Once Upon A Time, When The GOP Had Some Integrity

America has more than her fair share of fascists and white nationalists.

Some of them even serve in congress.

The vast majority, if not all, vote republican.

Donald Trump is a White Nationalist. That’s why White Nationalists supported his presidency.

When someone says they supported Trump’s policies but not his white nationalist and authoritarian views, its no less ludicrous than a German citizen in 1939 saying they support Hitler’s economic policies, not his views on the Jewish population.

In throwing your support behind a president, you have to look at the totality of the man – not just policy bits and pieces that you can align with and rationalize to yourself and your friends.

As we saw with President Trump, it’s the totality of the man (all of his views and values) that set the tone and attitude of his administration. Under Trump, the party’s platform was built on divisiveness, hate, mistrust, and anger, and that’s exactly what was reflected in most of Trump’s policies and actions.

It’s important to keep in mind that the anger, hate, and mistrust of government and institutions that Trump used to divide America and strengthen his position politically, are alive and well today. Those feelings and attitudes didn’t magically disappear when Trump was trounced in the 2020 election.

Many Americans who supported Trump are simply waiting for him, or the next Trump-wannabee to come along and validate those feelings, while cultivating and promoting policies that weaken our democracy and march us down the path to authoritarianism.

Colin Powel was a lifelong republican, military man, and honorable public servant who understood the danger of authoritarianism. When he saw fellow republicans refuse to stand against a dangerously authoritarian president, he called them out for their cowardice and left the party.

We need more republicans of stature to do what Colin Powell did – speak up and shine a light on the dangerous and dark influences taking hold of their party. And more importantly, we need strong and outspoken leaders in the GOP to provide a roadmap for getting the party back on track to decency, integrity, and basic American ideals. Without a roadmap, we’re going to see the GOP continue it’s downward spiral towards authoritarianism.

The four years of the Trump administration laid the groundwork for dismantling democracy in America. Colin Powel understood that and voiced his disdain for Trump and the political cowards who failed to stand up to him.

If democracy is to survive in America, we’ll need more voices like Colin Powel’s.

Self Determination

“I’m tired.”

That was the note he left. A sticky note, actually. Pushed hard and pressed purposefully onto the upper-left corner of the corkboard in his home office, now spattered with brain matter and blood.

He woke that Tuesday, poured his coffee, sat on his back porch, and listened to mourning doves coo and the distant rumble of the early commute – trucks and cars, potholes and puddles. The wet hum and rattle of life.

He would miss his morning coffee, but not enough to stick around.

His kids were grown. As best he could, he’d advised them about life and how to get on in the world. So, in this regard, his “main” job was done.

He wasn’t all that unhappy or in any kind of pain, just immensely bored and intensely uninterested in the grind and pursuit, of what, he never entirely understood.

For the last several weeks, he found himself muttering, “What’s the point? Nothing changes. It’s all the same shit.”

What’s the point?

Nothing changes.

It’s all the same shit.

I suppose if one chews on those sentiments long enough, a sticky note on a corkboard and a gun in your mouth is where you end up.

He was missed dearly by his family, who stumbled numbly through life for the next two years.

For weeks after his demise, his faithful dog waited for him to come down the stairs and give a loving pat on the head. Whenever the house creaked, or the upstairs plumbing clanged, his dog would get up, walk to the stairs, and wait.

That was perhaps the saddest display of love and loyalty ever.

Fake Patriotism – Blech!

Republicans all over Facebook are trying to hijack patriotism with fake-ass outrage at an Olympic athlete protesting. These are the same people who turned a blind-eye to a lying ex-president who inspired and praised an insurrection against the United States of America.

“Look at me supporting the flag wavers, the anthem standers, the pledge sayers – I’m a true blue American!!”

Blech!

Posts of proud and talented athletes draped in the stars and stripes, don’t make you “patriotic.”

Posts showing disdain and disgust towards the American athlete who protested, don’t make you a “true American.”

And all the patriotic posts in the world won’t erase the un-American act of supporting a President and a political party that tried to overturn a free and fair election and destroy our democracy. That dark, dank, stank envelops you. It sticks to you like white on rice, and you can’t “patriotic-post” your way out of it.

You want to be a true blue American? Speak out forcefully against the big lie, protest voting laws that make it harder for your fellow citizens to vote, and show your outrage at the refusal to investigate a politically-motivated insurrection against your country.

When it comes to our transience, honesty is the best policy

If we’re lucky, our postmortem shelf-life lasts about 2 generations. After that, the story of us fades from existence entirely.  When the collective memory others have of us disappears, we move from mostly dead to truly dead.  

We might live a few extra minutes a year in the side glances of strangers who pass by our gravestones (on their way to visit a soon-to-be-permanently-forgotten loved one).

A clever quip on a headstone, and the laughter it generates, can raise us from the dead for a few moments. But honestly, that seems like a desperate attempt by the departed to prolong their existence.

YouTube is a heaven on Earth. A digital preservation of the self that survives after we pass. I believe our subconscious desire for everlasting life is at the core of YouTube’s popularity. We’re the modern-day version of the sculptor in Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, posting digital carvings of ourselves in a futile attempt to stem the tide of our own transience.

As the final memory of us fades to black, we transition from the warmth of humanity to the cold breathless inanimate. In the end, our blood, bone, and guts give way to the flat and dimensionless world of dusty photos, handwritten notes, password-protected social media sites, and, possibly, a couple of YouTube or Tik Tok videos.

Such is our fate.

The thought of man’s impermanence was so bothersome, we invented the concept of an afterlife as as counterbalance. Entire religions have baked the notion of everlasting life into their concocted fairy tales. Most of us were probably raised in a religion that fostered such beliefs.

All of us were probably told by our parents that grandma and grandpa were in heaven, and one day “you’ll see them again!” I’m not sure our parents actually believed this. It’s more likely they were simply repeating what their parents told them, or perhaps they thought this lie would somehow protect us or make us less fearful. Maybe they were just too damn lazy to level with us. Probably a combination of all of these.

I think this world would be a better place if we were just honest with ourselves about our impermanence, and more importantly, honest with our kids about it, from early-on.

Embracing the truth that life is temporary, would make us value and appreciate it more.

Instead of telling our kids that by obeying a set of rules, they’ll get to live forever, we should teach them to live a life that leaves this world in better shape than they found it — so their children and everyone else who comes after them have an opportunity to live comfortably, without undue suffering.  

Instead of lying to our kids about heaven, preach to them about human rights and the importance of equity and for preserving our planet.

A philosophy that embraces our temporary nature and stresses a responsibility to preserve the planet for future generations would go a long way towards improving the here-and-now.

All this nonsense about an afterlife has had a negative effect on our culture and our planet. It’s a good example of how well-intentioned dishonesty can be just as destructive as malevolent dishonesty.

Blocked and loaded

Lately

when I try to write

Nothing comes of it


Just raspy thought-schisms

That fail to take hold

They fizzle and pop

And disappear

in a wisp of blue smoke

Leaving me

With faint and fading echoes

in the empty chambers of my brain


Mornings used to be

My fruitful period

Now they’re as dry as the Sahara

Coffee used to be

a thought lubricant

Now it’s just gasoline

for a stuck and revving engine


There’s a constant buzzing

a negative counterbalance

A marshalling of malevolence

To block the words and spill the ink

I’m waiting for a clearing

A splash of light

On an open field

Of possibility

A Terrible Price

The battle against COVID-19 required competent and steady leadership. To stop the spread of the disease, we needed our President to be honest, smart, and humble.

Honest, because we needed to trust him. We needed to know that what he was telling us about the disease was factual and true, so that we could make well-informed decisions to keep ourselves and our family safe.

Smart, because infections disease epidemiology is complicated and heady stuff. We needed a president who could read briefings and synthesize and extrapolate the relevant data. We needed a President who could sit down with scientists and listen to what they were telling him and effectively make sense of it, so that he could communicate what he learned to the public clearly and concisely. Being able to do this would result in public confidence.

Humble, because COVID-19 was an unknown and ruthless disease. What we learned early-on was subject to change as new data became available. We needed a president who was humble enough to admit the challenge would be extremely difficult and would require Americans to work together in a coordinated and unified manner.

We needed honesty, intelligence, and humility from our President, and he was glaringly 0 for 3.

COVID-19 has killed more than a quarter million Americans. Tens of thousands of those deaths can be blamed on the incompetency of our President. It has wrecked our economy, devastated small businesses, and crippled families. It also shined a light on an immoral and criminally incompetent leader, and in all likelihood, ended the Trump presidency. In a weird twist-of-fate, if not for the virus and incompetent leadership that ensued, we might have lost our democracy.

What a devastating price to pay for electing a conman and reality TV celebrity to the Presidency. I hope we learned a lesson as a nation – that cheap populism makes for a dangerously shaky and ineffectual national platform, and that honesty, intelligence, and humility matter in a President.

Seeped in seventies

Darkly sarcastic

and sardonically wry

We hum and we dance

to American Pie


Rolling thunder over head

Kool-Aid, Keds, and Wonder Bread

Vietnam served us the blues

Cronkite was the nightly news

Worry traveled through the air

And stuck to faces everywhere


They shipped us to the VanHoff School

We learned about the golden rule

Over finger paints and duck-duck goose

and thermoses of apple juice

Mrs. V in her floral dress

sang “raise your hands”

and “clean your mess”

and

“before the day is done

try to touch the sun”


Jungle-gyms and trampolines

Wacky Packs

Mad Magazine

Baseball hats

and Spider bikes

Dad’s Gannset beer

Mom’s Lucky Strikes


Kick Ball, Fishing, Doorbell ditch

Watching reruns of Bewitched

Nixon, Agnew, and John Dean

Shaving cream on Halloween


Through whiffle ball

and kick the can

Johnny Carson

and Ed McMahon

Watergate was all around

in our sight

and in our sound

on the news

and in the paper

the Viet Cong

and foiled caper

It lurked and hovered

overhead

Pages written

and words were said

it wormed its way

into our head

that innocence

was finally dead

it’s all we heard

and all we read

in undercurrents

a subtext grew

a dye was cast

for me and you

we dipped our bread

into the stew

Enjoyed the dark side

of our view

and you were me

and I was you


It was a Tuesday morning like any other Tuesday morning

I logged on to my Mac, opened Outlook, and started going through my emails. Nothing out of the ordinary, several notifications from colleagues requesting reviews of the latest design changes for the September release, a few emails from developers with review comments for a draft of the documentation I put out last week, and a one-on-one meeting on my calendar with an individual whose name I did not recognize.

The sun was shining and an early Autumn breeze billowed the curtains in my office.

I went on with my business.

The first item was to review a document in Confluence (our internal repository for posting and sharing files). But when I clicked on the link, I received an “ACCESS DENIED” message. This is not entirely unusual. I figured the network was down temporarily.

Time to grab that second cup of coffee.

I’ve been employed as an information developer for over 25 years, with most of my tenure at IBM. At IBM, I created user assistance (context sensitive help, blogs, release notes, and help center articles) for a variety of software products and solutions.

From 2014 to 2019, I worked on IBM’s marketing / analytics software, which our clients installed to analyze and manage their customer’s experience.

In 2019, IBM pulled out of the “martech” space, selling their marketing analytics products to a private equity firm, who spun-up a new company to develop and sell the products. Most of the IBM employees (including myself) retained their positions with this the new company.

I enjoyed being part of a new venture. There was a buzz and energy that comes with being part of something fresh and new. I loved my team and my manager. The tools and processes were all different, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had some creative license in my work.

Life was good.

Sitting in front of my laptop with a fresh cup of Maxwell House. I tried to access Confluence one more time, still no luck.

I sent a message to my team lead:

“Hey there and good morning. I’m having trouble accessing internal systems. Have you been able to get to Confluence?”

“Good morning! Let me check. Yeup, I get in fine. Maybe reboot?

“When in doubt… 😊 ”

So, I rebooted my machine, sipped my coffee, and waited…

All rebooted, but still no luck getting to Confluence. I sent another message to my team lead, who responded:

“Weird! Let me ask around.”

“Thanks” I said.

Me:By the way, I have a meeting with <name> at noon. Do you know who <name> is, or what the meeting might be about? I hate going into a meeting blind.”

 “Oh, she’s a designer, works for <our managers name>

Me: Ah, OK, I’ll drop her a message in Slack. Thanks!

So, I searched Slack for the person that I was scheduled to meet with and sent her a message:

“Hi  <name>, I have a 12:00 meeting on my calendar with you, just looking for context 😊”

 “Hi Geof. I have some time now if you want to jump on a web conference, we can talk through it.

Me:OK, give me a few minutes.”

Slightly agitated, I whispered to myself “Talk through what!!??”

Enter that sinking feeling, when you start to piece things together and the most likely outcome is you getting canned.

I closed my office door, took a few more sips of coffee, gathered myself, and clicked the web conference link.

At the other end of my laptop, I see a young woman sitting at her desk. She seems a bit shaken, but gets to the heart of the matter:

“Because of a restructuring, your position at the company has been eliminated. You no longer have a job at <company name> Today is your last day at <company name>. This has nothing to do with your performance and your manager will provide a letter stating so. Stop working and clear your laptop of any personal files.

Me: Damn. Wow. Really?

Firing woman: “I know this is a lot to process. Take the rest of the day to gather your thoughts. We’ll be sending a transition package to your personal email. I don’t have your home email, can you provide that to me?”

Me: “Its reilly – r e I l l y – “G” as in “God, I can’t believe I am getting laid off”  “S” as in “Steven” @gmail.com”

Firing woman: “Let me give you my cell. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I’m really, really sorry:

Me: It’s OK.

And just like that, I was done.

I closed my laptop, picked up my cup of coffee, opened my office door and walked to my living room in stunned silence. My wife was home on vacation. She looked at me.

“What’s wrong?”

“I lost my job”.

The words hung in the air between us, and as I spoke them, my brain sputtered a bit, trying to process the ramifications of those words … How will I provide for my family? Will we be able to stay in our home? How will I help my boys with their college loans

My wife calmed me. “Just breathe, relax, we’ll be OK.”

I love her for that.

Because my manager was on leave, it fell to this other person to lay me off. I actually felt for her. I got a call from my manager later that morning. She was genuinely upset and very supportive – same with my team lead.

Everyone was caught off guard by the speed at which the layoffs came and no one was happy about at how things were handled.

Its been a few days now, and I’ve had some time to think about things, and here’s what I’ve come to understand.

You can work your ass off — put in 12-hour days regularly– sacrifice time with your family — put an immense amount of pressure on yourself to do a good job, to meet aggressive deadlines, to produce quality work — but in the end, if the company has to let you go as part of cost-saving restructure, they will do so, without hesitation.  

Corporations are not people (sorry Mitt, you were wrong about that). Corporations are bottom-line driven entities that do whatever needs to be done to remain competitive or survive in the marketplace or keep their shareholders happy. And if that means laying off hundreds of dedicated, hardworking people, then so be it.

But the people that make up the corporation? They are living, breathing, empathetic beings, who (like me) work hard and make sacrifices. And out of this shared experience comes a love and respect for your colleagues.

Sure, we get paid for our efforts, but it’s not just about the money. We also work to ensure the success of the company and our fellow workers, who, over the years become kind of a second family.  

I hold no ill will towards the company that laid me off, because I understand what companies are, what drives them, what they need to do to survive.

For me, it’s the people that matter.

I’ve received a great amount of support and encouragement from colleagues who also lost their jobs this week, as well as from those who remain employed at my former company. I can’t express adequately in words how much that support and encouragement has meant. It lightened my spirit in the days that followed that Tuesday morning, which, as it turns out, was not like every other Tuesday morning.  

Here today, gone….

pexels-skitterphoto-782

Embrace your temporariness.

All of us are about 2.5 generations away from true non-existence.

As the final memory of us fades to black and we transition from the warmth of humanity to the cold breathless inanimate, our existence gets relegated to the flat and dimensionless world of dusty photos, handwritten notes, and password-protected social media pages. Such is our fate.

We will not be reunited with loved ones on puffy white clouds — that’s a Peter Pan-level fantasy, and the sooner we let it go, the truer to ourselves we can be.

We are all short-timers, so lets seize that realization and use it as fuel for making a positive impact in the NOW — for caring and making the world a better place TODAY, so those who come after us, can have a happy and peaceful existence. Is there a more noble endeavor?

Free Play Gone

pexels-lukas-296302

Some 48 years ago, my parents (perhaps over a glass of wine and a scotch), decided to move the family to Aquidneck Island — where I was raised, not far from the ocean, in a neighborhood of shabbily constructed raised ranches — where on warm summer days, squinty-eyed kids staggered zombie-like from their garages or front doors, pop-tarted, sugar-smacked, and ready to roll.

We played ball (whiffle, base, foot, basket and stick) in our backyards or in the street — we rode bikes everywhere, we red rovered red rovered, and kicked the can against a near perfect backdrop of New England sunsets and warm summer breezes, to a generous and harmonious soundtrack of crickets, peepers, and nightingales.

We hunted salamanders in the woods and flash-lighted our way to collecting night crawlers for fishing expeditions at the town reservoir, to which we walked unattended by adults, poles over our shoulders, sun warm on our backs, our conversations held together with lite laughter and kinship.

The entire summer we hardly interacted with Mom or Dad except at dinner time, which was had around the dining room table without exception.

And so it was on Aquidneck Island I stayed, met my wife, raised 2 good boys and 4 dogs — the latest, a pocket sized pit bull, full of spittle and spunk, who envelops me in rhythmic doggy snores as I write this piece.

What strikes me most on this stroll down memory lane is the magnitude of change in parenting over a single generation. Our generation, handicapped by socioeconomic conditions requiring two working parents, and a feeling of fear and mistrust (largely unwarranted), the flames of which were fanned by continuous exposure to 24-hour cable news, which made us believe we could never leave our kids alone, that they had to be within earshot or eye sight 24 hours a day, less someone steal them away forever — and so it was by these phenomena, that free play, that priceless gift and ever-important ingredient in child development, was killed.

Gone are the days when kids gathered at a park or in someone’s back yard to organize on their own and “get a game going” — sadly, this has been replaced by regularly scheduled league games on sun-splashed well-manicured fields with perfectly chalked sidelines and clipboard-carrying, whistle-blowing, score book-keeping adults shouting out instructions while pacing in front of tight-jawed fathers in sunglasses and bermuda shorts (newspapers tucked firmly under their arms), whilst antsy, floppy-hatted moms in folding chairs with cup holders, try to capture every moment of play on their iPads or cell phones.

I think we’ve forgotten the value of free play on uneven surfaces where the end zones were marked by a rock and a tree, and the sidelines were guesstimated according to natural or not so natural boundaries and, most importantly, where kids worked out the teams and the rules and addressed issues that arose without “expert” interference by adults.

As my children walk into adulthood, I wonder about the absence of free play and the implications of an overly-scheduled, overly-structured, and, quite frankly, overly-parented childhood.