the need to isolate that allowed a greater amount of time to be spent alone on social media.  Use of such platforms such as Instagram where teens, not only take photographs of themselves, but can dress up their features through a filtering process has only escalated this issue.  The intense rivalry for who has the most beautiful picture, through real or fake means, can be deleterious to young females who are often severely impacted by such comparisons at the tender age of teens.

Beauty, as an ideal that Serling spoke about in the Twilight Zone, necessitated a surgical procedure but in 2022 adolescent females have found a way to create their own beauty through social media.  Unfortunately, the arm of social media is almost infinite in length allowing friends and strangers to see posts and make either favorable or unfavorable comments, in real time, on these posts.  Jonathan Haidt, professor in psychology at New York University, has argued that 13-year-old adolescents are too young to have access to such social media and has suggested raising the minimum age to 16.  But even if the minimum age to allow teens access is 16, there still needs to be a way of enforcing this rule.  Such a procedure does not currently exist.

The need to fit in with its concomitant peer pressure always has been of supreme importance during adolescence.   This need has been intensified with the constant monitoring and comparing fostered by social media.  When the standard becomes how beautiful one appears to countless others, those that don’t meet it can suffer immeasurable harm.  This, I would maintain, is what has caused a precipitous increase in the incidence of suicidal attempts of female teens.

The Wrong Message

The other night, during dinner with a friend, David Alpern, we discussed my last blog:  Scorn in America, when he made an interesting observation. There had been a march in downtown Long Beach, California, where we both reside, with the goal of prompting the end of gun violence.  A woman at the march held up a sign saying the following:   How could any one (sic) be proud to live in a country that protects its guns over its citizens?

In a follow up letter to the editor to a local newspaper, David pointed out that this type of message will further alienate those that don’t think like us rather than attempting to bring these people to our way of reckoning things.  Granted it, this message was held by only one of the marchers in the rally, but I think it reflects the partisan climate that we all find ourselves in today.  The message implies that if you don’t agree with me on a much-debated subject, the right to own firearms, you can’t feel proud of what America represents.  This brings to mind the statement Hillary Clinton made in 2016 during her campaign against Donald Trump when she referred to the “deplorables” that don’t think like us.  What Mrs. Clinton appeared to have forgotten was that the deplorables she spoke of consisted of approximately half of the country.

If our goal is to change the present status of gun laws, then as Alpern mentions, our messages need to recruit not repel those that hold opposing views.  I have suggested to couples having difficulty seeing their partner’s differing perspectives on an issue that they employ the disarming technique.  When one of the partners is criticizing the other, rather than become defensive and go in the attack mode, I ask them to find some truth in the criticism.  This often has the effect of disarming or neutralizing the one doing the criticizing.  Underlying this method of communication is the fact that the person finding fault with you needs to be listened to rather than counter attacked.  It very often leads to more sane and rational communication between the two partners.

So, when discussing a point, and this especially holds true with our leaders in Washington D.C., we might look for either the strength or weakness in our position and go from there.  Now if it’s a question of something you absolutely think is wrong like the elections being rigged, as Trump and some of his followers do, then this technique probably will not be useful.  But most situations are not black and white where one person is perfectly right and the other is perfectly wrong.  That is to say the “truth” for one person may not be a factual truth but rather a strongly held viewpoint.

The pandemic and social media have rendered any kind of civil discourse difficult.  The anonymity intrinsic in much of social media allows people to hide and not face those whose opinions differ from them.  The pandemic has kept us isolated from others and has perhaps increased the amount of time people spent on the internet. This has resulted in an inordinate amount of confirmation bias, that is, reading only what reinforces one’s opinion.  Hopefully, if the worst of the pandemic is over, people will have the chance to interact with others in a more humane way than previously.  More face-to-face meetings with coworkers and others that think differently may at least transform the hostility we feel toward each other, stemming from labeling the other “bad,” into a less combative more useful conversation.  The aim in mind will be to expand our perspectives on controversial subjects rather than limit them.

Scorn In America

I recently read an op ed article in the New York Times titled:  American Has a Scorn Problem.  When I saw who wrote it, Tish Harrison Warner, a priest of the Anglican Church, and read the opening sentence taken from a parable in the Bible’s Book of Luke, I had a knee-jerk reaction.  My automatic thinking process was telling me that the essay I was about to read could be an effort to proselytize me due to the many street vendors and mailers I have received in the past that have this goal in mind.  But to my pleasant surprise the article made much sense to me.  It spoke of how Americans have adopted a polarizing and moralistic way of thinking that paints those who have contrary beliefs as inhumane and monstrous.  This view of the “other,” as not only wrong, but bad, eliminates the possibility of useful dialogue among those that disagree with one another.

The above essay reminded me of an interaction I had with a member of a movie group of which my wife and I belong.  When it was his turn to select a film, this person chose:  Blue Ruin.  He and I have had a history of disagreeing with one another.  For the sake of brevity, let me simply say that his views are quite a bit further toward the left than mine.

The plot line of the film, Blue Ruin, was one of revenge in which a man in his twenties has planned to avenge the murder of his parents by another family, whose leader, was being released from prison after spending some 10 years incarcerated.  This man goes on a ruthless murder spree killing several family members, responsible for the death of his parents, before he himself dies.  When I first reacted to the film, I felt little empathy with the protagonist. Furthermore, in general, I do not enjoy movies that glorify violence.  The individual, who had selected the film, knowing that I am a psychologist expressed his surprise that I did not empathize with the main character. I did not reply to his comment at the time he made it.

Later that evening, however, I pondered over why I did not share his empathy for a man whose parents had been slain when he was a teen-ager.  I realized more fully that though I may have felt empathy for the killer when his parents had been murdered, I could not feel this emotion toward a man ravaged with hatred.  Moreover, the film had portrayed his sister as having gotten over the family tragedy, having married and had a child.  I could not feel empathy, that is put myself in the shoes of a person who had become obsessed with revenge, at the expense of improving his life circumstances, resulting in a killing spree.  I carefully took the time to write a letter to this very same person more clearly elucidating my point described above.  I thought he may agree with me, but even if he did not, I was pretty sure I would get some response back indicating he had read my letter and respected my point of view.  To my surprise, I never received a reply from him.  When I next saw him to discuss another film with the others, I approached him telling him I was disappointed that he had never answered the letter I had taken the time to compose.  He said something to the effect that he hadn’t responded because it was clear we disagreed implying he didn’t want to be bothered with people that don’t hold the same opinion as he does on issues of debate.

Polarization occurs when each side refuses to even listen to or have a conversation with the other.  I began this essay by pointing out my gut reaction to an op ed article written by a priest.  But I wisely decided to read the article against an instinctive reaction that would have denied me of the opportunity of seeing an important point, expressed in a unique way.  Here I allowed myself to see a perspective on the polarization occurring in America from a minister’s eyes.  Insofar as my colleague in the movie group refused to dialogue with me, any conversation and relationship I might have had with him was never allowed to begin.  Of course, the example of the two of us moviegoers not being able to start a meaningful dialogue is a microcosm of what is going on in much of America.  If we are only willing to accommodate those that think like us, we will be limiting our perspective and may be locked into a groupthink.  To avoid the groupthink mentality, we need allow ourselves to hear what others have to say and avoid the knee-jerk reaction of he/she is wrong and bad.  This more positive attitude will hopefully lead to a more meaningful dialogue where people can listen, with respect, to another’s viewpoint without necessarily agreeing with it.

An Evening with the Teeny Boppers

Last week, during our visit to Santa Barbara to celebrate our respective birthdays, my wife, Lisa, and I learned that Olivia Rodrigo, a young pop music star, would be performing at the Santa Barbara Bowl.  About a year earlier, I had read a complimentary piece in the New York Times discussing the song album, Sour, that Ms. Rodrigo had recently released.  The article had piqued my interest.  Needless to say, however, my attempts to buy tickets online or by phone were futile.  Because it was not too far from where we were staying, we went to the box office at the Santa Barbara Bowl and were told there were no tickets available for the concert.

Given what I had told Lisa about Olivia and our curiosity at going to an event at the Santa Barbara Bowl, we decided to go before the show began last Saturday evening.  We found ourselves at the back of the line that was growing in size waiting to see if there were extra tickets available at the last moment.  We were surrounded by teeny boppers, practically entirely female.  Inasmuch as the likelihood of gaining admission to the show did not look good, we agreed that I would roam around and see if anyone might have extra tickets to sell.  

As it was evident, that no one approaching the Bowl had extra tickets, I asked one of the parking attendants, if anyone had spoken of having a few spare tickets.  Sure enough, he led me to a woman who had two tickets she needed to sell.  She told me that she had bought them months ago for her granddaughter who could not go because she was studying for her final exams.  She wanted $500 for the two tickets.  To me that seemed high for, at most, an hour of entertainment as the opening act was already in progress.  She refused to come down in price saying that she had paid $1000 online for them months ago and wanted to only lose half of her purchase price.  My wife confirmed my uneasiness at paying so much for a concert whereupon I declined the woman’s offer.

As the evening progressed, we were in the middle of the line with still quite a number of people (i.e. teenage girls) in front of us.  We had arrived at about 7 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 and Olivia Rodrigo to come on at 8:40. By now it was about 8:15, and with no hope in sight, I suggested to Lisa, we call it quits and go for a drink. Not one to give up when she had a goal to reach, in this case what looked like the impossible, she remained on line with the teeny boppers.  Suddenly, out of the blue appeared two men, one somewhere in his fifties, the other about 20 years younger.  The older gentleman walked up to the line of us waiting and said he had 19 extra tickets mentioning a price of $150.  When one of the younger girls said that was too much he said fine I’ll take a $100 per ticket.  I heard murmurs of “he must be scamming us.”  But at this point knowing we had nothing to lose Lisa and I followed them with a few other girls and then, spontaneously, many other girls broke from the line and went with us.

We reached the turnstile where one of the attendants asked Lisa and I for proof of vaccination and upon showing it to him let us through.  Although we had been admitted, neither of us actually had the tickets in hand so we waited for all to go through the turnstile.  Then, our sugar daddies, introduced themselves as James, the older of the two, and Michael.  Because we only had a few minutes to get to our seats, they gave us their phone numbers; James told us we were on the honor’s system and we could pay them the next day.  James made sure we would not be sitting on the ground when he gave the two of us the tickets.  A trolley was parked waiting to take us up the ramp toward our seats in the nick of time.  Lisa and I, amidst a packed crowd of young teenagers, the majority by far being girls.  We located our seats about three or four minutes before Rodrigo came on.

It had been years since I had attended anything remotely similar to this type of event. I made two quick discoveries: 1) The teeny boppers that were there knew all the words and were singing with Ms. Rodrigo and 2) Practically everyone at the Bowl was standing the entire one hour of her performance.  Fortunately, the two girls in front of me stood far enough apart, as they sang, allowing me to see Olivia from a sitting position.  Although I had difficulty at first understanding the lyrics, I was able to adjust to the surrounding noise and tune in to the words sung by Ms. Rodrigo.  The contents of these songs followed the theme of young love, turned sour, Sour, being the title of her album.

The songs capture the pain of her being left for someone else. But it also points to her wanting so badly to be accepted that she does what she believes her partner wants. In the song, Enough for You, Olivia writes:

I wore makeup when we dated

‘Cause I thought you’d like me more

if I looked like the other prom queens

But later in the same song, she declares:

I don’t want your sympathy

I just want myself back

These lines express quite accurately the conflict that adolescents have in trying to impress others without forgetting who they really are.  Perhaps before taking on identities to please others, it is best to look ourselves in the mirror and ask the very complicated question of:  Who We Are?  Complicated because adolescence represents a stage of development where each new experience offers a different meaning, a different way of seeing those in our world.  It is a period that has been referred to from the German:  Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress).  Rodrigo’s songs speak to the vicissitudes of the emotions that ring true for so many adolescents today.  Moreover, the peaks and valleys of adolescence are further magnified by the ubiquitous nature of social media, so much a part of teen-age culture.  Regardless, to the fans that resonate with Rodrigo’s songs, she is more than a prom queen.

Let me conclude this blog on a positive note.  The next day I called up Mark and paid him the money I owed.  Expecting to be one of the few that paid on the “honors system,” he surprised me by telling me of the 19 people only two had yet to pay.  He also told me that both James and he had received texts thanking them so much and comparing them to Santa Claus.

The Muhammad Ali Syndrome

  

Years ago, my major advisor from graduate school, Arnold Lazarus, published an essay about retirement.  In the article, he was comparing the plight of the renowned Albert Ellis, who at the time was in his ‘90’s, to Muhammad Ali.  Although he had his wits, Ellis was almost deaf, and what he had been known for in his early days, his use of four-letter words to shock his clients into changing, had become excessive, and no longer funny nor charming. 

The case of Muhammad Ali, a figure familiar to the world, is a perfect illustration of an individual who refused to retire from the brutal sport of boxing.  Recently, I saw the Ken Burns series that neatly captured the life of Muhammad Ali.  Although Ali was perhaps one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, the highlights from some of his fights showed the many punches he absorbed in winning his matches.  Many of his family and friends wanted him to retire but he wouldn’t listen to them.  If he had a glass jaw and was easy to knock out, he probably would not have wound up with the brain damage that he suffered from in the boxing ring.  After Ali knocked out the young, favorite George Foreman in the 8th round in Zaire, most observers thought Ali should have left the fighting game.  But he refused to quit. 

Ali went on to fight Joe Frazier a third time, in what he called the Thrilla in Manila, and he won by technical knock out after the 14th round.  It was a savage battle in which both fighters threw some heavy-duty punches.  Though, Ali continued to fight after that bout with Frazier, friends noticed that his mental processes had slowed.  Ironically, when the world had come to regard Ali with admiration, he lost the ability to talk aloud. After finally leaving the boxing arena, Ali admitted that Father Time had caught up with him.

In 2004, Lisa and I went on a Red Sox—Oriole Cruise where we had the pleasure of meeting Earl Weaver, the former manager of the Baltimore Orioles.  I asked Mr. Weaver what was the most difficult aspect of managing a major league baseball team.  He told me the hardest part of managing was benching a former star who no longer possessed the skills he had had earlier.  He named Brooks Robinson, the famed Oriole third baseman, as an example.

Because they don’t have to play their position but only have to bat, the designated hitter has allowed older sluggers, that may have retired earlier, to play more years.  An exception to the tendency for athletes to stay in the game too long, David Ortiz (aka Big Papi) could still hit the ball without showing the concomitant signs of aging.  The Red Sox would have signed him in 2017 but he did not want to return even though he had put up good numbers the previous year.  The constant physical conditioning had taken its toll on him as he stated to reporters: “I was done man. I ran out of gas.” He knew the Red Sox wanted him back and would pay him a hefty salary but it was no longer worth it to him.  Good for you, Big Papi!

I plan on working until my 80th birthday.  People ask why I am still working.  First, I am only working two days a week to avoid burn-out.  But also, because I very much like seeing people, and as a psychologist, enjoy helping them problem solve issues related to the difficulties brought on by life circumstances. Moreover, at this point in my career, I have the luxury of selecting clients I can work with and believe I can help.  When I first started out in my profession, I did not have that luxury.

I recently read an article in the New York Times about some of the problems Diane Feinstein, the Democratic Senator from California, is having with recent memory.  She is currently 88 years old.  The newspaper account indicated she is firmly holding on to her position because she is of the belief that she still has the capacity to serve in the fullest.  Though some of her democratic colleagues have defended her, many others question her ability to function in the manner she has in the past.

Without a doubt, quitting can be especially hard for those with prominent careers and the desire to continue to contribute in their fields of interest.  Long ago, my father, who never retired, and did have his “marbles” to the end of his life, told me: “When you leave, you are out of the game and no one cares about you.”  For some of us, leaving the game might be too hard to bear. Others might not know what to do after they retire. I have seen a number of clients that have this problem.  I have assisted some of these clients in finding alternative ways of spending their time such as volunteering or mentoring younger people in sharing whatever set of skills they may offer.  I have a colleague who has maintained regular support and guidance with his grandchildren, an exercise that has provided him with much satisfaction.  Lisa, my wife, has just transferred her enthusiasm and organizational skills in her career to volunteering with an advocacy organization. The key point to recognize is that retirement need not be the end of one’s road but the beginning of another journey where purpose and meaning still can be found.