Note to Self: Time to Rethink Social Media

It's evening in America.
It’s evening in America.

The Inauguration and the marches are behind us and now the work begins in earnest. On the radio earlier this week I heard a Russian journalist warn against being distracted by “chaff” news, and the example he gave was the inaugural crowd size kerfuffle from the weekend. In Russia, ridiculous lies about non-essential news is a tactic used to distract from significant news that consequently gets underreported. To paraphrase, he said that they deliberately draw attention to what they are saying to distract reporters and the public from the things that they are doing.

My new mantra: We cannot allow things that are tangential or invasive to distract us from what is important, nor can we ignore the glimmers of good even as we expect the worst.

I am totally guilty of pouncing on the snark currently dominating Facebook, even though I also try to share substantive news.  Recently I shared numerous pieces about the departing First Family, the stark differences in style and manners, the copycat cake, and signs from the march. I didn’t march myself, but all month long I wrote emails and made calls about cabinet appointments and pending legislation. I am grateful to those who did march, and I try to be sensitive to those that felt the march was not as inclusive as they had hoped. Can you appreciate enthusiasm and check privilege at the same time? I hope so. I’m trying.

No amount of fire could challenge the fairy tale he had stored up in his heart. – F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

I keeping picturing the green light blinking in the fog across the sound in The Great Gatsby. The careless carnage of the Buchanans is playing out in front of us and sometimes it feels like we are helpless to stop it. The voters are Gatsby, who thinks the billionaires club is itching for us to join when really we will just be taking the fall for them.  If we let the pomp and the parties distract us – if we let the real news sink under the weight of the confetti – the careless couple (Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, to be precise) will blithely continue to put their interests before ours and we will end up face down in the water.

Meanwhile, the media will chase the confetti. NBC has plundered FOX News’ anchors not to improve its journalism but to improve its ratings. In 2015 Trump hosted SNL playing a candidate and now they have Alec Baldwin coming back to host SNL playing Trump (February 11). CNN is only “discovering” now that broadcasting lies upon lies with real-time coverage is tacitly endorsing those untruths. For 18 months Donald Trump got all the live, unedited, un-factchecked coverage he could ask for at his rallies and only now is CNN delaying broadcast of a White House press conference so they can decide whether it is newsworthy. I’m hard pressed (pun intended) to believe that the only reason they are doing that now is that it won’t cost them much in terms of ad revenue – the people who ate up Trump’s rallies with a spoon will not give the same attention to a White House press conference. But if a conference is deemed “newsworthy” they can take the juicy bits and tart them up for prime time, right? Talking about what they say and giving short shrift to what they do. Putin will approve.

2008-01-04-015All last fall we heard the allegedly liberal media speak admiringly of how brilliantly Kellyanne Conway was taming Trump and keeping him on message. They looked on her lies and deflections with bemusement, thinking surely the sideshow would never make it to the center ring. They must be rubbing their hands with delight now that the Kellyanne and Donald show will go on and on, right up to the impeachment, which will also be fantastic for ratings.

And Congress wrings its hands and explains wanly that what we thought were checks and balances are actually gentleman’s agreements: it turns out tax returns, blind trusts and anti-nepotism rules are not codified, really, just suggested.  Who knew? And Mitch McConnell has proven that even the rules that are codified in the Constitution, like those governing Supreme Court appointments, can be completely ignored as long as you have a big enough majority.

But it was the targeting of the President’s young son on social media that made me stop short and reassess my own social media priorities and boundaries. There is a lot that could be said about this young man that might be insightful and helpful, but the fact is it’s really not our business to speculate about how the fishbowl of the White House might affect him. The best we can do is leave him alone and hope that he never has to feel alone.

So from now on I am going to try and be more careful about how I use my accounts and platforms, drawing a more thoughtful line between fun and news. I will be bypassing pussy hats for corgies in the snow, posting fewer retweets and more legislative alerts, and sharing the kinds of art, food, and literature that keep me optimistic. I will continue to emphasize news about disability and autism (saving Medicaid and the preserving the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and trying not to overshare the “chaff.” I hope people will share my posts that matter to them without my asking.

This post is my way of holding myself accountable: to keep my social media eye on the ball and pay less attention to what people in power are saying and more attention to what they are doing. Words matter. Actions matter even more, and sharing and retweeting alone do not count as action.


Homeland Insecurity: Seeking Refuge from Ourselves

As a kid in the 1970s, I was shaped by current events like everyone else. A news junkie even then, I was glued to the TV:  Walter Cronkite, political conventions, Watergate trials, absorbed the details of the Viet Nam war, the Soviet menace, the Cultural Revolution, and the decline of America’s cities. Even though so much in the news was discouraging I was optimistic. I still was fascinated by government, I still wanted to travel the world (Nixon went to China – yes!), and I still wanted to live in New York City, bankrupt or not.

The only fear that took root in my heart was sown by Charles Manson and a murder case in which a local family was murdered in their beds on Halloween night. Random, hate-filled crime kept me up at night, paralyzed with fear. In an Iowa town where doors were always unlocked and keys left in the car, I drove my family crazy by locking all of the doors before I went to bed at night (as the youngest it can be assumed I regularly locked out most of my many siblings). I slept fully dressed sometimes, down to my sneakers.

My Mom hated herself for leaving the copy of Helter Skelter out on the coffee table that, with its graphic crime-scene photos in the center, triggered my not-so-latent anxiety disorder. She did everything she could to help me gain perspective, and, over time, the words of the Memorare  and Franklin Roosevelt’s  “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” lodged themselves permanently in my psyche. I recite them both regularly even now. Especially now.

DSC01780 - Version 2If the internet had existed then my head very well may have exploded.

And so what are we to do today, when the worst of humanity is on display 24/7? Plenty of people are writing about that. Understanding that electronic media is here to stay, I’ve tried to engage my kids about all that is happening so I can get a read on how they are managing the flow of information. It’s all a work in progress – I claim neither victory or defeat in the parenting wars. My kids seem to have a grip on what makes the current situation scary, but they are as confused as I am by how people who should know better are talking about it.

As an eleven-year-old it was understandable that, at one point, I feared the entire state of California because Manson was there. But my wise mother insisted on taking me there, plying me with Agatha Christie books for the plane ride so that I could see that most crimes were not random and that the perpetrators were caught and brought to justice – just as Manson and the local murderer were. It took a couple of years, but by age 14 I came to understand that I could safely exist in the world and that living with uncertainty was fine as long as it did not rule me. I grew up to attend a big city high school, leave home for college, live on my own and hold a job that required I answer security calls in the middle of the night in downtown Boston.

Why is it then, that my 14-year-old self seems so much more rational than so many people in positions of authority today? I came to understand that Manson’s insanity was not a reflection on the people of California, that most murderers have a coherent motive for their crimes, and that the political world is a complicated place in which what you hear on the news is, at best, only partially true. I even learned that people who run for President pretend to know things they don’t, and that being President bears little resemblance to running for President.

We have all watched events overtake every President when he entered office and seen them fundamentally change him – events that could not  have been predicted on the campaign trail. Nixon? Watergate. Ford? Being President and having to pardon his predecessor. Carter? Iranian hostage crisis. Reagan? Assassination attempt. Bush? Saddam Hussein. Clinton? Newt Gingrich and hubris (well, everyone should have predicted that). Bush? 9/11. Obama? Financial crisis and, well, this. Every modern President has had to face unrest in the Middle East, but none of them could accurately predict how they would handle it until they were sworn in.

Most Americans don’t have to dig too far back into their family history to find someone running from something. Religious persecution, potato famine, Nazis, war, poverty. People came here for freedom and shelter, and I don’t think all of them turned out to be model citizens; for every Dzhokhar Tsarnaev you can find a Sacco and Vanzetti. Every family tree has a bad apple if you look back a generation or two.

So why do we think that barring refugees from Syria – the few we have agreed to accept – is either justifiable or practical?  Plenty of Americans commit acts of terrorism against each other; how might we reduce the odds of that happening? Let’s see. Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina all have has a murder rates more than double the one here – can we stop the clearly untrustworthy southerners at the border of of my northern state? How is that less ridiculous than maligning an entire country or religion? What is the difference between opening fire on a theater in Paris and opening fire on a movie theater in Colorado? Mister Trump, we are our own Trojan Horse.

Hate has no home state – or country.

It’s not like the current refugee programs aren’t vetting the refugees from war torn countries who currently enter the US. The idea that up until now refugees from middle eastern nations have been flowing over the borders unfettered is preposterous. Even the translators who aid and protect US soldiers and journalists have a tough time getting the asylum they were promised. The current vetting process is long and security checks are required; it can take as long as two years (and once Congress is finished, will likely take longer). As reported today, of the 1800 Syrians who have been granted refugee status in the last two years, half of them are children and one quarter of them are elderly; only 2% are single men.

The governors and congresspeople say they want to stop the already glacial flow of refugees so they can look to see if our laws and procedures are sufficient to protect Americans to threats from abroad. But most of them are not the least bit interested in protecting us from the threats from our fellow countrymen. Regardless of heritage (or religion), there are more American citizens murdering other Americans now in the space of a year than terrorists have, ever. We all know there are few barriers to anyone who wants to procure an assault weapon in the US. I’m all for a review of the laws and procedures that affect our national interests and personal safety –  as long as gun safety is on the agenda.

I hope we can learn from history and look at the facts about what and whom we really have to worry about. Meanwhile, I’m saying a  prayer for the world.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.

Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer me.


Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice
The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice

Four years ago today I went out to play with the kids and take photos in the snow. Two minutes into it I slipped on smooth ice under the snow and landed on my head and watched the Presidential Inauguration through the fog of a mild concussion (Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain). Sometimes it still hurts on that spot at the back of my head, and it hurts, too, to know that not everything has gone as well as we had hoped over the last four years. We feel more divided and less safe and we are still at war, but we seem to be making progress in a lot of important areas even as we fall behind in others.

It's not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do
It’s not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do

In 2009, we were elated at the historical significance of Barack Obama’s election and also in survival mode from the Great Recession. Then, we were looking at some huge milestones for our kids and wondering how we would survive those. Now, we are satisfied from having accomplished so much, proud of our children, but weary and a little worried about the world we are handing to them. It is a new kind of uncertainty, informed by the realization that talking about peace and compromise are so much easier than accomplishing them – and we really thought we knew that. Sometimes it’s like the 1970s all over again, just with better clothes and more cynicism (which I didn’t think was possible).

I still have high hopes for our President, still feel the same thrill at seeing the monuments and marble corridors in Washington that we have visited a few times in recent years, still look ahead optimistically to the next milestones for our family. And I still walk very gingerly in the snow.

Mr. President, on the inside, looking out
Mr. President, on the inside, looking out – God Speed, sir

Hubba Bubba: Bill Clinton Redeems Himself

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this election cycle, there is no arguing that Bill Clinton gave a master class in politics at the Democratic National Convention last night. He has never given a better speech at a more important moment. It should be required viewing (along with the written version so his brilliant improvisation comes through) for anyone interested in any kind of political career. The Republican strategists on MSNBC openly envied him, saying that their party did not offer anyone close to Clinton’s performance in terms of political mastery. I haven’t had that much fun watching a speech since Reagan.

I used to cringe when I heard Clinton speak as President, and when I stood at a rope line near him in January 2008 in Nashua, New Hampshire, he was charismatic but in a creepy and pandering kind of way. He was clearly worried, angry and exhausted after witnessing Hillary’s defeat to Barack Obama in the Iowa Caucuses the night before. His angsty presence was so distracting while Hillary spoke that he and Chelsea eventually moved behind the campaign bus halfway through her rally. Later, when he emerged to work the crowd, along that rope line he scanned the crowd for the (few) people of color and, reaching beyond me more than once, pulled them toward him to take pictures, as if he needed to prove he hadn’t lost his influence with them.

After being such a skunk during the 2008 primaries, he owed this performance to Obama, and delivered spectacularly. The President has a tough act to follow.

Who Wants to be the Next Leader of the Free World?

Let’s just put Meredith Viera in charge and get this over with, shall we?  A million debates and we still need voters to tell us that Newt Gingrich is a nut job?  It would be so much easier – and cheaper – if we just made this primary thing into reality TV show.  Something like a hybrid of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, American Idol and American’s Next Iron Chef – we can charge people to text in their votes and sell commercial time (Lowe’s still has some money to spend after pulling out of All-American Muslim, right?). Talk about capitalism at work!  Come to think of it we can even use some of those contestants as fillers – a little (okay, maybe a lot) Mario Batali here, and a Geoffrey Zakarian in the competition would give the candidates a little perspective.  Each week they send them to a different state for a challenge – butter sculpting at the Iowa State Fair or a square dance at the South Carolina State Capitol – and then there’s a local fare tasting and a foreign and domestic policy quiz at the end.  I’m perfectly happy to let Meredith and pal Alton Brown tally the votes and send someone home every week – the two finalists get to go to the convention.

Who’s with me?

It’s that time again – January, and an election year to boot

How many platitudes, resolutions and predictions can you cram into one January blog post?  The mind reels.  But times are changing and I can’t stop thinking about it because it all seems so overwhelming good and bad – it’s exhausting to move so constantly from depression to enthusiasm to panic in sub-zero weather.  Coffee. Wine. Cupcakes. Stale Christmas cookies.  I’ve tried them all.  And I just read on the Internet – on Science Daily, no less – that people who write about their emotions regularly are more likely to lose weight.  Seriously.  So I put down my cupcake and here I am, typing away on my fabulous new computer on which I should be writing anyway because, well, what else am I going to do while the plumber is here fixing my bathroom?  Unfortunately the article does not give me a word count to reach before I can return to my cupcake.

But seriously, 2012 is bound to be a doozy one way or the other, right?  The Iowa Caucuses alone constitute a shot over the bow.  And even though that is indeed a link to the Daily Show’s coverage of the caucuses, pretty much any coverage of it is hilarious.  I’m not rushing out the door this year to take in the New Hampshire primary scramble this year, though, oddly tempting as a Newt Gingrich sighting might be.  Back in 2008, I spent the day after the caucuses tracking down Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

I watched Bill and Chelsea Clinton, wearing pained expressions as they watched Hillary try to recover from her loss to Obama the night before.

I witnessed McCain’s last retail style appearance at a Hollis, NH, pharmacy in which I was one of a handful of people who saw Warren Rudman endorsing McCain.  The tiny store was so jammed with press people and equipment there was no room for actual voters – Cindy wisely stayed on the straight talk express bus.  after that, it was all Town Hall style venues.  I also spent some quality time observing CNN’s John King at work in the still-empty country pharmacy as he waited for McCain to appear.  This was before he was promoted to the role of smart screen guru in the studio – I recall being in awe of his ability to talk on a cell phone, look at a Blackberry and type on his laptop all at once.  Even just 4 years ago that kind of multitasking was novel stuff.  Still, he took time out to chat about the momentous events in Iowa and was relaxed and personable even as he continued to work and the room slowly filled with people around him.It was probably the best January morning I have ever spent anywhere.  Mitt, Rick and Newt could not hope to come close.

Bringing Democracy

I heard on the radio this morning about the Afghan peoples’ disappointment that the United States failed to deliver on its promise to bring democracy to Afghanistan and I wonder whether any outside entity has ever successfully brought democracy to any nation.  I may be out of my depth here; I am not a history scholar, but any lasting efforts to fundamentally change the political structure of a nation appear to have carried through by the people themselves.  Americans have always kept the flame alive, overtly and covertly, but Solidarity had deep Polish roots, the Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall , Gorbachev oversaw the breakup of the USSR.  Can democracy be exported?  It can be funded, encouraged, and nurtured, but I think the idea of exporting a successful turnkey government (even if it appears to be handcrafted a la Karzai) is preposterous and I thought that this failed conceit was the big lesson of Viet Nam.  I do think that the undermining the Taliban and rooting out Al Qaeda are noble causes that can save lives and personal freedoms, but I cannot comprehend how we can reverse centuries of skepticism about Western motives in Middle Eastern nations; President Obama may have a better shot at it than most, but I still think the parameters of the mission and the methods should be redrawn, and fast.

We Thought We Could

Election Night 2006 confetti

Election night 2006.  That’s Deval Patrick on the jumbo screen at right, emerging triumphant in his victory as the first person of color to be elected governor of Massachusetts.  The campaign slogan was Together We Can.  The headline in today’s Boston Globe was that he will cut 1,000 state jobs to avoid a budget deficit of $600 million.  He didn’t create the recession, but there is still something terribly disheartening about this news.  Families of people with disabilties will lose the people who support them, more teachers will lose their jobs, more schools will be overcrowded, and politicians – the Governor included – may use this as an excuse to build casinos in Massachusetts.  He is sinking in a quagmire not of his own making, and signs point that he is looking to all the wrong people to pull him out.  I don’t blame him for not getting along with his own legislature – even though his party holds the majority – but, just as with Obama, I wonder if he has been able to surround himself with people who are truly like-minded.

That election night was an interesting moment in time.  Ted Kennedy spoke (boring boilerplate), as did John Kerry (deadly boring boilerplate – leftover from 2004 Presidential campaign) and Martha Coakley (most boring of all attorney general-speak that she still uses in her current campaign to fill Kennedy’s Senate seat).  Patrick was the beaming exception.  Like Obama – he literally lit up the room.

Still, my favorite moment from that night did not take place on the floor, but in the empty corridor outside as my daughter and I were going out to find something to eat before the speeches began.  It was one of those enormous convention center hallways that could accomodate a truck if it was required, and walking toward us was a man in a red pullover sweater.  He looked familiar and I squinted to get a better look.  He smiled at me and, not breaking his easy stride, smiled and said “Hi there, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”  I nodded and returned the smile as we passed each other. 

 My daughter looked at me, and said “Who was that?  It seemed like he knew you.”

“That, my dear, was Mike Dukakis.   And he was once the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.  I’ve never met him before, but that’s what good politicians do – they make everybody feel like them know them.”

“That guy in the red sweater walking all by himself?”

That guy in the red sweater walking all by himself.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: