Oct 26

Trump Costumes: Beware Messages These Send

It’s hardly surprising that Trump costumes are a major Halloween phenomenon this year, but if you’re one of the Trump wanna-scare-bes parading around as him are you prepared for the consequences?

A scary thought that’s circulating: “According to one costume industry index, mask sales have correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1996. According to another index – which goes back further – they’ve been right since 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s mug outsold Jimmy Carter’s by 20 percent” (100PercentFedUp.com).

And guess who has the lead right now in Halloween sales?

Trump Halloween Garb Outselling Clinton ‘By a Landslide’,” according to the New York Post as well as many other outlets. Masks, comb-over wigs, orange foundation, and “Make America Great Again” caps—not to mention the “tiny plastic Trump hands, which sell for $5.99”—are selling BIGLY (or “big league,” which apparently is what Trump actually says when we hear what we hear, reports Science of Us) at a major retailer in New York.

A survey, in addition, from online seller Spirit Halloween (Thrillist) shows Trump costumes ahead 55 to 45 percent.

Now, I’m not suggesting the purchasing majority actually supports Trump. Reports indicate, in fact, a desire to mock him as the main motivation—whereas the top reason to choose Clinton involves admiration.

And let’s not forget what Halloween is all about. A significant number of people choose as their scare-wear the opposite party‘s running mate. Thus, those most responsible for buying Trump paraphernalia could indeed back Hillary.

By the way, not many adults generally Halloween-dress as a “political-inspired” figure. Only about four percent, according to MyStatesman.com. On the other hand, “The National Retail Federation has this genre pegged as the third most popular choice for adults this year, behind witch and pirate” (USA Today).

Other popular grownup costumes for 2016 include Pokemon Go, characters from Game of Thrones, Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, and, egads, clowns. Clowns are “up 300% since last year”—and are particularly liked by males. And, as you know, individuals in clown attire have already made the news for randomly scaring folks all around the country.

Which leads me back to Trump-related costumes and some warnings. First, women are very likely to be turned off by men wearing them, as was confirmed by a recent PlentyofFish survey (Huffington Post).

Second, it’s not only women, of course, and it’s not just a case of simply being turned off. Because of rampant Trumpism and its effects, various individuals and groups could wind up being seriously triggered this Halloween. Kevin Roose, Fusion, sums it up quite well:

At the moment, Donald Trump is a uniquely terrifying figure for many Americans, including women, Muslims, and immigrants. To many of these people, Trump, the Republican nominee for president, is not scary in the same way that a ghost or goblin is scary—he’s a real, present danger to their lives and livelihoods. Shoving Trump masks in these people’s faces, even as a joke, registers somewhere between tasteless and cruel.

How will your Mexican-American neighbors feel when they open their front door to a smirking trick-or-treater in a ‘Build the Wall’ shirt? Will the sexual assault survivors at your Halloween party be amused by your bright red ‘Grab ‘Em By The Pussy’ hat?…

He’s a real, flesh-and-blood presidential candidate, running a destructive and divisive campaign that has already sparked violent backlash, triggered harmful flashbacks for survivors of sexual assault, and caused a documented uptick in anxiety and other psychological issues.

Witches, pirates, Pokemon—all much better choices for the sensitive Halloween-er. Don’t you think?

Oct 24

Laws of Life: Murphy’s, Chisholm’s, and More

So-called “laws” of life aren’t necessarily agreed upon by all but sought by many.

These include the oft-quoted Murphy’s Law, along with its many and assorted relatives. According to MurphysLaws.net, “The correct, original Murphy’s Law reads:

If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.

And the popularized shorter version goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will.

One “law” new to me, quite relevant to common communication problems, comes from Rebecca Z. Shafir, The Zen of Listening:

Here’s an alarming fact: of approximately eight hundred thousand words in the English language, we use about eight hundred on a regular basis. Those eight hundred words have fourteen thousand meanings. By division there are about seventeen meanings per word. In other words, we have a one-in-seventeen chance of being understood as we intended. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chisholm’s Third Law—If you explain something so clearly that no one can misunderstand, someone will.

If this is Chisholm’s third, I deduced, there must be others. Turns out Professor Francis Chisholm‘s (1905-1965) Laws of Human Interaction, as reported on the internet, are as follows:

Chisholm’s First Law of Human Interaction:

If anything can go wrong, it will.

Corollary: If anything just can’t go wrong, it will anyway.

Chisholm’s Second Law of Human Interaction:

When things are going well, something will go wrong.

First Corollary: When things just can’t get any worse, they will.

Second Corollary: Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.

Chisholm’s Third Law of Human Interaction:

Purposes as understood by the purposer will be misunderstood by others.

First Corollary: If you explain so clearly that nobody can misunderstand, somebody will.

Second Corollary: If you do something which you are sure will meet everybody’s approval, somebody won’t like it.

Third Corollary: Procedures devised to implement the purpose won’t quite work.

Goofing on the above types of laws has resulted in collections of newer, humorous creations. For example, If Murphy’s Law can go wrong, it will. Knowing Murphy’s Law won’t help either.

Then there’s Hill’s Comment on Murphy’s Law: 1. If we lose much by having things go wrong, take all possible care. 2. If we have nothing to lose by change, relax. 3. If we have everything to gain by change, relax. 4. If it doesn’t matter, it does not matter.

A sampling of other “Laws of Life” found online are listed below. Many, by the way, are relevant to today’s presidential campaigning and its effects.

Law of the Lie: No matter how often the lie is shown to be false, there
will still remain a percentage of people who believe it true.

Gioia’s Theory: The person with the least expertise has the most opinions.

Burr’s Law: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the
people some of the time, and that’s sufficient.

Edelstein’s Advice: Don’t worry about what other people think of you —
they’re too busy worrying about what you think of them.

First Rule of Negative Anticipation: You will save yourself a lot of
needless worry if you don’t burn your bridges until you come to them.

Boling’s Postulate: If you’re feeling good, don’t worry. You’ll get over

Cardinal Conundrum: An optimist believes we live in the best of all
possible worlds. A pessimist fears this is true.

Ducharm’s Axiom: If one views his problem closely enough he will recognize
himself as a part of the problem.

Barth’s Distinction: There are two types of people: those who divide people
into two types, and those who don’t.

Courtois’s Rule: If people listened to themselves more often, they would
talk less.

Hurewitz’s Memory Principle: The chance of forgetting something is
directly proportional to….to…..

Oct 21

“Denial”: Deliberate Silence Spotlights Bigotry

…We’re never going to do away with racism. All we can control is how we answer it. Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt (Los Angeles Times), focus of film Denial

What you can’t do is lie and expect not to be accountable for it. Lipstadt, Denial

Auschwitz was hell on earth, but the moment it’s gone is the moment someone starts to rebuild it somewhere else. Eric Kohn, Indiewire, reviewing Denial

In 1996 Deborah Lipstadt was sued for libel by British author David Irving after she’d written a book about the Holocaust. She won the case and later published her account, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005). Now Rachel Weisz plays her in the courtroom drama Denial with Timothy Spall her accuser.

How does the real Lipstadt feel about the film? As told to interviewer Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times“No movie is going to change the David Irvings of the world. What this can do is confront the people who think it’s OK to change facts as long as you call them ‘opinions.’”

More from the interview with Lipstadt:

Asked if she meant to connect those thoughts to the current election cycle she cut in quickly. “People say Trump.  But I don’t want to limit it to him. It’s not that I don’t want to be political; I’ll be political. But it’s that it’s so much broader than that. It’s the idea that, ‘well, there was a Holocaust but maybe no gas chambers,’ or ‘there were Muslims dancing in New Jersey on 9/11,’ or ‘vaccines cause autism’ even though it’s based on totally junk science.”

Adam Graham, Detroit News, sets up the film’s trial:

The suit is brought in British court, where the burden of proof is on the defense, meaning Lipstadt and her legal team…must prove the Holocaust happened. It is not as easy as simply putting survivors on the stand; it comes down to the complexities of the law and the intricacy of language. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Adds Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

Thus, because Lipstadt’s allegedly libelous comments were unambiguous and because she and her publisher don’t want to settle, she and her lawyers have to prove two things or lose the case: (1) that Irving’s Auschwitz writings were inaccurate; and (2) — this is the hard one — that he did it intentionally, for the purpose of pushing an anti-Semitic agenda.

And Peter Keough, Boston Globe:

Lipstadt’s legal team, headed by dour and deadly barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson at his dourest and deadliest), had determined that the best strategy for Lipstadt’s defense was to silence her, not to have her take the stand and confront her accuser and so give him the platform to present his version of reality.

Hence the denial of the title refers not so much to Irving’s, but to Lipstadt’s — her self-denial in the cause of furthering the case.

While Weisz and Wilkinson are widely admired for their portrayals, “…it’s Spall who waltzes away with the film,” states Graham.

His unrepentant, unapologetic Irving, repugnant though he may be, believes deeply in his own hate-filled views. He refuses to apologize, even when proven wrong, and Spall lends him an air of quiet sympathy.

His character bears similarities to a certain current political figure, making ‘Denial’ feel ripped from today’s headlines, and even tomorrow’s.

From Keough: “…Spall’s performance as Irving is a nuanced masterpiece of patriarchal monstrosity. He puts his character’s essential anti-Semitism and his methods of boorishness and intimidation on the docket and show them for what they are — the pernicious lies of a hateful ideologue.”

We already know the ending. So, how’s the process of getting there? Eric Kohn, Indiewire, offers one meaningful opinion:

This isn’t a debate, it’s a sledgehammer; it’s not inherently compelling drama, but it’s immensely satisfying catharsis to watch as it flattens Irving’s nonsense into nothingness. Likewise, it’s not great cinema (in fact, it’s as milquetoast and middle-brow as movies get, and its third act suffers by trying to gin up additional suspense), but ‘Denial’ does the modern world a great service by refusing to entertain the idea that there are two sides to every story, even if that means it refuses to entertain a portion of its audience in the process.

Watch the Denial trailer below:

Oct 19

Uncertainty Without Closure: Not “Nonsense”

Along the way, I’ll hope to convince you of a simple claim: in an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand. Jamie Holmes, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

How can we “use uncertainty to our advantage?” is one of the main questions author Jamie Holmes explores in Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (2015).

From the book excerpt on his website:

The mind state caused by ambiguity is called uncertainty, and it’s an emotional amplifier. It makes anxiety more agonizing, and pleasure especially enjoyable. The delight of crossword puzzles, for example, comes from pondering and resolving ambiguous clues. Detective stories, among the most successful literary genres of all time, concoct their suspense by sustaining uncertainty about hints and culprits. Mind-bending modern art, the multiplicities of poetry, Lewis Carroll’s riddles, Márquez’s magical realism, Kafka’s existen­tial satire—ambiguity saturates our art forms and masterpieces, sug­gesting its deeply emotional nature. Goethe once said that ‘what we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us produc­tive.’ So it is with ambiguity…

Kirkus Reviews summarizes the author’s viewpoint:

…Holmes explains that we are all naturally ambivalent. When we are confused, our minds either snap shut (relying on preconceptions) or unlock (allowing us to innovate). Offering innumerable examples, the author describes instances in which we try to avoid uncertainty and have a dangerously high need for closure—a critical negotiation, inconclusive medical results, or a changing business environment—and others in which we try to maximize the benefits of harnessing ambiguity, whether to help students solve problems with no clear answers or to discover new ways to cope with failure and success…

Our culture actually puts an undue emphasis on closure, says Holmes, and he provides a quiz on his website in which you can “Test Your Need for Closure.”

How he explained to Scientific American his emphasis on increasing our ability to handle a lack of closure:

What I find really fascinating is how our need for closure is affected by the situation we’re in. So, our need for closure rises when we have to act rather than just observe, and when we’re rushed, or bored, or tired. Any stress, really, can make our discomfort with ambiguity increase. And that matters, because a high need for closure negatively influences some of our most critical decisions: how we deal with perceived threats, who we decide to trust, whether we admit we’re wrong, whether we stereotype, and even how creative we are. So much of the book focuses on the dangers of a high need for closure, strategies for lowering it, and ways to learn from ambiguity rather than dismiss it.

Selected Reviews

Cass R. Sunstein, professor, Harvard University, and coauthor of Nudge: “Uncomfortable with ambiguity? Maybe you shouldn’t be. In this energetic, tale-filled, fascinating tour of a broad horizon, Jamie Holmes shows that people often prosper when and because they are uncertain. A persuasive argument, but one thing is clear: You’ll learn a lot from this book.”

Booklist: “By clearly staking out his thesis and exploring the topic with a dash of mischief, Holmes convincingly demonstrates that stressful situations can cause us to cling more steadfastly to our beliefs and discard unwelcome information, but he also offers a primer on how to combat these natural tendencies. While life is full of nonsense, managing our response to uncertainty makes all the sense in the world.”

Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: “From women’s hemlines to Nazi spies, Henri Matisse to Anton Chekhov, Holmes is an entertaining guide into the vagaries of our comprehension of reality—and the power we can derive from nonsense, if only we give it a chance.”

Oct 17

Sexual Assault Disclosures: Belief and Disbelief

In the most recent presidential debate Anderson Cooper directed to Donald Trump the question, “Have you ever done those things” (i.e., incidents of sexual assault that we know you’ve talked about committing because it’s on videotape)?

Trump’s outright denial at that moment as well as his proclaimed “Nobody has more respect for women than I do” unleashed women’s desires to disclose their deeply personal stories. Some have related accounts of assaults by other perpetrators; others have accused Trump himself.

And now of course the Trump campaign is in full denial mode and continues to slam these brave women repeatedly. (Refer, by the way, to the HuffPost‘s running list of allegations against Trump.) Why now? Trump supporters ask. Unsubstantiated claims, they say. “Look at her, I don’t think so,” says Trump, referring to one of his multiple accusers, seemingly implying the possibility he would abuse a woman he does find attractive?

Remember the Trump pre-debate stunt that involved the premise that sexual assault victims should be believed? Well, now we see post-debate accused Trump: Voters, do not believe these false claims of sexual assault.

“The act of being touched did not traumatize me, unpleasant as it was,” recently wrote Meredith Melnick, Executive Health and Science Editor of The Huffington Post, about a long-ago incident that went unbelieved. “But the way our shared community organized around the guy who did it is a legacy I live with. And it took me 20 years ― until this election cycle, reading through thousands of women recounting their sexual assaults on Twitter ― to realize it.”

Indeed, not being believed leads to one of the longest lasting scars of all who are victimized. Because of the nature of trauma itself as well as the frequent lack of support, it often takes many years to catch up to what happened, to figure out what it’s done to one’s life, and to realize how it affects one’s self-esteem. Individuals often bear their pain in silence or near silence, and often south of fully conscious awareness, precisely because doing so without acknowledgment and validation from others has been too hard.

Yet, as Melnick boldly asserts regarding the general life experience of women, “We’ve all been groped or worse. Yes, all.”

It’s impossible, in fact, to recount and quote all the many other women (and men) currently speaking up and speaking out against alleged abusers. Just a few examples:

Evangelist author Beth Moore on Twitter, October 9th: “I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it.”

Michelle Obama, October 13th: “I can’t believe I am saying that a candidate for president of the United States has actually bragged about sexually assaulting women. I cannot stop thinking about this.” And so much more from her heart to ours.

Actor George Takei, October 14th: “Ladies, if politicians won’t renounce a candidate who brags about sexual assault, I suggest you grab them by the ball-ots this November.”

So much is going on in the ongoing public debate that it’s more important than ever to know there is help out there. Ana Marie Cox, a TV journalist who in the midst of live Trump-related reportage last week (MSNBC) was triggered regarding her own past victimization, has tweeted out resources, including the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE); she also just started #myselfcare to provide an outlet for individuals seeking relief from the onslaught of disturbing news.

Cox wisely added, “Self-care looks different for everyone but IMHO, self-care for survivors today should probably include VOTING.”