Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for April 2022

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

Time to Vote…and Some Thoughts on the Milwaukee Mayor’s Race

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Today, we vote primarily for school board members and judges in Wisconsin.

Yes, we vote for judges here, even though few of us — myself included — know much about any of them. While I do my research, I mostly try to see if the judge’s written responses in their decisions make sense and follow what I know of the law. If they do, they get my vote regardless of party. If they don’t — or if they behave in a markedly inflammatory manner (as a few of the past judges on the Wisconsin state Supreme Court have done) — they don’t.

Milwaukee’s mayoral race is probably the biggest thing up for grabs in the entire state of Wisconsin. I have no dog in this fight, and of course as I don’t live in Milwaukee I also don’t have a vote. But I do have a few things to say about it.

The race features acting mayor and alderman Cavalier Johnson against longtime retired alderman Bob Donovan. Donovan is a very “by the book” law-and-order candidate, while Johnson is more worried about how well (or poorly) Milwaukee is doing economically. This is not at all to say that Donovan doesn’t care about Milwaukee’s economy or that Johnson doesn’t care about how many crimes there are in Milwaukee. But their focus is different.

In the past few days, Johnson’s family has come into the spotlight, particularly one brother who’s had lifelong problems with the law. Johnson’s brother has been arrested again for allegedly shooting someone this past January. Johnson has said from the get-go (from when he ran for alderman several years ago) that he has one brother who works within the justice system, and one that is almost always in the justice system (meaning he’s behind bars more often than he’s out on the street). He has not tried in any way to hide anything.

Donovan, however, decided to go after Johnson because it took the police a while to arrest Johnson’s brother for this latest crime. Donovan says it shows that Johnson leaned on the police department heavily.

I, personally, do not believe this.

Why?

Well, here’s my logic. I know, going back to that horrible scene in Waukesha last year where that idiotic driver hit a whole bunch of people and killed six of them, that it took at least two weeks for this man (who I still won’t name) to be arraigned. (They did get him into custody within a day.) This is a guy who wouldn’t have even been out on the street except for a glitch in the system and an incredibly low bail amount, which mostly seemed to be blamed on the Covid pandemic causing hearings to be virtual and many things to be missed.

So, if it took a few weeks for the Waukesha police department and the justice system to get their ducks in a row with a heinous (alleged) crime like that one, and I know also how Milwaukee has had issues with their justice system in that more people than not seemed to fall straight through the cracks as I said above, it doesn’t surprise me whatsoever that it would take a couple of months for Johnson’s brother to be arrested for this latest alleged infraction.

Now, can the Mayor’s office lean on the police? As a practical matter, I’m guessing yes.

But would Johnson, who’s just the acting mayor (as the previous mayor, Tom Barrett, was named to be the Ambassador to Luxembourg), want to run the risk all of this would come out at the most inopportune time? Of course not.

I believe Donovan is grasping at straws. It won’t help him. The people who were going to vote for him probably will no matter what, but a late push for something like that when the polling shows you way down (as apparently the polling does with Donovan) usually does not help.

Yes, polling can be wrong. We saw that in 2016 in the Presidential election.

Still. Local polling tends to be more accurate than national races, as there are fewer factors to weigh and far fewer people to sample to get any sort of idea as to how people are leaning toward voting at any given time.

I will be keeping an eye on the Milwaukee mayor’s race, as I believe it will be interesting. But my own votes today will be for county supervisor, judges, and school board members.

One final thought: The Waukesha Republican Party has put out an entire slate of school board members. They are proud of this. They believe this will help them in statewide races later this year (as both Governor and one US Senator’s race will be up for grabs).

I don’t like this at all.

School board members should concentrate on one thing: how well does the school system educate their kids. They should not worry about whether their votes align with Donald Trump or any other candidate, Republican or Democrat.

Truth is truth, after all.

My view is very simple here. If these school board members the Republicans put up get in there, I will hope they use their common sense and vote for sane, sensible public policy. I hope they will worry about how well — or poorly — the kids in their district are educated.

That’s what matters in a school board race.