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The Arresting Rise of the Social Media Police

You type a few sentences, add a link or post a picture and hit SEND. Then the sirens start. WARNING! WARNING! The social media police are stalking you, ready to take you down.

Watch Out!

It was a pretty simple joke. I updated my status on Facebook with what was meant to be a humorous comment, referencing a current event. Tainted, of course, with a little sarcasm. I thought it was harmless and was surprised when a dear old friend took offense to it.

Is there anything at all that isn’t offensive to someone these days?

Social Media is a way for us to connect. We share our thoughts, what we’re doing, our hopes and dreams– we may reach out for support, ask opinions or look for some healthy debate. It’s called sharing. It’s called communication. We use it to keep touch and stay informed — maybe even learn a thing or two.

I’ve found that most posts in social media fall into three categories: I felt this, I did this, and I saw this (and I want to share it).

How is that a bad thing?

Even if you post something that might not be a popular opinion– it’s nothing more than an expression of who you are at that given moment. Doesn’t freedom of speech give you that right?

Is there such a thing as inappropriate content? Of course there is….. BUT Politics, religion, entertainment, current events, family– your life– is completely within your rights to share.

My Opinion

I seriously think there are a lot of people that should not be connected to social media. They aren’t capable of accepting what they find there– or allowing others to exercise their right to free speech. They don’t want to discuss or debate an issue they may disagree with– but they will judge you for posting it.

Do I read, like or comment on everything posted on social media? No, of course not. I do, however, respect the right of people to post it. If I want to engage with people about it, then I will. Most of the time though, people just want to get something off their chest, share a story or state their point of view. They aren’t really looking to have a conversation. That’s okay, too.

On topics I’m not interested in or disagree with — I just scroll on by. If it’s ‘fake news’ or something I feel strongly about, I’ll try to use it as a ‘teaching moment’ and comment. What I will not do, is criticize or state an opposing view that I am not prepared to back up. What would be the point?

That is where the social media police come in.

So exactly who are they?

They are the people that troll online, criticizing people and trying to regulate what they want to see. Don’t even try to please them because they will always find something wrong with your posts.

They are the people that don’t like a specific thing– sports, politics, religion, even cuteness– and issue ultimatums. Usually, that will include the threat that they will delete you or stop following you, if you don’t submit to their demands. They think it is their right to control you.

It becomes difficult when the attacks come from someone you respect, love, work with, or from family. The bottom line is: maybe you (and they) need to stick to other ways to connect. Avoid the rush and get off social media if you can’t handle it.

I’m a political person. Even so, after the above mentioned friend threatened to delete me for my politics, I did a quick look back. Of my past 50+ posts on Facebook, only 10 (20%) had anything to do with current events (not counting entertainment industry posts) and not all of those were even political. For the ‘average’ person– is that too much if that’s what interests them?

Would you tell a mother not to post pictures or stories about their child? Would you tell an actor or musician not to share their work? How about someone fighting cancer or a sports enthusiast? Should they stop posting specific things because you say so? It’s ridiculous.

Sure, I’ve unfollowed some people and even deleted a couple. I’ve never bullied them. At the same time, some of my most favorite people (on social media) are those with whom I have diametrically opposing views on certain issues. Because — we can talk about it, maybe debate it and also even sometimes joke about it. We show respect for one another. I think we enrich each other’s lives because we are open-minded enough to want to learn and understand each other. We’re better people because of it.

Advice to the Would Be Social Media Police

Get off social media!

It’s that simple.

No one has the right to try and control another person. Stop being a bully. You are not the center of the universe. If you don’t like what you see on Facebook or Twitter? Close your account. Shut down your computer. Take a walk. Breathe.

I think if you’re the type of person that just wants to see pictures or cute posts of puppies and food– there are still probably email lists you can sign up for to get your daily dose.

Don’t like what you’re seeing? Your misery and controlling nature doesn’t need to be forced on the rest of us who might actually appreciate the diversity of the world.

Knowledge is power. Acceptance is the key.

If you really don’t like what your friends are posting, maybe you’re just too afraid of learning something new. Or maybe, you really just don’t like your friends.

You decide.

Relearning How to Read in the Internet Age

There’s the old joke: “I know it’s true because I read it on the interweb.” Now– it’s not even funny. For most of us, the Internet has become our main source for news and information.

How can you know if what you are reading is true?

Fact, Fake or Spin?

One thing I learned how to do over the past year was how to tell the difference between fact based news, ‘spin’ or biased news… and of course, fake news.

We used to be able to depend on news sources to report the facts of a story without adding ‘color’, their opinions, spinning it a specific direction… or reporting ‘gossip’ as truth. Sure, the news has always been used as a propaganda machine to some extent. For the most part though, we were allowed to come to our own conclusions based on the facts we read. That’s all changed. Today, we are most often told exactly what we are supposed to think, believe or feel about a story. True or not.

You can’t believe everything you read. Can you believe anything?

The first things I look for in any article are quotes and source links. This doesn’t make it completely reliable but it lends some support for accuracy. If the subject is of true interest or importance to me, I will click on at least one link (for sources) while I’m reading. If the article is suspect, don’t be surprised if the link takes you to advertising or some totally unrelated website. I found, on more than one occasion, linked sources that were cited in an article were not what they claimed to be. Some were dead links or “page not found”. This should make you doubt any validity in what you are reading.

May, Could, Might…

Whether you’re reading or watching a news story on television, you can be sure you’ll see or hear words that should immediately send up red flags.

When a reporter asks someone what they think— they are asking for an opinion or an assessment. Neither of these constitutes fact, even if it supports what you want to believe.

When you read, “The Constitution is the framework of the United States Government.” This is a statement of fact. If you read, “The Constitution may have inspired the governing documents of Latin American countries.” This statement is conjecture. It might be true but would require further research to find whether or not it is a fact.

On the other hand, you could also read, “John Doe is a racist.” (A statement of “fact”.) If this is true, where are the documented sources that back this up? If there are none, or the supporting information is a conclusion based on interpretation– don’t accept it as truth. Look for other sources that will either support or disprove that accusation.

Here’s another example: It seems that every day there’s a new article about some food or diet supplement that may cause cancer. These are all highly suspect. The word may is the key. What other information is provided to back this up?

We should never be afraid to question the validity of what we read. More important, never accept something as fact just because you read it somewhere.

Studies, Polls and Findings…

For every topic, you can find studies, polls and findings in the search of answers to important questions. You have to look at a) who sponsored it, b) how many people participated in it and c) under what condition was the data collected.

Can you trust them?

One of the more famous ‘false claims’ (findings) in recent years is that diet soda causes obesity. You can find many articles that will provide studies and polls to back up that claim. Sort of. What they don’t tell you is that the respondents also may consume a half gallon of ice cream, two bags of chips and a candy bar in between their meals. Diet soda, itself, doesn’t cause obesity. If a person drinking it assumes they can eat more of everything else because they are reducing their sugar intake by not drinking regular soda… guess what? They aren’t going to lose weight or can just as easily gain weight. This should be common sense.  So what those articles are really inferring is that obese people who drink diet soda, are often likely to justify replacing those missing sugars with something else… furthering their high sugar intake.

Polls. Many polls aren’t very reliable. Often the sampling of people surveyed might not be large enough or broad enough. Polls are also highly susceptible to emotion. An individual’s feelings (opinion) can change based on many factors; changing the result of what the poll was supposed to measure.  Because of this, they aren’t always an adequate predictor of future behavior or actions– even when every effort is made to interview a broad cross-section of respondents. The 2016 election is a perfect example of how inaccurate polling can be.

Breaking News…

News as it happens.  Breaking News is now a daily event. We can’t always know the who, what, when, where and how as it is unfolding. Jumping to conclusions is the worst thing we can do. The fact that the media, and often our leaders do it — is just irresponsible.

Three recent acts of violence– Las Vegas, Cincinnati and London were all immediately speculated as ISIS attacks. Terrorism. Those accusations in all three cases were later proved to be unfounded.

We have to be careful of the narrative we’re fed as news is happening. Things aren’t always what they initially seem.

Misleading Headlines…

It’s hard to go online, especially on social media and not see shocking or sensationalized headlines. Some you can immediately identify as fake news. Others, you can’t be sure. The art of writing the headline is what sells advertising and makes readers click and read.

A quick way I’ve found to test the reliability of a headline, can be found in the first paragraph. Real news will usually state facts about the subject at the top of the article. (This isn’t always the case with an expose or human interest story, though.) If the first paragraph launches into something totally unrelated to the headline, you’re best bet is to find a different source.

Ridiculous? Yes.

Many headlines for articles posted online are geared towards getting you to click– then be subjected to tons of advertising and pop up spam. I’ve found some articles that amount to nothing more than a couple of meaningless paragraphs surrounded by dozens of advertisements. There are many ‘news sources’ that do this and many that are just plain fake news sites. As you identify these, you’re better off avoiding them in the future. The headline may be enticing– but why waste your time?

Whatever you do : Don’t accept a headline as truth, or a statement of fact without reading the article. Most definitely, don’t share the link to something you haven’t read. This is how fake news became so prominent.

Memes…

True or false? Did he say it? This meme is FALSE.

They can be funny or cute, provide an inspiring quote of the day, or a list of fast facts to make you think. Are they true? A meme is just a picture (usually) with some words, meant to grab your attention. What harm can they cause? The answers are: they aren’t always true and just like fake news– they can cause damage.

I’m sharing a pretty harmless one here: Winston Churchill and the Arts. It doesn’t hurt anyone– but the fact is: there’s no evidence that he said it. It has, and continues to be shared frequently because it supports a narrative that favors the arts.

Search for the Truth…

So how can we know if what we are reading is true? The answer isn’t a very satisfactory one. The only way you can be fairly confident something is true– is to research it. Are there multiple unbiased sources that report the same facts? If it involves a person, are there actual quotes (preferably video) backing up the claims?

People have busy lives. Researching everything you read (to find if it’s true) is not something most people can, or want to do.

I will regularly use sites like snopes.com and factcheck.org to see if a trending story has already been researched.

Wikipedia can be a great launching point for finding quick information but it should never be your final source. Anyone can update, post or change the information on Wikipedia. Fact or fiction. Check the sources.

As a rule, if I can’t find documentation to back up a claim, I won’t accept it as truth. Through the Internet, we have immediate access to so much information. The real challenge is deciding whether we can really believe it of not.

We have to be vigilant in our search for the truth and not be afraid to question everything. It’s always better to be safe now than to be sorry later.

The REAL Problems with Healthcare in America

Political Mayhem

The attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare (ACA) failed. I don’t think there is one person that can confidently say they even know what was in the last revision of the proposed American Health Care Act. Politicians were so desperate to pass the bill, changes were being made faster than it could be revised on paper. What was certain was that the bill did not meet all the Trump administration mandates: that it provided “Affordable coverage for everyone; lower deductibles and healthcare costs; better care; and zero cuts to Medicaid.” Even though the various revisions of the bill failed to meet any of these mandates, the administration supported it.

This was purely political. It failed because it was wrong. It failed because after seven years of complaining about Obamacare, the Republican congressmen STILL had no plan to replace it and threw something together last minute. It failed because enough Republican congressmen refused to be bullied (to vote for it) and pledged to vote their conscious, in favor of what was best for their constituents.

Nothing about this congressional effort focused on the good of the American people. It was never about quality healthcare. It was ALL about repealing Obamacare- destroying Barrack Obama’s legacy. That was the single goal.

Bad, Better, Worse?

In order to discuss the cost and accessibility of healthcare, here are some thing you might want to consider:

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the failed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) are/were both flawed. The combination of coverage, cost control and availability do not work in favor of the American people under either plan. Still, had the ACA been replaced with the AHCA, 24 million Americans would have lost coverage. A big problem with the ACA is that the model (ratio of insured) hasn’t been reached, driving premium costs up.
  • Without regulation, healthcare providers are at liberty to charge uninsured patients whatever they want. Insurance companies have a stringent table of fees it will pay for services, yet it can vary from provider to provider, affecting individual premium costs.
  • Healthcare insurance policies vary so greatly that it’s nearly impossible for the average American to decipher. This leads to confusion, inadequate coverage and unnecessary higher out-of-pocket costs.
  • Healthcare coverage is more a subsidy than it is an insurance policy. Most Americans would not be able to afford quality care, especially in the situation of an emergency or long-term illness without some sort of assistance. Paying out-of-pocket is simply not an option.
  • Half (or more) of individual American bankruptcies are attributed to debt from medical expenses.
  • Public and private hospitals alike are prohibited by law from denying a patient care in an emergency. The Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act (EMTLA) passed by Congress in 1986 explicitly forbids the denial of care to indigent or uninsured patients based on a lack of ability to pay. (from Google)

Taking the above issues into consideration, if we are guaranteed treatment, with or without coverage– who pays? We all do. Whether through higher taxes, bankruptcies, rising premiums or out-of-pocket. We will all pay for healthcare for everyone.

As long as healthcare is for-profit in America, any efforts to make it affordable are likely to fail.

Here’s one example of a for-profit problem: Mark Bertolini, Chairman and CEO of AETNA received  $27.9 million in compensation in 2015, up from 15 million in 2014. The combined compensation of four other top AETNA executives was $18.7 million, not including $17.4 million in restricted stock and stock options. In spite of a huge profit margin and exorbitant compensations for top level executives, AETNA withdrew from the ACA marketplace in eleven states this past year, to assure their financial gains. From 2015 to 2016 their net profits rose 8% to $603.9 million dollars.

We are told they can’t sustain services because Obamacare doesn’t work. In reality, it’s about greed.

Life, Death… Corporate Greed?

When the actual healthcare professionals that you and I are likely to come in contact with– such as EMTs, nurses, doctors and medical office staff– have problems affording adequate health coverage– there is a serious problem with the system.

Solution?

There are really only three possible options, I can think of, to bring costs under control and make healthcare in America affordable:

  1. Heavy government regulation of all healthcare in America.
  2. Make all healthcare nonprofit.
  3. Establish a single payer national healthcare system.

None of these are easily fixes. What other solutions can you think of?

Washington may be willing to push this issue to the side (for now) but the problem isn’t going to go away.

Life Through My Eyes

Eyes wide open.

Staring at the world

Taking it all in

Enjoying the good things

Surviving the bad

Questioning it all.

 

I started this blog several years ago to share my thoughts. I think I often have an interesting perspective on life and wanted to share that with others. I have a voice and I wanted to be heard.

Everyone has a story. A tale to tell.

For whatever reason, I’ve often felt like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I’m in the middle of it, part of me is watching from a distance.

I’ve started dozens of posts over the past year and a half– with a hundred more ideas locked in my brain. Aside from my travel posts and those about my furry children– most have gone unpublished. Unread. Silenced or self-censored.

I became completely obsessed with Presidential election, cable news and the expansive concerns that have divided America. At times, it could be so overwhelming that it was paralyzing. It seemed to invade every waking moment of my day.

The lines between broadcast news, journalism, social media, advertising and ‘fake news’ have become so blurred many people don’t know what to believe. Unfortunately, to the detriment of society, too many people will believe anything they hear. Anything they want to believe, that is.

Well, I’m over it. My silence is about to be broken. If I can help or at least entertain with my words, so be it. I may hurt or anger a few people. If I can educate or open a few people’s minds along the way, then I’ll be achieving my goal.

I may not be an expert on some topics but I also won’t post blindly. I believe that even posting an opinion requires some research and justification. We can’t help who we are or what we believe; though helping others understand the backstory can make the picture more clear. Truth? Fantasy or fiction? In today’s burgeoning mecca of information it’s often difficult to tell.

I don’t want to write about just one topic because that’s not who I am. Theatre, Film, Animal-Lover, Writer…. Nature, Politics, Travel, Equality… History, Restoration, Photography, Reading, Cooking and Gardening… the Human Experience… these are the things that contribute to my psyche and make me a whole person. In daily life, my mind can jump from topic to topic in an instant. I want to share just some of what I see and what I feel. We may not agree– but by communicating there is a place where we can connect. We all have a common ground though many are afraid to approach it.

I’m going to write about it. I’ve been guilty of posting things on Facebook that require more than a one sentence proclamation or allegation. People have become too sensitive and judgemental and often aren’t willing to accept other people’s right to self expression. They aren’t afraid to tell you, you are wrong– yet refuse to defend or debate in a respectful manner.

Some of my posts may be short and hopefully, to the point. I think this blog may be a better platform to express myself. Besides, more than likely, those people that want their Facebook feed to be nothing but ‘cute’ memes and puppy dogs won’t bother to read it anyway.

I just don’t get it. It is easier than ever to communicate with the world. So why are so few people willing to listen?

Learn, Adapt, Repeat

IMG_1252There is a phenomenon occurring in this country in the form of two candidates: Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are calling for a revolution. Many people are jumping on board the train without any real idea where they’re going or where they’ll end up. The Trump camp wants to “make America great again” by basically dragging us back in the past. The Sanders camp wants to push us forward into the unknown. Both candidates have very different messages. Nonetheless, their platforms or sound bytes are igniting an America that has long sat indifferent and unmoved.

I hope a lot of people will read on and hear what I have to say. I’m not going to intentionally bash either candidate– but I do hope you’ll consider some of what I’m hoping to express.

What are the driving motivations and emotions behind all this hysteria in this election cycle?

People are frustrated and angry. People don’t trust the government or the people running it. People are searching– but for what?

Hope and change.

Recognize the irony here? This was President Obama’s campaign platform. Most everyone weighing in will say that he has failed, at least on some level. The Republicans, besides being against the Affordable Care Act, will say that Obama has led the economy off the deep end– even though the numbers prove that it (the economy) is in much better shape than it was when he took office in 2008. The Democrats will say that his policies and contributions have not gone far enough. The obvious fact, that both sides will agree on, is that he has been unable to unite the parties and inspire them to work together. The underlying fact– Congress is not doing it’s job and merely electing a new President is not likely to change that.

 

“…. and to the Republic for which it stands….”

At this point, I need to remind everyone that America is a Republic, not a Democracy.  What does that mean? In a Democracy, citizens directly vote on laws. In a Republic, as in the United States, we elect representatives to pass laws for us.

With the exception of often highly scrutinized Executive Orders, the President can’t actually make laws or enforce policy. Congress does that…. or at least that is what we elect them to do. If they fail and we continue to re-elect them? Isn’t it our own fault?

Our Constitution wisely established three separate (but equal) branches of government to protect and represent all of us: Executive, Legislative and Judicial.

So why does it appear that the American people ignore all but the Presidential race when it comes to voicing their expectations? Why do Americans hold the President accountable but not the equally powerful representatives they elect?

Going to the Dogs

Okay, now bear with me here….

I just finished a class in Dog Emotion and Cognition. The parallels in understanding human development and interactions are uncanny. Cognition is made up of multiple levels including: memorization, understanding and application. These are affected by experience, environment and genetics among other things. No two dogs, even of the same breed, have the exact same cognitive abilities. So in order to train a dog or change it’s behavior you have to first understand how the dog thinks and processes things. Once you understand, you can adapt your training method to achieve the desired result. If you are only partially successful, you may have to start back at the beginning and try a slightly different approach.

Learn. Adapt. Repeat.

Learning and behavior in people can be looked at in the same way. Every person is different in how they learn, process and experience things. The nationwide failure of our education system is that we’ve developed a strict style of learning that does not nurture or support people in their individual, cognitive strengths. No person is unable to learn. They may just need to be taught differently. When a teacher is given the latitude to explore and find a student’s strengths– only then can they effectively teach.

Learn. Adapt. Repeat.

How does any of this apply to the election?

 

Political Change

3917_4734461117214_1561357474_nLearn. Whether you are Conservative, Liberal or Progressive you first need to understand what it is that needs to change. Settling on concerns such as better pay, a more stable economy or national security are not enough. You need to understand why and how the current situation exists and have some idea of how to correct it.

Voting for a candidate that makes campaign promises you agree with isn’t enough. People will say anything to get elected. They may even believe what they say. Do they have an actual plan to make it happen? (Trump openly acknowledges he has repeatedly taken advantage of the system he now says he will change. Sanders has been a member of Congress for 23 years and refers to the system as broken but say he will fix it.)

Adapt. Once you are well informed, then you can take action.

Every piece of legislation considered and/or passed, affects or is affected by every other law that already exists; either directly or indirectly.

Change requires action. Some action may correct one problem while creating another. The goal of government is suppose to be to establish and defend a fair, level playing field; giving every American the chance to be successful in their own right.

Repeat. When new problems arise– they need to be corrected. When loopholes are exposed and exploited– they need to be repaired and filled. Sometimes policies and laws should be repealed or re-written instead of piling on new ones to further complicate the process. This isn’t what normally happens. One inadequate law- spawns four more inadequate laws- which spawns twelve more inadequate laws. What’s worse? Many laws are passed and then aren’t enforced. Complicating our legal system only ends up hurting those it is supposed to protect.

Sometimes the political process works and sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t get fixed when no one is trying.

 

Evolution is the Revolution

Everything evolves. Nothing stays the same whether we actively seek change or sit by uninvolved and dispassionate.

In order for change to happen– it must happen on every level.

In order for change to happen– It must start at the ground level.

Change starts with you.

If you really want a revolution, you have to be an active part of that revolution. Be informed. Make your voice heard. Your elected officials need to be held accountable.

No candidate will enact change on their own and simply voting is not enough. You have to be an active part of the process. You have to be aggressive and can’t become apathetic. Otherwise, you’re just passing the buck.

24 Hours in Washington D.C.

Last Saturday, Michael and I celebrated my birthday in our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. He surprised me on my actual birthday (in December) with the planned adventure– our primary destination to see a special friend of ours performing there on stage. But how can you go there with a little spare time and not experience some of our nation’s history?

Waiting to board the early flight to Washington D.C. from Chicago.

Waiting to board the early flight to Washington D.C. from Chicago.

I haven’t visited Washington since I was a preteen– having been there at least three times as a kid.  Michael had never been there before.

Washington D.C. has a great public transportation system, taxis are plentiful but it is also a very walkable city. There are a number of mobile apps available to help you navigate the city and plan ahead. The best part? Most everything is free! I did a little research ahead of time hoping to make the most of the few hours we had for sightseeing.

We started the day waking up at 3 AM to get ready and head to the airport. By 11 AM we had checked in at our hotel and were ready to head out to see as much as we had time to see.

IMG_5100Hotel Monaco (Kimpton chain) is a wonderful gem of a hotel. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was formerly the General Post Office built in 1839. It’s a quirky, stylish, upscale destination in the heart of the city. Features include nice sized rooms with vaulted ceilings, complimentary coffee in the morning, a wine reception nightly and a 24 hour gym. WiFi requires a surcharge but is free with a Kimpton membership. I’d definitely stay there again.

Street Entrance of Hotel Monaco.

Street Entrance of Hotel Monaco.

 

Our room at the Hotel Monaco.

Our room at the Hotel Monaco.

 

Looking down the corridor at the Hotel Monaco.

Looking down the corridor at the Hotel Monaco.

 

Stairwell in the historic Hotel Monaco, formerly the General Post Office.

Stairwell in the historic Hotel Monaco, formerly the General Post Office.

 

It was a little chilly and heavily overcast– not great for taking pictures– but that wasn’t going to stop us from making the most of this opportunity.

I’d planned out a tentative route, heading first over to the White House and then walking the National Mall. When you look at it on the map, it’s really hard to tell the distance from monument to memorial.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

From my memories as a kid, everything seemed bigger and farther apart. In person, though, you can see that it’s all quite doable.

On our way, we passed may interesting historic buildings including St. Patrick Catholic Church. Founded in 1794, it’s the oldest parish in the city. The Pope was there on his visit in 2015.

Me at the White House.

Me at the White House.

The White House. We opted not to even try to get tickets to tour the inside with our tight schedule. I still really wanted Michael to see it. As we were walking around the inner Ellipse, a police officer told us we’d have to leave temporarily (for a few minutes) because they were securing the area.

So we walked to the middle of the Ellipse (which was open) and took some pictures from there. We could see a motorcade parked but weren’t sure if they were coming or going. I tried to zoom in on the men on the roof who were apparently police security.

 

The White House from the Ellipse.

The White House from the Ellipse.

 

Security on top of the roof of the White House/

Security on top of the roof of the White House.

 

The Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument. The work has been completed to repair structural damage from the 2011 earthquake.  Visitors can now visit the observation deck and museum with a free ticket that can either be obtained first come, first served or ordered in advance (with a service fee) online.

We didn’t tour inside but were content to view it from many different points along the National Mall  while we walked. As a kid back in the 70’s, my family did climb all the way to the top. All 897 steps.

 

National World War II Memorial. Opening in 2004, this was my first visit to this impressive, sprawling site. The memorial is majestic and a beautiful tribute to those that gave their lives and all those that served. This commemorative sight fits in nicely with the surrounding national landmarks.

 

The World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

The World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

 

A view of the WWII Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

A view of the WWII Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

 

The Vietnam War Memorial.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I was really excited to finally visit this memorial. I can clearly remember the drama and press surrounding its design and opening. The wall is engraved, chronologically with the 58,300 names of Americans that gave their lives.

At the entrance to the memorial wall is a bronze statue, The Three Soldiers, which does a beautiful job of capturing raw emotion of wartime.

I have to make a personal comment about the wall itself that I hope won’t offend anyone. I found this- disappointing. I think I echo sentiments expressed by others as well though. First, you can walk right past it and not even see the memorial from the main paths of the National Mall. Second, the reflection of the black polished stone is so severe it is hard to read the etched names. (The stone was selected specifically for its reflective nature.) The reflection creates a nice effect from one standpoint but not if you want to actually read the names of the many fallen soldiers.

In addition, I personally found the design to evoke political feelings that I feel are inappropriate for a memorial. The start of the low wall, growing and rising out of ground; along with the memorial’s placement off the main path brought to mind the controversies of the war. The memorial is almost hidden in the over all landscape, easy to miss or ignore. Not a fitting tribute to the many that gave their lives in service to this country.

 

Reflecting stone at the Vietnam Memorial.

Reflecting stone at the Vietnam Memorial.

 

Child's eyes

The Three Soldiers through a child’s eyes.

 

IMG_5302The Lincoln Memorial. Iconic in so many ways, the Lincoln Memorial is the one national treasure I would hope all Americans would get to experience at least once in their lifetime. I have vivid memories of walking up those steps as a child, walking through those massive columns and staring into the eyes of that great man while he stared back at me. A feeling of awe and pride and patriotism rolled into one.

I felt this again on this visit. Being there, it’s easy to forget all the negative feelings and distrust of our political system that has come to the forefront in recent years. Here there is history, pride and a legacy of hope.

 

The Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial.

 

The iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

The iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

 

Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln.

 

The Korean War Veterans Memorial. My first visit here, approaching from a distance; I could tell I was about to experience something special. Perhaps it’s was the fact that this memorial is so uniquely different from the others. It is both visual and visceral. It’s interesting to note that while much statuary is either found in stone or bronze, the soldiers depicted here are made of stainless steel. A memorial beautifully realized.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial.

 

IMG_5337Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only American honored with a solo memorial site on the National Mall, who was not one of our presidents. The memorial is positioned in a serene and tranquil spot on the Tidal Basin across the water from the Jefferson Memorial.

The centerpiece is the Stone of Hope, a 30 foot high likeness of this great civil rights leader. It is cut out of the larger Mountain of Despair, creating the entry to the memorial and sits further forward facing the Tidal Basin. Fourteen of MLK’s most famous quotes are engraved on a curved, granite wall. Noticeably missing– his I Have a Dream speech.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

The Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

The Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

Bad weather and a hidden turn led us to skip the longer route and miss the FDR Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin. We’d already done a lot of walking and Michael and I had a few more sights we wanted to see. Our legs were starting to get sore and after hours of exposure to the cold misty day– it looked like the mist might turn to rain.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d wanted to visit here since it opened in 1993. The architecture was beautifully designed and the museum contains many important exhibits telling the story of a dark moment in world history.

Authentic restored bunks from Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Authentic restored bunks from Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

There wasn’t the emotional impact I thought I might experience but I attribute that to the fact that I’d visited Stutthof Concentration Camp in Poland and the Jewish Museum in Berlin two years ago. The twisting and winding Permanent Exhibition, though beautifully displayed, was at times claustrophobic. Rooms filled with things to see and displays to read were sometimes difficult to navigate without a clear path and quite a few visitors crowding the works.

The exhibitions: Victims’ Shoes and the 3-story Tower of Faces are probably the most moving and interesting. There are a number of restored artifacts on display but I was surprised by the large number of items and images that are actually facsimiles and not authentic.

The main thought that kept running through my head as we walked through the museum was: How many lives could America have saved– particularly of children– had our government not refused many Jewish refugees during WWII? Not the same– but similar to the current controversy over the acceptance of Syrian refugees today.

 

The Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

The exhibit Victims' Shoes in the United States Holocaust Museum.

My photographic interpretation of the exhibit Victims’ Shoes in the United States Holocaust Museum.

 

Heading back in the direction of our hotel, we had a good view of the United States Capitol, buried in scaffolding while it is undergoing a major renovation.

 

in the distance, the United States Capitol Building under renovation.

in the distance, the United States Capitol Building under renovation.

 

IMG_5406Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House. This was our last stop before dinner and our show. Being off season, we had no trouble getting tickets (required to enter and free) and were able to tour the theater and museum, taking our turn to view the box where Lincoln was assassinated, up close. Across the street we toured Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died. It has been set up to resemble the time period even though none of the furnishing are original to the house in that period.

 

The Presidential Box inside Ford's Theatre.

The Presidential Box inside Ford’s Theatre.

 

Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died.

Petersen House where Abraham Lincoln died.

 

Inside the room where Lincoln died.

Inside the room where Lincoln died.

 

We headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit and then over to District Chophouse & Brewery for a wonderful dinner. Luckily, it was only a short walk to the theater as it started to rain.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sydney Harman Hall.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sydney Harman Hall.

Kiss Me Kate at Shakespeare Theatre Company. It was finally time for the main purpose of our visit: seeing our friend, Christine Sherrill, starring with Douglas Sills in Kiss Me Kate.

 

I loved the show! In addition to the top-notch performances, the production team lovingly delivered this classic Cole Porter musical in a way that made it fresh, funny and exciting.

After the show we went back to the green room to see Christine and meet Douglas. We got a quick backstage tour and then headed to a nearby pub for some great conversation and time to catch up with Christine.

Backstage: Douglas Sills, Michael, Me and Christine Sherrill.

Backstage: Douglas Sills, Michael, Me and Christine Sherrill.

We finally went to bed around 2 AM, got two hours sleep and then were up at 4 to head to the airport for our flight home.

It was pretty incredible birthday celebration not soon to be forgotten.

My Top Five of 2015

Another 525,600 minutes have come and gone. (Okay, so there’s a few hours left.) Time to reflect on the past year. Aside from the day to day, ordinary activities–much of which provide many unexpected special moments; there are those stand-out things that make the year unique.

Here’s my list for 2015:

63ac43d64175ea5318660196bf16c54eMovies. I started the year watching a lot of independent films on Netflix and with Amazon Prime. There’s quite a bit out there to explore. Some are quite creative and unique. Others are just good old fashioned story-telling. And of course, there are many that are downright terrible. I didn’t keep track of how many I watched but I’m sure it was over fifty.

Michael and I saw quite a few main stream movies this year as well. For years I’ve avoided going to movie theaters because people can be so rude and annoying. We found though, if you go to the first showing of the day; you can avoid most of that. Plus, our local theater just replaced all their seating with recliners and reserved seating. Very comfortable and convenient.

Hateful-H8ful-EightWe’ve seen probably a couple dozen movies in the theater this year. I don’t remember much of what we saw– so many were either bad or just okay. I have to admit that the best film I saw this year was one I had dreaded going to see. Quentin Tarantino’s The H8ful Eight is glorious story-telling. We saw it Christmas Day at one of the 98 theaters presenting the movie in the 70mm road show edition. I can’t say I miss film over digital but the work itself is pretty fantastic. It was the last and best film we saw this year.

I also should mention I really enjoyed (for different reasons) The Age of Adaline, Trainwreck and Get Hard; all released this year and all of which I saw while flying overseas.

 

day4Politics. The abnormally early start to the Presidential campaign has been impossible to escape. Much of it has left me dumbfounded. I don’t want to offend anyone (at the moment) by spouting my political views. I just want to say that this election cycle can best be described as the worst, bottom of the barrel, reality TV possible. No one could write this stuff.

elephant-donkey-republican-democrat-symbols-background_0_0It’s not just national politics that gets me worked up. I’ve spent a lot of time this year following local politics as well. You know what? It isn’t any better.

The bottom line is that you can’t trust politicians. Even the supposed good ones. They all publicly support or oppose one thing– and the turn around and quietly vote the opposite way. Too much talk –too little action. Action that doesn’t back up the talk. Why is it so hard to find an honest politician? (Insert joke here.)

 

s167566754460200885_p8_i4_w750Reading. I used to love to read. This year I challenged myself to read 20 books. I’m ending the year having read 96 books! I know, I know– why didn’t I push to finish 100? That wasn’t the point. Returning to one of my great loves was the thing.

I started reviewing books as well. Goodreads, Amazon and NetGalley are my prime target audiences. Goodreads continuously has book giveaways called First Read giveaways. I was fortunate to win 9 books in 2015.

 

rp-book-towerIn August I wrote about my three top favorites and they remain my favorites now at the end of the year. You can read about them here and here.

I don’t know how I let myself get away from reading. Whether for entertainment or education– I have really missed the world of books.

You don’t even have to spend a lot of money on books if this is your passion. There are many places online where you can find free books waiting to be read. I know I’ll be reading many more in the coming year.

 

number2

 

Published. One of my bucket list items has always been to be a published author. That dream came true in October with the publication of my play, The House of Evil.

It is available in print and digital formats through Amazon and a number of retailers. You can purchase it by clicking here for print or here for digital.

Version 2The House of Evil is also available for production throughout the world.

Though I’ve had the satisfaction of completing a number works– this finally allows me to claim the title of published author. Which is pretty exciting.

I have written a number of things over the years that I also hope to eventually have published. I’m currently in the preliminary stage, planning a book on Christmas decorating; and I have a new novel in the works.

My play, September’s Heroes will be published early in 2016.

 

number1

 

Eighteen Days in Southeast Asia. Traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore was the biggest thing of the year for many reasons.

It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The people, the history, the cultural differences– were all enlightening and overwhelming. It was a whirlwind stimulation of the senses.

Michael & I riding an elephant in Thailand.

Michael & I riding an elephant in Thailand.

We spent many hours over the months leading up to our adventure- planning and researching, to make the most of our trip. Hours very well spent. All the pre-planning and anticipation were half the fun but certainly didn’t come close to the amazing experience itself.

If you haven’t already, you can read my day-to-day blog posts starting here. I’m really glad I have the blog as record of our trip. Along with the thousands of pictures I took, it helps trigger many memories I might otherwise forget.

Next stop? Italy in 2016.

 

Happy New Year, Everyone!

 

new-year-2016-wallpapers