Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Gratitude’s a key ingredient in recovery

 Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos

It’s traditional at Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table with each person saying what he or she is grateful for. The typical answers are “good health,’ “family,” “the food on the table,” “world peace.” Predictable, but nonetheless valid.
    Going around the table at Thanksgiving at an AA, NA or Al-Anon meeting on gratitude is another story:
    “I’m grateful I have my kids back in my life.”
‘‘I’m grateful I’m employable.”
“I’m grateful I have a sober partner.”
“I’m grateful the tree kept me from going into the river.”
“I’m grateful just to be here.”
Gratitude and recovery go together at this time of year like turkey and stuffing. Truth be told, gratitude is a primary ingredient of recovery at any time of year. And while those new to recovery are often mystified and annoyed by the emphasis on gratitude (“What do I have to be grateful for? My life is a mess!”), it is routinely, almost casually, accepted as vital to those with long-term recovery.
         “It’s like being addicted to living a good life,” said Jim (all names are fictitious), a recovering alcoholic from Orange County with more than three decades of sobriety. In fact, that’s what researchers have found.
People typically come to recovery hurt and broken. The “friend” they have typically relied on to help them deal with life’s joys and stresses — alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, sex — doesn’t enhance the joy anymore and, rather than relieving the stress, it only adds to it. Unpaid bills. Strained relationships. Health problems. Legal problems. Addicts are generally the last to acknowledge this development and their denial turns to anger and  resentment when someone else points it out to them. Shame may also be present.
Some, like John, a retiree who lives in Sullivan County, say they had “the gift of desperation” when they came to recovery. No excuses. No shortcuts. No more lies. What do I do? That’s gratitude in spades, even if belatedly acknowledged. Many others, though, bring their resentment and anger at life with them and they resist — resent — any talk of gratitude. Those who stick with it though, soon learn that gratitude, even if reluctantly or grudgingly expressed at first, is the antidote to resentment. And resentment is a precursor to relapse.
Rinny, 33, of Ulster County, knows this all too well. “I’ve been here a couple of times before,” she says, “but this time my whole perception has changed. I stopped looking at what I didn’t have and started looking at what I do have. The steps helped me do that.” The AA member has 133 days in recovery.
AA sponsors often tell beginners to make a gratitude list and check it and add to it daily. Make it a habit. That can sometimes be awkward. Dave, a 62-year-old Orange County man sober three years, says he keeps his list on his phone and has the phone programmed to remind him to check it every day on his break at work. When his break time got changed one day, the phone loudly reminded him in the middle of an all-phones-off meeting. His supervisor couldn’t get too upset, however, when Dave explained it was his daily gratitude reminder.
His gratitude list includes: family; the sound of rain; a child discovery; power naps; the smell of fresh-cut grass; hard copies of pictures in this digital world; that final payment; the fact that one great song can bring back a thousand memories; live customer support; homegrown tomatoes; the Newburgh waterfront; and
the love and support of a great network of friends and family.
    Mike, a state employee from Ulster County sober five years, says: “The only way I can explain how I learned gratitude is in my story. One night, in a beginners meeting, the topic of gratitude was suggested. At the time I was approximately 18 months sober.  When the topic was announced, I mumbled under my breath, ‘I hate gratitude meetings.’ I did not realize that my inside voice was louder than it should have been. My sentiment was heard by a number of people. A bad example for the newcomer. I did not share that night and walked away a little embarrassed. A week later, I was in Stinkwaater, South Africa. This was an extremely impoverished community. I walked around a building to a shaded location. There were three Little Tykes training potties and a bucket. I asked our host about the need for the potties and a bucket. She simply stated, ‘We need to conserve water. The water truck only comes twice per week. If we are lucky.’ Imagine my surprise when there was no running water, or considering the fact that I couldn't flush a toilet. My understanding of gratitude took a 180-degree turn. I took so many things for granted that the thought of waiting in line for water or any other necessity was fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. I realized that a house with electricity, heat, and running water is not the norm everywhere. When I returned from this mission, I was able to share very easily on the topic of gratitude. I spent a major part of my life with a checklist that needed to be completed and I did not appreciate it. I do know today there are so many things, opportunities, events, and life activities that I missed, because I did not have gratitude for them.”
A 50-year-old man from Orange County, six years sober says, “My gratitude since I’m sober is that I can accept the good and the bad, understanding that both will continue to happen in my life. I understand today that my unhappiness is directly correlated to my inability to accept that things change.”
That’s a major change in perception. By focusing on things they previously took for granted, these people in recovery stopped resenting the fact they couldn’t drink safely or use drugs without serious consequences. They changed their attitude and, instead of trying to “hang in there” and stay clean and sober with will power, they became addicted to living that new way of life.
There’s a saying many in AA use: I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking. Grateful thinking, studies have shown, has more beneficial side effects than just helping addicts avoid relapse. Among other things, it can lower blood pressure, spur an interest in exercise and good health, improve sleep, increase feelings of happiness, optimism, compassion and generosity and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
There’s no place for resentment on that list. That’s what people like Rebecca, 10 years sober from Sullivan County, means when she says, ‘’I’m a grateful, recovering alcoholic.”   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Shedding some light on blackouts

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
There are two enduring views about alcohol-induced blackouts:
  1. They don’t exist. They’re just an excuse for inappropriate behavior.
  2. They exist, but they’re just a harmless, often humorous, occasional price to pay for a night of fun.
Both views are wrong — dangerously so — for the same reason: Denying the existence of blackouts or minimizing their significance could lead to serious consequences (health, legal, personal, professional) for the persons experiencing them and others. If you’ve experienced blackouts or know someone who has and are not concerned about them, you should be.

To start with, blackouts are not the same as passing out. That’s a comomon misconception. People who drink too much and pass out stay put. They wake up in the same place they passed out and remember, maybe with a hangover, how they got there. People in blackouts can wind up in different states, strange beds, wrong apartments or behind bars when they come to and not know how they got there. “How did I get home last night?” is a common question for blackout veterans. “Where’d I leave my car?” is another.

Many recovering alcoholics who recall their drinking history in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings point to blackouts as one of the “healthy fears’’ that help them stay sober. After all, it can be frightening to find out about some reckless behavior that happened apparently in a blackout and to wonder what else may have happened without your being aware of it.

Some local examples:

— Jordan, a 50ish man from Orange County, who has been sober more than five years, says he once spent a four-day business trip in Texas in a blackout. Airport-to-airport. He did come out of it briefly, he says, to call his boss on Day 2 to tell him he wasn’t feeling well.
— Whitey (all names used are fictitious), who drives for a living, says he regularly drove between New York and Virginia in blackouts.

— John, retired in Sullivan County and sober more than two decades, says he’s positive he was fired from an excellent job because of remarks he made to his boss’s wife while in a blackout.
— Marie, a chef sober less than a year, says she has no recollection of a phone call in which she was extremely rude and insulting to her husband’s sister, other than what her husband and sister-in-law told her. She’s embarrassed by the incident.

— Sunshine, a nurse sober half her life, recalls with a mix of horror and shame coming out of a blackout “as a guy was trying to have sex with me.” She says she fought him off. But she didn’t immediately stop drinking.

That’s often the case — not stopping drinking despite risky or embarrassing consequences. As an isolated incident, a blackout may not signify anything except drinking too much, too fast. Something you might want to avoid because of potential embarrassment or worse. As a pattern, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

While it’s not just alcoholics who experience blackouts, the connection between blackouts and alcoholism or alcoholic use disorder is real and knowing some facts about the symptom could help dispel some of the myths and avoid more serious problems.

For a long time — most likely from whenever humans first discovered the mood-altering effects of wine until modern science started doing research on the brain and behavior — blackouts were regarded as just one of the possible side effects of drinking alcohol. A little fuzzy memory. No big deal. Just drink less.

When researchers began studying blackouts, however, they soon discovered that persons experiencing them didn’t have just a little amnesia. Rather, they had no recollection of certain events and, try as they might, even when told the details many times over, they had no memory of them. Their research subjects didn’t forget, researchers concluded; they never formed a memory in the first place.

The prevailing accepted science, as cited by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and other similar agencies, is that persons experiencing a blackout can function and appear to be “normal” to others because their brain is operating on stored, long-term, procedural memory, but the short-term memory of what they are experiencing never gets to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes long-term memory. Alcohol — especially a lot of it in a short period of time — short-circuits the process.

According to the NIAAA, “As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of the memory impairments. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce partial or complete blackouts.”

More about blackouts:

— It’s not what you drink, it’s how much alcohol gets into your bloodstream and how fast it gets there. This means it’s possible for anyone to black out if he or she drinks enough alcohol quickly enough.

— People who have a low tolerance for alcohol are not necessarily more likely to black out. On the other hand, those with a high tolerance for alcohol are often able to drink heavily and carry on conversations, drive, etc. while in blackouts.

— Women may be more susceptible since they tend to be smaller than men, meaning each drink has a greater effect on the body’s blood alcohol content.

— Drinking on an empty stomach can make blackouts more likely, again because of a more acute impact on the blood alcohol concentration.

— People sometimes have glimpses of memory of an event, but not total recall. These partial lapses are called “brownouts.”
— Blackouts are the product of consumption of an amount of alcohol that affects motor coordination, balance, impulse control and decision-making. This is bad enough when someone is not in a blackout, never mind being unable to recall any risky, self-sabotaging behavior that may have caused serious harm to others.

— Some researchers suggest that people in blackouts, operating on procedural memory and little more, have little impulse control and are more likely to do things they would not otherwise do. (See examples above.) This presents embarrassing, sometimes dangerous situations for the person in a blackout, family, friends and even strangers.
— Blackouts are often the unrecognized explanation for someone’s uncharacteristic actions. “Why did you (say/do) that last night?”

— Because of a shortage of evidence-based science on the subject, there is considerable difference of opinion on the use of blackouts as a defense in criminal trials.

So, what to do if you have blackouts? Take them seriously. Maybe talk to a professional health provider who knows about them. While blackouts are not solely the result of years of heavy, alcoholic drinking, they can be a sign of an existing or potential alcohol problem. Even one or two — perhaps the product of binge drinking in college — should be enough to cause concern since not being aware of what one has done is not considered acceptable to most people.

Being the unaware “life of the party” may be tolerable as a one-time experience, but repeated bizarre behavior of which you have no memory is nothing to laugh at.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bakker/Trump: Marriage of convenience

By Bob Gaydos
Jim Bakker, sticking with Trump to the end...
Jim Bakker, sticking with Trump to the end.

The good news is that I think I finally have a handle on this whole evangelical Christians love affair with Donald Trump. The bad news — and the apparent reason it took so long for me to get it — is that the revelation comes from Jim Bakker. Jessica Hahn’s former boss and philandering lover is not exactly on my radar screen.

Regardless, I’m grateful for the belated enlightenment. According to the TV evangelist, the Orange Dotard and the chaos he has loosed on the planet are all part of God’s plan. The End Times are approaching, people — can’t you hear the hooves of the Four Horsemen? It will all end in a cataclysmic war, or something, and the world will be saved with the second coming of Jesus.

Well, not the whole world. Just the Christians. And not just any Christians, just, you know, the good ones. The “true” ones who look like them and think all other people — and they do mean all — are sinners, blasphemers, heretics, etc. The rest of us will be left behind in the Rapture, with only true disciples ascending to Heaven. Evangelicals have believed in some version of this prophecy from the Old Testament for centuries and the fact that it hasn’t happened yet has never been a deterrent to new believers — or to preachers willing to exploit it to their own profit. The end is near; send me your money.

The key to my finally understanding the evangelical embrace of Trump, the most amoral, immoral, irreligious occupant of the White House perhaps ever, is realizing I had it backwards. It doesn’t matter to Bakker and other evangelicals (I understand some evangelicals disagree with him, but their silence is deafening) if Trump is a serial sexual assaulter, a racist, a bigot, a phony Christian, a liar, a thief, a purveyor of hatred and resentment. That’s all part of the plan. The worse Trump is, the sooner the holy war starts and the sooner Jesus returns to save us.

Well, not all of us. Just, you know, “true” Christians. So, to reserve your seat on the Greyhound to Heaven, send in yoUIKeyInputDownArrowur donations today to Jim, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham (Billy’s son) or one of the others. This Old Testament prophecy now apparently serves as the basis of presidential policy, being digested at regular prayer breakfasts in the White House. Those breakfasts are attended by evangelical ministers, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump cabinet who profess a belief in the End Times theory.

The wisdom of our forefathers in separating church and state has never been more evident.

What’s not so obvious to me is, in this room of con artists, who is ultimately conning whom? The evangelicals latched on to Trump because he clearly has no use for the same people they exclude from their salvation story. He’s even apparently willing to use force or defy international efforts at cooperation to demonstrate his view. But his reasons are clearly not based on religious beliefs. They always have to do with him. He’s a con man. How can he benefit? In this case, he gets the evangelicals’ political support and votes, knowing they’ll support him no matter what, even though he doesn’t really believe their story. Because God sent him.

The evangelicals know that he knows. They know he doesn’t believe. That’s their con. In fact, that’s what makes their story more credible to them. A non-believer, they believe, will deliver them to Heaven by reclaiming Israel for the Jews, which is what they saw in Trump’s moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — a move guaranteed to produce more conflict in the Middle East and one undoubtedly dreamed up at one of those White House prayer breakfasts.

Robert Jeffress, a Rapture pastor who attends those breakfasts, delivered the new embassy’s opening prayer. Jeffress has called Mormons heretics, said homosexuals are filthy, Islam promotes pedophilia and Jews are fated to hell. But, heck yeah, let’s pray for reuniting Israel anyway so that the holy war can start soon and we can get on with salvation. It’s all a matter of convenience, in my way of thinking at least. That’s the con. Whatever Trump does, it’s all God’s will. (Get those donations in; seats are filling up fast.)

Still, I’m not completely clear on what’s about to happen. Versions of End Times vary and Bakker himself seems to have confused the issue by saying God told him (Yes, he got it straight from the Source) that: “Donald Trump is a respite in this troubled times and I sent him in grace to give you time to prepare for what’s coming on earth. …”

“We have a president people think is crazy,” Bakker said. “They call him crazy, but he’s making peace treaties, he’s doing all the things to try to solve the world’s problems and God has put him on earth— God spoke to me the other night. He said, ‘I put Donald Trump on earth to give you time, the church, to get ready.’”

So, is Trump here to make peace or war? See what I mean by convenient?
I read the novel, “Left Behind,” many years ago out of curiosity. It’s the Rapture in paperback. As I recall, in the book a lot of people were surprised to find loved ones gone — empty clothes, idling cars, etc. — but they were still around. And there was some new, false Messiah offering peace to a troubled world. (Mike Pence may be auditioning for this role.)

So, if I’m looking for a happy ending to this morality tale being played out on Pennsylvania    Avenue, I can easily believe that Bakker et al got it wrong when they decided who and what was right. They conned themselves. That would mean, if the Apocalypse, etc. happens, Bakker, Trump, Pence, Graham, Jeffress, Robertson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and most of Trump’s cabinet will be left behind to clean up their mess while the rest of us eat tacos and hummus and listen to Elton John in Heaven.

Either that, or the sound of hooves is Robert Mueller arriving on a white horse called Conquest. That’s in the story, too.

Friday, August 10, 2018

TDA? TFS? Whatever ... I've got it

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump is messing with my journalistic instincts. How do I know? Well, I never got past the headline of the Facebook post that informed me psychologists were diagnosing something new among their patients, informally called TAD -- Trump Anxiety Disorder.

I never bothered to read the article. Of course they are, I said to myself. What took them so long? The whole damn country is suffering from it. We’re one, big, herky-jerky mass of resentment and anxiety just waiting for the next tweet to make us great again. Or have us at each other’s throats.

I recognize the symptoms in myself every morning when I wake up and remember that the sorry excuse for a human being called Trump still lives in the White House and millions of Americans are apparently OK with that. I’ve also been told that acceptance is the key to serenity and that I don’t have to like the situation to retain my sanity, just accept that it is. So I’ve now given up trying to figure out or reason with the Trumpsters. The universe and history will deal with them.

But as someone who has been trained and conditioned over time to write about such things as a colossal upheaval of the moral underpinnings of the supposed defender of democracy, equality and justice on the planet (i.e. the United States), I also feel obliged to try to write despite the angst. To report, if you will, on the latest outrage. But really …

There’s no keeping up. Pick a topic. Is it Korea, Russia, the wall, trade wars, utter incompetence, lies, NATO, Iran, hush money for sex with porn stars, China, lies, kneeling football players, the queen, racism, ignorance, attacks on reporters, lies, Hillary, tax cuts for the rich, boorishness, caging immigrant kids, nepotism, the budget deficit, witch hunts, lies …?

It’s all different, yet all the same. Follow the bouncing ball. Three-card Monte. What did he just say? So, while I may have Trump Anxiety Disorder, I think I’m also suffering from what the mental health professionals call a co-occurring condition -- Trump Fatigue Symptom.

It’s downright tiring writing the same thing over and over again: Dotard did/said something dumb or cruel, or both. Then he lied about it. Republicans didn’t care (they’ve committed suicide) and his loyalists cheered. End of story.

The end of story I’m hoping for, of course, is one written by Special Counsel Robert Mueller: Trump led out in handcuffs, along with his family and cronies. But I’m also looking for a good read in a chapter to be written in November — the midterm elections. If there’s not a big Blue Wave vote for Congress, TAD will become epidemic I fear.

Meanwhile, someone who cares about me and is curious about the true meaning of life (it's not politics or baseball, I’m told), has steered me to some people who seem to have a pretty good handle on it. Eckhart Tolle. Mooji. Rupert Spira. Deepak Chopra. Tom Campbell. Thanks to YouTube, they are helping me to change my outlook, maybe even lower my anxiety level.

The key is simply to be, these enlightened men say. I am not my thoughts. I am not even my body. Consciousness (not the Dotard) is in charge. All I have is now. Be present. (Have lunch with my sons.) Meet everything in the moment. Be aware of being aware. (Do all-you-can-eat sushi every Sunday.) Lower the entropy (disorder) in a system (consciousness) and increase the cooperation, order, caring, even love. There are no coincidences.

This is all a virtual reality, says Campbell, a physicist. In that case, I want to be the player in charge of the Dotard’s avatar. I think I could bring plenty of energy to that experience, appreciate every moment and lower the entropy of the entire planet.

It’s working slowly.

Also, please vote Democrat.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Video games are addictive, officially

Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos
Some young males may be addicted to video games.
What many parents the world over have been proclaiming for quite some time is now official: Some individuals -- mostly young males --- are literally, not just figuratively and annoyingly, addicted to playing video games. That is the determination of the World Health Organization, which after considerable study and debate, recently added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases, a primary source of information for doctors worldwide.
The United Nations agency did not put a time frame (how many hours a day) on what would be considered addictive gaming, but rather, put video gaming in the same category as gambling addiction -- a behavior that becomes “a priority” and which the individual is unable to stop despite numerous negative life consequences. These include loss of a job, loss of friends, broken relationships, poor health, bad grades and other assorted issues that might arise for someone who played, say, Fortnite, the current video game rage, for 14 to 16 hours a day while neglecting work, school, food, sleep, family, friends, showers … real life.  
While this classification might seem overdue to some, it is not without controversy. For one thing, the W.H.O. zeroed in on video gaming, both online and offline, but did not include use of the internet and smartphones, which certainly are vehicles for obsessive behavior. For another, the American Psychiatric Association did not include gaming in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, choosing to call it a "condition for further study."
Some critics of the WHO classification suggest that gaming was targeted because of heavy lobbying by some countries, such as China and South Korea, which have large populations of video gamers and are desperately looking for help in treating them. But some mental health professionals say official WHO designation could improve public education, research, insurance coverage and development of treatment programs, which at the moment are scarce and expensive. They say including the gaming industry -- with its legion of experts on creating reward-and-reinforcement scenarios -- in the conversation can only help.
Not surprisingly, most creators of video games (who have an economic motivation to be considered) and their legion of players responded negatively to the classification, arguing with the methodology of some studies and saying the results have been far from conclusive. They also say studies on gaming are relatively new and note that some studies have shown benefits to playing video games, including improved thought processes (lots of strategy to figure out), greater motivation (lots of levels to reach and competition to be won), and improved memory and hand-eye coordination (essential for good gaming). In these regards, they say, gaming is akin to young people playing sports or joining clubs.
Finally, there is also disagreement among mental health professionals about whether the gaming is the cause or the effect of such common co-occurring disorders among obsessive gamers as anxiety and depression.
Still, whether it is an official mental health disorder or one deserving further study, no one argues that playing video games to the point that the player suffers negative consequences in other areas of life is good for one’s health. So, while the APA has not classified gaming as a disorder, it has come up with nine criteria for identifying it, should it make that official decision. They are similar to those used to identify other officially classified addictions:
  1. Pre-occupation. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about games even when you are not playing, or planning when you can play next?
  2. Withdrawal. Do you feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious or sad when attempting to cut down or stop gaming, or when you are unable to play?
  3. Tolerance. Do you feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?
  4. Reduce/stop. Do you feel that you should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time you spend playing games?
  5. Give up other activities. Do you lose interest in or reduce participation in other recreational activities due to gaming?
  6. Continue despite problems. Do you continue to play games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties?
  7. Deceive/cover up. Do you lie to family, friends or others about how much you game, or try to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you game?
  8. Escape adverse moods. Do you game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness or depression?
  9. Risk/lose relationships/opportunities. Do you risk or lose significant relationships, or job, educational or career opportunities because of gaming?
Obviously, the more “yes” answers there are, the more likely the individual has a problem with video gaming, whether it’s labeled an official addiction or not. Denying it out of shame or guilt or fear won’t help. In fact, the WHO classification is intended to eliminate those obstacles and provide an avenue to help. If the video gamer has trouble stopping or cutting back, consider consulting a professional addiction counselor.
There is also help available online from those who understand the problem because they’ve been there:
-- On-line Gamers Anonymous, a 12-step, support and recovery organization “for gamers and their loved ones who are suffering from the adverse effects of excessive computer gaming”: olganon.org
-- Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA), “a recovery fellowship, based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous”: cgaa.info.
Whatever you do, be honest. If you or a loved one are talking about it, if it is a cause for concern, if it has caused problems, then it’s a problem, official addiction or not. Don’t wait for the debate to be resolved.
It’s all in the game
  • About 2.6 billion people play video games worldwide.
  • Two-thirds of American households include video game players.
  • The great majority of those who play video games do not display addictive behavior.
  • Young males log more hours weekly on video games than do young females.
  • The Entertainment Software Association says annual worldwide revenue for the industry should reach $180 billion by 2021.
  • Fortnite: Battle Royale, the current hot video game in which 100 players battle to be the last one standing on the island, recently earned a reported $300 million in one month. It has a reported 40 million-plus players, some of whom are obsessive. The game is free to play, but players can buy add-ons (weapons, tools, resources, etc.) to enhance their chances of victory.

Friday, July 20, 2018

'Enemy of the people'? Not the press

By Bob Gaydos

The next day's paper.
I began my most recent column lamenting that this all-Trump-all-the-time insanity we are experiencing has sucked much of the joy out of life and made it difficult to write a “normal” column. “This has become personal,” I wrote.

Little did I know.

A week later, an angry white male with a shotgun and a history of threats shot and killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. For a brief time in my career, I was managing editor of the Evening Capital, which the Baltimore Sun later bought and merged with the Capital’s sister paper, the Maryland Gazette.

When I saw the first report on the shooting, I had an “Oh my God” moment. Who? But I quickly did the math and realized that, having left Annapolis more than 40 years ago, the odds that anyone I worked with was still there were slim to none. Also, the paper had long moved from its old offices on West Street -- a convenient walk to the State Capitol, Governor’s Mansion, Historic District, the Naval Academy and City Dock   -- to a modern building farther from downtown.

Still. People were shot at The Capital, I said, processing the information, and Donald Trump keeps calling the press “the enemy of the people” and conservative commentators and “pundits” keep issuing warnings about the media’s “time being up.”

This is not only not normal, this is dangerous because the most rabid followers of Trump and the media-bashers include some people with a violent nature who are looking for any excuse to use the guns they are hoarding to attack the “enemy” as fingered by their leader. That includes, at the top of the list, those who report the facts.

For Trump, that means anyone who points out his daily lies, mistakes, failures and contradictions and their impact on the rest of us. The so-called mainstream media. The big guys, to him. But to many Trump followers, that label translates to any journalist anywhere, including Annapolis.

This is classic government by fear-mongering. Angry white males keep slaughtering school children in America and newspapers report the facts and, in many cases, publish editorials and columns calling for more responsible gun laws. Trump, after first acting like he agrees with the need to pass sensible gun restrictions and criticizing Republican congressmen for being “afraid of the NRA,” then gets in bed with the NRA and points his finger at “the enemy” -- the press -- for reporting “fake news.” “Defend the Second Amendment!” shout the zealots. “It’s the press’ fault!”

They apparently never heard of, or don’t care about or understand, the First Amendment, but I think most Americans do. I also think most Americans are a bit spoiled and lazy about understanding and appreciating what Freedom of the Press means to them.

It means that reporters in Annapolis, for example, can keep readers informed on meetings of local groups and schools, report on city council or state legislative action, local sports news, the status of the Chesapeake Bay and changes at the Naval Academy and editorial writers can offer reasoned opinion on the news of the day, unswayed by political or business interests.

Does this happen so purely every day at every paper in every community in America? Of course not. But I believe it it does in most. I am convinced by more than a half century of working with journalists that getting the story right and telling it the best way possible is still the primary objective.

For most journalists, the pay is good, but not spectacular. The ego is fed by the byline. The job is alternately fun, interesting, boring, challenging, stressful and always unpredictable, which may be the best part.

I mentioned I was managing editor of The Capital briefly in the 1970s at the height of the Watergate scandal. The unpredictable happened to me one morning when I was news editor. At the regular morning news meeting, the managing editor and editor got into an argument over something of great import of which I no longer have any memory. The managing editor abruptly stood up and said, “I quit!” and marched out the door of the editor’s office. Without missing a beat (at least that’s how I remember it), the editor pointed to me and said, “Gaydos, you’re managing editor.”

I eventually left Annapolis with that good personal story and wound up in Middletown, N.Y., another small city with a lot of good local journalists telling readers what was going on in the area. Among other things, I wrote editorials calling for sensible gun control laws, not repeal of the Second Amendment. Those sentiments continue to be expressed in the local paper and reporters and editors continue to do their best to serve the public, operating with sharply reduced resources due to an industry-wide corporate culture that is more interested in maximizing income than increasing the news hole.

Those newsroom people may irritate a politician occasionally, but as I see it, that’s part of the press’s responsibility of telling the truth. They are not, however, the enemy of the people any more than the five employees of the Capital Gazette who were gunned down in Annapolis. Just average Americans doing their jobs.

Words have power. When those in position of power use words recklessly -- and Trump does so routinely -- innocent people can be hurt. The facts speak for themselves. The Amendments to the Constitution are in order for a reason. People should not have to live in fear for speaking or writing the truth. That’s what makes America great.

I have many memories and mixed feelings about my time in Annapolis. It’s a great town. In the end, it’s all part of my story. But I am saddened by the newspaper’s -- the city’s -- loss and I hope and pray that more Americans wake up soon to the real enemy of the people.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Yes, Melania, I obviously care a lot

By Bob Gaydos
The coat.

This has become personal. This waking up daily with a feeling of incredulity, depression, bewilderment, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, loathing and profound resentment. This thing, this overwhelming syndrome, this " this suck-the-joy-out-of-life condition called the Donald Trump presidency. It's real, but it's not normal. And try as I may to act as if it's not there, to "get on with life" as it were, I inevitably wind up back at the same place, wishing it weren't.

It used to be, just a couple of years ago in fact, that writing a blog was, for me, a freeing experience. It was just like writing a newspaper column or daily editorial, except you didn't get paid for it. On the other hand, you had absolute, unlimited choice of topic, from soup to nuts to " well let's just stay there for a minute.

There was a time, again, not so long ago, that I relished the opportunity to craft an entire blog (column) around a throwaway cliche like "soup to nuts." What's that all about? It was fun and informative for me and I tried to make it the same for readers. After all, life can't just be the same, old, umm, rat race.

Then came Trump. All Trump, all the time.

All of a sudden, I found myself arguing with myself:

"No one wants to read about the worst new food idea."

"Sure they do. They need a break from the dotard just like I do."

"But can you really get a whole column about the fact that the world isn't ready for -- doesn't really need -- chocolate hummus?"

"Yes. It's a dumb idea. The question is do I have the energy to spend the time and will it seem trivial? I mean, did they have to add all that sugar? What were they thinking? It could be a health column. People like those."


"Maybe not. So maybe I should also forget about writing about what a dumb idea rectangular coffee cups are?"


"But honestly, did the geniuses try drinking with the cup before manufacturing it? Try wrapping your lips around that rim, folks. And why would a diner, which arguably owes its existence to providing people with coffee to get them through the day, want to make it harder for them -- us ... well, me -- to do so. And could they at least make it a full-size mug for Pete's sake? Is everyone looking for a quick buck?"

"No one cares."

'Well, I care."

And so, it seems, I've come back to the World of Trump. That coat that the mute Melania wore to cheer up the children from Central America whom her husband had ordered locked in cages after taking them away from their parents who were bringing them to America to escape violence in their homelands and to find hope for better lives. What a cruel, evil, ignorant policy. What a cruel, evil, ignorant man.

"I really don't care, do u?" was the message on Melania's coat. Trying to figure out her real message, of course, was just another diversion from what was actually going on, but its inappropriateness again highlighted the ineptitude that co-exists with the callousness of this family, this administration.

And what else was going on at the time? Trump, as usual, was blaming Democrats for his lock-the-kids-up policy, while also waging war against immigrants, documented or otherwise, and holding campaign rallies to energize the like-minded, ill-informed, fear-based supporters of his cult, officially known as the Republican Party.

Conservative columnist George Will, having left the party, now urges all Americans to vote for every Democrat they can to save the country, because Republicans can't or won't. A little late, George, but welcome. Republicans, of course, have lost their courage, morals, principles and all sense of what legislating for the common good means. They want to gut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and prevent people with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance because they ballooned the national debt by giving rich people a huge tax break.

Of course, Trumpsters don't care or don't care to know about what's really going on and I've written so often about it that, well, Dotard Syndrome. Turn on Fox; turn off brain.

Aside from a trade war with U.S. allies, one other thing was going on while Melania was wearing her stylishly dumb coat -- the Trump team, which has been busy shredding laws and regulations that protect Americans from unscrupulous, greedy corporations, was in the process of drawing up a reorganization of the entire government. From soup to nuts, as it were.

I can't tell you how relieved I am that a man who has "reorganized" three casinos, two casino holding companies, a phony college and the Plaza Hotel into bankruptcy, all while milking them for every penny he could get, is planning on reorganizing the entire federal government to make it more efficient -- which is to say, less useful and unconcerned with those whose daddy didn't give them a million bucks to get a head start in the world. He and his cohorts and enablers, of course, will take their profits where they can.

As Melania might say, "Let them eat chocolate hummus."

Do I care? Obviously, more than I wish I had to.

(Editor's note: "Soup to nuts" as defined in Wikipedia: " 'Soup to nuts' is an American English idiom that conveys the meaning of "from beginning to end." It is derived from the description of a full-course dinner, in which courses progress from soup to a dessert of nuts." But of course, my readers already knew this.)