Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Damar Hamlin Released from Hospital, Sent Home to Recover

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Folks, I am very pleased — and relieved — to know that Damar Hamlin, safety for the Buffalo Bills, was released from the hospital in Buffalo and was sent home to recuperate. This is not an outcome I would’ve expected last week when Hamlin suddenly, and scarily, fell backward. But it’s happened, and to me at least, it seems like a miracle.

Granted, there’s a saying I’ve heard that goes like this: “Miracles can happen through human hands, with God/dess flowing through.” That is, if we’re willing to help, if we’re willing to do whatever we can, then sometimes the Deity can use us. That certainly seems to be the case with Hamlin, as the trainers went right out and started CPR, then got out the AED (auto-defibrillator) and made sure his heart was in rhythm before the ambulance came to take him away.

One of the doctors at the previous hospital in Cincinnati said this is not only a very good outcome, but the rapidity of it seems remarkable. (I am giving my best paraphrase of something I saw on TV two or three days ago, so I hope this makes sense.) It’s an outcome that no one could’ve expected to have so soon…but it is warmly welcomed.

From what I heard tonight, it sounds like Hamlin will be working with the athletic trainers for the Bills along with a bunch of other specialists to help him heal. That he can do it from home, rather than from a rehab hospital, is possibly the biggest and best piece of news I’ve heard thus far.

See, recovering at home, when you can, is by far superior to having to stay in a nursing home (rehab place). You have more freedom, more autonomy, you can make more choices, and it’s far easier to relax in your own home, besides.

When I wrote the first blog about Hamlin last week, I had no idea what would happen. Like a lot of others, I prayed for a good outcome for him, as he’s only twenty-four. (I’d have prayed anyway, mind you, no matter what his age.) I hoped he’d wake up, know himself, know his family, know his team, and what he’d been doing before he collapsed, and he’s done all of those things. In addition, in the last couple of days (since this past Sunday, for sure), Hamlin has been Tweeting, and he’s also using his entrepreneurial spirit to sell t-shirts to raise money for the first responders who helped him.

So, in the span of about ten days, he went from sudden collapse due to a cardiac arrest to resuscitated due to the quick-acting and quick-thinking first responders to waking up and asking questions (including whether or not the Bills won the game) that showed he was “neurologically intact.” (This phrase was used several times by the Cincinnati doctors.) Then, after that, the ventilator was taken out, he started talking, then he started to Tweet again, was released from the hospital in Cincinnati to be flown to a hospital in Buffalo, and now he’s been released to go home so he can rehab on his own (with a lot of helpful people on his side, to be sure).

That’s amazing.

That’s the outcome everyone I knew was hoping for.

To my mind, it’s a medical miracle that Hamlin not only is alive but seems to be thriving (as much as anyone can, ten days out from a cardiac arrest).

Again, I am very, very happy that he’s back home and doing so well. May it continue to be so.

Damar Hamlin, 24, Still Alive After Collapsing on Monday Night Football (Update)

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Folks, a few days ago I wrote a post about Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. He’s only twenty-four years old, a second-year pro football player in the NFL. He collapsed about three seconds after participating in a hard hit of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, and most cardiologists consulted on TV, Twitter, or elsewhere believe what happened is called commotio cordis. This occurs when at precisely the wrong time, someone gets hit directly over the heart when the rhythm is about to reset. (I am not a cardiologist, obviously, nor a doctor. I hope I’m stating this correctly, and any doctors in the audience may feel free to correct me. Or EMTs, paramedics, etc., who all know far more than I.) This causes cardiac arrest as the heart goes into ventricular fibrillation (also called v-fib).

Fortunately for Hamlin, he was given immediate CPR on the field, plus an AED — a type of automatic defibrillator — was used. This allowed him to survive and get to the hospital and gives him a fighting chance to survive this ordeal.

Surviving a few days after such a horrible thing means the chances of waking up and knowing yourself and your family, friends, teammates, etc., is far higher.

Damar Hamlin’s collapse and resuscitation feels personal to me, and not just because I’m a football fan. It’s because of how my husband Michael collapsed years ago. Michael fell backward the same way and survived only ten hours after having his first heart attack. He was in a coma after his second. He had two more heart attacks before he passed away, still at a young age, still with absolutely no explanation that made any sense to me. They put on his death certificate “acute myocardial infarction suspected,” along with the beginning of arteriosclerosis. That last part should not have been enough to kill him. (There was so much damage, I’ll never know what caused Michael’s four heart attacks.)

Michael went into v-fib for certain after the second heart attack. He was out for eighteen solid minutes before he revived. After the third, he was out for at least another ten minutes, and when he came back to life again and I was allowed to see him, I was told by the doctors and nurses that they’d never seen anything like the fight Michael was putting up for his life. They said he obviously had everything to live for, and they hoped he’d pull through.

He didn’t.

Anyway, I pray that Hamlin will continue to improve and that he’ll be able to wake up soon. At that point they can figure out what to do next, as there are a number of outcomes — some really good, such as no memory damage due to oxygen deprivation — and some that aren’t. I want Hamlin to fully recover, even if he never plays another down of pro football.

Some of you may wonder how Hamlin’s GoFundMe for Xmas toys is doing. It’s up now to over $7M in donations. (No misprint.) Famous sportsmen like Tom Brady and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay have donated, along with tons of other football players including the Bills’ next opponent, the New England Patriots. (As a side note, Russell Wilson, former quarterback at Wisconsin and now a member of the Denver Broncos, and his wife Ciara donated, along with Wilson’s foundation.). But the majority of the donations have been from regular people. They’ve donated $5, $10, $13, $23, $33, etc. (Hamlin’s number is 3), because they want to do something, anything, that’s positive.

If Hamlin can wake up and know himself, eventually he can administer all these funds and help needy kids the way they deserve to be helped.

That is my hope. Hamlin is a good man, who set up that GoFundMe before he even was drafted and is someone who’s tried hard to help others by from what everyone has said since he was in his teens (if not sooner). He deserves to wake up and make a full recovery if any of us do.

I also want people to lay off Tee Higgins, who did nothing wrong whatsoever. What happened was a freak accident. This could’ve happened to Hamlin on any football play, if the heart was at the wrong point of its cycle. Football is a tough, violent, hard-hitting sport, but this particular risk usually is miniscule. It had never happened before in NFL history, and I pray it never will again.

So, at this hour (1 a.m. Central Standard Time), I continue to pray for Hamlin, his family, his team, the Bengals (the opposing team), Higgins because he’s being unfairly blamed, and the entirety of the NFL. I also pray for those who, like me, have watched loved ones die from sudden heart attacks and could do nothing about it.

For those people in my situation, I urge you to do your best to remember that so long as you are alive, at least a part of your loved one is also alive. It isn’t enough. I know it’s not. But it’s something, and it may at least give you a way to go on.

Monday Night Football Game Suspended After Bills Safety Damar Hamlin Collapses

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Sometimes, we forget that life is far more important than sports.

Tonight, however, is not one of those nights.

Late Monday night, during the scheduled Monday Night Football game on ESPN, second-year pro Damar Hamlin, a safety playing for the Buffalo Bills, collapsed on the field. He’d just taken part in a hard hit, and he’d stood up…then collapsed. CPR was performed, and an AED — a type of auto-defibrillator — was used to restart his heart. He was unconscious and not breathing for what appeared to be over nine minutes. (I can only say “appear” because a wall of players, coaches, and staff surrounded Hamlin while the EMTs worked on him desperately to keep Hamlin alive.)

Hamlin is only 24. Previously healthy. No heart issues indicated.

So how did this happen? Why did it happen? How is it that a 24-year-old man is in a Cincinnati hospital tonight, with football fans and others around the country praying for him and hoping he makes a full recovery?

No one knows yet, or if they do, they’re not saying. There are theories, some given by MDs, about types of heart conditions that could’ve possibly occurred. I believe these theories have been postulated because so many people are very upset. Any of them could be right. Or none of them could be right.

We must wait for facts, here. And we must hope that Hamlin wakes up, as the last word given was that he was intubated and in critical condition. No one’s said if he’s regained consciousness, and no updates are going to be given until morning (probably at least 8 or 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time).

All we can do, as decent human beings, is pray that Hamlin recovers.

You may be wondering what happened to the game. Well, it’s been postponed. No one has any idea when it will be played, or even if it’ll be played, as of this hour (12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Central Standard Time).

That’s as it should be. Lives are more important than football.

As a side note, a charity Hamlin started before he became a member of the NFL that gives toys to kids has raised almost 3 million dollars as of this hour. It had a stated donation goal of $2500. (Yes. Twenty-five hundred dollars.)

I believe this is happening because fans want to do something as they pray. Some have said in their comments that they want Hamlin to wake up so he can distribute all the toys his fund will buy, while most are just commenting that they continue to pray for him, his family, his team, and for the entire NFL.

I, unfortunately, am in between paychecks right now. I can’t contribute to Hamlin’s fund, though I will keep it in mind the next time I’m paid. But if you want to donate to help bring toys to needy kids in Hamlin’s name, that would be wonderful.

All I can do, as a football fan and as a human being, is to pray that Hamlin recovers. I am doing that partly because a 24-year-old man should have many years left, and partly as the widow of Michael B. Caffrey, who died in a similar way after fighting for ten hours to stay alive. Michael was no football player, but he did stand up, then collapse backward…an AED was not there when Michael needed it, but CPR was started right away by a neighbor EMT, and Michael had the best of care for the remaining ten hours of his life.

I don’t want the Hamlin family to have to see anything like what I saw.

I want him to live. To fully recover. To distribute all those toys. To enjoy his life, and know himself, and be happy with who he is, even if he never plays another down of football again.

Please. Pray for Damar Hamlin, his family, his teammates, and the entire NFL, most especially the players who risk their lives every single week to give enjoyment to millions.

Please.

Discussing Two Deaths: Postal Worker Aundre Cross, and Dancer Stephen “Twitch” Boss

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Stephen “Twitch” Boss was a dancer, performer, husband, and father. He’d come to prominence partly due to So You Think You Can Dance, where he finished second. He met his wife Allison there as well. And over time, he met many people, including former First Lady Michelle Obama and former talk show host Ellen DeGeneres (he was her DJ, and eventually an executive producer also, for her show).

He also — though it didn’t seem like it due to his bubbly, effervescent nature — suffered from depression.

The public didn’t know that until he took his own life yesterday at age 40.

Aundre Cross was a 44-year-old postal worker in Milwaukee. He was killed by random violence; as he was delivering the mail around six p.m., someone shot him. The police do not yet have any suspects, and it’s been about a week since Cross’s death.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m pairing these two men in death. The main reason is, Cross, like Boss, was the same type of person by all accounts. Cross was someone everyone liked. He could go into a funeral home — as he often did, delivering the mail — and make people smile. He also didn’t shirk from the tough times his friends had; he was always a shoulder to cry on, or a person who could uplift you when you needed it.

Both of these men encouraged others to feel better about themselves and what they were doing. They understood setbacks, they understood how difficult life can be, and yet they went out of their way to be one of “the helpers” that Mr. Rogers used to talk about all the time on “Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.”

When people like this go out of this world, it hurts us, whether we know it or not. That’s ’cause we all need to believe more in ourselves and our talents; we need to know that someone “gets” us, all the way through, and understands why we are trying so hard when it seems like nothing will ever break our way. These were men willing to talk, willing to help, willing to overcome, and willing to persevere. Their lives were both inspirational and educational, and while Cross wasn’t anywhere near as well-known as Boss, Cross shared light wherever he went — just as Boss did by all of the various tributes pouring in via social media and elsewhere.

If you are struggling with depression, please don’t wait. Speak to a friend. Speak to a crisis line. Speak to someone — a doctor, even. Do it for the memory of Twitch Boss, if you can’t do it for yourself.

And if you see someone shooting an innocent mail carrier and leaving him to die, please report this and stand ready to testify in whatever way you can.

People should not have to live in fear, whether it’s from themselves as in depression, or of others as in the traumatic and tragic case of the death of Mr. Cross while working and delivering the mail.

Actress Kirstie Alley dies at 71

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It’s taken me a day since I heard about actress Kirstie Alley’s passing to figure out what I wanted to say.

Alley was almost an icon, in some senses. Whether it was weight loss, taking on tough challenges later in life (she was on Dancing with the Stars in 2011, when she was 59 going on 60), discussing difficult subjects (she once asked a reporter from my best recollection, “Are you a chubby chaser? Shouldn’t you be?”), or being outspoken in nearly every aspect of life, Alley was an American original in the best of senses.

I first saw Alley in STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan. She played Lieutenant Saavik, who was Spock’s mentee and almost his foster daughter. Saavik was half-Vulcan, half-Romulan, so she had more emotions than most Vulcans, yet she’d grown up more in the Vulcan way and did her best to follow logic rather than give in to her emotional side. The body language of Saavik was quite different than any other character Alley played later on; it was fluid in the lower body but restrained in the upper body. (She’d said this is how she viewed Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Spock, so she was emulating that the best she could as far as body language went.) This “mirroring” made it clear, without speaking, that she was deeply attached to her mentor, Spock.

Later, Alley was in Cheers, one of the longest running comedies ever on the “small screen” (aka television). She played the difficult and demanding Rebecca in such a way that you kind of liked her even though Rebecca threw out verbal jabs as easily as she served up a drink to the bar’s regulars. She won an Emmy for that performance.

In everything she did, Alley was memorable. Quotable.

Alley’s dance partner from Dancing, Maksim Chmerikovskiy, left an emotional tribute to Alley on Instagram. He said, in part, “You were one of the most unique people I have ever met and easily one of the brightest moments of my personal and professional life.” He wished her “the most peaceful rest,” and said he loved her and wished he’d spoken to her more often.

People who have huge hearts and spirits like Alley should be celebrated (which is exactly what Maksim C. did, above). They are unafraid to be themselves. They are unafraid of censure, because they know for the most part it’s meaningless and won’t matter in the end. They are more interested in self-improvement and being good to others than they are about anything else except their work, where they usually excel…and they are people who live full lives because they know that’s the only way to be true to themselves.

Alley’s life, especially after age fifty, seemed more like Auntie Mame (from the 1958 movie) than anything else. She was eccentric, outspoken, interesting, funny, yet had her vulnerable side as well. She was exactly the type of woman that I, in my midlife, hope to become someday.

May her memory always be a blessing.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 6, 2022 at 11:24 pm

My Thoughts on the Salman Rushdie Stabbing

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Folks, yesterday, in Chautauqua, NY, author Sir Salman Rushdie was about to give a speech at the Chautauqua Institution. He’d stepped up to the podium with another man, Henry Reese (the co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum), as they were both going to speak about the importance of freedom of speech with regards to artistic expression.

This is an important topic. It always is. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is of paramount importance, especially in the United States of America.*

So, picture yourself there. It’s a crowded room, as Salman Rushdie is a well-known author with multiple, well-received books to his credit. Everyone there wants to see and hear him, as he’s been under the threat of persecution for a long, long time…

All except for one.

That guy, a twenty-four-year-old idiot, ran to the podium and stabbed Rushdie multiple times before he was brought down by audience members and a lone policeman. Rushdie sustained injuries in the throat, to his liver, to his arm (nerves are reportedly severed), and to one of his eyes (which he may lose). The idiot also stabbed Reese in the face**, possibly to get Reese out of the way quicker so he could go to town on Rushdie.

(As per usual, I am not going to name this guy.)

This all happened a bit before 11 a.m. EDT, and the people on the scene said the lack of security was a problem. One spoke on one of the cable news networks (I forget which) to say that they were screening out people who brought coffee and water into the auditorium (or wherever this speech was to be held); they’d have done better to screen for weapons.

And think about that lack of security for a moment. Was this a good idea, especially considering Rushdie was about to speak?

Rushdie has had a fatwa, otherwise known as a price on his head, since the late 1980s after his novel The Satanic Verses came out. The last anyone checked, the bounty for killing Rushdie was up to $3.3M.

Just writing that sickens me.

A person’s life is worth so much more than any amount of money. What one person can do, what one person’s strengths can do, what one person’s transmutation of weaknesses can do, is unable to be monetized. Because it is infinite in possibilities.

I said at my Facebook page that I understand people hating books. I understand, even, people hating authors. But leave it there. Don’t attack authors just because you hate them.

We believe in freedom of speech in this country, which might be one reason why Rushdie relocated here in the early 2000s. (He has never become a US citizen, I don’t think. Last I checked — which was last night — Rushdie is a citizen of the UK.)

So, in a nation that celebrates free speech, at a place that most especially discusses writing and writers and thoughts related to such, a twenty-four-year-old decided to stab one of the most decorated writers alive.

I don’t care about the stabber’s motivation. I care that he stabbed Rushdie multiple times, that Rushdie is said to be on a ventilator right now, that Rushdie has injuries to his arm (nerve damage is a serious thing), and that Rushdie may lose an eye.

I sincerely hope that Salman Rushdie will fully recover. I hope he won’t lose his eye. I hope his liver will heal. I hope his nerves in his arm that apparently got severed will be reattached, and that with physical therapy and time, he will be restored to himself in full measure.

But the thought that a fellow writer — albeit one that’s wealthy and well-known, unlike me — had this happen bothers me greatly.

I wrote a blog a while ago called “Where Can We Be Safe?

That rings in my mind right now, as I continue to ponder the utter wreckage this twenty-four-year-old stabber left in his wake.

————

*The way I always learned it was, “I may not like what you have to say. I may really hate it, in fact. But I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (That is, providing you’re not doing something asinine like yelling fire in a crowded theatre that’s not actually on fire.)

**In case you’re wondering about the other speaker, Mr. Reese, he was treated and released from the hospital.

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.

Figure Skating’s Black Eye, 2022 Edition

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Folks, I’ve written about figure skating before. I love the sport. At it’s best, it can be both artistic and athletic; it also can transport in the same way as music, dance, or literature.

So I don’t enjoy writing posts like this. But it must be said.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who’s all of fifteen, failed a recent drug test before the Olympics started. However, this only came out in the past week.

After several days of dithering, the various places that debate such things — as a fifteen-year-old has less responsibility by rule, apparently, than an older person — have decided that she should still be allowed to continue to skate at the Olympics despite her failed drug test.

Now, Ms. Valieva is the best female skater in the world at the present time. She has a few quadruple jumps — four revolutions in the air after takeoff — and is also excellent artistically. She’s someone who doesn’t need to cheat, in other words, and when the word came out about her positive drug test, most people were shocked.

The drug she tested positive for is a heart medication. She’s fifteen and does not need this medication. Supposedly, taking it will give her greater endurance than someone who isn’t.

Have I mentioned yet that she doesn’t need to cheat?

Anyway, her coach, who I will not name as I am disgusted with her, is known for pushing her young athletes too hard. The young Russian skaters basically are used up in four or five years. They have multiple injuries and skate anyway. Some, including Julia Lipnitskaya, end up retiring in their teens with numerous bone breaks. Lipnitskaya herself, along with the bone breaks, also has apparently had depression and a serious eating disorder. (The heavier you are, the more difficult it is to jump. That’s the excuse given to force these young skaters to eat almost nothing; that it is true at base, but wrong as we all need to eat, just makes me even angrier.)

Quite a number of athletes, including former US figure skaters (and Olympians) Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski (herself a former Olympic gold medalist), have come out and said this decision is flat-out wrong.

See, Russia, in general, has had doping scandals before. That’s why Russia, the country, is not allowed to compete. Instead, it’s the “Russian Olympic Committee” that’s competing.

Same coaches. Same skaters. Different name.

And, unfortunately, the same old outcome, which is this: Ms. Valieva gets to skate, will almost certainly win the gold medal, and her other Russian compatriots — also very young, with quadruple jumps in their skating “arsenal” — will probably be second and third.

That is not right. That is not just. And it should not be allowed to stand.

It cheapens the sport of figure skating. It cheapens the entire Olympics.

And it does look, as track athlete Sha’Carri Richardson said today on CBS TV, as if there is a different standard for Caucasian athletes than Black ones. (She was held out of the Olympics for testing positive for marijuana. That’s not a performance enhancer in any way. She had extenuating circumstances in that her mother died, and she was grieving, and she smoked around that time. It didn’t matter; she was out of the Olympics.)

So, where is the justice here? I, for one, don’t see it.

I have sympathy for Ms. Valieva. She is young. And I’m sure that she didn’t cheat on purpose.

That said, she still cheated, and she should still be out of the Olympics.

Anything else is flat-out wrong.