Hey … Look at Me!

One good thing that comes with getting older is the ability to reflect on past political campaigns, and to relish those times when candidates made sport of their opponents with style and humor.  Consider, for example, Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, and his slogan “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right.”  His opponent’s witty rejoinder of “In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts” cut directly to the quick, but it was done with a degree of finesse.

In the 60’s and 70’s, Dick Tuck was a political trickster who engaged in a number of stunts that drove his opponents mad, including one notable escapade at a campaign rally where Richard Nixon was addressing a crowd from the back of a train.  In the midst of Nixon’s remarks, Tuck borrowed a conductor’s hat and waved at the engineer causing the train to pull out of the station as Nixon, still talking, watched the crowd fade into the distance.

Fast forward to 2023, where political discourse features character assassination, slurs and insults of every variety, threats of physical violence to candidates and their families, and a multitude of other forms of offensiveness and coarse behavior.  As an aside, it makes one wonder what would make someone choose to run for political office in our  present day maelstrom of unrestrained viciousness.

The current level of crudity in politics was made abundantly clear to me, recently, as I drove along a residential street not far from my home.  Imagine my shock as, in a neighborhood of nicely tended properties, I came face to face with a flag hanging from a front porch with the message “F*** Biden” emblazoned on it (I have obscured the obvious profanity).   There were no other political signs visible on the property … just that large banner (probably 4’ x 6’) with the jarring message clearly visible to anyone walking or driving past.

It is important to note that my revulsion at this obscenity was not based on the political persuasion of the person being pilloried; I would have been equally offended regardless of party.  But as I paused to reflect on what, if anything, I should do about this public affront, I came to the conclusion that someone displaying a brazen message of this sort on their front porch would likely not take kindly to my knocking on his door to discuss my concerns. 

Instead, I reported what I had observed to the city council, while inquiring about any laws or ordinances that might be in play.  Their prompt reply informed me that they were already aware of this obnoxious display but that, unfortunately, there was nothing they could do about it.  In fact, a Neighborhood Police Officer had even visited this house to ask that the flag be removed but, with no ordinance or law prohibiting its display, the occupant refused to take it down.  All this, by the way, in a community whose Vision Statement declares that it will be the most livable and best-managed city in the country.

For a citizen interested in showing support for a political party, position or individual, there are a number of ways to do so … writing letters of support … attending and speaking at government meetings … donating time or money to a campaign … running for office … and, of course, voting.  But posting a profane message on the front of your house … is that supposed to convince someone of the rightness of your political stance?

I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt the resident here has any expectation of winning others over to his point of view.  Instead, he is telling the world “It’s all about me,” and any impact his crude messaging has on passersby or his neighbors doesn’t bother him in the slightest.  In other words … you don’t like my flag?  Too Bad!  Deal with it!  And, more to the point, he is telling us all … “F*** You”

Other than the obscenity displayed proudly on his front porch, I don’t know anything about the person residing within.  I believe, though, that  the noted business and religious leader, Spencer Kimball, is right in suggesting:

Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.

Burn Before Reading

If you happen to ask a military veteran what he or she did during their time in the service, don’t be surprised if they respond this way: “Well, I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.”  This implies, of course, that what they did was so secret and “black ops” in nature that they are forever prohibited from talking about it.

Having spent my 1960’s-era enlistment assigned to Air Force Intelligence, I would be more inclined to answer this way: “Well, I could tell you what I did, but then I would have to bore you to death.”  In other words, collecting and analyzing data for a living was a tedious enterprise and, for the record, the term “Air Force Intelligence” is NOT an oxymoron.

Yes, the work was often monotonous, but my colleagues and I were never confused about the confidential nature of what we did and our absolute obligation to safeguard secret information and processes.  This point was emphasized constantly, and I had little doubt that a slip of the tongue or a misplaced document would result in my immediate incarceration at Leavenworth.

As you might suspect, this trip down memory lane was stimulated by the current kerfuffle over secret government documents being found, daily, in a variety of odd and insecure places, and in the custody of … well … nobody seems to know.  How, on earth, could this happen?  Weren’t the individuals in possession of these items given the same security warnings as those of us in the trenches? 

Incidentally, anyone interested in buying a shredder in or around Washington these days should not be surprised to find office supply stores sold out.  The reason is simple: politicians and government employees, both past and present and regardless of party affiliation, are likely combing through old files and collected documents in search of the odd misplaced classified material that could put them in the crosshairs of one or another ongoing investigation.

This is not to suggest that security breaches, whether intentional or accidental in nature, did not occur in the past.  They did.  But the cavalier manner in which government officials are treating this current debacle is both disconcerting and worrisome and, in my view, reflective of a  diminution of caution about things that, in the past, were deemed sensitive.  

This became abundantly clear to me several years ago while driving along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland.  As I approached the exit for Fort Meade and the National Security Agency I noticed, much to my surprise, an additional sign providing directions to the National Cryptologic Museum!  A museum!  At NSA!  

To fully appreciate my astonishment, it is important to know that during my tenure at this super-secret agency,  we always maintained that the letters “NSA” stood for “No Such Agency.”  But that was then and this is now … today, the public has access to exhibits and information which, in the past, would never have been displayed or even discussed outside a secure environment. 

When I think about the importance of security and the way that idea was inculcated in us some sixty years ago, I can only shake my head in wonder at what seems, today, to be a thoroughly lackadaisical approach to an issue with serious implications for our national security.  Further, It is disheartening to watch the machinations of various government functionaries performing damage control while, at the same time, casting blame upon others for embarrassing and dangerous security breaches.  

One very well-known individual in the realm of national security said this:

Two things about the NSA stunned me right off the bat: how technologically sophisticated it was compared with the CIA, and how much less vigilant it was about security.

That person just quoted is Edward Snowden, an American and naturalized Russian former computer consultant who, in 2013, stole and revealed highly classified information from the NSA.  By some accounts he leaked more than one million documents, the vast majority of which related to military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures of the United States.

Now Weight Just a Minute

Among the many insults police officers find themselves having to deflect, one of the oldest and most enduring is the apocryphal belief that cops are somehow addicted to donuts.   As fans of the acclaimed HBO series “The Sopranos” will recall, this widespread notion even received mention from aspiring gangster Christopher Moltisanti when he described a large gathering of police officers this way:

You ain’t seen this many cops lined up since the centennial of Dunkin’ Donuts. 

There may be a grain of truth in Moltisanti’s comment for, in my experience, the grand opening of the first 24 hour donut shop in my patrol area (circa 1970) was, frankly, a cause for celebration.  Previously, those working the graveyard shift had to content themselves with the occasional stale pastry from an all-night diner.  This new place, though, presented a vast array of always-fresh temptations, albeit with commensurate challenges to police department weight and fitness requirements.

This trip down the memory lane of unhealthy eating was brought to mind by the recent news that the Texas Department of Public Safety has relaxed their physical fitness standards for Troopers.  While emphasizing that physical fitness and command presence are inalterably linked, the new policy permits an extra inch of leeway on waist measurements (41 inches for men and 36 inches for women).  Those not in compliance with standards must enroll in a fitness improvement plan, which includes exercise goals and nutrition diaries, along with a recounting of actions being taken to improve their physical fitness.

The police agency from which I retired (the New York State Police) also views physical fitness as an important element.  During my career, though, the method for insuring compliance was far more punitive than restorative in nature, requiring those whose weight was not in proportion to their height to submit a monthly memorandum detailing their progress toward compliance.

Widely viewed as a tool for harassment rather than improvement, these submissions (during the era before women joined the NYSP) were referred to as “Fat Boy Memos.”  And though their stated purpose was to report progress toward improved physical fitness they often reflected, instead, the writer’s creative writing skill.  One such memo, for example, detailed an overweight Trooper’s progress toward meeting his height-weight goal this way:

I did not lose any weight this month … but I grew an inch.

If memory serves, the writer’s boss was not amused.

The Business of Baseball

As a dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan, I have long admired the accomplishments of Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.  A career-long member of the Baltimore Orioles, he is the only hurler to have won World Series games in three different decades, and was but twenty years old when he pitched a complete-game shutout to beat Sandy Koufax in the 1966 World Series.

That year, Palmer’s season salary was $7,500.  And even with his World Series bonus of $11,000, providing support for his family meant taking an off-season job selling suits for $150 per week at Hamburgers Clothing in downtown Baltimore.

In that era, Palmer was not the only ballplayer struggling to make ends meet … New York area baseball stars who supplemented their income with side jobs included Yogi Berra (hardware sales at Sears and Roebuck), Carl Furillo (owner of a deli), and Jackie Robinson (who sold television sets for Sunset Appliances).  Elsewhere, Cardinals icon Stan Musial sold Christmas trees in St. Louis, while Willie Mays was a car salesman in San Francisco.

Fast forward to today’s baseball world, and the blizzard of dollars being thrown at players is almost incomprehensible.

One of the most recent (and most breathtaking) examples of baseball contract munificence has to be that of twenty-three year old Washington Nationals star Juan Soto who turned down the most lucrative salary offer in baseball history … $440 million over 15 years.  Had he accepted, his take-home pay would have eclipsed that of Mike Trout who, in 2019, signed a $426.5 million contract with the California Angels.

Seemingly limitless contracts like the ones just mentioned bring to mind the difficulties earlier players faced in negotiating with their teams.  Even Babe Ruth, considered by many to be one of the all-time greats in the sport, had to threaten to hold out in his quest for $80,000, after the 1932 season.  When a sports writer pointed out that with that salary he would be earning more than the President of the United States, Ruth said: “I had a better year!”

Keeping in mind Babe Ruth’s contract struggle, it is interesting to note that the minimum salary for a professional baseball player in the Major Leagues in 2022, is $700,000, with an average salary across the sport of $4,414,184.

When I think of the vast sums of money paid to professional baseball players, I tend to become a bit wistful … especially when I reflect upon how close I came to making it to the Major Leagues myself.  Looking back, if my fastball had been a mere 50 mph faster … and my high school batting average had been just 120 points higher … and my time from home to first was only 10 seconds faster … well, the rest would have been history.

I was that close to earning the big bucks myself!

From Muskets to Madness

My fifth great-grandfather, Valentine Ephraim Wheeler, was born February 14, 1725, in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.  On April 19, 1775, he fought the British at Lexington in the first battle of the Revolutionary War, going on to serve as a Captain in the New York Regiment of Militia.  Valentine Wheeler, an American patriot, died October 12, 1791, and is buried in the Valley View Cemetery, Dover Plains, New York.

On December 15, 1791, two months after Valentine died, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, along with nine other articles of the Bill of Rights.  And though we can’t know for certain, I have a feeling that given the time in which he lived and the part he played in the War of Independence, he would have looked kindly upon legislation ensuring a well-regulated militia and his right to keep and bear arms.

For the purpose of this discussion, though, an understanding of the times in which the 2nd Amendment was crafted is important, especially since “arms” from that era bear no resemblance whatsoever to the vast array of powerful weaponry available today.  Simply put, the guns known to those deliberating this important amendment consisted of the various muzzle loading rifles, muskets and flintlock pistols used in combat against the British and, needless to say, none among those early legislators could have envisioned the plethora of armament now available for both military and civilian use.

Assuming, for a moment, that Valentine Wheeler was skilled in the  use of a muzzle loading rifle, the multi-step process for firing required that he pour measured powder down the barrel, place a patch and ball on the muzzle, push the ball into the barrel and then using a ramrod, force the ball all the way down.  Following these steps in the heat of battle meant that, at best, he would be able to fire only three rounds per minute, each with a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second and a maximum effective range of 50 meters.

In contrast, the typical modern-day AR-15 holds 30 bullets in a standard magazine, and can fire 45 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 3,260 feet per second and a maximum effective range of 550 meters.  As we know, arms of this sort have become today’s “weapon of choice” for mass murderers, especially since they can be equipped with extended magazines and further modified to fire in fully automatic mode. 

Clearly, the 2nd Amendment was created in and for a very different period of time, but it is not the only antiquated portion of the Bill of Rights.  The 3rd Amendment, for example, assures us that soldiers may not be quartered in private homes without the owner’s consent.  That is good to know, but while I celebrate the fact that an army platoon cannot bivouac in my living room, I find myself conducting a risk assessment every time I venture out to the mall, a musical presentation, or even a 4th of July parade.

It is important to pause here and emphasize that I am not among the absolutist anti-gun crowd … much to the contrary.  I am a retired police officer who qualified with a range of sidearms and long guns over the course of my career … my grandfather was a gunsmith, a prison armorer, and a Life Member of the NRA … and my mother was captain of her high school rifle team.  In other words, I grew up around firearms and am both comfortable and competent in their use.

My personal familiarity with guns aside, there is no rational reason for assault weapons to be in the hands of civilians.  Those sorts of arms, which are designed and intended for the battlefield, pose an extraordinary public safety risk which, as evidence has repeatedly shown, make it easier for shooters to kill more people more quickly.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like for one of our ancestors to return, briefly, to our present-day world for a visit. What, for example, would Valentine Wheeler – who fought for “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” – have to say of our preposterous failure, as a people, to ban a device that has contributed to so much carnage and misery.

Amanda Gorman, the 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate, captures the essence of this argument perfectly:

It takes a monster to kill children, but to watch monsters kill children again and again and do nothing isn’t just insanity – it’s inhumanity.

One Ringy Dingy!

Want to have some fun?  Try handing a youngster a dial telephone, and then asking him to show you how it works.  What happens next will be a study in consternation, and the rough equivalent of a scholar struggling to decipher ancient writings on the Rosetta Stone.

This farcical image came to mind, recently, as I watched a news story detailing the removal of the last pay phones still in service in New York City.  Alas, I thought, individuals without a cell phone (if there are still such luddites out there) will no longer be able to enjoy the experience of lugging a pocketful of quarters, dimes and nickels to a telephone booth, or checking random pay phone coin return slots for forgotten change.

Though now obsolete, pay telephones along the highway offered motorists a sense of security in the event of a breakdown.  But those of a certain age will recall a time when it was necessary to insert a coin in the appropriate slot before one could even reach an operator or get a dial tone.  In other words, if you found yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere and you needed to call someone for assistance, you had better have some coins close at hand or you were out of luck.

Those familiar with the mountains and forests of upstate New York know that, while beautiful, parts of that region can be incredibly remote and inhospitable.  As a State Trooper patrolling in some of those desolate areas before cell phones or even portable radios (circa 1970),  I always kept two dimes taped to the inside of my Stetson.  The purpose of those coins was simple: if my vehicle ever became disabled in an area where I could not make radio contact with my station, I could trudge to a pay telephone.  Fortunately, I never had to take such an extraordinary measure.

Thinking about even more-ancient forms of telephone communication, I am reminded of the day my boss told me I had to call home … emphasizing that it was an emergency.  Unfortunately, my boss’ order was complicated in several ways … it was 1964 … I was in the military … stationed at a facility in the mountains of Taiwan … and there were no such things as cell phones or even phone lines back to the States.  To call my family I had to, first, arrange for a Transpacific line which could not be set up until the following day.  Then, after taking a bus to Taipei, I sat in an assigned booth at a commercial telephone facility until the line was connected.  Fortunately, I learned that everything was fine at home … the emergency call had been intended for a different fellow with the same last name.

In contrast to my archaic experience calling home in the 60’s, a recent event illustrates how far we have come in communicating with one another.  In this case, my cell phone rang during Thanksgiving dinner and, upon answering, I was thrilled to be talking with (and seeing) my grandson … who is in the United States Army … stationed in South Korea.  Unlike the byzantine system I had to navigate to call home in 1964, he was simply dialing us up on his personal cell phone to wish us a Happy Holiday.

I am willing to bet that many who read the title of this piece recognized, immediately, the signature line of Ernestine the telephone operator (played by Lily Tomlin) on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In” some fifty years ago.  For those who did not get the reference, I will be happy to explain.

Call me.

And So It Continues

Basic theological differences aside, turns out that the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have a lot in common.

When the long-awaited investigative report on clergy sexual abuse within the SBC was released in May, 2022, it included a previously secret list of more than 700 immoral, unprincipled and compromised pastors and other church-affiliated personnel. Prepared by the independent investigative group Guidepost Solutions, this document revealed that for more than ten years, SBC leaders had maintained a private list of abusive ministers, while failing to ensure that those same accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.

A close reading of this explosive-yet-very-sad report makes clear that the SBC has joined the Catholic Church as an indelibly stained enterprise, each with lengthy and well-documented histories of countenancing and protecting sexual predators masquerading as clergy in their midst. In short, both of these groups failed, miserably, with regard to what should have been one of their core responsibilities … the protection of our young and most vulnerable.

The Catholic Church, in particular, has a long and sordid record of working to keep the lid on their clergy abuse scandal by transferring problem priests from parish to parish. In other words, church leaders were more concerned with keeping things quiet than with bringing this outrage to an end, and so it continued for decades.

One particularly outrageous example of failure in the Archdiocese of New York is that of former priest Gennaro “Father Jerry” Gentile. Before being outed in the New York media in 2002, with the headline “Twisted Journey of a Problem Priest,” Gentile had, for years, raised suspicions among fellow clergy about his interactions with young men and boys … but nothing was ever done. He was laicized in 2005. And though he may have been the worst, Gentile was but one of many clerics who, when accused of scandalous behavior, were moved to other unsuspecting communities. And while the Archdiocese ultimately paid $60 million in damages to those victimized, it could never recover the trust of the multitude of families and individuals affected, forever, by the actions of these evil men.

Writing in the blog Patheos, John Beckett observes:

Never forget that values are more important than the institution. This is the most disappointing thing about both the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist scandals: people in positions of responsibility put protecting the reputation of their church ahead of caring for victims and stopping predators.

And in the end, they did even more damage to the reputation of their church. Now both denominations are known not just as a place where bad things happened, but where supposedly spiritual leaders covered them up.

To that I can only add:


Are You Talking to Me?

Do you remember the “good old days” when politicians and public figures behaved as adults, treated each other with respect and spoke only in well-mannered fashion?

I didn’t think so … neither do I.

But given today’s relentless barrage of pseudo-scandals and outrageous behavior, it is easy to understand why past public figures may have seemed a more-genteel bunch than our current crop.  A brief review of the history books, though, reveals a goodly amount of similarity to what we contend with today.  For example:

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson referred to President John Adams as: “… a blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphrodite character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Across his political career, two-term President Grover Cleveland had to contend with the assertion that he had fathered an illegitimate child, and his opponent’s relentless consequent chant of “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”

And who can forget the historic duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, on the morning of July 11, 1804?   In that clash, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton because, well, Hamilton had allegedly insulted him at a dinner.

Today, the super-connected virtual world in which we reside hurls “news” (regardless of veracity) across the internet with but one click, while the vetting of information has become a process with which few seem to bother.  In this environment, it is impossible to ignore the glut of outright untruths and innuendo being paraded before us for the explicit purpose of character assassination or political gain.

Consider, for example, the torrent of vitriol heaped repeatedly upon United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg who, as the first openly gay cabinet member in history, is the target of incessant attacks based simply on his sexual orientation.  As he goes about deflecting these scurrilous insults, he provides us with useful guidance on navigating this confusing and ill-tempered virtual world:

We have to be smart about where we direct our attention. I know the most shocking thing somebody said or did yesterday gets the most focus today, but if I were to make a list of the 10 or 20 or 50 or 200 members of Congress whose commentary or thoughts or words we should be debating or weighing right now, it wouldn’t be those two or three members of Congress who get the most attention on Twitter for the outrage of the day upon which they try to outdo each other.

Buttigieg is right, for racist, sexist and homophobic slurs fall below the lowest threshold for decency.  A major problem, of course, is the anonymity the web provides us for, after all, making these sorts of ugly comments directly to another person’s face can result in a punch in the nose.  Saying the same thing in an internet posting, though, merely puts one at risk of a brief stint in “Facebook Jail.”

Like it or not, we have become wed to the internet in multiple ways meaning we face a daily struggle to avoid being drawn down some digital rabbit hole in pursuit of more “information” on the “scandal-du-jour.”  For our own sanity it is important to be discerning in the information we rely upon, while avoiding those spectacles that are nothing more than just, well, spectacles.

It is safe to state that the principles of dignity and self-respect are at risk among elected officials today … a criticism that applies equally across the political spectrum.  For example, in a recent interview a Democratic senator uttered one “f***,” two “f***ings,” one “bull****,” one “p***ed off” and one “they s**k.”  Not to be outdone, a number of Republican politicians have taken to posing with “Let’s Go Brandon” signs; one even ended his floor speech with those words and a fist pump.  The “Let’s Go Brandon” phenomenon is, of course, code for “F*** Joe Biden.”

These sorts of profane insults have even taken on hybrid form.  At a recent dinner, a Republican governor referred to former President Trump as “F***ing Crazy,” prompting one Democrat to note that Republicans, today, are using “F” bombs more frequently than at any time since the Nixon administration.

It’s getting so that broadcast political events will have to have viewer warnings similar to what we see in movie theaters.

Frankly, this sort of thing used to bother me, but now it just makes me tired.  As a remedy, I have begun following my own advice by taking an occasional break or sabbatical from the digital political battlefield, while seeking out those things that are really important.

Like, for example, watching kitten videos on YouTube.

Apologia Lost

Since May, 2015, Pope Francis has spoken, repeatedly, of the words “please, thank you, and sorry” as being essential to repairing and reinforcing bonds.  The phrase “I’m sorry” in particular, he said, is the one which, when lacking, causes small cracks in relationships to become larger to the point that they become deep trenches.

Apparently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, did not get the memo.

This became clear, recently, when Benedict addressed allegations that he disregarded the reports of four survivors of clergy sexual abuse when he was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.  While denying that he mishandled those accusations, he acknowledged his failure to assist those victims when they sought his help.  In asking for clemency, he added:  “I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church.  All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate.”

It is worth pointing out that Benedict’s comments lack the simple phrase … I’m sorry … that his successor, Francis, held as key to healing and mending brokenness.  This being so, one is left to wonder … don’t these guys talk to each other?

Benedict’s lack of personal remorse met with swift reaction. In New York, for example, Robert Hoatson, a priest for 45 years and co-founder of Road to Recovery, demonstrated in front of Archdiocesan offices carrying signs that read: “Pope Benedict: A Moral Failure.  Like All Church Leaders.”  When interviewed, he spoke for many disaffected Catholics in asserting that: “The Church is never going to change.  It’s corrupt to the core, from the Vatican down to New York City.”

To apologize, one needs to honestly hear what happened from the other person’s point of view and how it affected them. But those who believe the world revolves around them like, for example, the Princes of the Church, tend not to be interested in listening to others, particularly if they are being accused of doing something wrong.

Having, over the course of many years, learned this painful lesson, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy have, long since, abandoned hope of receiving a sincere and meaningful apology from hierarchy of the Church.  

And as the recent intransigence from the upper reaches of the Vatican reveals, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

The World of Karen and Ken

Watching that video was like watching a train wreck.  I knew it was going to be ugly, but I just couldn’t look away.  

In it, a self-entitled and obnoxious woman entering a restaurant yelled at a young, minimum-wage-earning high school kid who had simply asked her to put on a face mask.  Things deteriorated quickly to the “I want to talk to the manager” stage before, in tears, the young employee told her boss that she could not put up with such nonsense any longer, and that she was quitting. 

As the young worker fled out the door, the nasty but now somewhat-subdued woman said: “OK, I will put on a mask.”  Other customers, though, having seen and heard enough, began to “boo” her.  Deciding to leave, her departure was accompanied by a chorus of: “Goodbye, Karen!” 

But wait … Karen?  How did everyone in that place know her name was Karen?

In fact, it is unlikely “Karen” is her real name.  Instead, the nickname “Karen” has come to identify that group of “adult” women unable to control their emotions when even mildly inconvenienced by store clerks, other motorists or even random passersby.  And the male of the species has a moniker as well … “Ken.”  People of this ilk are easily identified in the wild by their propensity for screaming and gesticulating … loud and long … at random individuals who, they believe, have done them some wrong.

Sadly, YouTube is replete with videos of the crazed behaviors of “Karens” and “Kens” engaging in these sorts of unrestrained public outbursts of rage over things most rational people would consider minor inconveniences … soup too hot … french fries not hot enough … checkout line too slow.  After watching some of these antics, one is left to wonder: do these people go home, look in the mirror, and feel proud of their actions?  Do they experience any shame?   And, since many of these individuals are accompanied by children, do they ever consider the sort of examples they might be setting?

In the world of public education, it should come as no surprise that record numbers of school district superintendents are throwing in the towel and moving on.  Anyone interested in knowing why this might be so should attend the next school board meeting and listen to the bitter and abusive language rained upon those charged with educating our children.  One speaker recently concluded her vituperative remarks declaring: “I will be at school on Monday with guns fully loaded.”

The airline industry, of course, has experienced unprecedented numbers of violent and otherwise uncooperative passengers refusing to comply with health and safety guidelines.  In one recent case, an international flight from Miami to London had to return to Florida because a passenger in first class refused to wear a mask.  The flight was then cancelled and everyone had to rebook on another flight … all because a self-entitled woman decided that the rules do not apply to her.  In short, this is her world, and the rest of us just happen to be walking through it.

If you have had the misfortune to witness a “Karen” or “Ken” in a full-throated rage over their belief that some service worker has failed to genuflect before them, you know how bizarre and uncomfortable something like that can be.  But as long as there is no threat of physical violence involved, it is likely a waste of time trying to calm or reason with one of those unhinged individuals.  In fact, getting attention is their goal, and it doesn’t matter whether it is good or bad attention … just so long as someone is noticing.  Frankly, when a bystander cares enough to enter their convoluted world on their terms, it is something they enjoy.

Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best:

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. 

You get dirty and, besides, the pig likes it.