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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Confusing Terms Explained


You’ve probably noticed that Republicans and Democrats are constantly disagreeing on items in the news and on what might or might not be a legal issue. Sometimes it seems as though they don’t even speak the same language.

In a way, this is actually the case. Many times, the conflict occurs because of subtleties of meaning. There are a lot of confusing terms being kicked around. One side hears A when the other side thinks it actually said B. Today I’m explaining the nuances of some terms we frequently hear.

Let’s begin with a trio of confusing ones: matter, inquiry and investigation. Apparently, the FBI prefers to refer to an activity as a matter when they’ve just decided to look into something potentially fishy. They don’t want to say they’re conducting an investigation if they might have to back peddle. Clinton defenders claim that’s why Loretta Lynch told James Comey to refer to the emails fiasco as a matter.

Once there’s a whiff of smoke, agents will likely launch an inquiry to look for the fire. An inquiry is a gathering of more extensive information to decide who should be grilled like a rib-eye on your Weber. Most inquiries lead to a full-fledged investigation. In my opinion, if someone comes to your door to ask a few questions, it’s an inquiry. If they bring you down to their office and suggest you might want to have an attorney with you, we’re talking investigation.

Another way of putting this trio in perspective is that agents look into a matter, conduct an inquiry and pursue an investigation. The IRS will look into your tax return as a matter of course, conduct an audit if they find serious irregularities and pursue legal action against you if they think the money they recover will earn them a promotion.

This means that the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the recent presidential election and attempts to influence the outcome is serious business. Earlier inquiries into alleged hacks of Hillary Clinton’s private server—not so much.

Which brings us to another group that’s in the news a lot: allegedly, assumedly, supposedly and ostensibly. “When should I use which one?” you may be wondering.

Allegedly means something has been claimed by someone, usually without proof. It’s used mostly for legal cover. When in doubt, allege something happened or is true, as in “Donald Trump’s allegedly small hands.” (Unless you’ve actually measured them…)

Assumedly is what you believe to be true, based on available information. “Assumedly, Donald Trump should cut down on that chocolate cake.” Supposedly is what someone else claims to be true. “Supposedly, Melania feeds Donald too many Slovenian desserts.” These two are matters of opinion, not facts.

Ostensibly means it was demonstrated through someone’s actions or words. They want you to think something is true, but that’s often a cover for a different reality. “Trump refuses to release his tax returns, ostensibly because he’s being audited by the IRS.” Or “Ostensibly, Melania remained in Manhattan through June so that her son could finish his school term there.”

Our final grouping is wiggle, waffle, vacillate and clarify. These all have to do with how someone explains his changes in position on an issue. Or tries to.

Wiggling is done rapidly, with minimal sense of direction. A person wiggles when he just doesn’t want to get pinned down. Listen to any of Sean Spicer’s press conferences for some excellent examples of wiggling.

Waffling, on the other hand, is done more slowly than wiggling, and usually eventually results in a single switch in someone’s opinion, though it can take awhile to get there. Mitch McConnell waffled on calling for a vote on the Senate’s health care bill before the Fourth of July recess. He definitely would, he probably would and then he didn’t.

Vacillating is a back and forth motion, first to the left, then to the right, on a fairly regular tempo, like Trump’s position on certain aspects of health care insurance. It won’t be heartless. But even if the Senate version is as mean as the House one, pass it anyway. It won’t be repealed without immediately replacing it. But if they can’t pass a replacement, just repeal it. Someone who is vacillating my never reach a final decision on the issue at hand.

Clarify is an archaic term that means to carefully explain what you mean so there is absolutely no confusion about your position. No one in politics does that anymore so you might as well purge clarification from your lexicon.

I hope you’ve found these explanations edifying and elucidating. As you can see, it’s often difficult to be certain which term to use Just pick your favorite. No one else seems to care anymore anyway.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Camelot—The Stolen Promise


When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was a college freshman. My classmates and I can all tell you exactly where we were when we heard the news of his death. We were stunned; we struggled to process what had happened. But we were on the cusp of profound societal change, including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. We weren’t afforded much time to grieve. We weren’t given the chance to reflect fully on what we had lost. We had too many other weighty issues to address.

Some of today’s political analysts would insist that, had Kennedy finished his term, he would have made his share of mistakes and would not be so revered by my generation. While that may be true, we can never know for certain. This year would have been Kennedy’s 100th birthday. To honor that, PBS aired for the first time the 1961 film “JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala.”

Washington, DC had been paralyzed by a freak snowstorm the day of the gala, on the eve of JFK’s inauguration. The narration included entertaining anecdotes about the complications that caused for both the performers and the technicians. As I expected from a PBS special, this was well produced and beautifully narrated. What I did not expect was the emotional impact that program had on me. I’m not sure exactly where during the special I became aware that I desperately needed a box of tissues.

My first thought was that the cause of my waterworks was seeing all the entertainers that are no longer with us, Frank Sinatra in particular. But Jimmy Durante’s soulful and prophetic rendition of September Song (It’s a long, long time from May to December) toward the end of the program made me realize it was something more profound. His song and the companion narration elicited a long-overdue catharsis. I was finally fully grieving the loss of the promise of Camelot.

As so many others had before us, my generation entered college with the hope of a new and bright future. But unlike the others, we began our journey to adulthood, to our own social responsibility, with a young and vibrant leader at the helm of our government. We hadn’t even finalized our fields of concentration when that hope was taken away from us. Not just taken—wrenched away.

What hit me while watching “The Lost Inaugural Gala” was the realization that the promise of Camelot had been stolen from us. Who knows what glorious things our generation and our country could have accomplished in those “shining moments” that would have been? It’s one thing to celebrate one’s fiftieth college reunion and ponder “the road not taken” when the choice was one’s own. To look back and realize that someone erased that path from the map just as you were approaching the fork is something else altogether.

Most of us would admit that we have experienced some bright and wonderful accomplishments, both personal and societal, over the past fifty years. But one truth remains for my generation, made all the more poignant with the drama and the controversy of the current administration. We did not choose to bypass Camelot. Its promise was stolen from us.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Keeping On Not Doing What I Should Not Be Doing


About a month ago I decided to make yet another effort to peel off a few pounds toward a goal of improving my overall health. Each time I go through this process, I’m less successful than on the previous attempt. This round led me to one of those “aha!” moments as to what seems to be happening. That in turn revealed a truism about my broader behavior.

My fitness attempts consist of two behavioral categories—things I should do, and ones I should not do. For example, I should exercise, and I should not eat sweets or a lot of cheese. I’ve discovered that I’m much better at the “not doing” than I am at the “doing.”

Other than my morning sit-ups and stretching on the floor, I’ve had very little exercise over the past months. (I use the term sit-ups loosely.) Oh sure, I walked a mile or two about once a week. Maybe twice somewhere along the way. But if I want to get fit, I need to be walking about three miles at least three times a week. What’s worse, I’ve missed those daily stretches a few times. I used to do them religiously.

On the other hand, I’ve been quite good at avoiding sweets and cutting down on cheese. I simply don’t bring it into the house in the first place, or I bring very little. I no longer eat ice cream right out of the container.

What about other things I’m not doing that I should be doing? Practicing my saxophone for one. Jazz band practice has been canceled three weeks in a row, giving me a good excuse to skip my own preparation. And you may have noticed that what used to be my weekly blogging schedule shifted to bi-weekly some months back. I posted only once in the entire month of April. Then there’s the pile of mending waiting for me to tackle it.

To be fair, there’s a psychological impediment to the mending. Last September, I went to fetch another sock whose toe had a hole. By the time I walked to the bedroom and back, my cat Kallie got at the needle and thread and swallowed it. When I couldn’t find the needle and saw her making funny movements with her mouth, I knew what had happened. (She tried this once when I was still in the middle of darning.) A rushed visit to two vets and $2,100 of endoscopy later, Kallie was fine but I remained traumatized.

As you can see, I’m not highly accomplished at performing any number of tasks on my to-do list. On the other hand, I perform better at avoiding the interdictions I’ve put upon myself. At least I used to be. I’ve already mentioned the sweets and the cheese, but there have been non-gastronomical no-noes as well.

In particular, I’m thinking of my decision to avoid baiting Trump lovers with my blog and Facebook posts. I took the high road sometime last summer. Not long after, I switched to the bi-weekly posting schedule. It seems once I couldn’t post political satire, the well began to run dry. I stayed high for many months, unrewarding though it was, thus proving that I’m quite good at not doing what I should not be doing.

I have absolutely no idea what these proclivities say about me. Perhaps they reveal a tendency toward laziness, something buried for many decades that has been released via the freedom of being retired. More likely, they’re just random connections without even a metaphysical explanation. After all, I came down off the high road in February with barely a second thought.

I decided I was missing out on altogether too much fun by not jumping on the political satire humor train. That’s when I wrote the post: “Post-Election Mental Disorders” and submitted it to Reader Supported News. They picked it up, the first of six in a row that I’ve sent to them that they’ve accepted.

I guess that means I’m actually doing something, rather than not doing it. I’m staying off the high road. I’ll drink to that. Actually, no I won’t. Cutting back on wine was another item on my “not do” fitness list. Darn! Oops. Not darn. Too dangerous around Kallie. On that note, I’m going to stop writing this now.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Handling Trump’s Communications Style


The world needs help communicating with President Donald Trump. His speaking style has been described as “discursive.” In layman’s terms that’s “rambling,” but I prefer the synonym “circumlocutory” because it conjures up images of him wandering a room while he’s speaking. His listening style is harder to explain.

Trump is generally assumed to have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), with the attention span of a young child. News of Trump’s trip to the Middle East prompted tips being publicized on how speakers can maximize chances of having him listen to what’s being said. For example: Keep your message short. Very short. Use Trump’s name in every paragraph; Trump loves to hear his name mentioned. (I’ve used Trump five times in this paragraph, assuring it will get read.)

I have another suggestion for how to handle Trump’s communications style. It’s taken straight from the news, including an article in the May 22 Time magazine. In a word: fidgets. Or as Time calls them, fidget spinners. SNL even did a skit on them.

Yes, fidgets. Those inexpensive thing-a-ma-jigs that kids are… well, fidgeting with in school these days. Psychologists claim that the device can help children with ADHD pay attention better in class. The idea is that kids don’t have to look at them to work them, but the constant… well, fidgeting (again) with the contraption helps dispel excess energy, allowing better focus.

Many teachers disagree, but the jury is still out on this trend. Besides, what does it matter? If there were real science behind these gadgets, Trump wouldn’t believe it. When the President is involved, there’s no downside to relying on fake science. Plus, fidgets don’t require a lot of physical activity. That should be a big selling point with him.

Dear Lord, what a simple-minded solution we have available! Here’s some advice for Reince Preibus. Get Trump a passel of fidgets. Make sure there are plenty of them wherever he’s likely to wander during the day. Don’t get the plastic ones; they’re too noisy. Get ones with metal ball bearings. Or better yet, the ceramic ones. I hear they’re the best for spinning. They're faster and quieter and they last longer. But make sure you don’t get ones that are too big. Keep in mind how small Trump’s hands are.

Picture it: Trump with a pile of fidgets. Then if the media described Sean Spicer’s press briefings as spin zones, no one would be able to call them fake news.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lessons in Lexicography for FBI Director Comey


The recent Senate hearings with [now former] FBI Director James Comey exposed his need for lessons in lexicography. Here are just a few of the words and phrases for which he doesn’t seem to fully understand proper usage.

Let’s start with “mildly nauseous.” Comey told the Senators, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” Before we go further, we have to question “might have had.” Ya think? But our job here is to focus on the lexicography, so let’s move on.

Vocabulary.com tells us that most folks use nauseous when what they really mean is nauseated. They explain that nauseous “should be reserved to mean causing that feeling, not having it.” They provide the example that cod liver oil has a nauseous taste. Modern dictionaries have given up making this distinction. We’re willing to allow Comey the common usage, although the historical one is a better description of the effect his actions had on much of the country. But he still needs a lesson on this.

“Mildly nauseous” is what someone gets when they step into a boat that is docked on a lake that gets a few waves now and then. Or how you feel on a roller coaster as it ascends to the top of its arc, before that hurtling plunge that sucks your stomach up into the back of your mouth. This feeling could also be the first sign that you caught that nasty flu going around. Or how a woman sometimes feels during the initial few weeks of her pregnancy, often providing the first sign that she’s expecting.

What you should have felt, Mr. Comey, was not mild nausea. It should have been the cold-sweat-producing panic of knowing that what you did was so indefensible that you need to chew on the insides of your cheeks so you don’t give in to a full-blown hurl fest. Much like how that pregnant woman feels well into her first trimester. Or the sensation a cancer patient has when he’s about two thirds of the way through six cycles of chemo treatments. If you’re unclear on this, go out into the middle of the Atlantic in a dingy during hurricane season.

We need to at least mention “Lordy,” generally used as an interjection to express surprise or to make a statement more forceful. We know you weren’t surprised by what you did, because your testimony was a studied effort to convince the Senate that you had carefully thought out your choices. That leaves us with adding force to your explanations.

You can’t just appropriate cultural expressions willy-nilly. If you’re from the South, you get to say Lordy, as long as it’s repeated. “Lordy, Lordy!” Your bio says you were born in Yonkers. The farthest South you got was the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. You need to find some more appropriate way to put your questioners off balance. Maybe something like, “Yo, Adrian!” Think about it.

On to those pesky doors you saw, Mr. Comey. A choice between one door marked “Really Bad” and the other marked “Catastrophic.” You said you picked the lesser of two evils. Your defenders say choices often are not black and white; they’re shades of gray. You recognized the shade on the Really Bad door you picked as the gray of a pinstripe suit. The door marked Catastrophic was brightly colored and it had a figure in a skirt on it. Forget shades of gray. You went for the door with the figure in pants because it looked like you.

Let’s do a lexicographic tour of “catastrophic.” Dictionary synonyms are cataclysmic and apocalyptic (foretelling the destruction of the world). You seem to have lost all sense of scale on this one, Mr. Comey. If you get two inches of water in your basement after a thunderstorm, that’s really bad. If your home washes away during a hurricane, that’s catastrophic. Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans was a catastrophe. A rise of three feet in sea levels by the end of this century due to global warming could be apocalyptic.

The election of a female President of the United States would not have been a catastrophe. It would have been more evolutionary than apocalyptic. And that thundering sound you heard the day after the inauguration was not the Four Horsemen. It was the pounding of hundreds of thousands of women’s heels marching on the Capitol. Get used to it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ten Signs Your Leggings Are Not Pants


Are you unsure whether the leggings you’re wearing will qualify as pants for United Airlines check-in? Here are ten signs that they will not pass muster for that or any other fashion police scrutiny.

1.     We can read the name of the week on the fanny of your underpants through them.
2.     Your waistband has converted your muffin top into three bagels and another part of your anatomy into two scones.
3.     The color of your leggings starts out black at your ankles, but by the time they reach your thighs, they’re light gray with beige undertones.
4.     We can count the hairs at the first letter of that place where the Village People thought it was fun to stay.
5.     You don’t need to bend over for us to see your plumber’s butt.
6.     You had to pull so hard to get them on that they are now footless, but they didn’t start out that way.
7.     Honey Boo Boo’s fan club elected you president and you aren’t even a member.
8.     Your thighs are still jiggling like Jell-O five minutes after you sit down.
9.     We’re actually grateful that you wore a thong underneath them.
10. Your smart phone refuses to take a full-body selfie of you and the Geek Squad can’t find a technical explanation.

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these criteria, best to change into a pair of blue jeans before you leave for the airport. Or else put on a long tunic from Omar the Tentmaker’s latest fashion catalog. You might find last season’s styles on sale at Walmart.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It’s A Mad, Mad World


Perhaps everyone went mad some time ago. Maybe I’m just noticing it more with the Presidential election behind us. Whatever the explanation, I’ve no doubt that we now live in a mad, mad world.

This notion really hit me when I heard about women in a Boston-area retirement home knitting sweaters for chickens. They provide their distaff skills for fowl that can’t keep warm in New England. These are apparently tinier birds that shed their feathers in winter months or ones that come from tropical climates. The video that accompanied the piece was adorable, and a spokesperson said egg production has improved since the birds began wearing these jumpers. It still seems like a madcap endeavor to me.


Keeping with the subject of animals, but sadly in a cruel way, a group of poachers broke into the rhino enclosure in a wildlife preserve in a Paris suburb one night. They shot and killed a rare white rhino and sawed off one of his horns. Rhino horn, when powdered, is believed to have “medicinal properties” in some Asian countries. It’s maddening that animals aren’t safe even in zoos anymore. I wish someone would cut off the erect appendages of everyone in the supply-and-demand chain for this exotic powder.

Next we have a report of a $26,500 fine for a Calgary man who tied 100 helium balloons to a lawn chair almost two years ago. His lift off went up about two and a half miles, creating a danger for airplanes. No word on whether he was still in the chair at the time. Also no explanation of why it took this long to decide the fine, which can easily be calculated to be $265 per balloon. Crazy Canadians. At least he wasn’t playing “Around the World” on the saxophone while he soared. (That was for you, Lynn.)

In the realm of good news for those on fixed incomes, we have a quote from Charles M. Becker (not Decker) of Duke University, by way of Time magazine. “Trailer parks can be thought of as gated communities for people who aren’t so wealthy.” Yeah. And jails can be thought of as gated communities for criminals, while insane asylums are gated communities for those who have gone mad since the election. They have waiting lists.

Since I can’t avoid talking politics if the subject is a mad, mad world…
Deputy Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the President’s spokespersons, answered Martha Raddatz’s question about the alleged Obama wiretaps with: “I will let the President speak for himself.” Newsflash: dictionary definition: “Spokesperson: a person who speaks for someone else.” It’s not: “Spokesperson: a person who let’s someone else speak for himself.” Maybe she meant to say: “I will let the President tweet for himself.” We can’t fault her for that.

Finally, still on politics, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, is also quoted in Time, saying: “I didn’t want this job.” We’re not sure that Trump wanted his new job, either. But Steve Bannon and Mike Pence would sure love to have it. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo…

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Public Bathroom Safety Tips


President Trump rescinded Obama’s order allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. SCOTUS refused to hear a case challenging the repeal. This pretty much guarantees that the only males using a ladies room will be peeping Toms or worse. Years ago I had such an encounter with a peeper in a Manhattan office building, so I put together these safety tips for women who are seated in a stall when they realize they’re being watched.

1.     Slam your knees together. The slapping sound your thighs will make should frighten the peeper off. Even if not, this will limit his view severely.
2.     Be thankful you wore clean underwear with no holes. Your mother would be proud of you.
3.     Stay calm. Getting excited will only make you have to use the john that much longer. See items 4 and 5 for ways to calm yourself.
4.     Consider legitimate reasons the peeper may have for being there, such as:
·      He’s a freelance photographer working on a spread
·      He’s doing market research for a toilet paper company
·      He’s an industrial engineer trying to cost justify automatic toilet paper dispensers
·      He’s an investigator hired by the insurance company to test the building’s security
5.     Whistle, sing or hum a favorite tune, but avoid such provocative songs as:
·      For Your Eyes Only
·      Hey, Look Me Over
·      Jeepers, Creepers, Where’d You Get Those Peepers?
·      Sitting in La La, Waiting for My Ya Ya
6.     Mutter phrases of discouragement such as, “I hope my doctor was wrong about the herpes…” Or, “Gawd, I ruin more pantyhose on my rough knuckles now that I’m taking karate lessons!”
7.     Carry on a casual, one-way conversation with his feet in the next booth. If he responds, keep him talking. It will give you more time to get your pants up. When you’re ready to leave, say, “Well, it’s been nice chatting” even if he hasn’t answered. If he thinks you’re daft enough, he’ll lose interest.
8.     Do not take time to flush. It puts you in the vulnerable position of having your back to the door. Besides, half the time people don’t bother to flush anyway.
9.     Do take time to wash your hands. If you don’t, the peeper could paint you as a loose woman with vile habits. And your mother would die if she found out.
10. Use a different ladies room the next time you have to go.

Copyright 2017 Elaine M. Decker

Sunday, February 26, 2017

How Trump Can Show He Doesn’t Hate Jews


President Trump has recently come under increasing criticism for not speaking out more forcefully against anti-Semitism in the U.S. When asked about this at a recent news conference, he referred to his daughter. Anyone who has ever heard the phrase “happens to be Black” or “happens to be gay” knows that what Trump originally intended to say was that Ivanka “happens to be Jewish.” Instead, as he often does, he changed horses midstream and said she “happens to be here.”

If it’s that difficult for #45 to even use the word “Jewish,” how can he expect us to believe he’s not anti-Semitic? It’s reached the point where speaking out will not be enough. The Times of Israel quoted prominent community members in its article: “Jewish groups seek action from Trump to match his words on anti-Semitism.” Fortunately for the President, we’ve put together five things he can do to show that he doesn’t hate Jews. To make these easier to follow, we’ve adapted them to be less rigorous than their traditional application.

1. Wear a yarmulke and a prayer shawl to all of his meetings, press conferences and rallies. He can use gold-plated bobby pins to affix his yarmulke over his thinning pate. Wearing this cap actually has an added benefit for him. It will keep his comb-over from flapping up in the wind and revealing his fake tan line.

2. Wear Teva sandals whenever he’s in Florida. This includes when he’s at Mar-a-Lago. Tevas are the go-to footwear for everyone who celebrates his or her Jewish identity. Socks are optional.

3. Don’t shake or touch any woman’s hand other than his wife’s. We’re still awaiting an opinion on whether he can touch his ex-wives’ hands, but we assume he’s not in any hurry to do that in any case. We’re also not sure if he can still grab pussies, but we’ll probably allow this since there will be a clothing barrier.

4. Stop working at sundown on Fridays and until sunset on Saturdays. On the surface, this might not seem like it will be too difficult for Mr. Trump. However, that translates to no airplane travel, no golfing and no use of any devices that have become such a staple in our everyday lives. That means absolutely NO Twitter during those 24 hours. This will be the ultimate test of how badly he wants to show that he’s not anti-Semitic. Actually, not quite ultimate. More like penultimate.

Because finally:

5. If he isn’t already—get circumcised. Either way, we’ll need proof of this from an unbiased third party. Think of it as “distrust and verify.” If he plans to have someone named Kelly authenticate this, it can’t be Kellyanne Conway. Megyn Kelly, on the other hand, will be acceptable.

And speaking of hands, this fifth item might expose the truth that The Donald really does have small hands. He would no doubt find that to be the unkindest cut of all.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Post-Election Mental Disorders


Health professionals are citing an increase in mental disorders since the presidential election. One of the most prevalent is Post-Election Stress Disorder (PESD), which apparently affects women more than it bothers men. I can vouch for that. PESD is just one of several mental health issues I’ve been afflicted with since the election.

In the February 17 New York Times, Richard Friedman cautioned against diagnosing someone we haven’t met (say perhaps #45). To be able to diagnose a mental problem—Narcissistic Personality Disorder for example—a mental health expert has to actually spend time with the patient. Friedman did, however, give everyone a pass on discussing someone’s narcissistic character traits. But this isn’t about the President’s traits; I’m chronicling the mental problems he’s causing others.

I’ve spent plenty of time with myself since the election, so I’m qualified to self-diagnose. I’m not sure whether my ailments will make an appearance in the next edition of The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM). But this I can tell you: they’re big league mental issues and I’m not the only person suffering from them. Take for example TITMO.

Trump In The Media Overload has forced me to stop watching most news stations. I make an exception for the BBC’s World News and Newshour on PBS, but sometimes I have to turn off even those revered stations. I don’t care if the story has anything to do with politics or not. I don’t even care which Trump it’s about. I’m just weary of hearing that name, no matter how it’s used. I’m grateful I never managed to master bridge.

TITMO isn’t my only post-election condition worthy of appearing in the DSM. SSIPPI should also be added. That’s not a new abbreviation for the state that kisses the Gulf of Mexico between Louisiana and Alabama. It stands for Social Security Insecurity—Psychotic Phobia Insomnia. Like many others, I’m kept awake at night worrying about potential reductions in Social Security and Medicare, two staples of any retiree’s existence.

Then there’s FFATAS, or Fake Facts and Alternative Truths Avoidance Syndrome. This is one of the main reasons I don’t listen to the political commentators’ shows any more. Be careful not to confuse FFATAS with FATASS. The latter are Foppish Asinine Trumpisms Aired by Sean Spicer. FATASS is not a disorder, but it often causes one. FFATAS, on the other hand, is frequently induced by Kellyanne Conway.

Speaking of whom, we should also mention KCDC-ACDC. That’s Kellyanne Conway’s Defunct Credibility—Always Citing Donald’s Comebacks. This is her own personal issue, so it won’t be eligible for inclusion in the DSM. One of the few bright spots of the post election chaos is that several media outlets have now banned Kellyanne from their interview lists.

A disorder many will recognize is SWOVAR, the Shock When Opposing Views Are Revealed. This condition occurs when we find out that the political positions of certain friends and family members are the opposite of our own. People we’ve known and interacted with forever are suddenly exposed as “other.” Our reactions include: How could I not have known? And: You’ve got to be kidding me!

An especially worrisome condition caused by the divisiveness that has resulted from the election is TASS. This is not the Russian news agency. It’s the Two Americas Solution Syndrome. Folks suffering from TASS have concluded that the best way to restore mental equilibrium is to split up the U.S. into two separate countries. Here’s how it would work.

Any state that touches the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans would become part of Blue America. Most states that don’t touch an ocean would become Red America. Of course, it would make more sense to call that White America, given the anti-immigrant and White Supremacist leanings of most of them. States that border the Great Lakes could hold a referendum on which America to join. North and South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado and New Mexico would just have to muddle through.

Many readers will reject this extreme solution, pointing to the Civil War to prove how dangerous it is. Others will cite the massive migration of families after the partition of India and Pakistan to show the disruptions TASS would cause. (Many of the golfing enthusiasts in my Connecticut condo community would likely head to Arizona.) TASS may have its critics, but I’m transported to a zone of serenity just imagining it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Life Skills for Dummies


A local newspaper recently carried an insert titled “Life Skills—How To Do Almost Anything.” I had purchased Pogue’s Basics: Life—Essential Tips and Shortcuts for my husband a year ago. I saved the local newspaper insert, hoping that it would be a sort of Readers Digest edition of Pogue’s Basics. After all, the paper promised “set-by-step tips and illustrations.”

One chilly afternoon, I sat down with “Life Skills,” a freshly brewed a cup of tea and a hearty does of eager anticipation. The insert had a contents page that neatly organized the tips into five categories: Basics, At the Office, Play, Technical and Social. I jumped right into the ‘Basics’ section and compared entries to the Pogue’s index. The insert included such life skills as “Sew a Button” and “Iron a Shirt.” Pogue’s missed them. Since I’ve already mastered those skills, I turned to those pages purely out of curiosity.

I started with “Iron A Shirt.” My mother taught me this before I left for college, since I’d be doing my own laundry and white men’s-style shirts were popular my Freshman year. As I began reading this, I wondered if this was taught in the Home Economics class in my regional high school. “Clear the ironing board of any debris. If it’s really dusty, throw the cover in the wash.” To match the iron setting to your shirt, “look for the itty-bitty words on the dial and on the back of your shirt tag.” Definitely a “Life Skill.”

What stopped me in my tracks, however, was the sequence of the ironing process. I always start with the collar, then the yoke (inside and outside parts), then the back and sides, finishing with sleeves and cuffs. Life Skills started with collar and cuffs, then sleeves and yoke, finishing with “trunk, back and front.” Except that when you read the instructions, they don’t mention the back of the shirt at all.

Was my mother wrong all those years ago in her careful tutelage of my ironing skills? There was one way to find out: Google it. After all, whatever you find on the Internet is the truth. Or at least it’s an alternative fact. Be still my heart. None of them seem to end with the sleeves. They alternate between starting with collar vs. sleeves, but never end there. All these years I’ve been doing it wrong. What would my mother think?

On to “Sew A Button.” Illustrations included a drawing of scissors with the label “scissors” and an arrow pointing to the drawing. So helpful. Ditto for “sewing needle,” and “doubled thread and knot.” There were sketches showing the difference between a flat button and a shank one, but who needs names to figure out where to insert the needle? I especially loved the sketch of the fabric with two buttons and an arrow labeled “missing button” pointing halfway between. If you didn’t know where the button belonged before reading this, good luck replacing it.

Now I’m a wondering if the Life Skills in the other sections are as pedestrian. Let’s see. In the At Your Office section we have: Clean Your Desk. Step 1. Pile it up. All of it. Step 2. Clean Thoroughly. (You cannot make this stuff up.)

In the Play section there’s: Bowl Without Hurting Anyone. Seriously? Notice it is not titled Bowl Without Hurting Yourself.  That would have made sense to me. I skim the page. It has detailed instructions on proper technique, but nowhere does it caution what not to do. Nor does it explain the injuries that might occur if you do it wrong. I could have helped with that. Bruised toes from dropped ball. Thumb sprain because it never came out of the ball. Sore bum from losing my balance and landing backwards.

The Social (and last) section ends with what to do when “Someone’s Fly Is Down.” I could have used this for my high school Physics class. The instructor had lunch before he came to us and frequently missed the zip. The Life Skills steps include surveying the scene (to tell or not), who should do the telling (including gender guidelines) and breaking the news. Nowhere does it include my favorite way to inform a guy that he has this problem. “You might want to close the barn door before the horse gets out.”

It seems I made a good choice in gifting Pogue’s Basics: Life to my husband. Not only does it spare us the mundane, it includes some truly essential items that Life Skills missed. In particular, I’ve marked page 136, “Getting Your Cat Back.” Now that’s an essential tip if there ever was one.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Obituary Overload


When I put this year’s list of banned words and phrases together, I wanted very much to include “obituary.” It was a fool’s errand to consider that, since there is no way we can get through 2017 without seeing that word again. But it did get me to thinking about some specific obituaries from 2016 and obituaries in general.

Last year began with the death of my former significant other, Charlie Schneider. We co-owned a home for about eight years and remained close after he bought out my half. I visited him a few times back in New Jersey after I married Jagdish and moved to Rhode Island. In his last years, Charlie suffered from dementia. I kept abreast of his condition through his daughter. He was bed-ridden at the end, which would have devastated him if he’d been aware enough to fully appreciate what limitations that had put on him.

Several months later, my sister’s husband, Bob, passed away. It was one of those deaths that we call a blessing. He’d been diagnosed with a stage-three brain tumor coming up on six years earlier. High-end survival is pegged at five years, so he was on borrowed time. He was bed-ridden in a nursing home for over two years at the end, and wheelchair bound at home for a considerable time before that. So, yes, his death truly was a blessing. Of course, his obituary didn’t say that. It was filled with the many good things about his life.

I’m so tired of reading those final accounts. Tired of hearing who died this week. It seemed like 2016 had more deaths of celebrities than usual. For some reason, the loss of Gwen Ifill hit me hard, probably because I didn’t realize she was ill. I accepted PBS’s simple explanation that she was “away.” The end-of-year summaries always include the video montage of who has left us. Singers, actors, sports legends, notables in the field of science. As I watched one of these recently I realized something that made obituaries even more depressing for me.

When I was young—say in my twenties and perhaps thirties—there were always some people who had died whose names were unfamiliar to me. Those were the older ones, the actors and prominent names of my mother’s generation. Eventually, I reached an age where I seemed to know almost everyone in the montage, both young and old. I didn’t give this much thought. At least not until this year.

Once again there are faces that are unfamiliar. Oh, I’ve probably heard their names at some point. But if you asked me what type of music they sang, what was their signature song, I’d be clueless. George Michael is a good example. True, those luminaries died “before their time,” but not in their youth. They just moved on at the beginning of that phase where people start dying.

Where does that leave me? Recognizing all the older faces and names in those montages. Shedding a tear to think that no, we won’t see Debbie Reynolds in some new project in the future. Knowing that Zsa Zsa Gabor had a sister Eva and too many husbands to count on one hand. Aware of the health issues faced by the trail blazing women, Janet Reno and the much younger Pat Summitt. I’ll always remember Alan Rickman from Love Actually (I own the DVD), not the Harry Potter movies (never saw any of them). I even had a brief crush on George Kennedy when I was young.

If there’s a bell curve of obituaries, of deaths recognized, I’m now on the down slope. I may not be able to ban “obituary” for 2017, but I can certainly make a desperate plea to the powers that be, assuming there are such powers and that they’ll listen. “Please let us have Betty White for many more years, another gig or two hosting Saturday Night Live, and a few more cameo performances in a movie or TV show.” I cry enough when I watch reruns of The Golden Girls. I don’t think I could handle it if Betty were also gone.

It would be nice if we could also hold on to Robert Duvall (another of my former crushes) and Anthony Hopkins a bit longer, too. And if Jimmy Carter could build a few more houses before we lose him. Is all of that really so much to ask?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Banned Words and Phrases for 2017


January is the publication month for annual lists of banned words and phrases. As with last year, I collected ones that were annoying me throughout 2016. If my 2017 list is like my previous compilations, several of my choices will appear on other popular round ups. Also predictable: most of my entries were inspired by the 2016 Presidential election. Since they’re election-driven, we’ll need to keep the ban in effect through at least 2018. I can’t bear to think farther into the future than that.

Let’s start with a phrase that’s not political, since there are plenty of those further down. I am so over hearing “I mean,” especially on television. “I mean” seems to have replaced the simpler “so” as the filler noise in an interview. Filler words are even more annoying than filler sounds like “er” and “um.” Fie on them all.

So much verbiage assaulted us during the election that I can’t remember what prompted me to include ‘Siren Call’ on this year’s list. Back in February, 2016, RealClearPolitics.com ran the headline: “Millennials Heed the Siren Call of Socialism.” It was referring to Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. But it might also have been a polite way to say that Donald Trump’s rhetoric was a dog whistle to White Supremacists. Whatever my motivation, ‘siren call’ is out, but you can keep ‘dog whistle’. For now.

Staying on Trump (do we have a choice?), say goodbye to ‘Pivot’. Our President-elect changed his positions so frequently and so quickly that he should have been put in a tutu and mounted on a music box. He defended this by saying, “It’s not change; it’s negotiation.” Fine. You can keep ‘change’ and ‘negotiation.’ But any reporter who talks about someone’s pivot will land on my growing list of no-longer-news-sources. Not even for ideas for my blog posts.

As a logical extension: Say so long to ‘By the Way,’ especially when it’s used as a pivot (appearing in its swan song here) in answering a question from the press. The Donald was a master at using that phrase to redirect attention away from the question at hand and to meander down some totally unrelated path. We shall keep the extremely useful non sequitur, by the way.

Another Trump favorite that often accompanied ‘by the way’ in a pronouncement was ‘Believe Me.’ Not unlike the expression: “With all due respect…” (when you know no respect will be shown), “believe me” is a red flag that we probably shouldn’t believe him. So, I’m banning it, but don’t be foolish enough to believe me if I say Mr. T will abide by this.

This next phrase is one that actually might get sucked into a dark hole now that I’ve banned it. I don’t think the President-elect will have much need for ‘People Are Saying’ once he’s inaugurated. He’ll be too focused on what he’s saying. So I’m banning his previous go-to expression in favor of a new one: ‘You don’t say?’

Here is yet another banned word provided thanks to Trump: ‘Rigged.’ Now that he’s won the election, he really has no further use for this. Unless it’s put in the negative, as in “The 2016 Presidential election definitely was not rigged by Putin.” Either way, it makes the hair stand up on my nape, so it’s de rigueur to avoid it.

Next is a phrase that more than one Republican tossed about during the primary like a live hand grenade: ‘Carpet Bomb.’ We can thank Ted Cruz for motivating me to ban it this year. It’s not that ‘carpet bomb’ is a bad phrase per se. It’s just that it was woefully misused. Kind of like ‘per se’

Similarly, commentators on both sides of the political divide droned on about the ‘Ground Game,’ which was also proven to be misunderstood. Ground games that were assumed to be solid turned out not to be based on terra firma. And the one that seemed murkiest yielded concrete results. We’ve sent the pundits back to the drawing board on this. They’re sequestered with the pollsters until midterm elections.

My final entry is a trio of ‘-ibles’ and ‘-ables’. As in ‘Horrible’, ‘Terrible’ (and in a nod to equal censure) ‘Deplorable’. They were all overexposed during the campaign, so they no longer carry any weight. It’s lamentable, but at least I’m keeping ‘basket’ so I have something to hide my creative light under.

One word that is conspicuously missing from this list is ‘bigly.’ The fact that Trump is trying to convince everyone that he was really saying ‘big league’ is so preposterous (and entertaining) that I couldn’t bring myself to ban either biggie. I suppose we could at least give him a hand for trying. A bigly hand…