Tag Archives: Pandemic

Understanding Empathy

One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.

Suspension of Disbelief
To Open Up And Believe

Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.


The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


Removing The Toddler-in-Chief

I just have to share this interesting, evocative piece of art. I’m really looking forward to the day I can (we all can) essentially forget this asshole ever existed.

I know we’ll still have the RepubliKKKlan Party to deal with, but I’m pretty worn out having him clutter the media landscape so thoroughly.


Justice Matters – 9/26/20

Here’s today’s “Justice Matters,” from Glenn Kirschner. Glenn lays out the latest Appellate Court ruling involving the Manhattan D.A.’s subpoena for Trump’s tax returns. He points out the judges essentially told Trump’s lawyer, William Consovoy, that his arguments were “full of shit.” (my words)

Check out the video. It’s a little more than eight minutes. One point worth remembering; it’s virtually impossible at this point we will see these tax returns prior to the election. This is because the subpoena Vance is seeking to enforce is for a Grand Jury proceeding and, unless it results in a criminal indictment against Trump, in which the documents would finally appear as evidence, they will remain secret. So … essentially, this means Trump’s dilatory moves have succeeded … at least to the point that his taxes will not be revealed to the public prior to November 3.

I think it’s important for us to recognize how disrespectful this is to the American people. Time and again Trump makes it clear he has nothing but contempt for democracy or the people of the United States. He professes to love this country; he perversely hugs the Stars and Stripes as if it has something he wants to grab, but he has shown no respect at all for the human beings that make up the vast bulk of the nation’s people. As of this moment, we’re approaching 210,000 deaths from, and nearly 7.3 million people infected with, the Coronavirus, yet there’s still no national testing or contact tracing plan, and precious little else in the way of Federal leadership.

Regardless of what these tax returns end up showing us, and past experience makes it likely—IMO—they will show us how dishonest Trump actually is, we know who the man is. He’s shown us repeatedly how little he cares for anyone save himself and those who praise and support him. We need to throw him out of office, along with as many of the weak-kneed, treacherous sycophants and bootlickers we can muster the votes to remove from their positions.

These are desperate times, and our nation is on the verge of becoming an autocracy, with a deeply flawed person at its helm. We can’t let this happen. We need to show up this election season in numbers like never before.

Older people like me need to recognize that Trump and those who support him would prefer we were dead. Many, like me, are now collecting social security and are on Medicare. We worked and paid for these things. They aren’t entitlements—at least not in the sense the right uses the word—they are earnings that our representatives have not managed well over the years. We’re perceived as a financial drag on the economy.

Younger people, more than ever before, need to show up this election season as well. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Trump and the entire Republican party are science deniers and, as such, they cannot (and will not) accept the science of climate change, nor will they accept the science of epidemiology. The future of our planet and our species is being threatened by these idiots.

!!VOTE THEM ALL OUT!!


Dan Mirrors My Feelings

I have to share these few paragraphs written by Dan Rather. They mirror my feelings well. I would like to add that staying home during this time has exacerbated the difficulties we’re experiencing with (mostly) our younger daughter. Things were tough enough when she was actually attending school. Now that she’s home all the time, it’s increased the friction and made my life far more stressful than, perhaps, it’s every been. Now for some Dan:

Dan Rather

I sit locked in a self-imposed isolation as a deadly virus surges outside. Time frames for returning to any hope of a faint echo of normalcy stretch into the many months or years. This distant horizon strikes particularly deep for those of us at a certain age and stage of life. Our nation is adrift amidst rocky shoals with cruel incompetence as our captain and enabling cravenness as the first mate.

What a perilous time to live.

I know I am extremely fortunate. Neither the roof over my head nor the food on my table are in doubt. I have the privilege of protecting myself and my loved ones more than many. We don’t work in meat processing plants, or distribution warehouses, or even in hospitals. I strive to keep habits and schedules, but hours bleed and to-do lists go unchecked.
What a moment to contemplate the future.

The basic tenets of decency, truthfulness, and compassion are torn across our political divide. We see scientists denigrated and charlatans exalted. We see the rule of law and the norms of our democracy debased for personal gain. We see our allies bullied and our adversaries coddled.

What a time to be an American.

But that’s just it. It is a time to be an American, to contemplate our future, and to live. We have had very dark days in the past. We have had deep, systemic injustices. We have faced daunting odds. And women and men of courage, of ingenuity, of resolve have stood up time and time again. They have said some version of, “we will not abide.” It is our duty to not abide either.

From the streets, to newsrooms, to online social and political activism, I see countless millions of Americans who are not abiding. We are living through damage, loss, and sadness that could have been avoided. Much trauma lies ahead. But I know most of my fellow citizens agree that this shall not be us.

I desperately wished this was not our lot. I wish so many things. I wish the hospital wards were empty. I wish kids were having a summer and could go to school safely. I wish small businesses weren’t closing. Heck, I wish I was at a baseball game trying to not have the mustard drip on my pants. That’s not where we are.

We must be true to ourselves to recognize that much of what we are seeing now was not only the product of the last few months or even the last three-plus years. We have big problems, wherever we look. But we see them now. And we must do the hard work to fix them, not only through the ballot box but through the energy of our hearts and power of our imaginations. Whatever despair I might feel is tempered with a hope that is growing within me. I will not abide, and I believe most Americans will not abide either. Courage.

Dan Rather


Trump Kills Seniors

If you’ve not read anything I’ve written before, you likely don’t know much about me, especially that I’m 73-years-old and, therefore, am most decidedly a senior. When this pandemic first came to our attention, I realized that I was not only well into the age bracket this virus creates the most havoc with, but I also have mild versions of just about all the comorbidities that were listed as problematic. Needless to say, I was (and still am) quite cautious about going out. For the most part, I only go out to grocery shop and for gas, though I occasionally have to take my youngest to school to return or pick things up. I always wear a mask in public and when I get gas, I thoroughly wipe my hands with sanitizer after handling the pump. This is a pretty good ad, among many (all of which I may end up sharing) that are being produced by The Lincoln Project, Don Winslow, and The Meidas Touch.


“Corona Virus Blues” | Don McAlister’s Blogsite

Written by my former (and last) manager at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, these are contemporary blues lyrics. The tune is up to you. If you know 12 bar blues, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to gin something up.

Written by Don McAlister, 6/28/20 as a standard 12 bar blues song.

When this all got started
We didn’t have a clue
‘Bout how crazy things would get
And change everything we knew.

At first it didn’t seem that bad
The danger wasn’t clear
Then cases started popping up
West and East, and then right here.

And now it was a crisis
Affecting me and you
We got it bad
Corona Virus Blues!

CHORUS: We got a virus out to kill us
And it don’t care ‘bout who
And the only way to slow it down
Is to change the things we do.

We gotta stay six feet apart
And cover up our faces
Stay away from bars
Only eat at takeout places.

We’ve been hunkered down for months now
Watchin’ movies and the news
Yeah we got it bad
Corona Virus Blues!

Some folks got tired of hearing
What they should and shouldn’t do
And they protested and said
It was time to loosen rules.

Gov’nors felt the pressure
And opened up some places
But still asked us to distance
And cover up our faces

But it got out of hand again
Careless gatherings and booze
Infections started spiking up and
And now we’ve still got Corona Virus Blues!

(Repeat CHORUS and end)

Source: “Corona Virus Blues” | Don McAlister’s Blogsite


Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help

The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.

Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.

I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.

“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”


Wear Your Fucking Mask!

The Headgear Might Not Be, But The Use Of Facemasks Is Serious Business

It’s still kind of mind-blowing to me how many people don’t seem to understand the argument for wearing a mask while we’re struggling to contain this virus pandemic. While it’s true the CDC and others have changed their recommendation over time, this is not something new. Because the Corona Virus is so new (hence the name “novel”) there’s very little we can say about it with any certainty.

For instance, it’s still unknown if exposure, infection, and survival confers any kind of immunity from another, subsequent infection. If it doesn’t, then antibody testing isn’t going to tell us much of anything useful. We’re just discovering that it affects children more than we had previously thought, and we’ve also discovered the virus affects far more than merely the pulmonary system.

While it seems to me it was always a good idea to wear a mask in public once this thing had spread far enough to make containment impossible, I can understand why—when there is a shortage of masks available for our front-line healthcare workers—the authorities would suggest we not wear masks, at least not the kind that are used in medical settings. That makes sense given how important those workers are, and how important it’s been to not overwhelm our healthcare system.

Now that we know more about how it spreads, I think there are a lot of people who don’t appreciate the concept of droplets and aerosols. I have an experience that I always wondered whether or not I would be able to share without sounding a bit daffy. I think it’s apropos now, however.

I believe it was in 2015, when I had returned as a contractor to the place I had retired from five years prior. I had to drive east to get there and west to return home. I distinctly remember coming home one evening, driving into the sunset. I had a Plantronics wireless earpiece, so I could talk on my phone while driving. As I was talking normally, I could see dozens and dozens of small droplets spraying out of my mouth with the enunciation of certain sounds. It was a bit disconcerting as I’d never noticed just how sloppy we are when we’re just speaking, let alone coughing or sneezing.

How COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosol Particles

Bottom line is this; as long as we don’t have a vaccine, nor a known, useful treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the Corona Virus SARS-CoV-2, we need to take steps to mitigate its spread. Not necessarily to keep everyone from being exposed, but (at the very least) to spread out (flatten the curve) it’s path of infection to prevent such rampant disease that we are incapable of handling it and thousands die because we just don’t have the necessary medical infrastructure, tools, supplies, and equipment to keep our healthcare workers safe.

I know some think wearing a mask makes them look like a dork but, in my less than humble opinion, if you’re too self-centered to realize wearing one is in everyone’s best interests because it goes a long way to preventing you from spreading the virus, in case you’re infected yet asymptomatic, then you actually are a dork . . . or something much worse.

If interested, and you want to learn more about how this deadly virus spreads, here’s a great article ‘splaining it for you.


Contemporary American History

I just came across one of the better summarizations of two disparate responses to infectious diseases by our two latest Presidents here in the United States. I am not the author of what follows, but I would like to post it here, as I believe it will ultimately get more exposure than it will on Facebook (where I encountered it.)


For those of you complaining about Trump being blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a little history lesson for everyone on both sides of the political divide. It’s important that we understand the truth, especially come November when it’s time to vote. Forgive the length, but hey, we all have time on our hands to read, correct?

In December 2013, an 18-month-old boy in Guinea was bitten by a bat and died a brutal death a day later. After that, there were five more fatal cases. When Ebola spread out of the Guinea borders into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone in July 2014, President Obama activated the Emergency Operations Center at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The CDC immediately deployed CDC personnel to West Africa to coordinate a response that included vector tracing, testing, education, logistics, and communication.

Altogether, the CDC, under President Obama, trained 24,655 medical workers in West Africa, educating them on how to prevent and control the disease before a single case left Africa or reached the U.S. Working with the U.N. and the World Health Organization President Obama ordered the re-routing of travelers heading to the U.S. through certain specific airports equipped to handle mass testing. Back home in America, more than 6,500 people were trained through mock outbreaks and practice scenarios. That was done before a single case hit America.

Three months after President Obama activated this unprecedented response, on September 30, 2014, we detected our first case in the U.S.A. A man had traveled from West Africa to Dallas and somehow slipped through the testing protocol. He was immediately detected and isolated. He died a week later. Two nurses who tended to him contracted Ebola but later recovered. All the protocols had worked. It was contained. The Ebola epidemic could have easily become a pandemic, but thanks to the actions of our government under President Obama, it never did. Those THREE EBOLA CONFIRMED CASES were the ONLY cases of Ebola in the U.S.A. because Obama did what needed to be done THREE MONTHS PRIOR TO THE FIRST CASE.

Ebola is even more contagious than COVID-19. Had Obama not acted swiftly, millions of Americans would have died horrible, painful, deaths like something out of a horror movie (if you’ve never seen how Ebola kills, it’s horrific). It is ironic because since President Obama acted decisively we forget about his actions since the disease never reached our shores.

Now the story of COVID-19 and Trump’s response that we know about thus far:
Before anyone even knew about the disease (even in China) Trump disbanded the pandemic response team that Obama had put in place. He cut funding to the CDC, and he cut our contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump fired Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, the person on the National Security Council in charge of stopping the spread of infectious diseases before they reach our country – a position created by the Obama administration.

When the outbreak started in China, Trump assumed it was China’s problem and sent no research, supplies or help of any kind. We were in a trade war, why should he help them? In January he received a briefing from our intelligence organizations that the outbreak was much worse than China was admitting and that it would definitely hit our country if something wasn’t done to prevent it. He ignored the report, not trusting our own intelligence.

When the disease spread to Europe, the World Health Organization offered a plethora of tests to the United States. Trump turned them down, saying private companies here would make the tests “better” if we needed them. However, he never ordered U.S. companies to make tests and they had no profit motive to do so on their own.According to scientists at Yale and several public university medical schools, when they asked for permission to start working on our own testing protocol and potential treatments or vaccines, they were denied by Trump’s FDA.

When Trump knew about the first case in the United States he did nothing. It was just one case and the patient was isolated. When doctors and scientists started screaming in the media that this was a mistake, Trump claimed it was a “liberal hoax” conjured up to try to make him “look bad after impeachment failed.”

The next time Trump spoke of COVID-19, we had SIXTY-FOUR CONFIRMED CASES but Trump went before microphones and told the American public that we only had FIFTEEN cases “and pretty soon that number will be close to zero.” All while the disease was spreading, he took no action to get more tests. What Trump did was to stop flights from China from coming here. This was too late and accomplished nothing according to scientists and doctors. By then the disease was worldwide and was already spreading exponentially in the U.S. by Americans, not Chinese people as Trump would like you to believe.

As of the moment I am posting this, the morning of April 20, 2020, we have 770,076 COVID-19 CONFIRMED CASES and 40,316 COVID-19 DEATHS in the U.S.A. The actual number is undoubtedly more than triple that amount.

As if you needed one more reason to vote, here it is.


A Guy Can Dream, Eh?

Last night I dreamed I was grocery shopping. It’s not like I haven’t done so in the past few weeks. I think it’s because, unlike the past, when I could just stop into a store to pick up a few things, and a lot of our shopping was ad hoc, now we have to carefully plan and resign ourselves to not getting some of the things we’d like to have because it’s just too risky to be out there.

Last Monday (not yesterday Monday) I hit Trader Joe’s early, when us old folk are given an early hour to avoid the crush, picking up just about everything I figured we needed for the week. On Thursday, I had to take my youngest to her high school, where they were allowing kids a half hour—staggered, so there weren’t too many kids there at once—to empty their lockers. Afterwards, we hightailed it to Smart & Final to grab a few things we can’t get at Trader Joe’s.

That’s been it. However, I’ve been constantly thinking about how and when I need to get more groceries. It’s difficult to get a month’s worth of food, especially perishables, and especially when you haven’t done anything like it in your entire life. I think that accounts for the dream. It’s just on my mind more than it has ever been in the past.


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