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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Armchair Psychology

Various observations related to brain function and dysfunction…

Emotional Intelligence

In 1995, author and journalist Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence, an international best-seller that was printed in, like, 40 languages.

The term “emotional intelligence” means learning to understand your own emotions and those of others so you can act effectively and positively. Currently, Goleman works at Rutgers University and specializes in how the concept applies to organizations.

Empathy

In his 1995 book, Goleman said that empathy is not a single trait, but three — namely, cognitive empathy, social empathy, and empathic concern.

Cognitive empathy is understanding someone else’s perspective so you can communicate with the person more constructively.

Social empathy is sensing what the other person feels so you can establish rapport.

Empathic concern is going beyond understanding the other person’s situation and having a genuine desire to help them. Goleman says we do this by tapping into the “ancient mammalian system for parenting.”

Master all three, he says, and you can build healthy relationships, personally and professionally.

Empathy, it’s fair to say, is a complicated and important commodity. Because humans are such social animals, empathy helps the group function cooperatively and peacefully.

Empathy among all parties greases the skids; a deficiency of empathy, on the part of anyone in the group, introduces problems.

An Abnormal Deficiency

Years ago, I concluded that a root cause of the typical behavior of political conservatives — one of the fundamental reasons Republicans think the way they think, behave the way they behave, and are the way they are — is an abnormal deficiency of empathy.

(This deficiency is one of three common characteristics of present-day right-wingers. The others are an affinity for authoritarianism and being a white person.)

Empathy varies with the individual, of course, regardless of politics, but the conservative brain seems to be wired in such a way that it lacks a normal ability to feel a sense of charity, compassion, mercy, or sympathy for others.

This is why Republicans can justify separating children from their parents at the border as a scare tactic. And why they fear, distrust, and often demonize outsiders.

This is why the most evil boogieman they can imagine is socialism. And why they want to reduce the amount of your COVID relief check.

This is why they fall so easily for conspiracy theories. And why they turn so readily to racism and misogyny.

The Fiction Factor

The degree of empathy in you has an alleged connection to reading fiction.

In 2006, a study found that the more authors of fiction you know (which presumes that you read a lot), the higher you score on empathy tests.

One possible explanation is that empathetic people simply read more. But research indicates that the information you absorb from reading fiction acts to strengthen your empathy.

That’s because reading fiction exposes you to lives, thoughts, and motivations outside of your own. Even though it is fictional, the more you read, the more you are exposed to the experiences of others, which improves your ability to empathize.

Read more fiction, become a better person.

The Shopping Cart Theory

The Shopping Cart Theory is the concept that your willingness to return a shopping cart to the corral reveals whether you are the kind of person who will do the right thing without being forced to.

This theory asserts that returning the cart is universally seen as a proper act. You gain nothing by returning it. You return it because it’s the right thing to do, and you’re a nice guy.

If you don’t return the cart, you face no consequences. You are not punished, and very rarely berated, for failing to return a cart. Thus, abandoning the cart instead of returning it to the corral is evidence that you are inclined to do what is right only when it’s convenient or you face negative consequences.

I’ve read that the Shopping Cart Theory is too judgmental, and legitimate reasons may exist for not returning a cart. The weather is bad. You can’t leave children unattended. You have a disability. The corral is too far away. You think a store employee will collect the carts.

I say the theory is a legitimate test of whether or not you’re a jerk.

The Matter of Face Masks

Speaking of a test to identify jerks, the willingness to wear a face mask when and where you should, as medical experts plead with you to do, zooms to the top of the list.

Here we sit, deep into a deadly pandemic. The infection rate in the US is the world’s worst, and under Trump, the governmental response was feeble, scattershot, and ineffective to a criminal degree.

Until recently, the only protections we had were wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, and washing your hands.

Yet, vast numbers of people refuse to wear a mask, decline to remain six feet apart, and defiantly gather in crowded places. Whether they wash their hands is anyone’s guess.

The fact that mask-wearing became a left vs. right political issue isn’t surprising. Of course conservatives staked out the anti-mask position. Their nature compelled it when they saw that most liberals believe in wearing a mask.

Refusing to wear a mask is foolish and illogical, but they don’t care. Nor do they care, apparently, about the health consequences to themselves and their families. The behavior of these people is stupid, ignorant tribalism.

Why do so many people boldly go maskless in public places, dine shoulder to shoulder in restaurants, attend large gatherings, and pack the bars?

Some, I suppose, think the risks of COVID are non-existent or exaggerated. Others are weary of all the precautions and restrictions after a year of living with the pandemic. In some cases, malice, stupidity, or arrogance explain the behavior.

Beyond those motivations, I couldn’t identify a single valid, sensible reason for so much risky behavior.

It appears that consequences are needed in order to change the behavior of people who risk public health when the posted rules require a face mask.

My suggestion: for the first offense, one night in jail and a fine of $250. The punishment would double for each subsequent offense.

I’ll bet that would flatten the curve.

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Lessons o’ the Day

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Day One

Being a political liberal, a Georgian, and a life-long Democrat, I am on quite a high these days.

Biden won Georgia and the presidency; both Ossoff and Warnoch won in Georgia, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats; and the unprincipled, lying, cheating, treasonous, twice-impeached orange gasbag is out of office.

It’s true that the country still has an ugly infestation of toxic conservatism, from the elected GOP weasels to the scared/gullible/addled MAGA voters to Fox “News” and the rest of the right-wing disinformation machine, which makes money by telling lies and fleecing the yokels.

But, with the Democrats in charge, we’re seeing an immediate resurgence of competence, compassion, and common decency. By God, it’s like morning in America.

President Biden — President Biden! — had an especially busy first day in office. He signed a flurry of executive orders aimed at, well, making America great again.

The highlights of Biden’s Day One executive orders:

———

We rejoined the World Health Organization.

We rejoined the Paris climate accords.

We now have a functioning national COVID-19 response team.

Face masks must be worn on federal property.

Construction was halted on Trump’s stupid wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States was reversed.

Discrimination against LGBT employees in the workplace is now banned.

A Trump order that expanded the categories of who should be detained and deported was abolished.

The moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was extended.

Payments and interest on federal student loans were frozen.

The Keystone Pipeline project was stopped.

Trump’s 1776 Commission, which promoted a right-wing history curriculum in schools, was killed.

Trump’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the U.S. census was reversed.

Legal protections for the DACA program to shield young immigrants from deportation were strengthened.

An ethics pledge for Executive Branch appointees was established.

All other Trump regulations were frozen until the Biden Administration can assess them.

———

In all, Biden’s first day was a fine example of how liberals and progressives have a heart and a brain, and the conservative mindset leans more toward the mean and the selfish.

When Republicans control government — whenever and wherever Republicans control government — ordinary people suffer, and the rich get richer. Federal, state, and local, that’s been our story for decades.

Each time a swing of the pendulum gives the Democrats the majority again, they dutifully step in and make an effort to use the resources of government for the common good. At which point the right-wingers begin the hand-wringing about excessive spending and the lurking menace of socialism.

The conservatives will never change, so screw ‘em and show some spine. Namely:

● Change the Senate rules to kill the filibuster so bills can be passed with 51 votes instead of 60.

● Institute an immediate wealth tax that will fund Medicare for All and assist the millions who desperately need financial help because of COVID-19. Taxing the rich will not harm a single rich person in any way whatsoever.

● Censure, fine, and end the committee assignments of the six GOP senators and 121 House Republicans who voted not to certify the presidential election results.

● Prosecute with gusto as many of the Capitol rioters as we can find.

Compassion, spine, accountability.

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Militarized

I have ranted on this blog numerous times about Donald Trump, vile Republican politicians, empty-headed conservative voters, and the Fox News bubble. I have opined often that the Trump presidency would not end well, which was a safe and easy prediction.

Still, I didn’t expect it to end with the Kafkaesque spectacle of white supremacists, at Trump’s invitation, storming the Capitol while Congress was in session, with an eye toward maybe killing some politicians and derailing the certification of Joe Biden as President so the Republicans could somehow arrange for Trump to remain in office.

Nor did I expect law enforcement to leave the Capitol so vulnerable under the ominous circumstances in Washington on January 6. At best, it was a shocking intelligence failure. At worst, it means the insurrection was abetted by people on the inside; Frankly, I suspect both.

Clearly, the mob should have been kept well away from the Capitol from the beginning. The Capitol should have been ringed by heavily-armed forces ready to crack heads as necessary — like how they do when facing non-Caucasians.

At this stage, we don’t know with certainty how the riots went down or who, through action or inaction, was complicit in the events. All we know for sure is that Trump specifically told the crowd to march on the Capitol — for which he was slapped with Impeachment Number Two.

But this much is clear: the riots were not carried out by a Trump “MAGA crowd.” The attackers were hard-core, dedicated white supremacists and domestic terrorists who simply accepted Trump’s invitation to take action on his behalf. Trump gave them a window of opportunity, and they took it.

Some of the groups have been around for years, some are new. Many of the leaders are known to the authorities and are on FBI terrorism watch lists. Essentially, they are Nazis and Fascists, and possibly a few anarchists.

In case you need a visual aid:

Simply put, the events of January 6, and whatever further turmoil is ahead of us, is a matter of politics being militarized. Fringe groups have escalated the left-right divide into violence aimed at the government.

And we got here solely and specifically because of the political right wing and its decades-long descent into madness.

Make no mistake, the Democrats are literally blameless. This mess is the fault of the Conservative Republicans, their wacko supporters, and right-wing media.

The descent began, you can argue, when Newt Gingrich got the idea of turning politics into warfare. As GOP House Speaker in the 1990s, Newt didn’t simply oppose the Democratic side, he demonized it. He actively blocked any bills the Democrats proposed because Democrats were made out to be sinister, dangerous, evil.

Gingrich also distributed two lists of specific “trigger” words Republicans should use, one list to promote themselves and the GOP, the other to scorn and belittle Democrats.

Among the words to apply to themselves: courage, liberty, pride, duty, vision, moral, pioneer, principled, and rights.

Among the words to label Democrats: pathetic, bizarre, corrupt, hypocrisy, incompetent, welfare, decay, and greed.

Republicans being Republicans, they embraced Newt’s ideas like hyenas at a fresh kill.

The GOP House Speaker after Gingrich, child-molester Dennis Hastert, contributed the “Hastert rule,” under which no bill was brought up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans supported it. In effect, this ended the concept of negotiating with the opposition and achieving bi-partisan cooperation.

From there, we entered the era in which Mitch McConnell controlled the Senate, and the concept of bi-partisanship was euthanized.

I can’t help it; when I hear Mitch McConnell, I always think Merrick Garland.

Trump has a few days left in his term. The Capitol in DC and most state capitols are on alert for more violence from domestic terrorists. Trump is said to be contemplating a self-pardon and possibly a blanket pardon for his white supremacist rioter friends.

He also plans to have Joint Base Andrews give him a rousing military send-off. I will think of it as a “goodbye and good riddance” party.

When Trump became the Republican nominee for President, I posted this indignant assertion:

Trump is a walking affront to civilized behavior. He continues to make outrageous, caustic statements that, in normal times, in a normal reality, would earn him the ire and scorn of the entire populace and send him slinking back to Trump Tower. But this is the era of the Fox News bubble. And Trump is the Frankenstein monster it created.

Given the insanity that has occurred since then, given the horrific death toll from a virus Trump allowed to spread, given the widespread damage inflicted on this poor country by Trump and his conservative enablers, calling the man a Frankenstein monster was a grave understatement.

Gingrich, Hastert, McConnell, and Trump, respectively.

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Dunces

In the 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces, the main character says the local rednecks (his term) reject modern technology because it represents unwanted change.

I’m reminded of that observation by the behavior of the MAGA crowd, our present-day confederacy of dunces (what a delightfully appropriate label), enabled by an especially appalling crop of Republican politicians.

The MAGA people object to all sorts of unwanted change — immigrants, gays, people who aren’t white, efficient healthcare — but their immediate gripe is that Trump lost the election.

The Republican politicians lay low and remain silent to avoid angering the dunces, but the dunces do the opposite: they throw fits, and sometimes pout, because they are displeased and frustrated. Lashing out makes them feel better. Apparently, threatening to tear down democracy is therapeutic for dunces.

What would be therapeutic for me is seeing these fools, especially the elected ones, face consequences for trying to subvert an election. That’s outright treason. Naked sedition.

People also need to face consequences for threatening violence against election officials. That should have led to immediate legal action.

These jerks are doing serious damage to a democracy that, despite its faults, has endured for almost 250 years. Now this generation of right-wing lunatics comes along, and, to the absolute horror of normal people, is willing to wreck it. Are they insane?

Staying on the topic of dunces, the title of the aforementioned novel came from Jonathon Swift, who wrote, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

No “true genius” has surfaced, as far as I can tell. That’s a shame, because the country could use one right now — someone clever enough to penetrate the right-wing propaganda bubble, get through to some of those dunces, and coax them back to the real world.

They would have a lot to relearn: how to think and act rationally, how to behave normally, how to accept science, evidence, and logic. Frankly, I don’t think most of them could do it.

And there’s the rub. The right-wingers have become steadily more loony over the decades, and nothing is likely to reverse that. The MAGA faithful aren’t going anywhere. Mental health treatment for 74 million people isn’t in the cards. Which means the dunce population probably will be around, making fools of themselves and causing trouble, until they die out.

Meanwhile, thank God, Democrats will control the House and the White House again. With the two runoffs in Georgia, we even have a chance — albeit slim — to take the Senate.

For now, that bit of hope is about as therapeutic as things are going to get.

I’m Rocky Smith, and I approve this message.

Dunces.

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Clear and Concise

Venn diagrams are wonderful things that get straight to the point. God bless Venn diagrams.

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Just one day after 100 CEOs threatened to withhold financial support from the two Republican senators facing runoffs in Georgia, the Trump Administration relented and okayed Biden’s formal transition as President-Elect.

Technically, the head of the GSA finally did her job and signed off on Biden’s victory. Word is, Trump allowed it after aides assured him he wouldn’t be required to concede.

I remain astounded by the guy’s utter lack of class, integrity, and decency. What a putz.

We had to endure four years of President Grab-Em because an appalling number of people convinced themselves that a vote for Trump was better than siding with those awful bleeding-heart socialist lib-tards.

The Trump faithful justified their votes by embracing as truth the obvious lies and propaganda fed to them by their right-wing thought leaders. What a bunch of putzes.

A few decades ago, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

That truism is especially relevant today, in this era of (1) Trump, (2) a particularly vile crop of Republican politicians, and (3) the MAGA crowd, our new national embarrassment. That’s quite a villainous trifecta, and all three are happy to dream up facts of their own liking.

A while back, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) illustrated Moynihan’s point by falsely attributing the quote to — who else? — Ronald Reagan. That’s called irony, people.

Moynihan was a centrist Democrat and much more of an intellectual than most politicians. He noted one key difference between the political left and right:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

A valid point, but unfortunately for us, the conservatives figured out ways to militarize culture and thus have weakened and perverted politics to the breaking point.

One wretched example: we continue to set records daily for COVID infections and deaths, even though we could take simple steps to protect ourselves. The conservatives sabotaged any hope of that by politicizing the wearing of face masks. Facts be damned.

Or consider that, with exceptions you can count on both hands, America’s Republican politicians, elected and appointed, remain silent while Trump pouts, refuses to admit he lost the election, delayed Biden’s transition, and schemes to stay in office by any means he can gin up. Facts be damned.

Or consider that three-quarters of Republican voters say they think Biden won because of voter fraud, a claim that is not only false, but delusional.

It’s a fact that Trump voters have been conditioned to think in ways that defy logic and ignore reality. Their thought processes, however, are easy enough to follow.

In their minds, “minorities” dominate population centers such as Detroit and Atlanta, and “minorities” are known to be, well, less honest than, you know, real Americans.

To the MAGA faithful, it’s as simple as that. The big-city “minorities” are unscrupulous people who could, would, and did engage in voter fraud on a massive scale.

Any evidence of that? None at all. Zero.

Facts be damned.

It boggles the mind that one-third of the American population is aboard the right-wing crazy train. They have chug-a-lugged the Republican Kool-Aid and liberated themselves from any obligation to acknowledge reality.

I wouldn’t know how that feels because I’m a rational adult. I use my brain. And my brain has questions.

My brain wants to know why Donald Trump and a long list of cowardly, craven Republican officials, elected and appointed, are not already facing criminal charges for malfeasance in office, dereliction of duty, and betraying their country.

My brain wants to know why Biden and the Democrats haven’t already taken that whole contemptible bunch to court.

Democrats, it’s fair to say, are not as skilled as Republicans at playing political hardball. It’s just a simple fact that liberals are not as mean, sneaky, and underhanded as conservatives.

Well, the Dems need to toughen up, because the lunatic right wing seems perfectly willing to bring down the house. That’s a sobering thought.

For now, however, Biden and Harris won, demonstrating that decency and integrity are not dead.

But God knows what’s ahead of us.

One last point: when you think about the damage caused over the course of the Trump years, don’t forget the example his actions and behavior have set — and, for now, continue to set.

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Ejected

I’m not one to drink alcohol before the sun goes down, but yesterday afternoon, I poured myself two fingers of brandy to toast the victory of our next President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Donald Trump, the turd in the national punchbowl for four long, grueling, wretched years, soon will be gone.

As thankful as I am for this turn of events, it’s a fact that the punchbowl itself will remain contaminated for a long time.

If you doubt that, consider that 70 million people voted to give Trump a second term in office. 70 million people.

They did it in spite of his blatant treason, his dismal performance, his appalling record, his bungling of everything, including the pandemic, his lying, his cheating, his utter lack of character and decency.

No person of sound mind — nobody — could justify a vote for Trump. The 70 million reasons for doing so simply indicate that those people, all of them, have some kind of mental or emotional abnormality that told them a vote for Trump was okay.

It wasn’t okay. It was perverse.

Those people voted for Trump because of — take your pick — madness, delusion, stupidity, or hate.

In large part, we can thank decades of brainwashing by Fox News and the wingnut conservatives for that.

For a host of reasons, the Trump voters and supporters are damaged people, and they have damaged American society terribly. What further harm they will cause remains to be seen.

What further harm Trump will cause remains to be seen.

I still wonder if Trump and his family might choose to defect to Russia or Saudi Arabia. Trump knows he will face a reckoning, legal and financial, after he leaves office. Even Deutschebank, his only source of funding besides the Russian oligarchs, has plans to call in his loans.

So, think about it, Donald. Maybe defecting is the way to go. You’ll have Putin’s protection, and you can still Tweet from Moscow.

In fact, why wait? Go now, just to be safe. Okay?

Ejected.

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Summing Up

Below is a series of images summing up the awful mess we are in as a country. The mess is the fault of (1) the despicable Donald Trump, who manages to be criminally negligent, grossly incompetent, and a traitor at the same time, (2) the disgraceful and cowardly elected Republicans who won’t stop him, and (3) the disturbed conservative masses, who, owing to a host of mental and emotional aberrations, cheer him on.

Actually, those characterizations are quite generous — an understatement of the situation. My polite nature prevents me from saying what I really think.

———

———

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RIP RBG

When I heard the news that Justice Ginsburg had died, I reacted as any fair-minded person would. And just so you’ll know, I’m a fair-minded person.

In my case, I had a progression of thoughts.

First, I was sad that she’s gone. Justice Ginsburg was a titan of our time, someone widely beloved and respected. The loss is significant, even though, given her age and physical condition, her death can’t be considered a surprise.

Second, I was mortified by the timing. The fact that she did not survive beyond the term of the traitorous psychopath in the White House was like a punch in the gut.

Third, I was angry that it meant the Republicans, the shameless, morally bankrupt, Trump-enabling Republicans, now have an opportunity to confirm another jackleg conservative to the Supreme Court.

And fourth, I was reminded that Justice Ginsburg is a shining example of how the political left has claimed the moral high ground by default, since the political right has devolved into a quagmire of sneaky, mean-spirited hatefulness.

The truth is crystal clear: compared to the warped conservative worldview, the liberal take on things is sensible, rational, and morally superior by a country mile.

The conservatives have retreated to a moral sub-basement. They have become a bunch of preposterous, Snidely Whiplash villains, clinging to — how shall I put it? — their guns and religion.

Trump’s response to COVID-19 has been criminally incompetent, but the Senate Republicans sit on their hands.

The GOP is eager to help the rich get richer, and at the same time, they want to take away your health care.

They are unmoved when cops commit murder, as long as the victim isn’t white. They are okay with putting immigrant kids in cages. When Trump was caught and impeached for illegal and unethical conduct, they voted to acquit.

Just hours after Justice Ginsburg died, my own congressman, Republican Doug Collins, took an especially nasty shot at her.

Collins said upon RBG’s death, “RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws.”

Like virtually all of his fellow Republicans, Collins is an ambitious guy who will say or do anything to advance his career by sucking up to the MAGA faithful.

Naturally, Collins denied he was celebrating Justice Ginsburg’s death, but that is precisely what he was doing.

Collins, like Trump and the Republican politicians who are such a cancer on American society, is a professional weasel. It’s the only skill he has.

Justice Ginsburg was revered in her time, and she will be honored by history; Trump and today’s right-wing politicians will be remembered as vile opportunists.

As for the Republican voters, it simply is not possible for anyone of sound mind — anyone who can entertain a rational thought — to seriously support a no-talent blowhard like Trump or the rogue’s gallery of conservative politicians allied with him.

That’s why history will remember the MAGA crowd as a mixed bag of fools, simpletons, and hate-filled yokels, all mentally out of balance to some degree.

RBG passed on September 18, and that evening, I acted on another thought that came to me. I went online, searched for an RBG t-shirt, and found a nice one on Etsy.

The t-shirt just arrived. I like it a lot.

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