The Art of Being Out of One’s Depth

There is current discussion on whether our president has a complete grasp and understanding for the necessities required to fulfill the duties of his office. In particular, his awareness of the need for caution, restraint, and discretion.

I can sort of relate to his predicament.

Many years ago someone rather high in my workplace had a habit of calling me just to gab. At first I thought it was work related, and I so I would quickly grab a paper and pen to write down everything he said. I figured wherever he was going, it would ultimately end up as some kind of assignment. But it never did. I would write furiously, add in a few oral “mm-hmm’s” just to let him know I was still on the line, and eventually he would end the call with a thanks for the chance to bend my ear. I would shake my head, ask myself what the hell just happened, and eventually move on to the next thing.

This routine went on for the better part of two years. Weeks and months would go by with no contact at all, but then sure enough he would call again at some point for a chat. I finally stopped reaching for the pen and paper and just sat back in my chair and listened.

Some calls were long, others short. What every call had in common, though, were topics germane to our organization and workplace. I was hearing information which had an appearance of being privileged. More than a few times I hung up the phone thinking, “am I supposed to actually know this stuff?

It was both intriguing and uncomfortable at the same time.

Source: Wikihow

Eventually the day came when I finally felt I was hearing information not intended for a mere mortal such as myself. Over time it morphed into being more gossipy and less privileged, but it still felt like the kind of dope shared only at senior executive meetings or get-togethers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love office gossip as much as the next person. But all things being equal, I’m more comfortable hearing it from blabby ‘ol Doris in Procurement than someone as high up as my phone buddy was. With such access comes the same need for caution, restraint, and discretion.

Quite frankly I was really only there for the paycheck and the 401(k), thank you very much. I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. Ambition for me was being the first one out the door at quittin’ time. Out of my way, I have a date with an elliptical machine.

I realized that I was out of my depth in having to keep all of this to myself.

One day I decided to contact my boss to tell her about the calls. Like any supervisor worth her salt, she went with the response I’m pretty sure they teach at manager’s school: delay and avoidance. I was to monitor the situation, write a memo to the file if I felt anything privileged was revealed, and get back to her with occasional updates. That definitely worked for me– I was given the opportunity to cover my ass and still not really have to do anything. God, I love bureaucracies.

Eventually the calls stopped coming because the man left the organization. I never had to write a memo and there was no paper trial. End of story… for me anyway.

Which brings me back to the Orange One. Apparently we’re learning that there is a paper trail in his situation with the fired FBI director. While I suspect Mr. Trump’s tweet about recordings and tapes is most likely shooting blanks across an imaginary bow, Mr. Comey, on the other hand, is loaded and ready for bear. Reports are that he’s written a memo or two after each one of his conversations with the president. Congress is noticing and wants to both read the memos and hear from Mr. Comey in person.

We are only at the very beginning stages of this particular drama. There is a lot more that will play out over the next weeks and months.

The president is also out of depth. But unlike me, he won’t cut and fold by coming clean with his superiors (i.e. the American people). I think we pretty much know by now that admitting errors, apologizing, etc., are all signs of weakness to him. He will continue to double down with accusations, toss blame at staff, throw vulnerable subordinates under the bus, and tar all of his critics with his usual abandon. He’s a man with a Twitter account after all.

I won’t even compliment his strategy with that old saw of “the best defense is a good offense.” In order to use that sports analogy you have to understand the rules of the game. Mr. Trump doesn’t understand DC’s “swamp,” and he’s completely unable to drain it because he can’t be bothered to try to learn how it really functions.

A plea to fellow liberals: please keep your gunpowder dry for a bit. For once don’t overplay your hand like you normally do, and stop using the “I” word so frequently. Apt comparisons to Watergate are fine, but remember that this is going to take plenty of Republicans to start moving towards the center. Stop alienating everyone with histrionics that might play well on Rachel Maddow’s show or the Daily Kos, but will also turn off voters in “purple” districts.

Until next time…

I’ll Need to See Your Voting History For The Box of Cereal, Please

We’re all in strange times at the moment. They in turn lead to strange thoughts and actions.

My mother always said to never wear ratty underwear because someone might notice if I got into an accident. I remember pondering that a bit. I envisioned myself lying in the middle of a street, my bike mangled beyond recognition by an impact with a large truck, and medics hovering over me applying bandages to open wounds.

“Carl, we need to stem the bleeding at his hip area. And by the way, have you noticed the condition of those Fruit of the Looms? Let’s do this kid a favor and just shred ’em with the trauma sheers. His mother should be ashamed he’s wearing those.”

It’s coming on 60 years, and I finally get it. It wasn’t about me, it was about what everyone else would think.

It was about judgment. That never goes out of style.

Looking back, all I was trying to do in those days was to keep up with my peers. For example, when I noticed in the gym locker room that the cool kids were suddenly sporting those hip new colored briefs, I wanted them too. But I accepted my family’s economic situation and instead wore the standard issue, inexpensive, solid white Looms purchased courtesy of a blue light special at K-Mart. I had ten seconds of self-consciousness as I quickly changed my clothes before and after gym class.

As peer pressure and self-esteem issues went, the underwear were the least of my problems anyway.

But if judgments were indeed levied by others in those adolescent days, I at least understood their terms. It wasn’t complicated. It had to do with affordability and status; you either had something or you didn’t. It wasn’t thankfully about ideology. That came later via friends, co-workers, neighbors, and bar stool acquaintances.

Which brings me somehow to this current, post-election period here in the United States. Judgments are rampant at the moment.

Just like our brethren in post-Brexit Britain, we are collectively resorting to finger-pointing and trash talking at our fellow citizens. Except because this is America, and we like to bring in a commercial aspect to everything whenever possible, our onslaught of judgments is about separating and dividing based on the products being purchased. You can judge a man not by the content of his character, but by his credit card statement.

If that’s the case, I’m done for.  I’m headed to putting on my underpants quickly again. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

According to a recent Washington Post article, the level of partisan discord in the U.S. is now reaching such heights that even your favorite box of Kellogg’s cereal classifies you as liberal and anti-American. It’s apparently the fault of that radical, leftist Kellogg Company in Battle Creek. Boy, and you think you know a company.

But come on, how could there be an issue about buying a box of Corn Flakes from the grocery store? For God sakes, what’s more American than a bowl of Corn Flakes? Why, a number of us are brazen enough to select the frosted ones instead. And except for your dentist, no one’s judging you for that, right?

Think again, you innocent.

Quite frankly, I always had a suspicion about that tiger of theirs, Tony. I mean, please. What’s with the bandana? A red bandana at that. This is a good example they’re setting for our children??

Oh, wait, we like Russia now, don’t we? Oh, never mind.

Lest you think this is only a conservative backlash, I’m seeing that liberals aren’t taking this lying down. Not to be outdone, they’ve created an app to make sure that one doesn’t buy from the “wrong” company. Among the slew of products now deemed politically tainted are those from the Nike shoe company. It seems that Nike’s erreur de jugement was to open a store in Trump Tower. Those fascists! 

And those are just two examples. It actually goes on and on. For instance, conservatives continue to call for a boycott on the (note: continuously sold out) Broadway performances of “Hamilton,” while liberals are listing Kitchen Aid appliances as verboten because that company is helping to sponsor a Trump golf tournament. Shout-out to all you liberal foodies out there: stop buying those mixers, stat!

Somewhere in heaven I have to believe Rosa Parks is rolling her eyes right now.

Rosa Parks Source: Wikipedia

Rosa Parks
Source: Wikipedia

I am constantly feeling overwhelmed by the bombardment of so-called movement boycotts against this business or that corporation. Avoid Barilla pasta products because of anti-gay comments made by its company’s chairman (apparently now rescinded); Stay away from Walmart to protest their gun sale policies and refusal to offer employees health insurance (both issues now supposedly addressed); Boycott Target because of their transgender bathroom use policies (I have no clue on the status of that one because it never made sense to me to begin with).

Someone once told me Lowe’s was the “blue” store and Home Depot the “red” one. Well, that might be, but in either place I still have to search high and low for someone to direct me to the right aisle for rust remover. Liberal or conservative, they never hire enough staff to rescue customers like myself who wander helplessly in their stores.

Truth be told, I don’t think I have it in me anymore to constantly keep my ear to the ground of all the latest social protests and boycotts of this franchise or that one.

I’m as repulsed as anyone else by bad behavior, racist policies, and outright prejudice. If it’s an habitual and flagrant violation of another person’s civil rights — such as when certain Denny’s franchises refused to serve African-Americans a few years back — then I can easily avoid patronizing that chain. But please, spare me your politicized agendas to boycott whatever “flavor of the month” cause that will force me to run around in circles to buy a mixer, a pair of sneakers, or see a Broadway show.

No, I’m not happy with the results of the last election. But I’m going to suck it up for the next four years and fight the good fight at the next ballot box. Certain organizations will continue get some of my money, too. I am not burying my head in the sand.

And for the record, your humble blogger is a Hanes briefs man. I’ve got all the colors in the rainbow now, and there’s nary a white shade in my drawer. With adulthood comes rewards.

Until next time…

Source: Kmart

Source: Kmart

Quaint Partisan Hindsight: Surviving the Election Season

Source: Taylorandfrancis.com

Source: Taylorandfrancis.com

I recently finished Gore Vidal’s last memoir, Point to Point Navigation (2006 Vintage International). It was a disappointing read, written by someone who at the end of his life was bitter about nearly everything. Although in fact a very thin book, it took me weeks to complete. My own deliberate stubbornness in having to finish something that I didn’t like very much forced me to soldier on with it anyway (a book has to be absolutely terrible for me to stop reading completely). In spite of this, I am making a note to someday get his earlier memoir, Palimpsest. I want to read the gossipy anecdotes I understand he dishes about the Kennedy family, Truman Capote, Anais Nin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and beat poets Ginsberg and Kerouac. I love chatter even if it’s old as the hills.

In spite of the fact that Point to Point wasn’t much fun to read, I did find myself wonderfully distracted by the people and events Vidal mentioned from his life. Google and YouTube make it so easy to quickly look up someone you’re actually reading about, and I did that constantly. Like eating a proverbial Lay’s potato chip, once I looked at a picture or video, I tended to go to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Before I knew it, I was spending the better part of an hour or more getting sidetracked. It’s a wonderful way to spend time, but the actual book you’re supposed to be reading does become a casualty of sorts, sitting way to the side of the desk and looking very much like a neglected lover.

Eventually I came upon videos of the now infamous debates Vidal had with William F. Buckley at the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions. I had already seen over the years the most notorious one in which Buckley famously erupts in anger at Vidal with, Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamned face and you’ll stay plastered.

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

But I had never seen all of the debates from start-to-finish. Watching them in their entirety gave me a broader context in which to consider the players. I now understand the pent-up frustration and anger Buckley must have felt due to Vidal’s unpleasant goading during the on-air encounters. Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I nevertheless found myself 48 years later cheering Buckley in spite of the gay slur he used against Vidal.

Buckley eventually regretted the exchange; Vidal, I think it’s fair to say, embraced it.¹

But that moment was pretty much an anomaly for 1960’s network news, where decorum and civility was the general rule. This was the era of “Uncle Walter” Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and of course, Howard K. Smith, who had the unenviable job of acting as moderator between Buckley and Vidal. All of the shouting and faux anger to which we are now accustomed on cable networks had yet to be invented. Still, this one moment planted a seed that later spawned The McLaughlin Group, Crossfire, The Ed Show, and the current primetime Fox News and MSNBC schedules.

Oh, Bill, how could you?

William F. Buckley, Jr. Source: Conservativebookclub.com

William F. Buckley, Jr.
Source: Conservativebookclub.com

During my YouTube wanderings I also watched episodes of Buckley’s old “Firing Line” program. The quality and level of discourse between host and guest seems almost quaint when viewed today. People (mostly) refrained from talking over one another, they spoke in rational and modulated tones, and issues were actually discussed in detail for a viewership that was genuinely interested in a thorough analysis. Granted, Firing Line never garnered huge, blockbuster ratings for the public television stations on which it appeared. Those who watched it were probably very similar, demographically speaking, with viewers today who might be partial to PBS’ Washington Week in Review, CBS’ Sunday Morning, or CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

The primary difference, though, is that Buckley was a dean of American conservatism. Firing Line, along with his National Review magazine, was considered the holy grail of the conservative movement, and those who harbored national political ambitions had their work cut out for them in order to obtain Buckley’s approval. You had to be at the top of your intellectual game if you appeared on his show. When I see Bill O’Reilly making his milk shake bets with Donald Trump, I do have to wonder if Buckley isn’t somehow rolling over in his grave this year.

Except for the current programs I mentioned above, I really don’t turn to television or much radio to keep current about elections anymore. The yelling and faux-outrage turn me off, and more than anything it’s also the shallowness of the coverage and the resulting conversation. Where broadcast news once helped us to make informed decisions, we are now left with little more than repetitious soliloquies recycled from candidates’ attack ads or their Twitter feeds. Those broadcasters who do try to get beyond such programmed responses (John Dickerson, Megyn Kelly, and Steve Inskeep, for example) they fight an uphill battle over reason and logic. I commend them for trying, but they still tend to lose that battle.

On the eve of Super Tuesday, I have basically waved the white flag of surrender for any hope in garnering an understanding of the upcoming election via television. I instead will focus on print journalists and commentators for perspective. Those voices are E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, Jennifer Rubin, and Leonard Pitts, Jr. to name just a few. I also recommend foreign sources such as the addictive France 24 Live and the Guardian Newspaper.

I wish you well in surviving the onslaught of the election wherever you live. Here in Florida we have a primary in two weeks, and I am bracing for the robo-calls and barrage of negative ads that will soon begin to hit our phones and airwaves. I am not looking forward to it at all.

For those who actually see political ads as a source for reliable information, I beg you to just stop for a moment and consider that you are an intelligent human being. Surely you can find a more independent way to inform yourself other than from campaign advertisements. Free speech, as they like to refer to it, can run both ways if you stop and think about it for a moment. Don’t be passive, seek out other, independent sources!

I promise that the usual form of imbecility you’ve come to expect on this blog will return in the very next post.

Until next time…

 

¹ Those interested might wish to watch the 2015 documentary about the Vidal/Buckley encounter called “Best of Enemies.”