This is the Place – Reflections on the attack at Manchester

I have been avoiding reading about the Manchester attack. I know when I’m too close to the edge to look over, and that’s the way I’ve been feeling since I heard about the tragic event. Today, I looked.

As the saying has it, there are eight million stories in the naked city. Manchester, this time, is that city.

One of those stories belongs to eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, the youngest of the victims. She was caught in the blast after having become momentarily separated from her mother and sister, both of whom suffered shrapnel injuries.

Another one of the stories is that of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 years old, who was with her mother and grandmother. She died. Mother and grandmother are still in hospital, recovering from their wounds.

Not all of the names have yet been released. But for each name, there are countless stories. None of them explain. They merely convey. Those who will survive this incident will recover, more or less, from their physical wounds. There is no recovery from the emotional wounds.

“A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

A parent who loses a child to illness, or accident, no matter the age of the child, is a changed parent. There is no returning, though there can be a moving on.

But a parent who loses a child, particularly a young child, to an act of atrocity, and worse – their child was there by their own permission or in fact in their very care – not only cannot return, but can never really regain possession or control. That which was stolen, remains stolen. The fault these parents will naturally assume, whether warranted or not – and here, clearly not – will never let them taste sweetness again without tasting bitterness. All the would-have-been-joyful moments to come will forever be tethered to darkness by the fact of the missing essential element: the child.

There is no justification for what happened. There is no explanation that can complete the puzzle of life for the people who were affected. And we have all been affected. The best we can perhaps hope for is to remember. Remember the path we were on. Remember why we were on it. Remember where we thought we were going. Remember who we were with.

For me, this memory is helped along by “This is the Place,” a poem by Tony Walsh, which he so forcefully read in the aftermath of such loss. I leave you with this thought, in the hope that it helps you to come to a better place, as it did me.

Tony Walsh reciting “This is the Place”Tony Walsh reciting 'This is the Place'

Crisis management in the post-truth era

Keep Calm and Carry On
Anyone who has had to manage a group, a company, a department, a family, through a crisis situation, knows that there are two threads that you have to focus on simultaneously.

First (among equals), get things fixed! Stop the hemorrhaging, plug the dikes. So long as the crisis condition persists, the organizational unit’s prime objective cannot be carried out. In order to get back on track, the thing that is happening must be made to stop happening.

The second, which cannot be separated from the first, is to uncover the flaws in the structure that allowed or caused the crisis to occur, in order to stop it right now or to keep it from recurring.

These two missions may be carried out using completely different methodologies, teams, viewpoints, strengths. But they have to be done with a respect for each other’s validity and each other’s process. Both missions must be mindful of the prime objective and their relation to it.

In much of the current discussion among Democrats and other Trump adversaries, the focus seems to be on figuring out what went wrong. Worse, the language rightly used to “talk among ourselves” in that pursuit is being used to by this B-team to try to fight the A-team battle. We are taking critical, perceptual, analytical thinking, and the language that supports it, and using that mindset and vocabulary to wage attack on our adversary. We continue to point out the duplicity, the contradictions, the bad judgement, the poor taste, the inappropriateness, of the adversary, in public. But these are all the same things that we were doing before, which led up to the crisis we now find ourselves in. If the tools proved ineffective in the fight to win the presidency, what makes us think that they will be effective in our current counter-offensive? They will not be.

In order to fight the A-team battle, we need to use the language and tools of that arena. Those terms are set by the winner, not by the loser. We need to step out of our own comfort zone and look to the language of the arena we are in. We are in the post-truth Trumposphere. We have to stop applying rational discourse on the battlefield. Did Trump win on rational discourse? Did he win on having the best go-forward strategy? Did he win on a consistent message of hope and opportunity? Did he win on truth and honesty? No? Then why are we still trying to win by holding his feet to these fires?

If things are ugly in the outward fight, we may need to get ugly. If there is subterfuge, we may need to apply subterfuge. If there is deceit, we may need to deceive.

Electoral College Abnegates Responsibility

The Electoral College vote has now come and gone. Many of us held out hope – even a 1% chance, as I gave it – that the EC would hear the call and would be our last bastion of defense before plunging the country and the world into the Age of Unreason.

I guess they didn’t really even consider changing their votes, as it turned out. To those few who did – in the right direction – thanks.

I have to wonder though where we would be if other departments and agencies did their jobs the way the EC does theirs. Their one job, their entire reason for being, is to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” That’s it, that’s their whole function.

What if the fire department were called to a house on fire and decided, “Well, we all have to go sometime, and the house was already on fire anyway. May as well let it go.”

Icarus has fallen and Mrs. Ramsay has died.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Credit: Wikimedia)

A recent BBC article touched on something that I’ve always had a deep connection to: the background details, information, contexts, of our lives. Without knowing where, or when, or under what peculiar circumstances an action is occurring, it cannot deliver the full impact of its message to us. Quite often, in learning a single seemingly insignificant detail regarding a subject with which one may already have a high degree of familiarity, one can be transported to a wholly other understanding.

Alfred Hitchcock (or more correctly one of his cinematographers, Irmin Roberts) shocked us with his visual revelation of this in the dolly zoom (or vertigo effect) he used in a number of his films. By pulling the camera back, away from the subject, and at the same time zooming in on the subject, thereby keeping its size relatively constant, the background seems to come out of hiding, and suddenly dominates the scene. It changes the entire texture of the moment, from an isolated activity, to a part of a puzzle; from the general to the specific.

In the picture above, thought to be a copy rather than the original of Breugel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the background detail of a pair of legs disappearing into the sea, could be all but lost, as we admire the painting’s other qualities of scene, light, movement, activity. But that detail, the fact that it is occurring even as we look on, comes as a bit of a shock to our daily lives, thrusting us into the life of the picture itself.

We all know the story. Daedalus, inventor, fashions a pair of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape from Crete, where they have been imprisoned by King Minos (something about Theseus, and the Minotaur, but that’s beside the point). Daedalus cautions Icarus to fly “at a middle height.” Too low, and the sea water with soften the wings. Too high, and the sun will melt them. Ahh, impetuous youth. Icarus gets carried away with himself, flies too high, the wings melt, and he plummets into the sea, to his death.

And in the painting, this has just happened! Nobody knew it was going to happen. No one was prepared for it. They were just doing what they always do. The ploughman, plowing. The shepherd, shepherding. The angler, angling. Ahh, but there, Icarus falls! In an instant, an ordinary day has become extraordinary.

In her 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf spends the entire first chapter of the book, by far the longest chapter, telling the story of the Ramsays, on a visit to their summer home in the Hebrides, mostly as it relates to Mrs. Ramsay. It’s a lovely story, exposing the details of peoples’ lives with the deft hand of a master.

The bridge between that visit and the next (in the world of the novel, at least), is a chapter of a mere 20 or so pages, titled, Time Passes. Within this already slender chapter, bracketed at the end of section III, almost as a footnote, is this:

[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]

That’s it. That’s how we learn that this woman whom we have gotten to know so well in the whole of everything we know about this family, has died, and we only learn of it, literally, in passing. The shock of reading that sentence in that way, in that part of the story, remains with me 40 years on, so far. An ordinary story of an ordinary family, became extraordinary in that moment.

All of these examples serve to reinforce the importance of what’s not talked about, what’s not planned, what’s not provided for, in determining our entire relationship with the things that actually happen in our daily existence. In today’s world, it could be argued that the background is often deliberately obscured by the current events made to swirl around in front of it, serving as a smokescreen, trying to keep us from noticing it. It is there, however, and it is an actor in the events transpiring center stage. Our ability to detect it, or not, may not in any way change the outcome of what actually happens in that particular moment. But in seeing it, in witnessing it, it may indeed have a profound impact on what happens for each of us, as we move off-screen, to enact our own next scenes.

Is Trump really the Republican candidate?

Trump - Branson - Clinton
A recent Dailykos article captured Richard Branson’s reflections on two meetings, one with Donald Trump, and one with Hillary Clinton (Richard Branson: Trump said he would destroy those who wouldn’t help him after he went bankrupt). Very telling contrast, which we’ve seen over and over again over the last year. Well… most of us have seen it. There are still those who – bizarrely – fail to recognize Trump for what he is.

I do think however that it is counterproductive to refer to the two individuals (as this article did) as “the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the Republican nominee Donald Trump.” While Hillary may well be the Democratic nominee, the Republican party (those that have balls), and almost all of the died in the wool Republicans that I know, feel that Trump has usurped the Republican party for his own platform. He has taken the name and run with it, neither understanding nor respecting what the party grew out of.

Sadly, the Tea Party did the same thing previously. Both of these movements have left the Republican party in tatters. It can’t even recognize itself any more, let alone have a commanding presence in the political arena.

I am a Democrat. A sort of independent-Democrat. But I totally depend on there being at least two parties in the national conversation. Without that, we’re too often talking to ourselves, patting ourselves on the back, thinking we have all the answers, and yet leaving wide swaths of answer undelivered.

There are always different viewpoints. The bell curve keeps coming up time and time again because on almost any subject, there’s a mass of people clustered around the middle, with fewer and fewer outliers in either direction. If the goal of a political party is to garner as much support for its position as possible, it would seem that a Democratic party that’s one standard deviation to the left of the center, and a Republican party that’s one SD to the right, would be about the right place to be.

As both parties – but particularly the Republican party – pick themselves up and dust themselves off after this election, it is my greatest hope that the leadership of both parties will consider this reality and try to position themselves once again to be strong, identifiable, cohesive forces, each with an agenda, but not so far apart that they cannot possibly reconcile on the issues before them.

From this perspective, we might still achieve much of the kind of growth the Republicans seem bent on, without losing the care and egalitarianism focus of the Democratic party. In the real world, we can’t afford to have clear winners, because that entails clear losers as well. We must always strive to do the best we can, for most of the people, and not leave any to be sacrificed to “progress.”

Is expectation of men’s solidarity misplaced in light of Trump sex tape?

I don’t believe I have any women friends (or any other friends, for that matter) who are Trump supporters. So I don’t believe this jab is directed at anyone I know.

That being said… isn’t it awfully myopic, selfish and xenophobic for a good number of women to say that now, finally, with the discovery of “the Trump tape,” a line has been drawn in the sand and Trump has stepped over it? To say that “it’s a sign of how under-appreciated we [women] are?”

Don’t you think it was true that earlier statements were signs of “how under-appreciated Mexicans are,” or “how under-appreciated Muslims are,” or “how under-appreciated [insert name of any number of groups Trump has slammed publicly] are?”

Were you not willing to stand behind Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, or others in solidarity because you are not a member of any of those groups? Why now all of a sudden do you expect men to stand behind women in solidarity? They are not members of that group either.

I know that Republicans especially like to talk about the Bible. But they sure like to pick and choose. We could go to Matthew 25:45 for the very lesson that pertains here:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

Anyone who is only now deciding to abandon Trump or – perhaps worse – remains undecided, has to ask themselves what they truly do believe in. Because it surely does not appear to be “love of neighbor,” or “basic human goodness” that they believe in. It must be something else entirely.

This article is in part in response to:
“You deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you”: a conservative activist quits GOP after Trump tape [from vox.com]

Dallas police attack is the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since …

The Dallas police attack has been alternately called “the deadliest attack on law enforcement since 9/11” and “the deadliest attack FOR law enforcement since 9/11.”

By “for,” what they mean is that among all of those who were killed, the community of law enforcement also suffered its greatest loss.

However, the 9/11 attack itself, of course, did not target the 72 law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the attack along with hundreds of other people.

The previous largest attack ON law enforcement – which I think is far more relevant to discuss – was the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, an attack in which federal law enforcement officers from specific agencies were specifically targeted.

Bringing 9/11 into the discussion only serves to link Dallas to another image of shock and awe. It demonstrates careless reporting, as it does nothing to further the understanding of the current event. It is regrettable that it – 9/11 – was chosen as the reference point, rather than the OK City bombing, which shared a motivation similar to the Dallas attack.