Category Archives: social policy

Living in a Post-Pandemic World

No, settle down. We’re not there yet.

You’d think with all the CDC mask roll-backs and the number of vaccinations you see on TV, that the whole national nightmare is over.

Well, it’s not.

We have not reached “herd immunity.” Herd immunity occurs when so many people in a population have been vaccinated that the virus has no place to go. Various estimates state that between 70% and 90% of the US population must have been vaccinated in order for that to happen. The US population is 382 million (give or take). Only 36% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and not quite half have received the first dose. I’ve done the math: that means to reach herd immunity, approximately 2/3 of the people in the US still need to be fully vaccinated. That’s over 250 million. We’re nowhere need herd immunity.

Sorry about all the math, but it’s important. Just because the CDC or your state government or whoever lifts mask and social distancing and sanitizing restrictions doesn’t mean that that’s a good, sensible thing to do. Why do you think states are offering incentives varying from a free beer up to $1,000,000 for folks to get vaccinated? It’s not because they’re comfortable with the numbers who already have.

The United States embodies a philosophy of rugged individualism (also one of not having paid attention in math and health class). But it also has a philosophy of helping one’s neighbor. Right now the rugged individualists are ahead. Those who refuse to wear masks put themselves in danger of contracting COVID. But, perhaps more importantly, they put at risk those who cannot take the vaccine for health reasons, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. And we’re talking here about real health reasons, not the phony-baloney fake “I’m exempt” cards that you can print up yourself or order off the internet.

(My husband, who works at a store greeter, meets many of these people every day. He says he’s always tempted to ask them what that medical condition is – rhinotillexomania? The store won’t let him. But I digress.)

It’s sad to think that so few Americans are willing to be in the “helping their neighbors” camp. Some are certainly stepping up. TV ads promote helping neighbors get to a vaccination site. Uber is offering free rides, and people are encourage to donate to Uber to help defray the cost. I have heard of buses that give free rides to those who are on their way to get vaccinated.

My husband and I are fortunate. We were able to get our vaccines at a Walmart within five miles of our house, with at most a 45-minute wait for the first shot. And Dan’s employer gave a $100 bonus to anyone who showed a valid vaccination card.

As to side effects, another reason that people cite as being a reason they don’t get the shot, I can report that in my case I had chills and fatigue the next day, but since I get chills and fatigue on a fairly regular basis, it wasn’t really a big deal.

And to the people who think their civil rights are being violated by COVID restrictions: You meekly go along with signs in every place of business that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Why is “no mask” so much more oppressive? What’s the big deal about having proof of vaccination? Your kids have to prove they’ve had measles, mumps, diphtheria, and other vaccinations before they can be enrolled in school.

The post-pandemic world will be a great one. It’s inconvenient to wear a mask and socially distance (one would hope that hand-washing would not seem very onerous). It’s unpleasant at best not to be able to hold weddings and funerals and graduations without some precautions. And there are people who are genuinely afraid of needles, to whom I would like to say, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” But really, it’s hard for me to believe that 2/3 of Americans are so needle-phobic that they can’t get a vaccination.

And this is not even considering the rest of the world. Travel companies are starting to advertise vacations abroad (with cancellation and rebooking policies). But the real problem is that this is such a global society that even Zoom conferences can’t take the place of face-to-face ones forever (though they do perhaps point out how little business travel really needs to be done and how many people are quite capable of working from home).

But there are outbreaks in Brazil, India, and other countries. We may talk about not letting people from other countries into the United State, but there are still countries that won’t let US citizens into theirs without COVID testing or proof of vaccine.

For the moment, let’s not even talk about how the coronavirus may be (or is) mutating and what that might do to our social structures.

But just know that sometimes “rugged individualist” is a synonym for “asshole,” at least when it comes to matters of life and death.

What I Do – And Don’t – Know About the Vaccine

This week I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine, which was the kind they had at Walmart, where I was able to get an appointment for me and my husband. I don’t really know the difference between that and the Pfizer one, but I do know the Johnson & Johnson one (also called Janssen, for some reason) requires only one shot to be effective and requires less refrigeration than the others.

Getting the shot itself was okay. My arm didn’t hurt at all until the next day and was then just a minor nuisance.

Actually, my legs hurt more than my arm did, because there was a lot of walking, waiting, and standing involved. The trip went like this: From the parking lot into the store. From the front door to the pharmacy department. Standing in line there, while they tried to find my insurance on their computer. Then to the lawn and garden department at the other end of the store, where the shots were being given, for some reason (one of the things I don’t know about the vaccine). And I had to stand in line there too, while my husband was scoping out planters.

But that’s just me bitching.

The truth is, while I didn’t enjoy every minute of the process, I was overjoyed that I got the vaccination. It’s not that I enjoy injections (or “jabs,” as the rest of the world calls them). I’m not needle-phobic.

One thing I don’t know about the vaccine is why it was so hard to find a location that would give it to us. It would have made sense to get vaccinated at the pharmacy in the store where my husband works, but no. I was put on one of the infinity waiting lists and Dan couldn’t even get on that because he doesn’t have a smartphone so he couldn’t get a text about it. (Dan is the last person in America to have a stupidphone, one of the old flip variety. I think he just likes to pretend he’s a cast member on the original Star Trek.)

I tried a couple of other local pharmacies. I tried registering online, but no appointments were forthcoming. And there were no stadium drive-through vaccinations (that I heard of). At last, I tried Walmart. I’m not fond of Walmart, for any number of reasons. But this time they booked appointments for us within a reasonable time.

Now, as to the supposed dangers of the vaccine. Here’s what I do know.

You cannot get autism from the vaccine, as one of Dan’s coworkers fears. That was definitively debunked years ago (the doctor who started it all lost his license) and was only considered a potential hazard for children when the rumor was first going around (the bogus rumor, I add).

You will not be chipped by Bill Gates. First of all, the tiny needles they use for the vaccination are too small to contain even a microchip like the ones my cats have. And Gates surely has no interest in where I go (which isn’t of interest to much of anyone at all, not even me). Nor do I think he cares what I spend, as long as some of it is on Microsoft Windows, which I need to do my work. Besides, your cell phone is perfectly adequate to track your movements, if anyone is interested.

You will not get the Mark of the Beast along with the vaccine. None of the vaccines I’ve gotten – smallpox, flu, etc. – have had the least effect on my soul. I don’t see why this one should be any different.

Taking the vaccine is not the first step in a long, convoluted trail to government control and a cashless society that keeps track of where we go and rules our bank accounts (see Bill Gates, above).

Getting the vaccine has not changed my DNA (or even my RNA). I would not pass along tainted genes to any hypothetical children, and I will not turn into a half-human-half-animal person. DNA doesn’t work that way, and neither do vaccines.

I do believe I might get flu-like symptoms when I get my second dose, but I’ve handled the flu before. It’s a drag, but not as big a drag as COVID.

All in all, I’m glad I got vaccinated. All I really have to say about it is “Go ye and do likewise.”

 

Big Pharma and COVID-19

Big Pharma has a bad rep. And there are certainly valid reasons for that. Recent accounts of price gouging, particularly on common, life-saving drugs like insulin, have had consumers fuming. The cost of newer drugs is sky-high. And there have been an awful lot of drugs that were apparently sent to market too early, leading to a lot of dire side effects and drug recalls. Add to that the dubious practice of advertising prescription medications direct-to-consumer, and Big Pharma has abused the trust of the American people. The drugs they develop and sell may be – indeed, often are – beneficial and even life-saving, but that doesn’t seem to dissipate much of the cloud of bad feeling surrounding American pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Unfortunately, Big Pharma is likely going to be needed to help get us through the coronavirus crisis.

Sure, there are government agencies involved in the process of developing treatments and vaccines as well – the CDC, FDA, and NIH, to name a few. But even these institutes and organizations have been tainted by the dubious reputation of large drug companies. They are seen as in cahoots together, developing and testing drugs together, rushing them onto shelves and into doctors’ offices and hospitals, patenting the results, and pocketing the proceeds. Never mind whether that’s an accurate portrayal or not. That’s the public sentiment.

But where, exactly, do people believe that COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are going to come from, if not from Big Pharma and the various institutes? This is a novel virus, not likely to be much affected by drugs that already exist, though those should certainly be tried. Cures for other diseases have already been tested on COVID-19 and found wanting. Crackpot theories such as drinking bleach have made the rounds, with the potential to do great harm rather than help. Developing pharmaceuticals requires a huge investment of time and especially money. Big Pharma has to be big to work even as well as it does. So, yes, we should be looking to Big Pharma, if not directly for discovering a vaccine, at the very least for manufacturing and distributing it. Basically, there aren’t any mom-and-pop vaccine shops, biotech start-ups and upstarts notwithstanding. 

The question then becomes, if and when Big Pharma does develop drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 (far from guaranteed – we still don’t have a vaccine for HIV/AIDS), will people be willing to use them?

Scientific literacy is pretty low in the US right now. People don’t understand how vaccines work. Of course, that isn’t entirely the fault of the US education system. For decades now, there has been a growing party of anti-vaxxers that don’t just not understand the science, but refuse to even consider it. And facts don’t matter to those whose minds are made up. Still, after all these years and the complete discrediting of the guy who faked the study, people believe that vital childhood vaccinations cause autism.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists. I don’t know how many people there are who actually believe that Bill Gates is a Bond-style supervillain living on a volcano island, petting a long-haired white cat, but there certainly is a vocal subset of people who proclaim that, even should a vaccine for COVID-19 be produced, they will not use it, for fear of being microchipped, or submitting to the New World Order, or the Number of the Beast, or something. There may not be many people that far out on the limb, but their fervent influence has the potential to disrupt the herd immunity that ought to develop after the proper use of a new, effective vaccine.

So, the question becomes, if and when a treatment or vaccine becomes available, will people be smart enough to avail themselves of it? Or will the lack of trust in Big Pharma, the medical establishment, and medical science itself mean that sufferers will deny themselves treatment and go right on spreading the deadly disease?

I suppose it in part depends on how horrendous the death toll has been by the time that a vaccine exists, and how many family members, friends, and loved ones of doubters have died. 

 

 

 

Sick of the Virus

I am sick of all the coronavirus blog posts and memes. But there are a few that I’m particularly sick of, especially the defiant ones and the conspiracy theories. Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth.

No, COVID-19 was not engineered by the Chinese or anyone else. There are plenty of viruses running around out in the wild and jumping species without anyone having to create them in a lab. Just because this one might affect you doesn’t mean it’s special.

No, wearing a mask does not violate your civil liberties. Miners and construction workers have to wear hardhats. Painters have to wear masks or respirators. Surgeons have to wear gowns, gloves, and masks. There are laws about these things designed to protect the people involved. If they can suck it up and wear protective equipment without protesting, so can you.

No, your need for a haircut does not trump my need for staying off a respirator.

Yes, social distancing is inconvenient, but it still beats having your lungs filled with fluid.

Yes, the employees in businesses that are still open probably hate wearing masks too and sanitizing their hands multiple times a day. But they don’t want to take your viruses back home to the people they care about.

No, it’s not necessary to carry guns to rallies protesting COVID-19 restrictions. Shooting legislators and health authorities will not make a bit of difference to the virus. Show some dignity, people. 

Yes, states have the right to respond to the virus in any way they choose, but they ought to consider that the virus does not care about state lines or crossing them. An informed national policy would make the crisis less of a crisis, though.

No, people in the 70s did not like gas rationing, any more than people during World War II liked rationing of gas, sugar, flour, shoes, and many other commodities. But they put up with it for the sake of a greater goal. In this case, the greater goal that restrictions are required for is preserving the lives of innocent people.

No, you don’t need that much toilet paper. The virus attacks the respiratory system, not the GI tract. Leave some for others, for goodness sake. Let’s not be ridiculous here.

No, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros had nothing to do with the origin or spread of the virus and are not using it as an excuse to microchip everyone. (Microchipping your pets is still a good idea.)

Yes, staying at home and sheltering in place can be boring. And trying to work from home or home-schooling your kids can be frustrating. But there are people who do these things by choice, every day of the year, and if they can put up with it, so can you. Boredom and inconvenience are not sufficient reasons to risk death for yourself or others.

No, politics has no effect on the virus. It hits red states and blue states equally, all things being equal. Some states are just more on the ball than others when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus. Look at Ohio – a red state with a governor who listens to a doctor and takes her advice about proper precautions. The virus wasn’t “timed” to interfere with elections either. There’s no way you can make a virus do that.

Yes, you are acting like an idiot if you harass (or shoot) employees who insist you wear a mask. They are carrying out their employers’ instructions or the health regulations of their state, county, city, or other authority. They’re not to blame for it.

No, no one is whipping up fear for fear’s sake. COVID-19 is already fearsome enough without it. This is not a plot to use fear to control us all. 

Yes, I have an axe to grind, “skin in the game,” as it were. I am a senior with an immune condition and an immunosuppressant medication. My husband has diabetes and a job in the high-risk environment of a grocery store. If either one of us gets the virus, we’re likely both toast.

There. I hope I’ve made it clear. These “news” stories, rumors, memes, and speculation have to stop. There are people’s lives at stake here, folks.

When the Pandemic’s Over

Right now there are a lot of blog posts that tell you how to get through this period when we are plagued with COVID-19, the coronavirus. There are helpful patterns for sewing masks. There are recipes to try and games to play to while away the time spent in self-isolation. There are exhortations to take up a new hobby or learn a new language or just take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. There are also entertaining conspiracy theories for the origin of the virus, which seem to involve germ warfare, Hillary Clinton, bats, the Deep State, and the elections. (Personally, “bats” is the word that comes to my mind to describe these theories.) There has even been a virtual science fiction convention online that has been running for weeks instead of just for the usual weekend.

But at some time – no one knows just when – there will be a break in the clouds of invisible invaders and we will all breathe a cautious sigh of relief. What will we all do then? Keep practicing our new hobbies and languages? Try to turn those masks back into bandanas or fetching little hats?

I have some suggestions.

Hug everyone you care about. One of the worst things about social isolation and distancing is that they make you feel … isolated and distant. We may be shy about returning to shaking hands as a social norm (I prefer the Vulcan hand salute). But hugs are life-affirming and life-sustaining.

I’m not recommending that we substitute hugs for other greetings for business or ordinary social purposes. But so many of us have been without hugs and long for a brief squeeze or a warm embrace with a friend, a grandchild, a lover, a niece – whoever has been involuntarily separated from you. It is my great good fortune to be acquainted with some world-class huggers (including my husband) and it is my intent to line them all up and hug every one of them. 

Be prepared for the next time. There will be a next time, make no mistake. COVID-19 may not confer immunity, leading to a second wave. There’s always the regular flu season, which I suspect will now make us all very anxious. And there’s been SARS, the Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and countless other pandemics that crop up with surprising regularity (and not just at election time, either).

I’m not suggesting that we all fill one closet with toilet paper and another with bottled water, pasta, and hand sanitizer. But it couldn’t hurt to keep on hand at least one extra package of the things that the stores keep running out of. Take advantage of two-for-one sales. It’s like filling up your gas tank when it’s half empty (a thing my father did faithfully).

Eat out and shop locally. Bars, restaurants, and small local businesses are among the industries hit the hardest. Some may never recover. But those that do will need patronage to get back on their proverbial feet. And tip well. Servers in particular have been hard hit. I understand that with contactless pizza delivery now in place, customers are forgetting to leave some money in an envelope taped to the door for the driver. And the “delivery fee,” if there is one, doesn’t go to the driver. It goes to the store. (You didn’t know that?) Tip for food delivery the same as you would for a restaurant meal – 15% or 20%.

Educate yourself. There are good nonfiction books – reputable sources – that offer information on epidemiology, pandemics, zoonoses (illnesses transmitted by animals to humans), and epizootics (epidemics ditto). David Quammen’s Spillover, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown are good places to start. 

Maybe if more people understood a little bit about how these diseases develop and spread there would be less fear, scapegoating, and improbable chains of coincidences presented as theories.

Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It may.

 

The Equal Restrooms Amendment

Back when I was in high school, the Equal Rights Amendment was in the news. (Yes, I am that old.) We debated it, researched it, wrote papers on it, and held mock elections. Boys carried signs calling it the “Equal Restrooms Amendment.” (They were making fun of the ERA, but in fact, restroom parity seemed like a good idea at the time, as there was always a line in the women’s room, but never one in the men’s. But I digress.)

Now, with the ERA poised to become law (perhaps) since Virginia ratified it, the most important issue to some is how it will affect restrooms. Pearls are being clutched over the idea that any male – and especially transgender ones – can just walk into a women’s bathroom, locker room, or shower room and peep at the girls. Or worse. There’s also a lot of talk about men being able to compete in women’s sports and win all the prizes.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that the entire text of the amendment reads:

ARTICLE —

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That’s it. Not a word about restrooms or sports. According to section two, the states can make any laws they want about restroom restrictions or sporting events, and the courts (now packed with Republicans) will decide whether they are constitutional – whether they abide by the ERA.

It’s also important to note that there are already laws that say men are not allowed to stalk, molest, kidnap, or otherwise harass women or children in restrooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Of course, these laws do not prevent men from doing so, but they establish penalties should anyone transgress. The ERA would not change these laws.

Really, the hubbub seems to be more about transgender individuals, who (at least according to the opponents) decide every day which gender they wish to be. And individuals with penises – always a danger to women who necessarily have their pants down. Or transgender individuals who have not had their penises removed. Or something. (The prospect of lesbians peeping in women’s restrooms is never addressed, perhaps because it is not a real problem.)

And let’s not forget men participating in women’s sports. Or having an unfair advantage if they do. Or something. Never mind that there are many sports, such as marathon races, that allow both women and men to participate. Yes, the men usually do better than the women, but that’s not the point. Women used to be arrested for trying to run in a marathon. Now they can, all without the ERA. (Title IX, which dictates parity in women’s and men’s sports in publically funded institutions like schools and colleges, is something totally else.)

But let’s get back to the intent of the ERA, those three tiny sections (not hundreds of pages of documents, as some have claimed and apparently believe). Their purpose is to establish equal rights for women – and men – in matters such as pay, law, education, advancement, opportunities, and areas where women are at a disadvantage simply because they are women.

But notice that men would be covered by the amendment as well. It’s not called the Women’s Rights Amendment, after all, and there’s a reason for that. In areas such as child custody, for example, where women have the advantage simply because they are women, men would have equal rights under the law.

It’s sad that there is so much fear, misunderstanding, and falsehoods about what is really a simple concept – equality under the law. The right to be treated equally by organizations and institutions. The explicit right to be protected by the Constitution, for all citizens.

But it’s not about the restrooms. It was never about the restrooms.

 

Who’s the Bully Here?

You know why kids bully? Because adults bully. But no one wants to have that conversation.  — Lauryn Mummah McGaster

I saw this pass-along on Facebook the other day and decided that I did want to have the conversation. When we think about bullies, we usually think about kids bullying other kids – classically, stealing their lunch money or more recently, tormenting them for being perceived as gay, or any kind of different, really.

And what do we say when that happens? Kids can be mean. Kids can be cruel. Kids have no respect. In other words, the problem arises in the kids themselves. They shape the victimization of others, presumably out of thin air.

But stop a minute. We know that kids learn what they see adults do. They learn to talk and walk. They learn to swear and belittle. The walking and talking may be hardwired into humans, but the rest is clearly learning by imitation.

But adults aren’t bullies, really. They don’t go around stealing lunch money and certainly not in front of their kids.

You might be surprised, but adult bullying happens a lot at work.  Belittling and humiliation seem to go with business just as much as board meetings and yearly reviews. Not all workplaces are toxic, of course, but almost every one contains a group of gossips or a clique that excludes others just like children do in the cafeteria. They yell at underlings. They sexually harass others. They steal credit for others’ accomplishments and boast about it.

But wait, you say, children seldom if ever come to where their parents work and see them behave this way. How can they be learning bullying from them?

Bullying behavior starts with an attitude, a sentiment that there are winners and losers in life and the winners have the right (or even the duty) to lord it over the losers. Think about how many people were influenced by the “look out for #1” philosophy.

Adults carry these attitudes home with them. Children pick up on them. Think about what adults do and say in front of their kids, even – or maybe especially – when they don’t know the kids are within earshot. They bitch about their neighbors and their bosses. They use words like “bitch” and “bastard” and worse. They talk about their day and how “stupid” some co-worker was or how they “felt like smacking” the customer service representative.

And think about what adults say when their children are being bullied. Often the response is, “If he hits you, hit him right back. Show him you’re the boss.” This perpetuates the “winners and losers” scenario and sometimes leaves the “loser” with a desire to victimize someone even “lesser.”

Worst of all, think about how often adults bully children. There are too many children who are badly abused, hit and kicked and belittled by their parents. These cases sometimes get reported to Children’s Services.

Those are the extreme cases, however. Seldom does a single slap or two get reported. Telling a child that he or she is “no good” or “stupid” or even “a big disappointment” never gets reported at all. Some adults use humiliation, name-calling, and fear, all in the name of discipline and good behavior. Some pit one child against another, praising the “good” child and condemning the other. Some blame and shame ruthlessly.

They may think they are raising obedient children, but they are showing them through actions, words, and even tone of voice what it is to be a bully or a victim and how often bullying succeeds. The essence of bullying is that one person has actual or perceived power over another and uses that power in toxic ways. Think about how much power adults have over children and how seldom they consider how to use that power wisely.

This is certainly not to say that all adults abuse their power or their children. But when you look at children’s behavior, it’s hard not to see a reflection of the environment in which they were raised.

Bullies don’t just happen. They learn.

Retirement and Reality

I officially retired last year, when my birthday hit the federal standards, and I’m here to tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The commercials on investment – sorry, “wealth management” – would have you believe that retirement means a lot of opening your dream business, building your own Wright flyer, and washing elephants in Africa. (Or maybe India. I didn’t get a close look at the elephant’s ears. But I digress.)

What I’ve found is that in retirement, not much has changed for me. Oh, I get a modest infusion of cash every month via Social Security, which is certainly more than welcome. But I haven’t been able to quit my job. It’s freelance – not the sort of job that boasts retirement benefits. And the 401k from when I did have a job like that is long gone, eaten up by a voracious spell of unemployment owing to health problems.

What this all means is that life before and after retirement are markedly similar. I still work that part-time freelance job (which is not, thank God, over the limit for what a person on SS is allowed to earn). I still have to forego foreign travel. I take surveys to earn enough points for dinner at a nice place (within a very limited definition of a nice place). At the end of the month, I doubt my decisions on how many cable channels are enough. I have to buy my wine at Aldi.

Of course, there are benefits. The federal government sees to that (so far). That deposit that appears sporadically between the 9th and the 16th of the month (don’t ask me why) makes a huge difference in my lifestyle and my nerve endings. I am indeed grateful that I do not (yet) qualify for SNAP benefits as well. I am able to pursue my hobbies of yelling at whippersnappers and waving my cane at them.

I know it’s idiotic to use television and as a standard of what life will be like, but I can’t help looking at all the TV shows and commercials. Retired people romp with their grandkids and even babysit them (I don’t have any grandkids and likely wouldn’t babysit them if I did). They play golf, a “sport” I detest. They invest. They have fulfilling sex lives. Their dentures fit. (I don’t have dentures, but it’s the idea of the thing that’s important here.)

Of course, I wouldn’t know what to do with that sort of retirement if I had it. Work has become a habit after these many years and, though I’m sure I wouldn’t miss not doing it, it provides a sense of purpose and familiarity. I traveled when I was younger and could get around without a rent-boy to carry my luggage. There are still places I would like to see, but the places I have been were pretty amazing. If I had the choice to save that money (and I suppose I did), I wouldn’t. Perhaps when and if my memories grow dim, the sights I’ve seen will become distant blurs. But having had the experiences is something that I treasure.

And really, I am blessed, even in this not-quite-idyllic retirement. I still have my husband and we have our cats. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. We have friends and family and an assortment of other things that, as they say, money can’t buy. I know that not every person of my age and state of life can say the same. (And there is something wrong with a system that lets that happen.)

So, even if I don’t have the golden-sunset vision of retirement, I am largely satisfied with what I do have. Someone else will just have to wash those elephants’ ears. I’ll make do with the kind they have at the local bakery.

 

State of the Arts

It bothers me that the two trends in art that are gaining the most ground nowadays are prettiness and functionality.

Prettiness and functionality have their place in art, of course. Who doesn’t love a Monet landscape? And Soviet Realism, while hardly pretty, performed its function of representing the worker as hero and inspiring comrades to greater effort.

But prettiness is not beauty. If you look beyond the prettiness of a Monet, you see the sheer talent that it took to break the boundaries of then-current art standards and paint in a way that revealed a different way of looking at the world. And that was beauty.

No one would call Picasso’s Guernica either pretty or beautiful. Its clashing shapes and tortured figures do not inspire “awwws.” They aren’t meant to. The painting is a condemnation of the horrors of war, and it performs that function exceedingly well.

Now, I don’t have anything against art that is pretty or functional. I just think that there is a lot more to art than just those qualities.

But art today – or at least what passes for art – is solely about prettiness and functionality. The National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, was established to “fund, promote, and strengthen the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” Now the organization’s existence is in great doubt. The federal budget eliminates it completely (though it hasn’t passed yet).

Why the neglect of the NEA? It isn’t pretty enough. It isn’t functional enough. It supports and promotes a variety of types of art, some of which are challenging, unappreciated, and even shocking. At least that’s what the budgeteers focus on. The NEA, however, also provides grants for projects like arts education in communities and schools, including “the growth of arts activity in areas of the nation that were previously underserved or not served at all, especially in rural and inner-city communities.”

Why, the NEA even collaborates in a program with “more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states that offers free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families during the summer.” But you (and apparently Congress) never hear about things like that.

Arts education in the schools is languishing too. Along with music, it’s been relegated to the heap of the “unnecessary” or watered down to become “art (or music) appreciation,” with little or no thought given to allowing children to create their own art as well as studying “the masters.” It’s like art is now an extracurricular, though not as well-funded a one as sports.

STEM is the current bastion of functionality in school curricula. And admittedly, the U.S. needs more citizens educated in technical fields such as medicine, aeronautics, robotics, engineering, architecture, and so on. Art occasionally sneaks in there, so the programs reluctantly become STEAM, but the focus is still on turning out people who perform what most people consider vital functions in our society – those associated with products, and industry, and money.

But art, even when it’s disturbing, does have a function. It can make us think, love, cry, wonder, or remember. Imagine a world without art. No music, no dancing, no paintings, no sculptures – not even any graphic design. (That would mean no political campaign posters.) Life would be very different and much duller. Even if you don’t believe it, the arts touch you in some way every day of your life.

The arts are far from being a waste of time and money, as some seem to think. Winston Churchill had it right: “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

 

I Have a Thing for Older Men

cousteau.jpg (483×357)Settle down, now. That thing isn’t sexual attraction, though that now that I’m getting older myself, a mad crush might not be inappropriate.

No, the thing I have for older men is admiration. There are just some men who strike me as Cool Old Dudes. That “Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials would be one if he were only real.

What are the qualifications for making my list of Cool Old Dudes? They don’t have to be hunky or even distinguished looking. But they do have to have had interesting lives. Done things. Gone the distance. Remained relevant. They are men who have impressed me with their depth and special qualities that count far more than looks.

Probably the first man who ever made my Cool Old Dudes list was Jacques Cousteau. The man invented SCUBA gear, for God’s sake, and then used it to explore “The Undersea World” and make all those extremely cool documentaries that I watched as a kid. As he got older, he just kept getting cooler, sailing the Calypso to somewhere new where there was something to discover. Long after you’d have thought he would have given it up, he kept strapping on the tanks and out-diving men half his age.

Patrick Stewart makes my list, too. From the time he played Jean-Luc Picard while eschewing a wig, he seemed cool to me. How many actors portraying leadership, non-comedic roles are willing to take that leap? Then he became even cooler when he championed causes like domestic violence, women’s rights, Amnesty International, and PTSD. There’s nothing like using your fame to support righteous works to make my list.

There’s also his friendship with Ian McKellan. It’s Cool to see Old Dudes just goofing around like that. Stewart’s Totally Cool video of him singing country and western songs for charity shows that though he’s an actor with numerous Shakespearean roles under his belt, he’s not so stuck up that he can’t be silly on occasion.

One of my personal heroes, Willie Nelson is a Cool Old Dude. Starting at a time when Nashville just didn’t understand his kind of music, he kept doing it his way until finally the rest of the world caught up with him. One of the Coolest things about him is that he’ll sing and play with literally anyone, from Keb’ Mo to Julio Iglesias. Over the years he’s put out albums of blues, reggae, old standards, and tributes to everyone from Lefty Frizzell to Frank Sinatra.

Add to that his work for Farm Aid, even after all these years; his movie and TV career; his appearance on Steven Colbert’s Christmas special; and his membership in the country supergroup The Highwaymen, and you’ve got a non-stop Cool Old Dude who’s also known in Democratic circles for his liberal politics.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, also makes my list, not just because he is a religious leader, but because of his world travels, his many appearances promoting peace, his support for Tibet, and his beautiful smile. He lives as a refugee in India and promotes the welfare of Tibetans,  as well as speaking about the environment, economics, women’s rights, non-violence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality. Hardly anyone, young or old, is that completely Cool.

Bob Keeshan, perhaps better known as Captain Kangaroo, was also a Cool Old Dude. Nearly everyone (at least those my age) remembers him from his children’s show, which offered nonviolent, engaging content for youngsters. Outside of his show, Keeshan was a tireless and passionate supporter of and speaker on children’s causes, including abused and neglected children and violent ads shown during children’s programming. He’s also one of my Cool Old Dudes that I met in person, when I interviewed him for Early Childhood News.

And no list of Cool Old Dudes would be complete without former president Jimmy Carter. As a president, he gave up control of his peanut farm to avoid conflict of interest. As a former president, he is still living his faith and working – actual physical work into his 90s – building homes with Habitat for Humanity. He continues to speak out on issues such as torture, women’s rights, and reform within the Southern Baptist Church.

There are other Cool Old Dudes out there, in private life as well as in public. Do you have someone to add to the list?