The Day Our Heroine Brought Her Dog to School and Wished for a Bullet-Proof Vest

October 16th, 2013

Or, How the REAL Heroes are our Teachers

Dear Readers

Please allow me to begin this missive with a brief sidebar. I chose to adopt a rather silly, ironic affected voice for the titles of these blog entries and even some of the language within these entries. It was just a way to help myself past the writers’ block when I first sat down to write this blog, and it amused me when I first started out and so I’ve kept it for my sporadic entries therein.

However, to be clear, I do this ironically. I do not think of myself as a heroine, and I hope—through the course of this entry that fact becomes abundantly clear. I’m a woman, bumbling through life, and occasionally choosing to write about my adventures and misadventures that stem from said bumbling—as well as spouting my opinion on a few aspects of politics, pop culture, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Okay? Good. And now . . .

…on with the rest of the story…

Puppies as I’ve noted [a few times] before are a big part of my life. I have a wonderful dog of my own (Dora) with whom I volunteer at Wags for Hope and my roommate has a dog (who does not have a facebook page—yet). Additionally, my roommate and I also serve as a foster for Jasmine’s House. The work with Jasmine’s House and our therapy dog activities intersected when Dora and I were invited to help out with Project Mickey, a program to help kids learn about dogs and learn about themselves in the process.

Of course we agreed to do so! How could we not. Dora loves going out and meeting new people and I fully support the goals of the program.

Our first day was yesterday. It was a bit different than our normal library work—the emphasis was on training and positive reinforcement, and Dora was happy to enthusiastically demonstrate everything and anything she’d do to get a little liver treat.

Where things got even more different than our normal volunteering, though, was that about 45 minutes into it, a voice came over the loudspeaker asking whether everything was okay, and then very directly and calmly stating that the school psychologist (who was facilitating the program) was to close the door and lock it (with everyone inside) until further notice.

There are a number of different clichés about being calm under pressure, and I’d like to believe I was—because it was immediately apparent based on the school psychologist’s response and a few things she said under her breath that this was NOT a normal situation. However, the mood among the kids in the classroom never changed, and her primary concern was ensuring that the kids continued to have a good time and didn’t have cause to worry.

Which is, why even though I was painfully aware that things were very much not right, that became my primary concern, too—how can I ensure the kids aren’t upset, and how can I be sure that my presence there is not disruptive to the school’s efforts to keep the kids safe?

Things got a bit more interesting when a few minutes later someone came to the door and informed us that we were all to move to the library (along with the other school personnel and students that were on site. Someone was wandering the neighborhood with a weapon, and there was a concern that he may have gotten onto the school grounds [this last bit was communicated to adults, not to the students].

Okay, then! I told myself, this is unexpected

I don’t know how much danger we were really in—they could’ve been acting out of an abundance of caution, but it was enough to move us to a central location, and again my goal became to listen to instructions, try to find a way to NOT get in the kids’ way and keep them from listening to instructions (even something as simple as saying that Dora and I were waiting for them to get in line because she hasn’t walked in a line before and wanted to see how it was done), and let the people in charge do what they had to do without adding to the things they had to worry about.

And after a number of minutes (I don’t trust my memory to indicate how long it was—it feels both longer and shorter than what was likely reality), we got the all-clear and were allowed to go back to the classroom to finish the discussion of training and dogs. And I watched the school psychologist—a Baltimore City Public Schools employee—who masterfully worked the dogs into other lessons (math—turning Dora’s 13 human years into 91 dog years; respecting boundaries [both human and animal]; and self control) outside of regular school hours.

I looked at the school psychologist who was probably about the same age as me, and was filled with such respect and admiration for what she does—on a daily basis—not just teaching kids but preparing them for life in an environment that is literally hostile. It’s one thing, entirely for me to take an afternoon to show off my dog. It’s quite another to develop a lesson plan to incorporate what my dog and I do in order to give these kids a leg up—and to do so beyond the regular school work. It was humbling to be there.

So, yeah, it was unnerving. And, yeah, I was glad to go home that night. But I’m going back in December—because two things became very apparent that afternoon. 1) If people like the school psychologist can do what they do on a daily basis, I can certainly spare a few afternoons 2) The work is needed. I’d been planning to go straight home after the session at the school, but as I was trying to find may way out of the city I got a phone call, a young dog was slated for euthanasia at the Baltimore City Shelter. Jasmine’s House had a foster, but they needed transport, since I was already in Baltimore, could I pick him up. Harley in the photograph—painfully emaciated, suffering from a horrible cut on his chest, and one of four dogs tied up in the rain at an abandoned house. There he was, tangible evidence of what we’re working to prevent, and if participating in Project Mickey helps keep that from happening to just one pit bull then it would’ve been worth it.

P.S. he’s the sweetest little thing—simultaneously scared to death and desperate for love—he cowers and wags his tail at the same time and after a just few hours with us (he stayed overnight and is going to his permanent foster today), his confidence grew to the point that he had no problem soliciting affection by head butting my legs and even jumping up (and I had no problem giving it to this poor boy who was literally starved for both food and love.) Once he’s healthy, he’ll be up for adoption, so think about it.

When comments are too good not to share

May 2nd, 2013

I’m drawing everyone’s attention to a fabulous comment I received on an older blog post about The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. To best appreciate the beauty of this comment, though, you should see it as it was presented in the email I received rather than in line with the post.


Statan lives in Rochester, New York and uses Frontiernet as a DSL provider. Who knew!? I mean I always did think that DSL was the tool of the devil compared to the speeds achievable by fiberoptic and cable networks, and now I have proof! Rochester, though, strikes me as a rather chilly climate. Perhaps hell really has frozen over.

It’s tempting (pun intended) to get into a philosophical theological discussion about whether Satan is actually capable of inflicting harm on me directly or whether his power comes (as I believe, in my rather unsophisticated theology) through driving and tempting me to make harmful and chaotic decisions, but that’s not really the purpose of this post.

Anyway, “SatAn,” thanks for the treat in my inbox this morning.

Call me Crazy

December 30th, 2012

I was a bit peeved by Wayne LaPierre’s NRA press conference . . . and subsequent appearance on Meet the Press this is the result.

Call me Crazy
A Parody of “Call me Maybe”

My name is Wayne LaPierre
And it’s my job to sell fear
For it’s the guns I hold dear
And now you’re in my way

I’d sell my soul for a gun
I think that bullets are fun
I want to arm everyone
But now you’re in my way

Yeah, some kids were murdered
No need to have an agenda furthered
Just collateral damage on the scoreboard
Where do you think you’re going, baby?

I want to arm those
Teaching your baby
If you don’t like it
Call me crazy.

My ideas come
From Scorsese
If you don’t like ’em
Call me crazy

I want to arm those
Teaching your baby
If you don’t like it
Call me crazy.

And all the other boys,
Try to chase me,
But here’s a Ruger,
So shoot ‘em, maybe?

We took our time with the press
Not wanting to cause distress
But now I gotta stress it
You’re really in my way

Yeah, some kids were murdered
No need to have an agenda furthered
Just collateral damage on the scoreboard
Where do you think you’re going, baby?

I want to arm those
Teaching your baby
If you don’t like it
Call me crazy.

My ideas come
From Scorsese
If you don’t like ’em
Call me crazy

I want to arm those
Teaching your baby
If you don’t like it
Call me crazy.

My ideas come
From Scorsese
If you don’t like ’em
Call me crazy

Before guns came into my life
I missed ‘em so bad
I missed ‘em so bad
I missed ‘em so, so bad

Before guns came into my life
I missed ‘em so bad
And you should know that
I missed ‘em so, so bad

I want to arm those
Teaching your baby
If you don’t like it
Call me crazy.

My ideas come
From Scorsese
If you don’t like ’em
Call me crazy

And all the other boys,
Try to chase me,
But here’s a Ruger,
So shoot ‘em, maybe?

Before guns came into my life
I missed ‘em so bad
And you should know that
I missed ‘em so, so bad

Before guns came into my life
I missed ‘em so bad
And you should know that

So call me crazy…

An Open Letter to My Parents About the Presidential Election

September 7th, 2012

Mom and Dad:

You’re to blame, you know. If you hadn’t instilled me with a sense of civic responsibility by bringing me into the voting booths with you from a very young age, perhaps I wouldn’t’ve only missed one election (a city-wide primary that fell outside what I’d known to be regular voting dates) in the 18 years since I’ve been allowed to vote. If you hadn’t impressed on me the importance elected office by ensuring that I sat through Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration and multiple conventions—both Republican and Democrat—maybe I wouldn’t have grown up to think that holding office was a noble thing to do, rather than considering politics to be “the last refuge of scoundrels.” If you hadn’t placed importance on understanding current events by not counting news broadcasts against the one hour of television I was otherwise allowed to watch, then perhaps CNN, CSPAN, and MSNBC wouldn’t be default pre-programmed channels on my remote. In other words: it’s your fault my Facebook profile reads that I “work at armchair punditry” and—true to how I’ve been raised—I’m paying close attention to this election.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a Democrat. I announced that at the tender age of 8 after having been moved by Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro; eight years later, Bill Clinton sealed the deal. That’s not to say that I agree with them on everything, nor even to say there weren’t some things to come out of the convention that had me a little uncomfortable—in those cases though, I tend to be even further left than the current party platform. That’s right, Mom and Dad, your daughter is a pinko.

But in spite of the identity of “Democrat” that I’ve assumed, because you’ve raised me to be aware of current events, and cognizant of the solemnity of voting, I do take it seriously, and will weigh the merits of the individual candidates before voting for them. In 2008, for example, I did not vote for our current president. Unconvinced of Obama’s ability to get the job done, completely unimpressed by McCain, and knowing that Maryland was “comfortably” blue, I decided to cast a ‘protest’ vote for the Green Party candidate, Cynthia McKinney.

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama in 2008, but I will proudly be voting for him this November, and, now I’m going to tell you why I believe you should, too.

Mom, Dad, I hope I’ve done you proud. You’ve raised me to be intellectually curious, fiercely independent, patriotic, conscientious, and a host of other traits, by which I endeavor to live.

When I think about the things that are important to me:

  • to be respected for who I am and what I do—rather than my gender, my income, or the neighborhood in which I live;

  • to be trusted to make my own decisions—about my life, my health, and my body;
  • to see the people who (aside from the two of you) have had a major impact in my life—teachers—elevated for their vocation;
  • to see veterans’—like my grandfathers and your peers from Viet Nam—service recognized;
  • to have regard for basic science (which never used to even be an object of contention, but has—in more recent years—come under attack) which includes things as basic as recognizing the impact that human beings have on the environment;
  • to have America respected and trusted by other countries in the world;
  • to provide opportunities for immigrants (as we all at one point were) to gain citizenship—especially those who came to this country as a child, regardless of what their parents did;
  • and to respect multiple viewpoints, and sources of input.

The choice couldn’t be clearer: By every single one of those metrics—and in particular his respect for people, including WOMEN, Barack Obama has proven himself to be the superior candidate. Mom, Dad, can you believe that in spite of what your generation and the generations before you fought for, women’s rights are still an issue—and that Mitt Romney does not support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act or the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act? That’s right: Mitt Romney does not believe that your daughter deserves to earn as much as a man nor does he believe that I deserve to be protected against abuse should I wind up in such a relationship

Moreover, Barack Obama is consistent. In all but one case (I’m disappointed that he hasn’t closed the detention center at Guantanamo Bay as he said he would), he’s kept his campaign promises. If you’re wondering here is an extensive list of just what he’s done—all footnoted. He passed Healthcare Reform (though I would’ve liked to have seen it go further, as single payer is demonstrably a more cost-effective and delivery-efficient system); he repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (and most everyone in the military thinks it’s a good thing to allow openly gay service men and women to serve, voluntarily, their own country, see here); he passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, so that other women and I won’t receive lower wages for the same work; he gave the order to take out Osama Bin Laden; he ended the War in Iraq!!

Similarly, politifact has also tracked how he’s kept his campaign promises – rating him with 37% kept, and acknowledging that one of the “broken” promises which may be at the root of others that have been “stalled” is increased bipartisanship. From my perspective, bipartisanship requires a BI and when the Congressional Republicans made it their single biggest objective to stonewall the president at every turn, it’s unrealistic to fault him for that.

So, in addition to having priorities that match mine, Barack Obama is a good and effective leader.

Mom, Dad, the economy is a cause for concern, and I recognize that in this election, you may choose to vote with your wallet. Let me make this clear—Barack Obama is the better choice for the economy. Bill Clinton made the case very plainly earlier this week. You can see the transcript of his speech here and it’s been fact-checked and rated, “a fact-checkers nightmare” “lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about” here.

If Bill Clinton isn’t persuasive, perhaps Paul Krugman, who holds a Nobel Prize in economics, can convince you—here he calls Mitt Romney’s economics “nonsense,” and here with charts, he explains why Romney’s ideas—nearly identical to George W. Bush’s—aren’t the answer to our current economic problems.

Of course, Mom and Dad, your votes are your own, but I want to share with you my views on this issue, and why the re-election of Barack Obama is so important to me, and I believe may be important to you, too.


Your Daughter

(P.S. MS Word informs me that this is written on a 15.5 grade level—so the time I spent in college wasn’t a waste)

An Open Letter to the Washington Post

July 2nd, 2012

I know—being as I’m just some random person on the Internet and you’re a great big media conglomerate—that I have as much chance of actually convincing you to change your asinine policy as I do in teaching my dog to understand Swahili (a near impossibility as I don’t understand Swahili myself). But I’m going to try, by sheer will and determination, to do so anyway—especially as my last name is the same as the maiden name of your late publisher and I think we might actually be like 10th cousins or something.

Anyway, onto the asinine policy I was talking about . . .

The Washington Post social reader. . .

When I see this . . .

App Permissions for the Washington Post Social Reader

I do one of two things:

a) 10% of the time I back out of Facebook and look up the article on the Washington Post website.

b) 90% of the time, I decide it’s not worth the effort and decide not the read the article after all.

In other words 90% of the time the very thing you’ve done to try to make the article popular on social media has had the INVERSE EFFECT and caused me NOT TO WANT TO READ THE ARTICLE.

There are two reasons for this.

a)  I don’t want everyone I’m friends with on Facebook to be spammed with every freakin’ article I read on the Washington Post. If I think it’s worth sharing and of interest, I’m more than capable of copying and pasting the hyperlink into my status box. I don’t need you to do that for me and spam a whole bunch of people. Because you know what? Spamming is not a good way to win friends and influence people. Moreover, when I’m sharing a link, I kinda like to let people know why I found it interesting and worth their attention—and the little spammy autoshare function doesn’t do that.

b) Yeah, I could set the privacy status to just me and then immediately delete the links you decide to put up on my behalf. I did that at one point when I was feeling too lazy to back out of Facebook and search for an article that I really wanted to read. You know what I found out? The way that the social reader function is laid out is really darned ugly. I mean SUPER ugly, hyper-busy, and not befitting the stature that I have come to associate with your paper. So ugly and busy that I decided it wasn’t worth my time to finish reading the article after all, and I subsequently deleted all the app’s permissions so I’d never have to inadvertently face that again. Yeah, that bad.

So, please, don’t make me use an app to read your paper. Trust your readers to be intelligent, erudite, and informed enough—you are an esteemed, established newspaper after all—to make the decision for what they want to share on their own and read something that isn’t laid out like a 13 year old tried to combine the Huffington Post with MySpace.

Sincerely – someone who’s enjoyed reading your paper for the past 23 years.

Downton Abbey

January 24th, 2012

Or where our heroine worries about what this awesome show will mean for future seasons of network programming

So, my three big loves—no secret here—are politics, pop culture, and puppies (followed closely by [Diet] Pepsi and Pop Tarts). This is going to be about my current pop culture love: Downton Abbey.

If you Google do a web search for Downton Abbey, you’ll likely find no end of results both providing a quick background of the show and waxing more philosophical on its themes

But what may not be immediately evident is that this is one of the more talked-about shows that I’ve seen in a long time. It was name dropped on another one of my favorite TV shows—Chuck—a few weeks ago (see it here on YouTube. Ken Jennings (yes, that Ken Jennings the big-time Jeopardy winner) tweeted about it last night right before the most recent episode (at least most recent for those of you who, unlike me, didn’t go ahead and pay to stream the BBC episodes on amazon) aired on Masterpiece Theatre.

Barnes and Nobel, NPR, and probably others have come up with lists of recommended reading for those who can’t get enough. After I ran out of episodes, I wound up then watching all of the recent Upstairs Downstairs reboot (couldn’t quite get into the original, alas, as there are no end of episodes of that!), and am now just sitting on my hands impatiently while I wait for Season 3 to start . . . and then wait even longer for it to be available in the U.S.

So, as American network TV execs observe the success and buzz on this show, I’m sure they’re anxiously wondering exactly how they can copy capitalize on it. As I pondered this last night, I realized, it’s likely not going to end well.

You see, a smart network executive would look at this and surmise that audiences are eager for smartly-written, character-driven shows.

A typical network executive is going to look at this and come to the conclusion that we want costume dramas and British accents.

Granted I love costumes and accents as much as the next stereotypical GIRL, but that’s not what keeps me watching. What keeps me watching is the interpersonal relationships, the dialog, and the incredible DEPTH the characters have. Keep that in mind, TV producers. Not that I expect any growth beyond the cheap, easily produced reality shows and sitcoms, but I can dream.

If this is “Top” I’d Rather be “Bottom”

January 13th, 2012

I had a birthday a few months ago, and thanks to some birthday money from my father, my birthday present to myself was an iPad.

Being as I have the attention span of a hypercaffeinated three year old at an amusement park, I’m always looking for new mindless games to play. Being as my bank account balance is about the same as the aforementioned three year old, my price-point for said mindless games is in the range of “Free.”

So, a few days ago, I found myself mulling the list of most popular free iPad apps in the iTunes store and the list looked like this:

List of Apple's Free Apps

And Top Girl HD was one that caught my attention. I’d not seen it before, and as anyone who knows me might agree, I’m all about girl power!

So, I clicked on it to see wha tit was all about, and . . .

Game Description & Screen Shots

note: some elements moved to keep the screen grab to a reasonable size, but the text has not been altered in any way (click on the image for a full-size screenshot)

Girl power. Right.

To be the “Top Girl,” the player has to ‘do gigs, shop, go clubbing, and” MOST IMPORTANTLY “flirt with HOT guys!”

This was the number FOUR best selling app on the day that I checked. An app that measures success by the player (presumably a tween girl)’s ability to shop, club, and flirt. Is this really what the girls who are downloading apps are interested in as far as games are concerned?

How about a game where they do really well in school and go on to become secretary of state or even president? Or a game akin to Tomb Raider where they’re saving priceless artifacts from smugglers and miscreants but the body is more realistically proportioned?

And yes—this is what it took to get me righteously indignant enough to open up the old blogging machine after a yearlong hiatus. Congratulations, Crowdstar, Inc.!

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

January 3rd, 2011

Wild: Yes; Wonderful: Well, That’s Subject to Debate

Or, wherein our heroine watches a documentary and can’t stop thinking about it . . .

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia . . . that was the title of the documentary that Netflix’s algorithm thought I might enjoy based on my interest in “social and cultural documentaries”—which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean high-society or high culture (though a number of the members of the family were “high” throughout the movie).

I’ve now seen it three times—which, by most rubrics might mean I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I did, but what I can say is that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything that made such a strong impression on me—and that I cannot stop thinking about it.

The basic point of the movie is straightforward. The Whites are a family in West Virginia—descended from D. Ray White whom his daughter, Mamie, refers to as “the last of the original mountain tap dancers.” After D. Ray was killed (or what various people in the film keep referring to as “died unexpectedly”), his shoes were passed down to his sons, one of whom—Jesco—kept up the tradition.

In the early 90s, PBS produced a documentary on Jesco, called The Dancing Outlaw. This led to Jesco becoming “the most famous man in West Virginia” (thereby disabusing me of the notion that it was the late Robert Byrd). And, by some measures, he may well be—Jesco (and other members of his family) have been celebrated in song (and not just the predictable things like Rebel country music [Hank Williams III], but rock, punk, and rap); there was a follow-up documentary Jesco Goes to Hollywood about his guest spot on Roseanne, and (per the movie) “fans” will often leave messages and/or take things from his apartment door.

The documentarians then inform us that (in spite of their choice of the clip wherein Jesco recounts threatening his wife with a knife to her throat if she should ever deign to serve him runny eggs) Jesco is hardly the most colorful member of the family.

It then cuts to a clip of the aforementioned Mamie, who says it’s time to meet the “other mother[explitive] Whites.”

And, by God, we do.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet in the past few days looking for more information both about the movie and the family. Despite its grittiness, there was a part of me that seriously thought this might be a mockumentary—especially given that Johnny Knoxville is among the producers, but it’s not. That I initially thought there’s no way this could be for real, might be an indication of how over-the-top this family is.

Some of the criticism of the film is that it’s exploitative. I disagree. Those that are on film are well-aware that they’re on film. There is even one time when they ask that the cameras be turned off. The rest of the time, however, they either don’t care—or, more often, revel in it.

I referred to this film to friends a few times as “an unbridled celebration of ‘the id’.” “Hillbilly Peyton Place,” may be another good summary, or perhaps “sex, drugs, and mountain tap dancing.”

So, with that in mind, I think one of the more interesting and though provoking quotes comes from one of the lawyers they interview early in the film (being as one or more of the Whites is in trouble with the law at any given time), who says

There’s a kid in this town from very humble beginnings who just got into M.I.T., M.I.T. Why aren’t you following him around with a camera?

I’m not the producer, so I can’t answer, but it really does beg the question. Why have I watched this film three times? Why do producers return to the family over and over?

Is it the “schadenfreude” aspect—that those watching the film feel better about their own lives? Is it the shock value—the inability to look away from a trainwreck when it’s happening? Is the family charismatic in a way that I dare not even admit to myself? I don’t know . . .

I do know that I would’ve enjoyed a story about someone who rose from humble beginnings to triumph (most recently Akeela and the Bee is one such film that I adored)—but would I have still been talking and thinking about it several days later?

I don’t know . . .

What I do know is that as much as people like the Whites (video below of Sue Bob White—one of the many members of the family) may give me a self satisfied sense of superiority they also give me great cause for concern—because to an extent their behavior is celebrated, emulated, and lauded—and that’s antithetical to the type of world that I’d like to live in.

The documentary did attempt to “explain” (rather than “excuse”) some of this culture—the insular nature of coal mining communities, and the rather fatalistic approach that comes from working in that field which therefore serves as a foundation of the rather over-the-top “eat, drink, & be merry for tomorrow we may die” approach to life. But it was only a small portion of a much larger festival of . . . over indulgence and violence.

Yeah, I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m equally unsure I’m up for a fourth viewing.

“Tweets” to my 16 year old self

November 8th, 2010

Wherein the Concept of Brevity Once Again Eludes our Heroine

There was a “meme” on Twitter (you can find me here) last week to provide our past selves with advice under the hashtag #tweetyour16yearoldself – I tweeted a few things, but in the unlikely event that I could go back in time and give myself advice from the perspective of having been there and done that–or even send myself a message through some rift in the space/time continuum–it really requires more than 140 characters. Instead, I’ll blog it (and resist the urge to post-date it to 1991).

  • Sure, eating right and exercising is a pain, but if you don’t get in the habit now, you’ll be 250 pounds by the time you finish law school (and yes, you’re going to law school–although you may want to think about a Ph.D. in political science instead, that’s another bullet point entirely), and taking the weight off will be a constant struggle. You do manage to lose 100 pounds though, and mostly maintain it, so good for you!

  • Don’t open those credit cards when you’re in undergrad. No, really, don’t do it! Credit cards are NOT free money, and the long-term costs outweigh the instant gratification by orders of magnitude.
  • There’s truth in the adage nothing ventured nothing gained. Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection; they give you character and provide opportunities in unexpected ways. You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for, so venture off the easy route every now and then.
  • Don’t be afraid of your inner geek. She’s a passionate, dynamic, fun individual, and you’re going to meet some of your best friends through her (and besides, you’re not fooling anyone).
  • Your senior year of college, you’re going to decide to go to law school, your professors are going to try to persuade you to get a Ph.D. instead. Listen to them–I’m not saying you made a bad decision, because it landed you where you are (I am?) now, but it wasn’t the highest point in your (my?) life, and the choice to do that over a Ph.D., is the one big, road not taken in your (my?) life.
  • Whenever you have a little extra money, invest in Apple . . .

So, my few dear readers (all three of you and my mom), what advice would you give yourself?

Wherein our Heroine Muses about Publius, the New York Times, and Jon Stewart

November 2nd, 2010

I will often rant about politics or engage in a debate on the subject and find myself adding a sidenote that I REALLY ought to get around to making a blog post on the subject . . . and then life gets in the way and I discover that the argument I was going to be made has been made not only better, but by someone with a lot more cache than I have.

Nevertheless, there are a few ideas that I did promise myself I would get out there, and this post, will serve as sort of a catch-all list of my current political frustrations and thoughts . . . as with most of my other political rants, I’m going to endeavor to reference it and—when possible—link back to the thoughts of the founders.

A Multiplicity of Sects and Factions or “Representative government exits so the majority won’t bake & eat the minority”

The preceding quote regarding democracy was one of the many catchphrases one of my undergraduate political science professors used to repeat when talking about the Federalist Papers – namely numbers 10 and 51. (Both of these documents—drafted by James Madison—are work of art. Check them out if you’ve not already. Yes, that is an order.)

Federalist 10 describes the issues of “sects and factions.” The founders held that because [hu]man’s very nature predisposed them to unite in opposition toward others, there were only two options: Prohibit this tendency by imposing limits on liberty (which the founders saw as a prima facie unacceptable solution), or control (dampen) the impact of the factions via the government.

It’s tempting to quote the whole document, because re-reading it now, I can’t help but be struck by how relevant it remains.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

That was written on November 22, 1787—and yet it could have just as easily been written today—describing the views of the non-majority parties.

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

This is so fundamentally obvious, and yet it’s something that it’s probably most difficult for me to get. Egocentric as I am, it’s sometimes hard for me to understand how someone can be living in the same times, and general geographic location than I am, and draw COMPLETELY DIFFERENT conclusions from what I see as an incontrovertible truth. But I think this lays out, slightly more eloquently, what I realized: Delink politics and religion as one may, they are more similar than not—for politics, like religion, is a belief system that draws as much on one’s personal experiences and “faith” as it does on rationality. Debate is inevitable; it’s only the nature of the debate that changes. (Super Secret Easter Egg to Loyal and Clever Readers: It’s my hope plan to actually write a book on the evolving nature of political debate. Working title What Would Publius Blog?)

Make no mistake, despite what the corresponding Anti-Federalist Paper would have one believe, Madison (the author of Federalist 10 [although he and his co-authors wrote under the pen name Publius]) was not opposed to these factions—in fact, he feared the type of tyranny that would come with direct majority rule. He wanted factions, but he wanted to control their impact so that the ultimate system would work to the benefit of mankind.

And as I’ve said before, I actually like factions—I think some amount of debate and disagreement are healthy. But I also think that, too an extent, disagreement for the sake of disagreement, is NOT healthy. This is what’s been bothering me now. Although I tend to eschew label (in part because they are relative to the current position of the Overton Window), it would be fair to say that in general I agree more with the US political power currently in power (Democrat) than I do with its dissenters.

So, what is my point? I’m not sure I have one actually—rather I have a question, and it’s one that’s taken me a while to be able to articulate, and that’s as follows:

At what point does a group stop being a “faction” and become “fringe”? Is there a point at which a “faction” is so branched off that it loses legitimacy, or are all factions equally deserving of their part in the dialog? Given that Madison’s intent was to insulate against majority tyranny, who should even be the arbiter of legitimacy if there is such a thing as “too far out there.”

Does dialogue help or hurt? The New York Times recently asked the question in a similar way, and Jon Stewart suggested that

The country’s 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

We live in a strange world now—notwithstanding the 24 hour cable news cycle and the blogosphere where any self-professed expert can share his/her opinion and have it taken as gospel (she says fully understanding the irony given her own role as a participant in said blogosphere)—one of the things that’s stuck out to me is how the very gatekeepers have begun becoming the newsmakers—pundits reporting on other pundits as though the opinions aired by those pundits are something newsworthy and shameful—when really, they’re opinions.
A blogger at Crooks and Liars today suggested that Jon Stewart ‘s rally missed the mark noting that

The GOP leadership has this very week assured voters that they will not compromise with the Democrats if they win the House and/or Senate.

I’d disagree—because Stewart wasn’t talking about politicians—he was talking about the pundits and the media.

The blogger goes on to say.

The Right jumps in front of our car and says we don’t own that car and where’s the papers showing we can drive through the tunnel? We show them, over and over and over, the car’s birth certificate, but the Right screams that’s not the actual paper we need to drive through the tunnel. And it’s their tunnel! They want their tunnel back!

And here, again, is where the blogger has not only missed the message of Stewart’s rally, but is—perhaps—perpetuating the problem. BIRTHERS are not the right. We cannot paint reasonable people who happen to be Republicans with the same brush as birthers and even Tea Party members. There’s some overlap in the Venn diagram—but all are not the same any more than all members of the Left are Marxists.

So, yeah, my point, because I think I have one in here . . . is that maybe we need to be a bit more selective—in the criticisms we respond to—and in the criticisms we level. And maybe, just maybe, as we grow more selective, the magic mirror of the media will reflect that. And if not, well we can always change the channel.