Accountability (Published Prov. Journal 12/21/16)

img_20161218_194000ACCOUNTABILITY

By now you’ve probably seen one of the large,blue Rhode Works signs placed near several infrastructure projects in Rhode Island. They use stop light colors to tell the public how close the repairs are in two categories; budgets and completion deadlines. A green circle means all is fine, a yellow means a slight overage of money spent or work days required, while a red circle signals something has gone seriously wrong. The hope is that such visible monitoring will get contractors awarded these lucrative contracts to do their absolute best to honor their part of the bargain. The goal is accountability.

Wouldn’t it be wise, and certainly very entertaining, if we could apply this accountability system to other public sectors which affect our daily lives?

Imagine such signs posted just outside the entryways to our Rhode Island House and Senate chambers. Picture the consternation of the members of these august bodies if red circles were seen next to such items as; ethics reform, dismantling legislative grants, line item vetoes, budget adherence and other items which a majority of citizens have long clamored for.

On a more prosaic, but still important, level it might be eye-opening if such standards could be applied to the hard working, ever expanding, weather forecasting teams of our local news stations. If their predicted ‘NorEaster deflates to a few snow showers in Foster-Gloucester there’s a red circle attached to their green screens for the following days broadcast. While this may seem harsh, any entities which describe themselves as “pinpoint” and “accu” weather are just inviting scrutiny.

Hopefully one added advantage of this accountability monitoring would be the simple lesson to people and organizations to stop the practice of using improbable, over inflated promises to gain attention and approval.

The recently completed election cycle provides stunningly clear examples of the use of hyperbole with various candidates promising to; provide free college tuition for everyone, deport eleven million people and, even, put an opponent in jail. Then at a post election victory rally the new President – Elect, went so far to admit to his followers that the promised jailing, “…just sounded good before the election.” !

So much for accountability.
In 1978 as a fledgling sales representative I had a first time meeting in the office of the owner of a small, family business. On his desk was a typical wood base name plate with his name in brass lettering, “Bob Poirier, Sr.”. On a shelf behind him was another name plate which read, “JDWYSYWD”. About a year after this meeting, having formed a solid business relationship with him, I finally asked what “JDWYSYWD” meant.

He replied, “Just Do What You Said You Would Do.”

I have never heard a better description of accountability.

My goal in writing this Commentary was to encourage, companies, organizations, politicians and ordinary people to consider their utterances, live up to their words and honor their promises. I think my mid article transition was a little fuzzy, so I’m assigning myself a yellow circle.

I still have some work to do.

– END –

 

I Blame Alf, For Everything.

I BLAME ALF, FOR EVERYTHING

It was 1989 and my young children couldn’t believe I had banned them from watching the popular television comedy, “Alf”. Surely, a somewhat lame show about an alien, Alf, being taken into the Tanner family’s suburban home after crashing his spaceship into their garage couldn’t be a problem.

To me, it was. Quite often the main premise of the show featured Alf, played by a furry sock puppet, conspiring with the young Tanner children to fool the Tanner patriarch, Willie. The father, as played by actor Max Wright, is portrayed as an easily bamboozled, bumbling incompetent. Alf and the children speak of Willie with barely disguised disdain.

The parent in me bristled. Looking back I think on a scale of 1 to 10 for parental discipline I landed at around a solid 6. There was never any corporeal punishment, I’m not a believer, and I’d say there were very few occasions when my voice reached the “he’s losing it” level. But, I did insist upon and tried to teach respect. Not respect exclusively for their parents, but, for anyone whose actions and life choices earned respect. Hopefully as they grew up this would include worthy relatives, teachers, coaches, employers and friends.

I saw Alf as a bad seed, subversive to the concept of treating people fairly and decently. An over reaction on my part? One could argue, but, lessons must start somewhere. As Alf left the airwaves, new more pernicious shows took its place. Ever diligent I banned “The Simpsons” after my first viewing of this animated paean to a dysfunctional family.

Young minds are bombarded with many outside influences. There has been an exponential leap in these avenues since my early parental boycotts. Now the media blitz is 24/7 available on devices small enough to fit around a kindergartener’s wrist, if they are allowed. The quantum increase in the amount of violence, vulgarity, cynicism, misogyny, crassness and dishonesty which is served daily to our youngsters is bound to have a troubling affect.

As I wrote the above list of issues it struck me that the worrying description fits not only for movies, games and shows, but, shockingly news broadcast as well.

I have struggled mightily to not write the typical 70 years old curmudgeon man Commentaries. Attempted to not be the fossil who craves the antiseptically white washed “Ozzie & Harriet” or “Father Knows Best” portrayals of America in the 1950’s and 60’s. I am well aware that in this bygone era racial and gender inequality were just barely being addressed, Senator McCarthy conducted his witch hunts and we all cowered at the threat of nuclear destruction. However, the overall tenor of discourse both person to person and region to region seemed much more civilized and positive than today’s unhealthy mix of fear and anger.

Events since the turn of the millennium; terrorist attacks, Mid-East wars, a deep recession and the just concluded bloody election cycle seem to have greatly weakened our ability to work together to form a consensus with any dignity or respect.

We need an attitude adjustment and I’m not certain how we can begin, but mutual respect would seem to be a lynchpin.

All I know is that my now adult son and daughter both have a strong sensibility of who and what deserves their respect. They have even forgiven me for my parental censorship during their youth.

However, my daughter, mother of my two wonderful grandchildren, still does not understand why I would not let her wear stirrup pants.
-END-

Tension in the Air This Election

SIGNS OF THE TIMES (Published – Providence Journal 10/22/16)

In my neighborhood the first political signs appeared in July, their two narrow metal tines poking small holes into the soft summer lawns. They are colorful placards, approximately 36 inches wide and 24 inches high, touting my neighbors’ preferred Presidential candidates. This is a tradition which has been around for decades.

This year feels different.

This year, I fear, those many small holes have combined to create a fissure now bursting to the surface in this nasty autumn season as we approach November 8th. There is a tension in the air, a disturbing wind of rancor swirling through our everyday interactions.

We have moved so dangerously far from the simple declarations of; “I Like Ike.” or “Not Just Peanuts.” from past campaigns.

Social media has, of course, exacerbated the heated debates. Marital spats over this election play out, with heightened accusations, for all to see on Facebook threads which end eerily in silence leaving followers to wonder what lasting damage may have occurred.

Neighbors, who know they are on opposite sides of this bitter contest, warily avoid each other in the check out lines at the supermarket. Golf foursomes have been split by animosity.

An Huffington Post poll in May showed more than one-third of Americans had
already had a serious argument with either a close friend, coworker or spouse
over the Presidential race.

A September Harris poll reported over half of respondents reported that they were noticeably stressed out by the campaign.

It feels like we are gearing up for a national fist fight.

By hatching such overwhelmingly unpopular final choices for voters this election cycle and fomenting such globally embarrassing campaigns the process itself has shown it must either be extensively repaired or replaced. We would have to be a truly masochistic nation to submit ourselves to such torture again in 2020.

A complete review and analysis of the process is called for from; the length of campaigns which has grown by more than 35% since the 1970’s, the debilitating influence of an out of control financial contribution system, the fuzzy selection of delegates, the use of the electoral vote count, the gerrymandering antics which so influence state and local elections, appropriate and fair consideration of independent or alternative parties and some form of accountability of media outlets would be just some good starting points.

On November 9th, one day after the election, the yard signs will be pulled from our neighbors lawns. Mother Nature will begin her slow, patient healing process and soon the holes will no longer be visible. But, the United States will be put to a severe test. Can we shake our animosities and work together to close the fissures in our national psyche?

Only time will tell.
– END –

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland.
Contact @: jraftus@aol.com

Donald “The Gunslinger” Trump

DONALD “THE GUNSLINGER” TRUMP

The more Donald Trumps speaks it becomes more and more obvious that he has seen too many Sam Peckinpah shoot ‘em up western movies.

12/22/15 – Grand Rapids, Michigan. Trump railing about journalist at a rally, “I hate some of these people, but, I would never kill them. Let’s see…ahhh…..
(hesitates, smirks and makes a wave with his hand) no, I wouldn’t.”

The crowd roared their approval. It was at this moment I truly became worried for our country.

1/23/16 – Sioux City, Iowa. Trump proposes, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

This description of the loyalty of his supporters serves as a surreal introduction, and counterpoint, to the following tirade.
9/9/16 – Pensacola, Florida. Trump categorizes Clinton as, “So protected she could walk into this arena and shoot somebody with twenty thousand people watching, right smack in the middle of the heart and not be prosecuted.”

His fanatic acolytes cheered this hyperbolic mendacity as if it was the word of God straight from the Bible.

This gunslinger mentality is more than a trend. It is a troubling, and revealing, character trait showing a man who fantasizes about violence, gun play and murder while in the most visible forums imaginable. If this is an important part of his public persona, what deeper demons lie beneath this frightening surface?

Coupled with the documented violence at many of Trump’s events, it is not a paranoid stretch to imagine on of his more unhinged followers taking a cue from the candidate to a dangerous and disastrous level. Trump did, of course, once bemoan that he misses the old days when a protester would be “taken out on a stretcher”.

The Republican nominee does not mute his proclivity towards violence when describing his plans for international policies. At the same Florida rally where he fabricated Clinton shooting someone he gave his solution for a recent incident between the U.S. Navy and Iran, “..when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and make gestures at our people, which they shouldn’t be allowed to do, they will be shot out of the water.”

Thus, Trump would order an act of war over a gesture. You could hear his supporters in the crowd screaming, “Yeah, kill them! Kill them!” without realizing, or worse caring, that it would enter America into yet another war.

Combine all these utterances with other well known comments such as, “…bomb the s*#& out of them” and “…with the terrorist, you have to take out their families.” and Trump’s fetish for violence and killing is shocking.

In the final stages of this exhaustive, and disheartening, campaign the question of which candidate is more “trigger happy” is being bandied about. Yes, it is a dangerous time in history, but, Gunslinger Trump’s view of the world as a Peckinpah sequel to The Wild Bunch or a Rambo film should clearly answer that question.

A dangerous man wants to lead our country.

– END –

My Love Affair With Newspapers

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH NEWSPAPERS IS GOING WRONG

I recently read about the retirement buy out taken by several reporters from the Providence Journal. These retirements leave voids in a cross section of Journal departments; sports, politics and the arts. Every year we see signs of the death knell of newspapers as print vehicles for information. This saddens me almost beyond consolation.

My first experience with newspapers was in 1954 as an eight year old helping my older brother deliver the Sunday Providence Journal in our Pawtucket neighborhood. We used a home made wooden cart to make our rounds, much like the carts seen in old photos of produce peddlers in New York City in the 1920’s. I believe my pay was 25 cents and it seemed like a fortune.

When we returned home from our delivery chores I would devour the Journal’s sports section checking the box scores to see what Ted Williams had done. I’d then move on to the comics getting chuckles from Beatle Bailey and being confused by Pogo and Li’l Abner.

As I entered my late teens my focus shifted and I searched newspapers for columnists like Art Buchwald, Mike Royko, Erma Bombeck, Studs Terkel and Jimmy Breslin. From these icons of commentary I discovered a world outside my small environment. I came to know the politics of Chicago, the swagger of New York City and the witty mannerisms to be found in suburbia. These early forays led to a life long love of the Op Ed pages and the art of commentary as practiced by Calvin Trillen, Roger Angell, William F. Buckley, Maureen Dowd and their many newspaper/magazine stablemates.

Finally out of college, after three years of Army duty, I sent a short freelance article to the Boston Globe in June of 1977. One week later there was my story on the front page with a photo and, most wondrously, a by-line. Emboldened by this success I quickly sent another effort to the Providence Journal. Two weeks later it was featured in the Speaking Out section which occupied the inside cover of the Rhode Islander magazine insert which was part of the Sunday Providence Journal. It had taken me twenty three years, but, I had gone from schlepping the Sunday Journal up the stairs of triple deckers in Darlington to being published in their magazine!

Life; raising a family, creating a career, paying the mortgage and, frankly, a lack of writing initiative shelved my literary efforts until my retirement a few years ago. Since then I have been honored to grace the Op Ed pages of this paper more than thirty times. Now, I fear this time is coming to an obvious close.

This commentary is not meant to rehash the print versus digital debate. That conflict is almost over. In 2014 I attended a forum where legendary Boston Globe sports writer Bob Ryan was a participant and he declared, “ If you are still having a newspaper delivered to your doorstep and you still hold a newspaper in your hands, cherish this for it will not survive the decade.”
My greatest fear, however, is not the digitizing of the news. My true fears are two fold; the disappearance of local ownership and the click monetizing pressure reporters will be subjected to in their writing efforts. Outside corporate ownership always leads to less on the street local reporting while the move to online will emphasize the need for journalist to write in a style which attracts the most clicks, or hits, which can be turned into advertising revenue. When search engine optimization enters into the realm of journalism the readers will severely suffer.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government , I should not hesitate to prefer the later.”

However, Jefferson wrote that in 1787.

By 1809 he declared, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.”

I fear the metamorphosis away from locally owned, daily print newspapers to a 24/7 on line social media reporting will have me sadly making the same shift in opinion about my once beloved newspapers.

-END-

The Delicate Art of Losing

THE DELICATE ART OF LOSING

There it was, right in front of me, a double jump which would also earn me a King. My eight year old grandson, Jack, had made an unusually poor, rushed move. My dilemma is do I tell him?

Susan K. Perry, social psychologist, writing on http://www.babycenter.com states, “If your child knows that you’re changing the rules for them, you are teaching them that following the rules is not as important as winning.”

Oh sure, Ms. Perry, I know that in theory you may be right, but, look at that sweet, trusting face.

Jack and I are playing our traditional game of checkers on a faded board painted on the top of an old whisky barrel in front of an antique store. We are in Apex, North Carolina where he, and his sister, Molly, live with our daughter, Katy. Jack was only four when we discovered this fun way to pass the time while the women explored the shops on Main Street. Back then “throwing” the game was easy, he was too young to be suspicious of any purposely bad strategy on my part.

According to Michele Bora, Ed.D, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions , “The reason you let them win is so that you can teach them how to lose!”

Here’s my problem, Ms. Bora, Jack is now starting to get very good at checkers. These days it requires much less manipulation on my part to make certain I see his wide, joyous smile when he captures my last piece. In this instance, I choose a compromise position. I only jump one of his pieces ignoring the second move.

He quickly recovers and says, “Gramps, you missed a double jump!”

I move subtly into teaching mode, “Oh yeah, looks like we both made a couple of bad moves there, Jack” as we continue to play.

Not surprisingly, the experts say that a child’s age should be taken into consideration when an adult is in competition with them.

Coincidentally, a day after my checkers game with Jack I was involved in a very competitive bowling match with Molly who is ten. She had completed her final frame with a total score of 103. I entered my final frame with a 100 score. So, I needed just a 3 to tie and a 4 to win.

As I stared down the alley, preparing to take my three step approach, my mind drifted back to 1989 when Molly’s mother, my daughter Katy, was 12 years old and I was, well, much younger than my present self. We would often go jogging together through our Arnold Mills neighborhood in Cumberland. It had become a ritual that as we made the final turn onto the street to our house we would finish with a sprint race to see who could reach our driveway first. I had always made the sprint competitive and let Katy beat me by a small margin. Only, on this now remembered Spring night in 1989 when we accelerated from jogging to sprinting there was a new burst of speed from my daughter and a new weight of inertia in my running. For the first time Katy raced progressively ahead of me. Her arms flew up in victory as she reached our driveway.

This now all flashed back to me as I peered at the pins at the end of the bowling alley in Apex, North Carolina. I realized time would pass quickly, Molly and Jack would become adults and experience victories and defeats on their own.

As I released the colorful bowling ball my eyes focused on the number 7 pin tucked far
left on the triangle of pins. I had never thought how difficult it is to only knock down two pins with two rolls of a ten pin ball!

If you are fortunate, first your children, then your grandchildren will provide you with benchmark moments spotlighting the passage of time in a well lived life.
– END –

Are the U.K. & U.S. Unspooling Together?

ARE THE U.K. AND THE U.S. UNSPOOLING TOGETHER? (Prov. Journal 6/16/16)

What do America’s 2016 presidential campaign and the upcoming, June 23rd, United Kingdom referendum on remaining in the European Union (EU) have in common?

Plenty.

And this is not a good sign for democracy.

I recently returned from a short visit to London. While there I conducted an admittedly informal poll with, perhaps, the world’s smallest sample size to gauge sentiment on these two looming political watersheds. Several London cabbies and a pocketful of bespoke suit clad businessmen enjoying their early evening pints were my unwitting participants. I volleyed the conversations back and forth between Clinton versus Trump and the EU question, or Brexit as the “stay” or “leave” referendum is cleverly called in Great Britain.

Both topics produced stunningly parallel responses.

Scratch the surface of the lorry drivers psyches and a stream of anger, fear and xenophobia quickly flows. Immigration concerns are at the heart of these emotions. The current European Union, codified in 1993, allows travel free zones between the member nations and this freedom of movement terrifies a fairly significant segment of England’s population. Ironically, most of our cab drivers who expressed these fears were obviously recently immigrants themselves. These men who were definitely in the “leave” camp on the EU referendum also were huge Donald Trump supporters. With only one exception, the cabbies showed no concern, only enthusiasm, for Trump’s “build a wall” and ending Muslim immigration stances for America. They felt the U.S. has become weaker under Obama. One declared, “Every time I see Obama on TV he is apologizing to someone.”

This fear of foreigners, this call for isolationism, is fueled by the notoriously sensational nature of London’s tabloid newspapers which run headlines warning that staying in the EU would cause England to lose control of its own coast and even lead to a merger with France!

Of course in the United States a large portion of Trump’s supporters are described as alienated, angry white lower middle to low income males whose amicus is fueled by conservative talk radio and Fox News pundits spouting apocalyptic scenarios if Clinton is elected.

On the other hand the London business people, men and women, sipping their ales, porters and stouts hold a different point of view from my cabbie acquaintances. More so than the drivers, they admit to being so preoccupied with the EU question that they have given only cursory attention to our Trump/Clinton option. Most of these folks in the financial segment feel confident that the “stay” option will prevail. While they have some serious concerns about certain aspects of how the EU’s workings affects their country they feel the alternative is far too dangerous. This certainly mirrors how many people in America will vote for Clinton despite their deep distrust of her past actions and motivations. One Briton even evoked the old “…devil you know..” cliche to justify his vote.

Sadly, and most troublingly, beneath all my simplistic prodding and the answers it produced I sense a seething, rancid cleaving of the bound fabric which help create both these nations. Allies, who together defeated our common enemies in two major world wars, the United Kingdom and the United States have long been seen as beacons of hope and opportunity.

Perhaps, I myself have been unaware or too insular and these cultural divides within each country have long existed, but I fear the arc of normal disagreement and debate has escalated to disastrous levels. Levels where, unlike the past, no compromises are possible and discord becomes the constant, dominant state.

This unspooling of the threads of common decency, understanding and compassion would be heartbreakingly catastrophic for future generations. It is time for a national reassessment of how we approach each other as we carry out the obligations of citizenry.

Perhaps the London cabbies, the London financiers, the feeling neglected American middle class and the U.S.’s 1%ers should all meet together for a pint, or a draft, of their favorite brew and talk to each other.

It beats the alternative.

Musings and reflections of a Commentary Writer. Watch for weekly post on Wednesdays.