Friday, April 30, 2010

You Have Yet to Win

Forgive my facial expression. I was tired and my leg was hurting.

Passing the Torch: A Challenge to Every Generation

Ed. note.

I originally wrote this on the Feministing Community page, but thought it was worth sharing with a greater audience.


I myself have certainly been frustrated at the institutional resistance towards incorporating young adults into established organizations. On my own blog and on many sites I have voiced no small amount of frustration, citing the same arguments that the consistently disenfranchised always do. In my own activist work, both within my faith group and in political causes, I have found others who cite their same disgust at this problem. However, a recent discussion with someone granted me a new perspective. I hope I carry the insight she gave me throughout the course of my life and never forget it.

The woman I reference is a well-established lawyer who is herself one of those dreaded baby boomers. When I mentioned once again how disgusted I was with older adults who were covetous of their own power, she called me out for something I had said in our conversation, taking my exact words to make her own very pertinent point.

What I had said earlier was this. If you're pushing thirty like me, there's a bit of a temptation to see those in their early twenties and beyond as complete babies. And when you perceive of them in such a fashion, you question their maturity and their intellectual capability, simultaneously seeing yours as superior. This doesn't mean one is right or justified in doing so, but it is an instantaneous judgment call. The part of Washington, DC, where I live is home to lots of college students, and as a result I'm constantly aware that I am no longer in the frame of mind now that I was then. It is easy to be smugly condescending or to make blanket statement that lump all of them in together. These sorts of thoughts aren't especially fair, but they arrive so easily, and it takes a kind of willful diligence to not fall into these sorts of patterns.

My lawyer friend mentioned that this sort of generational conflict is true for everyone and every generation. It may be a supremely narcissistic exercise to think this way, but it underscores the fault lines and conflicted logic our society holds about youth. Youth is to be craved and held onto with a death grip, but possessing an immature kind of naiveté and underdeveloped sense of wisdom and perspective is strongly looked down upon. We also have a tendency to romanticize our youth in certain ways, and to deplore it in others.

Here's another means by which our conceptions of youth versus age manifest themselves in a slightly different fashion. When it came time to select a therapist, I chose a woman who was highly qualified, but I wasn't aware until our first meeting that she was my age. I have to admit that instantly I thought that someone my age couldn't possibly have the life experience necessary to help me in the way I needed, but that is yet another snap judgment of mine that has been proven completely false. I am pleased and humbled to report that she has proven to be the most helpful therapist I could have possibly chosen and this is in large part due to the fact that she and I share a basic frame of reference that someone older simply wouldn't have.

While it certainly isn't fair that institutions and organizations push young adults aside, placate us, or fail to take what we have to say seriously, I think part of the solution is to understand how easy it could be for us to be the very same way in a few decades or so. If we vow to always see the future not as threatening, nor challenging, nor somehow beneath us, then we won't repeat the past. The future isn't always best, but neither is the past. Seeking a balance between our experience and the newest tools designed to advance our causes and the issues we hold dear might be the precise combination of old and new that takes our cause to greater and greater heights.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Distracted Drivers: A Personal Anecdote

Until yesterday, the subject of distracted drivers and their role in pedestrian accidents was merely an abstract annoyance. When I moved to DC, I quite willingly gave up my car and resorted largely to my own two legs to get me where I needed to be. Periodically one hears a horror story here regarding when a jogger, walker, cyclist, or all around fellow human gets mowed down by an inattentive driver. Recently, there have been a handful of similar incidents where people were seriously hurt. I suppose I may have been remiss to not use that information and apply it to my life, but I always justified my inaction by feeling certain that such a thing would never happened to me. Well, never happened yesterday.

Life has a way of throwing you a curveball from time to time. Yesterday I was on my way to the gym, whereupon I was blindsided by a shuttle bus. Traffic accidents are rarely acts of rationality, but what I found so bewildering is how the situation had happened in the first place. The crossing signal light flashed white, clearly indicating that I was safe to proceed, and with plenty of time to spare, no less. Halfway across the road, something made me look over my left shoulder, where I discovered to my horror that the front bumper of a white bus bearing down, mere inches from me. Had it not been traveling directly in my blind side, I might have had time to avoid it a little earlier.

I screamed and put my arms out reflexively to try to avoid being toppled to the ground. The force of the impact pushed me slightly backwards, and I pivoted hard to my right, like a toreador trying to avoid an angry bull. Fortunately, I was successful in my efforts to avoid the full force of the bus, but I planted awkwardly, coming down hard on my right leg. From the instant my leg hit the pavement, I knew I was going to be in trouble. In shock, I limped my way all the way to the other side of the street.

Two separate witnesses kept asking Are you okay? Are you okay?

I mumbled, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay. That was all I could manage. And by that I suppose I meant, Well, I'm not bleeding to death.

After pausing all of five whole seconds, the bus driver assumed I wasn't seriously hurt and drove away. Granted, I wasn't crumbled to the pavement, but I wasn't exactly the picture of health, either. I should have immediately called the police, but I was stunned and trying desperately to make sense of what had just happened. I was also angry at the reaction of one of the witnesses, a woman who kept asking, Didn't you see it coming? At what point was it my responsibility? I would have had to be looking well over my left shoulder the whole time, when I was completely focused instead straight in front of me, making it across a roadway. I must have used that same crossing a thousand times before, and it seemed incomprehensible that something so familiar 99.9% percent of the time could have created something like this.

As best I can fathom, the driver was making a left-hand turn from a side road onto the larger avenue upon which I was crossing. Either he ran the light altogether or, the light having changed green, neglected to recognize even with permission to drive, pedestrians have the right of way. After the morning rush clears out, that particular avenue is not especially busy. Perhaps he had gotten into the habit of assuming there would be few people, including pedestrians out and about then. Perhaps he had music turned up too high. Perhaps he was distracted by other people in the shuttle, but in any case, why it happened is not nearly as important as the fact that it did.

I may never know what the driver was thinking. After establishing that I was not immediately visibly hurt, he drove away. It took me a long while to come to my senses. I was in shock and didn't do what I should have done in that instance, which would have been to call the police immediately. By the time I did think to do so, I'd already left the scene of the accident, as had the witnesses. At that point, there was nothing I could do. This is another example of when laws, as they are constructed, really fail us. In a crisis situation, people need an advocate and we must stop seeing ourselves as complete strangers in every circumstance imaginable. We can be strangers to each other most of the time, if we wish, but if the system is ever to work effectively, we can't be standoffish when our engagement and involvement is badly needed.

Had someone recognized that I was clearly incapable of reporting what had happened, they could have easily called the police for me. Don't get me wrong. I recognize that Good Samaritans have never been plentiful, but do allow me the ability to take what happened to me and use it as constructive platform to push even more strongly that we really need to look out for each other. But in the meantime, please don't drive while you talk on the phone unless you're using a hands free setup. Please don't ever make assumptions about the traffic conditions on the roads you drive on a consistent basis. They are subject to change at any time. Please don't perceive of pedestrians, joggers, walkers, and foot traffic as impediments to your getting somewhere and in so doing, lose your patience behind the wheel. We've all had close calls before while driving, and I certainly have, too. It's a miracle there aren't more of them, especially now that we have so many distractions and demands upon our immediate attention.

As for me? I've sustained some ligament damage to my right leg. I hope it isn't anything more serious than a severe sprain or minor tear, but I'm having it checked out in any case. Though I find it a challenge to walk now without considerable pain, it's a chilling thought to contemplate that had any number of factors been different, I might have been seriously injured. I can say that from now on, if I'm driving somewhere, I'll be more attentive and deferent to pedestrians, and you can be damn sure I'll be looking in every direction imaginable when it comes time for me to cross the street--any street.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Post Was Originally Written on Daily Kos (And What's Wrong with That?)

It is at least interesting to see the latest mainstream media insult circulate liberally across the country, one designed to reduce bloggers to little more than reactive agitprop sensationalists. This week it's "(insert example of ridiculously overblown commentary here) could have been found on Daily Kos". I might take more offense, except when I know the major players frequently fall far short of their own lofty journalistic standards. We've consistently recognized, called out, and sometimes outright mocked op-ed columnists, television commentators, pundits, and members of the fourth estate. We shouldn't expect a mea culpa any time soon. But when we can produce all sorts of facts to prove our point, we can certainly make a strong case on our own behalf. And we can certainly keep sharing our own voices for the benefit of all, unimpeded by what anyone might say.

I find the timing of these fresh assaults a bit suspicious. Recent reports continue to show an undeniable downturn in newspaper circulation, a trend which has been underway for years and one unlikely to cease.

Cape Cod Times posted yesterday a list of the twenty-five leading city newspapers ranked by circulation, under the ominous title "Newspaper circulation in free fall."

1. Wall Street Journal 2,092,523 +0.5%
2. USA Today 1,826,622 -13.58%
3. The New York Times 951,063 -8.47%
4. Los Angeles Times 616,606 -14.74%
5. Washington Post 578,482 -13.06%
6. NY Daily News 535,059 -11.25%
7. New York Post 525,004 -5.94%
8. San Jose Mercury News* 516,701
9. Chicago Tribune 452,145 -9.79%
10. Houston Chronicle 366,578 -13.77%
11. The Philadelphia Inquirer** 356,189
12. The Arizona Republic 351,207 -9.88%
13. Newsday 334,809 -9.07%
14. The Denver Post*** 333,675 N/A
15. Star Tribune, 295,438 -7.71%
16. St. Petersburg Times 278,888 -1.49%
17. Chicago Sun-Times 268,803 -13.88%
18. The Plain Dealer, 267,888 -8.14%
19. The Oregonian 263,600 -1.83%
20. The Seattle Times*** 263.468 N/A
21. Dallas Morning News 260,659 -21.47%
22. Detroit Free Press 252,017 -13.31%
23. San Diego Union-Trib 249,630 -4.45%
24. SF Chronicle 241,330 -22.68%
25. The Star-Ledger, 236,017 -17.79%

Spin, spin to your heart's content, but here is the truth in black and white and red all over. As the saying goes, money doesn't lie, but the people who count it do! The same could go for circulation numbers.

Make no mistake. There will always be a role and a need for citizen journalists, informal insight, and independent media. I myself hold no impressive credentials and my own formal education in the field beyond the Mass Communication classes I took in undergrad is nonexistent. I am primarily and proudly self-taught. My entire publication history is not especially impressive at its face, but that which does bear my byline is of uniformly good quality and I am deeply proud of it. In five solid, steady, persistent years of blogging, I have begun to develop something of a name for myself among a very particular group of people. While I certainly appreciate the attention, I never fool myself into believing that I am anything other a minor voice speaking to a niche audience. Humility serves me well and others who wish to partake have an open invitation to do so at any time.

To return to my classes in journalism, I recall very how many of them required me to adhere to a whole slue of standardized rules and niggling protocols. These guidelines to me were always restrictive rather than empowering or inspiring. When it came time to write a basic lead, I always followed my creative muse first and only grudgingly took style into account. One professor noted that one such sample lead I wrote for his class was so unorthodox and different from the norm that he could never teach it to anyone else. This is no different from the sort of creative expression I see as I peruse the blogosphere, where being true to self and individual leaning is much more important than regimentation.

The diaries on Kos and individual blog posts I have read over the years are rarely beholden to anyone's rules. That is what I find so compelling and liberating about them. As I mentioned above, I developed my own writing style both with the passage of time and also with trial and error. This was far more helpful than anything I ever had to do when seeking to pass a class. Those in the mainstream media might find that remark resembles their professional careers, but they have one notable advantage over you and me. They have the pedigree. They are the blue-bloods. They ascribe to a system like so many others where building connections, rubbing shoulders with the right people, attending the right school, and knowing the password to get into the clubhouse is essential. Nobodies like you and me aren't exactly privy to their world or at least find it a challenge to enter. And it isn't just nobodies who are left out in the cold. This list also includes people of color, women, people raised in working class settings, LGBTs, other minorities, and the list goes on and on.

It's not especially fair, nor especially unbiased, nor particularly objective to make an assumption that every blogger on Kos or otherwise is some strident ideologue with an axe to grind. But, it does fit well into a narrative, particularly with an industry that is secretly and not-so-secretly paranoid about its long-term health. The more flack I get for being a blogger these days, the less likely I am to pay it much mind. The criticism speaks not to us but rather to them.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

-Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The World May Never Know

I was reading off of a chord sheet to my left, so forgive me for not looking the camera in the eye more than just sporadically.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Parenting While Feminist

I posted this entry to Feministing's Community section today.

I once dated a woman who had two kids from a previous marriage, both boys. My relationship with men of any age is often challenging, so it was a new experience to be in the constant company of two young men. The older of the two reacted to what had been an emotionally wrenching divorce by adopting the poise and demeanor of a leader. He acted far more maturely than his fourteen years might have lead one to believe and I often saw him as something close to an contemporary. Suffice to say that he and I got along well. His younger brother, however, was a different story altogether. He was definitely all of twelve but also wild, rambunctious, unruly, loud, a discipline problem, and a constant challenge to his mother. Yet, in my company it was clear he wished to impress me and that he craved both my attention and my approval. The ways by which he tried to achieve both of them were frequently inappropriate, of course, but I at least gathered that he desired my attention above anyone else's.

It's funny how relationships work out in reality. When we started dating, my then-partner told me in no uncertain terms that I was not going to be a step-parent. My reservations going in were not that I doubted what she said, but I had learned from past experience that children in their innocence often fail to understand the intentions and arrangements of adults. Having dated a woman with kids once before, I knew that children did not draw sharp distinctions between that which constitutes a parental figure and that which does not. Children live in the moment and when I happened to be in the midst of their moment, I was seen as an adult and thus an authority figure who happened to in a relationship with their mother.

Though I currently don't plan to be a father ever, I will say that when children are around one is forever careful to censor oneself and to be on one's best behavior at all times. This is not always a bad situation upon which to find oneself, especially since I'm often ashamed to think about the vast amount of hurtful things I say during the course of a single day.

I'd like to share one particular anecdote with you that made a lasting impression on me. It might seem prosaic at first, but it turned out to be remarkably powerful. In short, before I bought an electric toothbrush, I used a more classic design. Once I'd finished brushing my teeth, I made a habit of placing my toothbrush on the edge of the basin with the bristles pointed downward, so that they could drain into the sink. Someone told me it's more sanitary this way and so I'd done it in similar fashion for years. One evening a week or so after we'd started dating, I entered the bathroom late one night and noticed that my brush wasn't the only one in this particular position. The youngest had, you see, placed his toothbrush in the identical position to mine, and took care to place it right next to my own.

I began to cry. What I was seeing before me was love personified. This kid, who I often thought of as a hopeless case, who regularly exhausted me with his bad behavior and his crude jokes, and who reminded me regularly of everything I had hated about being a boy---he really looked up to me, even idolized me. It was at this point that I put two and two together and posited a guess about the cause of his conduct. I recognized that he had always lacked a positive male role model and this explained why he was forever acting out.

Though part of me was very touched, part of me also felt exceptionally uncomfortable. In the course of my life, when other men have found me inspiring or have thought of me as a role model, I am forced to confront the tortured contradictions about how I perceive masculinity and how it relates back to me. Conflicted, ambivalent, and confused might be the best ways to describe my feelings about being a man. In the person of a child, I had observed firsthand an embryonic incarnation of that which I had come to despise about Patriarchy. My hatred of Patriarchy was a hatred that worked on several levels: hatred of the abuse, hatred of not ever feeling suitably or acceptably masculine during my own boyhood, hatred of a system which did not understand the choices I made, and hatred of the unwritten rules that all were supposed to follow.

And yet, I had been given a gesture of unconditional love, and from another man, no less.

I felt as though somehow as though I failed this child, as though my own damage did him no favors, and yet he loved me for myself as I was. The experience took each and every one of my prior assumptions and turned them completely upside down. The relationship later ended, but the memory has never left me.

Still, I'm in no hurry to be a father and know I would always have to constantly fight these same feelings if I did. These days, I wonder about all the boys out there starved for a worthwhile male role model or at least a decent guy upon which to base and check their own decisions, and I really question my frustration at the latest awful thing some man or group of men has done.

I'm good at judging. I'm not always so good at understanding.

In Search of a Strong Progressive Response to Tea Parties

During the dark days of the Bush Administration, the collective mood on the Left could not have been more pessimistic and discouraged. Believing ourselves to be utterly ignored and summarily discounted, our anger was palpable and copious. I wonder why we on the Left didn't form a series of spontaneous demonstrations, venting our frustration at a government we saw as illegitimate and destructive. While it is true that protests were plentiful then, no self-proclaimed movement sprung up, one then dutifully covered exhaustively by the media. That we did not resort to Teabagging tactics was itself a very good thing, but I think also that many of us placed complete faith in the mechanization of the system itself. When things began to turn around at long last in 2006 and then, two years later when a compelling candidate articulated our desire for change, we believed that working tirelessly to secure his election was wholly sufficient.

But to return briefly to the dismal days of 2000-2008, it speaks well of us that we didn't resort to barbarism or the politics of rage. It speaks somewhat less well of us that our organizational strategies were scattered and far from coordinated. One can't help but imagine if a whole movement of frustrated Progressives had come together to peacefully protest a tyrannical regime. Would the media have overlooked it, given it not much in the way of airtime and ink, or would we have gotten our greater point across in dramatic fashion? Recently I have wondered if merely working the inside game is enough. Though I recognize that counter-protests have been held to push back against Tea Party demonstration, they appear to be limited in impact for the most part, or at least in how the mainstream media is covering it.

I haven't forgotten the paralyzing cynicism of the Bush days, of course, which led some to throw their hands up and others to become bloggers. There was much in the way of unity in the face of a common enemy, so it wasn't as though our own reaction was negligible or unmeasurable. We, however, decided to act in a more mannerly fashion, though if one surveyed the comments made amongst ourselves, civility and maturity were sometimes in short supply. It would have been interesting, for sure, if we ourselves had been the movement, not the then-Minority Party or candidate himself. Our priorities might have been given additional heft if politicians from a Party out of power had come to us in an effort to court our vote and harness our energy. Certainly there would have been an appalling degree of mutual parasitism involved, but this is true for politics as a whole. In 2006 and 2008 we conducted ourselves with devotion and reverence towards good government following step-by-step all the rules upon which the system is supposed to work, and one could make a strong case that this very same system has now completely failed everyone.

When government proves unable to meet our basic needs, as we believe them to be, to whom do we turn? Our conservative opponents have created Tea Parties. As for us, the establishment of groups like the Coffee Party are a step in the right direction, but they as yet have not proved to be an effective oppositional force to the Teabaggers. If we established our own highly unified and coordinated movement that prodded and nudged Democratic politicians towards the Left, that might be a start. As yet, only the Arkansas Democratic primary Senate race currently pitting Blanche Lincoln against Bill Halter neatly fits this pattern. In it, the base of a Party has attempted to steer a candidate towards the Left instead of the base steering a candidate towards the Right. Moreover, unlike Tea Partiers, Progressives have not drafted their own candidates with the intention that they would deliberately run to the left of Democrats. Thus far, we are in damage control mode, hoping to keep Congressional losses to a bare minimum. I recognize that this comparison does not have uniform application, but it does raise some interesting questions.

I hope we'll learn from the Tea Party in one especially important fashion---not in their crudely rendered signs, prominently displayed firearms, hateful rhetoric, and message of fear, but in their desire to hang together no matter what and in so doing make their voices heard. I find much about the movement loathsome and contemptible, as I'm sure you do too, but one must grant them reluctant kudos that they have staged rally after rally, protest after protest, and have no desire to disband. There a sort of spontaneity present that leads many to sacrifice their weekends or take time off from work, though I do take into account those attenders who are retired and apparently have nothing better to do with their time.

Teabagger gatherings remind me of the kind of isolated super cellular thunderstorms often present in the South, especially during the Summer. They come out of nowhere, rain violently for three or four minutes, and then having expended their energy, dissipate into nothingness. In the aftermath, everything goes back to the way it was before, making one wonder if his or her eyes were playing tricks on them all along. It definitely takes a kind of commitment to be at the ready all the time, particularly when the demands of our lives would make many far less likely to go to the trouble. I think we might consider our own rapid response team, except that instead of catching Republican distortions or policing scurrilous rumors, we might want to let the country, the world, and the Tea Parties know that we are not willing to let them slander our President, our politicians, and the ideals we hold true.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quote of the Week

People are pretty much alike. It's only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.- Linda Ellerbee

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Good for a Giggle


(Just watch)

Shamless Plug (Again)

Yesterday I received my own copy of Spirit Rising. I am the very last contribution included in the anthology, listed under a section entitled "Troubling the Water: Calls for Transformation and Renewal".

The short essay I wrote is called "Waking the Slumbering Light", which I penned way back in January of 2009.

Saturday Video

No rhyme or reason for this song. I just like it. :-)

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Immigration Debate Goes Beyond Party Identification

With the interminable immigration debate still churning, I decided to contribute my two cents to an iReport.

Tell Me Now So I'll Know

The day after I write a particularly inspired post, I usually am left grasping for a suitable topic. Yesterday's column got rescued by Daily Kos and placed on the front page. My diary was the first one referenced, which is a fantastic honor in and of itself because most peoples' attention is drawn to the first item in a list. At this point, I am getting close to having a total of twenty diaries rescued over the past several months, which does phenomenal things to one's exposure as a blogger and sends hit counts through the roof.

I can only attribute all of this to hard work, practice, and, most importantly, a devotion to the Spirit. I know that the Light guides me as I craft each entry, sometimes more than others, because what it produces is perfect and needs no further revision. Words and phrases spring to mind that I know I myself could never have produced. By contrast, what is purely me usually needs to be refined.

On to other subjects. Enjoy the performance video and have a wonderful Friday!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Minority Views and Majority Realities

Throughout the whole of my life, I have felt outside the norm. The Methodism of my boyhood preached that, as a devout Christian, I should expect to be frequently misunderstood, feared, and at times distrusted by the rest of society. Based on my Southern roots and the political convictions I grew to espouse, in addition to the company I kept, I continued to feel out of step with the majority point of view in all kinds of ways. If this was supposed to be an essential component of living the Christian life, then it was not a difficult one to adopt. When, years later, I became a Quaker, it wasn't hard at all to accept that many would not comprehend what I believed. Shortly before I converted, I read a book front to cover which stated that Friends were used to being thought of as peculiar and eccentric. Those words cemented my decision to become a Convinced Friend. For years I wore a nonconformist's identity like a badge of honor, though my secret desire, barely even vocalized to myself, was always that I might find greater acceptance and understanding. Having achieved this, I believe that I would find the comfort granted to those not consistently marginalized and discounted by the majority.

In Ephesians, Paul writes about the difference between a life led by the Light and one led by darkness.

You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Do not let anyone deceive you with meaningless words, for it is because of these things that God becomes angry with those who disobey. Don't participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

Progressives frequently feel taken advantage of and passed over, and for good reason. Still, I believe ours is a deeply moral movement, and it is often not difficult at all to reconcile my religious convictions with my political stances. One of the reasons I work so hard at what I do is in the hope that someday none of us might have to feel isolated, lonely, and ignored. The comfort, guidance, and wisdom upon which I am blessed due to a close relationship with the Light is something I wish others could experience for themselves. My ultimate hope is that through our love for each other and our own diligent struggles that we will ensure our deeply held beliefs are no longer considered politically inconvenient, a bargaining chip, or a trump card.

To me, this begins with accepting each other as we are, where we are. The more I examine all of the identities I claim for myself: Quaker, Christian, Feminist, Activist, Progressive, the more I recognize that seeing each in terms of its own religion rather than any other distinction is a better way for me to understand the unique dynamics of each. Each has its own belief system, its own language, its own orthodoxy, and any number of other metrics. Even if we are not people of faith, I find it often instructive to note that our own zeal for our own causes frequently rivals that of religious expression. A particular passage cited below amazes me in how applicable it is to the current day.

Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it's all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don't. And those who don't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.

Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive his approval. In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. So let's stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. For then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

If we do not build strength within ourselves, who among us will? In that case, we will be like the person who built his/her house on sand. The floods came, the storm raged, and the house was destroyed. If, however, we build our house on solid ground, it will stand in spite of the conflicts and metaphorical storms that are inevitable, yet need not be destructive. Our home would not be merely a temporary coalition with its fault lines patched up with caulk due to the presence of an inspiring, gifted orator. One person can begin the process, but it is up to us to finish the job. We were not led to dream an impossible dream. Rather, we were inspired to dare to set our sights high again, and if we were out of practice, that is certainly understandable. Those who have come before us in their own time spied an ultimate objective, one that they observed was tantalizingly within their grasp. Their memory implores that we continue build on their own toil and sacrifice.

In the Gettsyburg Address, Abraham Lincoln noted,

It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…

I have observed the recent anger, the anxiety, the fear, and the embodiment of each. It is a sentiment as true with liberals and as it is with conservatives. Moreover, my own thoughts are not dissimilar from your own. Yet, I know that we are never guaranteed that good times will last forever, nor stick around for as long as we hoped they would. I am not particularly concerned with finger-pointing or directing disappointment and disillusion towards a scapegoat, else it be directed inward at us. Those strategies do little to provide real solutions and they are a band-aid when clamps and sutures would provide absolute resolution and true healing. What I do know is that from here on out, we should consider coming together as one---refusing to resort to the kind of reactive behavior that always exists within those who feel perpetually taken for granted or ignored. Our anger is justified, but sometimes our response is not.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thought of the Day

Never confuse Paternalism with misogyny. Neither is good, but they are not identical.

A Question

Q: What's the ugliest part of your body?

A: Some say your nose. Some say your toes. But I think it's your mind.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Response to an Earlier Post

I wrote a post over the weekend whereby I used language that I fully recognize could be interpreted to mean that I was resorting to victim blaming. That was not my intent, nor my desire. As I wrote the post I knew that I wasn't clearly articulating what I meant in ways that would prevent misunderstanding. That's my own fault and shows my limitations as a writer more than any objectionable viewpoint which I might espouse or believe.

This is the passage that caused so many passionate objections.
Modern Feminists are well-known for their desire to counteract rape culture by educating men about what constitutes informed consent for sex. In so doing they seek to highlight the numerous instances in popular culture where unhealthy views and attitudes encourage a blatant disregard for boundaries. Every now and then, one hears about news stories or personal anecdotes involving women who willfully ignored the unfortunate, but necessary proper precautions needed to protect themselves from sexual assault and ended up being taken advantage of as a result. I should state here before I am misunderstood that I never believe that placing full responsibility regarding rape prevention onto women is a good idea and that I believe that men should bear the ultimate burden of proof. Still, the world in which we live is imperfect, and such are the sort of unfair steps and extra effort woman have to take into account for protection's sake. I seek not to blame the victim here, since I am referencing instances where it is verifiable that women were aware of the risks well beforehand, articulated them beforehand, and yet still did not act in their own best interest.
I should have mentioned that I was responding in particular to a recent post on Feministing regarding a Kiely Williams video and song.

To quote from the original post,

"I am not interested in demonizing Williams, but I do think it is important to hold her accountable to her words and intentions. A catchy anthem that essentially says, 'I got drunk and I don't remember everything, but the sex was spectacular," is normalizing a violent and dangerous epidemic that we are still fighting to get recognized as, what it is, rape."

This is what I meant. And in this situation, a woman who disregarded the risks involved sadly ended up being taken advantage of. Should she be blamed for it? Of course not, but the second larger point I was making is that it's easy to reach for knee-jerk emotional responses when people act in ways that are not in their best interest. One could easily say, "What were you thinking! Didn't you use your head?"

If I, as a man, am aware of birth control techniques, and I disregard them, and as a result a pregnancy occurs from it, your instant response might very well be, "How could you be so lazy!? How could you be so thoughtless!?" Should I be blamed for it? Well, it's not like I'm being viciously attacked and brutalized in this circumstance, but your first response might be to blame me. And that was the whole point.

A commenter left a particularly interesting response to my blog posting, which I will include here.

Besides which, you're still framing it in terms of "bad decisions" and "foolishness" that we somehow should be trying to prevent (because if we don't then women will "either blame themselves for their own foolish choices, or with a shrug of the shoulders assume that such is the way of men"). You set up a false dichotomy here - either we encourage women to protect themselves using "appropriate" precautions or we adopt a "reluctant acceptance of bad decisions and worse outcomes". The rapist, of course, doesn't enter into the equation - it's all about what women should do to respond to a problem for women involving women.

Again, let me explain. The point is not to neglect the presence of the rapist or to speak to tactics that seek to discourage men from the violent act itself. Rather, this is a bit of social commentary and critique, since what we often do on Feminist websites is respond to a problem for women involving women. Regarding rape prevention, we're very good at articulating anti-rape strategies, but I often question whether these really speak to the man who rapes on terms that he can understand. Often we seem to be talking only to ourselves.

I also find it interesting that in all of the instances I cited, it seems as though privileged people are the ones debating what is offensive or what is best for minorities or marginalized people, when they themselves might not think as deeply about the matter as we do. This same thing goes for the constant arguments we have about what rapists think or what motivates them. I have no idea what they think. I couldn't begin to understand, no matter how many studies or hyperlinks I am requested to read on the topic. Those who are violent inevitably seem to be driven purely by impulse, and impulse and reasoned argument are not exactly similar. And again, this was another larger point I was making.

In conclusion, I recognize that I probably should have made the original posting about twice as long to explain myself more efficiently, and again, that's my fault. Moreover, if you take the original column as a whole and don't take one paragraph in isolation, I think it's possible to see my entire argument as a cohesive whole. I am trying to take a strong point of view that contrasts what is a very hard-line stance with many people, including many people in the Feminist community, while at the same time trying to make parallels to other sensitive topics, revealing in the end that it's very difficult to be consistent in our political beliefs when personal choice gets in the way, as it so often does.

The Beginning of the Age of the Individual

Last week I read a brief blurb in Politico, in which a scholar expressed his opinion as to why labor union membership was in sharp decline. The scholar stated that, in his opinion, the decrease was a result of the fact that people are now inclined to think more individually than communally. He added that this trend will become more, not less pronounced with time. Backing up this claim, he noted how, these days, people get jobs by packing their resumes full of exhaustively long lists of individual accomplishments. Americans have always been resistant to thinking as a group and placing group priorities above individual gain, but with the death of labor, one of the most notable exceptions to the rule, expect more problems to manifest themselves that have their nexus due to a hyper-individualist attitude.

This past weekend I attended an all day training session full of young politicos. Each of them had carved out a very specific niche job for themselves. They knew exactly what names to drop, terms to cite, and how to act the part. They had the right parents. They had attended the right school. They had made the right connections. However, they also seemed for all the world like blind moles, digging diligently away through their own unique tunnel, ultimately unable to see anything else beyond it. In so doing, they did not grasp the intersection between ideas and concepts, or, for that matter, the big picture. Instead, having been groomed almost since birth to do a very specific task a very specific way, they failed to understand the reason why it is important to see past one's own immediate job responsibilities to view the larger picture. This kind of setup shortchanges everyone, especially when successful political campaigns require group vision, not just slavish devotion.

The political agenda we wish to put into place as activists would be much easier if people identified more as a collective body rather than as individuals. This is true for ministerial efforts within a faith group, labor organizing, electioneering, or any number of related functions. We must understand that a different kind of strategy and comprehension is needed, one that has the ability to reach across seemingly different skill sets while wholly disregarding much which may seem impressive on a resume. Big problems call for big ideas, and being a worker bee is only as effective so long as conditions at the hive never change. Anyone who has ever worked on a campaign or observed it in action knows that the old adage is true--the only constant is change. Often too many people are indebted to the process, seeing it in terms of some mathematical formula that always produces the same solution every time. Their faith in is the infallibility of the plan, but it should be noted that nothing produced by human hands will ever be perfect or beyond correction.

Movements, elections, and religious gatherings have lived or died based on their ability to adapt to change and not fight it. The most successful ones have taken into account a desire to think outside the box. Doing so isn't just good sense, but it also is imperative to the group's overall health. Similarly, it is vitally important to include a strong component of critical thinking into educational strategies, starting at a young age. It's not enough to know what to think. We need to be able to know how to form our own unique viewpoint by applying what we have learned to create our well-reasoned arguments and opinions. In what might seem like a paradox, learning how to think doesn't produce separation between people, rather, it provides context.

With context comes the realization of commonality and common purpose with others. Learning the letter of the law is adequate, but learning the spirit of the law in addition provides a richer understanding. Connecting the dots should not merely be the domain of those who wish to take high-level leadership roles; it should be for all. For example, Martin Luther sought to translate the Bible into the vernacular so that all might be able to read it without having to use a priest as an intermediary for interpretation. He believed that a personal connection with God through individual study of the scriptures was empowering. Before, those who did not have the ability to learn Latin were unable to study the text, and those who did know Latin managed to do so because they were wealthy enough or privileged enough to receive it. This decision, among many others, was enough to split all of Christendom in two.

A particularly powerful irony is that a focus on individual accomplishment and achievement have, to some degree, made us different from each other. But in reality, in acting this way, we are behaving quite similarly. Stuck in the grooves of a planned track for the whole of our life, we are no different than other people following their own path in their own way. When we structure our very lives this way, we sacrifice not just a more effective means of looking at a problem, but also we forsake a bit of our humanity. Individualism taken too far is little more than isolation and when we adopt it wholesale, we do not recognize that every person feels a strong need to be a part of something greater than himself or herself. Those who I sat with during the training all felt this same desire. However, they didn't recognize that only by comprehending the whole and applying it to one's own experience is what builds true unity. By contrast, learning only the specifics and grinding away at it unintentionally fosters distance and disunity.

As the population of this world continues to spike, there will be a temptation to break people down into more manageable groups separated by niche and identity. This temptation must be strongly resisted, because it runs contradictory to our needs as humans. Connecting the dots and drawing parallels allows us to recognize, first and foremost, that each of us functions in slightly different, but largely similar ways. We then realize that we really are in this together. Recall again the example of the young politicos at the training session who were experts in a very particular task, but novices regarding the entire process. I'm not seeking to point them out to pick on them---only in an effort to cite that they are true believers in a philosophy that they see as integral to their own success in life. They have never felt any need to question the system and, sadly, few of them will.

At this point I could easily launch into a familiar screed about bad parenting styles while ripping into those parents whose hyper-achieving, self-centered ways have completely corrupted their children. I will refrain because such arguments have long since passed into cliche and are now teetering on the brink of parody. I don't need to conjure up a bogeyman to make my case. Many parents have failed to make the same connection as their children and often for the same reasons. As a society, we owe it to ourselves to have an extended dialogue about where we place our priorities from now going forward. Do we continue to rely on the paid expert with the briefcase who lives more than fifty miles away, designed to translate our metaphorical Bible for us? Or, rather, do we adopt a kind of self-sufficiency that is oddly not especially selfish, but is highly sufficient for our needs? A Jack of all Trades might not necessarily have to be a master of none.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Quote of the Week

"In a political struggle, never get personal — else the dagger digs too deep."- Jack Valenti

Saturday, April 17, 2010

When the Personal and the Political Don't Mix

An internet advice column responded to the question of a man who was uncomfortable with the idea that, assuming the two of them would marry, his girlfriend would not agree to take his last name. The columnist deftly turns his original question around in her reply, suggesting that perhaps he should agree to take her name or that the two of them could form a new surname unique to the both of them. Inherent in the whole of the reply is the assertion that the soon-to-be husband in question isn't nearly as open and accepting of a woman's right to individual choice as he thinks he is. The major issues expressed in the column are an articulation that men who place demands upon women, especially in situations like these are speaking from a place of privilege and in so doing need to rethink their attitudes. When politically problematic and personal choice butt heads, the two almost always clash.

A particularly popular line of thinking states that, should a woman make a conscious decision to participate in what would at its face be a restrictive, oppressive custom, she should be allowed to do so without being criticized as somehow violating the aims of women's rights. Up to a point, I think this statement is justified but if one expands the application, it becomes more and more problematic. It should be noted that not all oppressions are the same, but in an earlier post this week, I tried to draw a parallel between all systematic injustices. If, for example, an African-American chooses consciously to dress in blackface and to participate a minstrel show, offensive and demeaning though it is, is the practice any less evil and reprehensible if it is justified by deliberate personal choice?

I am completely in support of not putting litmus or purity tests upon people that would denote whether or not that they are authentic enough to consider themselves part of any activist movement. Sometimes as activists we deliberately divide things into politically problematic categories for the ease of highlighting that which we oppose and know to be wrong. We also end up being as rough on ourselves for not living up to our high-minded ideals as we are for those who inspire our disgust and anger. To me, at least, I sometimes sense some cognitive dissonance between “here is something that is clearly wrong, which we oppose” and “well, if you invalidate that which is wrong for you yourself based on personal choice, then it ceases to be objectionable”. I know that many of us attempt to avoid essentialist arguments whenever possible, but sometimes I think evil is just that...evil.

The concept of reclaiming epithets is a related topic to this one. For example, the word "queer", two generations back, was a very hurtful and damning epithet, which has in the past few decades been reclaimed as a very useful blanket term denoting succinctly that which is not heterosexual. Yet, I recall that the first time I heard the term applied this way I still perceived of the word as a pejorative, one which I quite reflexively interpreted to be nonetheless deeply offensive, regardless of the context. As a result, even now it still makes me uncomfortable to write it or say it, even around those aware of its alternate meaning and thus unlikely to draw the wrong conclusion. Though I wish it were not so, I know I'm not the only person who seeks to nimbly walk an often blurry line. Feminism, in particular, seeks to draw no distinction between the personal and political, finding them to be one in the same.

So what happens when politically problematic and personal expression meet? A blogging friend whose insight provided the impetus to write this post put it this way.

When I was a kid I really liked and admired pioneer days. I was particularly interested in making foods (cheese, butter, and so on) that I knew were once made by hand [in the past], but could not [visualize] making by hand in the modern world. So I read the Diary of Susanna Moodie and the Little House series. I bought a butter churn and asked my parents for antiques for my birthday. For me, it represented a way of connecting with women’s history that I was not learning much about in school. I also dressed up in pioneer dresses [as well]. [Doing so] was personally important for me.

At the same time, I think there is something weird about my having been fascinated with a time when people of my kind were chattel. I did not know about that at the time. And I think it half-horrified my mother who was award of what the political connotations were of the things I so wanted to do. On the other hand, how could I be interested in my own history without having the bad stuff [be] a part of it, [too]?

I think it is important to own the bad in ourselves and our pasts. But as far as dividing things into that which is merely personal and that which is politically significant, I am not sure it can be done.

It is tempting for each of us to draw lines of demarcation for the sake of ease: this is what is, this is what is not. This is what we are, this is what we are not. It is ironic, to say the least, that in tactics like these we often behave towards each other in ways that would have us crying bloody murder if our opponents used the same formula or even the same words. At what point and to what degree can we claim supreme rights as individuals to make words, concepts, or phrases reflect our own conscious interpretation? Is conquering evil merely a means of linguistic gymnastics? If Jewish survivors of the concentration camps wish to reclaim the word "Holocaust" to mean something ultimately uplifting and optimistic, should they be allowed? If they did so, would we then be inclined or encouraged to forget?

Modern Feminists are well-known for their desire to counteract rape culture by educating men about what constitutes informed consent for sex. In so doing they seek to highlight the numerous instances in popular culture where unhealthy views and attitudes encourage a blatant disregard for boundaries. Every now and then, one hears about news stories or personal anecdotes involving women who willfully ignored the unfortunate, but necessary proper precautions needed to protect themselves from sexual assault and ended up being taken advantage of as a result. I should state here before I am misunderstood that I never believe that placing full responsibility regarding rape prevention onto women is a good idea and that I believe that men should bear the ultimate burden of proof. Still, the world in which we live is imperfect, and such are the sort of unfair steps and extra effort woman have to take into account for protection's sake. I seek not to blame the victim here, since I am referencing instances where it is verifiable that women were aware of the risks well beforehand, articulated them beforehand, and yet still did not act in their own best interest.

Situations like these are not frequent, but they are numerous enough to be troubling. These women either blame themselves for their own foolish choices, or with a shrug of the shoulders assume that such is the way of men. To them, that which happened was merely a case of unfortunate luck on their part. Put this way, if life is a card game, they simply drew a bad hand. In circumstances like these, it is particularly difficult to not immediately be judgmental and preachy, though an uncomfortable kind of reluctant acceptance of bad decisions and worse outcomes is the inevitable conclusion drawn. As much as we try to reject Paternalism, it is an inevitable view and one upon which we may not ever completely shed ourselves. Not being Paternalistic would require us to believe that humanity always made proper decisions. I doubt any of us believe in a particularly optimistic anarchist worldview. What we are left with then is that mix between between the personal and the political, two constructs which in many ways are like oil and water. To echo what my blogging friend said above, I'm not sure we'll ever find a way to dissolve one in the other.

Saturday Video

Friday, April 16, 2010

Two of a Kind

After a stressful week, I figured it was time to post a happy song. To make it sound a bit fuller, I used the multi-track recorder.

Consider this my love letter to a wide variety of people who I encounter on a regular basis, and for whom I am always thankful. Since I'm not especially wealthy, I've had to use a free service, so scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the orange button labeled "Download" to listen.

Two of a Kind

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Song About Gender

I would have played this one myself, but my voice seems to not want to cooperate with me this morning.

This song, "I'm a Boy" references the imagined future. According to the narrative, parents have the ability to choose the sex of their children. One unfortunate family who requested to be sent all daughters but was mistakenly given three daughters and a boy instead. Some have assumed that the song is some sort of impassioned plea to protect masculinity against the scourge of femininity, but I really don't believe that to be the case.

I think, if anything, the song can be taken in a queer context, speaking directly to those who do not feel as though their designated gender role fits them, and along those lines it can certainly be interpreted within a transgender framework as well.

Take a listen yourself, if curious.

One girl is called Jean Marie
One little girl is called Felicity
Another little girl was Sally Joy
The other was me and I'm a boy

My name is Bill, and I'm a head case
They practice making up on my face
I feel lucky if I get trousers to wear
Spend days just taking hairpins from my hair

I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but my mother won't admit it

Get your frock on, Jean Marie
Plait your hair, Felicity
Paint your nails, little Sally Joy
Put this wig on, little boy

I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but if I say I am, I get it
The other was me, and I'm a boy

I wanna play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the stream
Cut myself and see my blood
Wanna come home all covered in mud

I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy
I'm a boy - I'm a boy - I'm a boy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Seductive, Escapist Appeal of the Past

A fellow Friend told me the other day about one of her passions. She is a skilled seamstress and designs her own ballroom gowns. The clothes she makes are ornate and authentic, designed to be worn to balls which seek to re-enact social functions that date back to the 19th Century. Part of the appeal, as she describes it, is to dress up, and part of the appeal is to participate in specific dances authentic to the period while socializing with others. I am conscious that recreating a Jane Austen novel has its appeal, but as a Feminist I am also aware of the gender inequality and sexism inherent as well in the practice. British society of that day was rigidly stratified and effectively divided by a strict adherence to class distinctions. I doubt many in the current day would care to deal with them or wish to feel marginalized and discounted to such a stifling degree.

Knowing this, the first question I have is why many feel such a strong sense of fascination with this particular time in history. Every few years the same novel is adapted yet again for film and yet again it makes money. I question if it is easy to brush aside the objectionable parts and still enjoy the experience. If such films, books, or plays were, for example, full of racism or homophobia I doubt we'd be so forgiving. We can tolerate that which effectively disregards the rights of women much more effectively than, say, a new adaptation of a minstrel show. I doubt few would wish to go to social functions where participants dressed up in blackface, attempting to emulate Stepin Fetchit the whole night long.

The past proves a respite from the daily grind, but we choose to see it in romantic terms, and really, squarely on our own terms. Some would return to Austen's day, but they'd certainly want to bring their toothbrush and modern medicine along, too. Neo-cons and anti-feminists have done much the same thing in idealizing the Fifties, forgetting, of course, that those days were also full of paranoia and a constantly nagging fear of imminent destruction by way of nuclear war. In those days, the average housewife had access to a car perhaps a few times a week, almost always at the discretion of her husband, and was predominately cloistered at home doing household chores. This may be a very normal means of longing for simpler days, but some take it beyond fantasy and escapism. When this does happen, then problems arise.

I wonder if we have truly come to terms with escapism and its role in our daily lives. Most notably now it drives the Tea Partiers and those allied with them. As many have commented before, there is really nothing especially authentic or historically accurate that points back to the American Revolution, aside from the occasional demonstrator in colonial militia costume. Those who take the Second Amendment in its original context and apply it to today, arguing for the establishment of a well-regulated militia are the ones who scare us all; yet again it should be said that they are trying to use a document centuries old and make it fit exactly as justification for their own leanings. We already have the National Guard and have no need for vigilante justice or a firearm in every holster.

Some social critics warn of attempts by the powers that control society to provide means of escapism instead of actually bettering the condition of the people. For example, Karl Marx wrote about religion as being the "opium of the people". This is to be compared to the thought of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who argued that people try to find satisfaction in material things to fill a void within them that only God can fill.

If nativist, xenophobic, reactive movements like these on the Right considered themselves wrought of honest religious dissent to the status quo, I think I would have less overall reservations. Most likely I still wouldn't agree with them, but religion practiced honestly has a leveling, moderating influence. Without it, we quickly see rage and open hostility. Taken to extreme we have the Westboro Baptist Church and its hatred towards LGBTs, but this is the exception, not the rule. Tea Party groups thus far have cherry-picked passages from the Bible to suit their needs, but it is, by in large, a secular movement. If these activists really are intent on turning back the clock, I think adopting a conservative Christian framework to guide them might not be a bad idea, since the days they allude to were far less secular than our own. Here is another example of how many will selectively choose which parts of history agree with them while and disregarding the rest. If it is purity which we are seeking, none of us passes the test.

German social philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopias and images of fulfillment, however regressive they might be, also included an impetus for a radical social change. According to Bloch, social justice could not be realized without seeing things fundamentally differently. Something that is mere "daydreaming" or "escapism" from the viewpoint of a technological-rational society might be a seed for a new and more humane social order, it can be seen as an "immature, but honest substitute for revolution".

An important distinction to make here is that there is a difference between Utopia and Dystopia. That may be the best encapsulation of what is on everyone's mind right now. I admit that I have my own bias and my own loyalty, but aside from a few misguided souls, I note that what we have been debating amongst ourselves in recent Progressive discourse are escapist means of imagining how government would run if our specific ideas were adopted. As we scheme and ponder, regrettably some on the other side want to take the law into their own hands, while, regardless of how they frame it, wishing to take advantage of the government which agrees with them while seeking to dismantle the government that does not. Our definitions of what constitutes active revolution are very different from each other, but regardless of it is phrased and by whom, one wonders what period in history or historical document will be cited next. Doing so would seem to be inevitable. And, as we do so, I hope we will realize that the past, consulted honestly, has no allegiance to Party or ideology. Rather, as C. Vann Woodward noted, "there is too much irony mixed in with the tragedy for that."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Economic Populism: A Winner in 2010?

As I suspected would be the case, Democrats intend to take on the conservative wing of the Supreme Court and in so doing make it into an election year issue. In a year where successful narratives for the party in power are few and where the prevailing conventional wisdom seems to be one of limiting inevitable GOP gains, I am pleased to see this degree of push back, though I note by no means will it alone be sufficient to secure majority status for both the House and Senate. It is a good start, but it cannot be the end all, be all. When people are hurting for jobs, income, and peace of mind, the existence of an activist Supreme Court is less important and less pressing.

The only problem I see with this strategy is that it doesn't necessarily channel voter frustration the way that, for example, anger at former President Bush did back in 2008. A desire to take on the Supreme Court for its abuses of power is, at least now, a minor priority, and the people who do feel sufficiently outraged are self-identified Progressives or Democrats. If the intent is purely to unify the base and revitalize party loyalists, then I can understand the logic. But as it stands now, many independents and self-identified conservatives of any leaning unfortunately often find nothing especially objectionable about recent SCOTUS decisions. They don't consider it a particularly pertinent bread and butter issue that relates directly to their own lives. Everyone votes based, to some degree or another, on their own self-interest, but this degree of apathy is due, in part, to the fact that the topic has never really been adequately framed in terms that resonate well with the electorate.

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.

Taking a populist stance on this matter does make sense, but thus far economic populism has been underused by Democrats. The position stated above has been weakly rendered up until now and there has been no unified voice to advance it. If Democrats wish to come out strongly against unpopular decisions like Citizens United v. FEC then it certainly would be interesting to see the effort played with the American people and with the mainstream media. The Obama Administration has, much to the frustration of many, always taken care to hedge its bets regarding passionate denunciations of offending parties, particularly regarding financial matters--one day forceful populism, the next day conciliatory language. Throwing down the gauntlet means that the gauntlet comes down and stays down. Half-measures are perceived by most as as weak, not politically shrewd.

Vermont Senator Patrick J. Leahy summarizes the proposed strategy,

“But I think what people are going to do is say, ‘Do you share our concern about the fact that the court always seems to side with the big corporate interests against the average American?’” he added. “I think there’s going to be more of the public realizing they really do have a stake in who’s on the Supreme Court.”

Nothing could be a more prototypical Democratic stance than this. The entire identity of the Party itself is based upon the notion that it is the champion for the hard-working everyman or everywoman. Still, I recognize that the challenges which face us at this moment in time are daunting and without historical precedent. Health Care Reform did nearly collapse before eventual passage and many other proposed reform measures are still under debate, but if Harry Truman were President now, Economic Populism above everything else would have been hammered home over and over and over again. My hope is that Democratic leaders as well as the rank-and-file will understand that due to our current electoral climate, almost everything signed into law or pushed by the Democratic caucus is automatically loved by half the country and reviled by the other half. I do not speak out of ignorance on this subject, since poll after poll has backed up my assertion.

If, however, a strongly Populist denunciation of the excesses and abuses of corporations, the elite, and the wealthy were adopted and, won favor among a wide cross-section of the voting public, then it would be very beneficial indeed, not just for preserving seats but also in filling the coffers. The American people are mad as hell right now and their favorite punching bags are, alternately, big business and Washington, DC. Democrats in power have yet to close ranks, deflect, and redirect the entirely justified anger, frustration, and feelings of hopelessness that have been present in the lives of so many Americans for so many months. A common enemy has always been a source of unity throughout history, and despite the fact that as a tactical maneuver it might not speak to the best of humanity, it has won many elections prior to now.

President Obama may seek to not wish to burn any more bridges than he has to, but in this situation, it is control over his legislative agenda which he is fighting to preserve and, in this context, with it the ability to fill subsequent Supreme Court openings beyond Justice Stevens, should they occur during this time in office. It may never be too soon for a President in his or her first term to start preparing for the exhausting race to win a second, especially in these times where the contest starts fully two years before even the first vote is cast. Obama may soon have no other choice than to risk making enemies with big business. Though in some ways November is still a long way away, establishing a properly persuasive framework and selling it to the American people by way of skillful repetition must be set in stone months beforehand. Washington, DC, is full of the graves of candidates whose lack of preparation and message control contributed directly to their defeat.

Right now, Democrats are collectively scattered and I have no doubt that if the Republican Party was now coalesced around its own Barack Obama, circa 2008, then the GOP would hold commanding leads in just about every contest. One of the lessons learned about 2008 is that even a party with a long history of dysfunction and weak leadership will eventually find its savior, though there is absolutely no guarantee that he or she will work magic beyond a relatively short period of time. Democrats must take the initiative and seize the momentum, else it find itself once again in the minority---if not this year, certainly by 2012 if conditions do not turn around. Though we are often beholden to depressingly similar patterns and trends, there is no law which says that they must always be proven true. We can shape our fate if we so choose. We do not have to be held prisoner by it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

This Man He Weeps

I wish that you could see
All the things that I have seen.
This mind of mine is making life worthwhile.

I wish that you'd have known
Of all the plans I had in store for us,
Laughing, dancing, traveling the world on our own.

And this man, he weeps tonight,
And his head is bowed with sorrow,
But what can you do, sitting there,

And you let him cry tomorrow,
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.

I thought our thing would last,
'Cause it said so in my horoscope,
The days have gone and past while dreaming away.

The lighting here is dim,
And the room closes in around me.
Your picture's hanging loose on a rusting nail.

And this man, he weeps tonight,
And his head is bowed with sorrow,

But what can you do, sitting there,
And you let him cry tomorrow,
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.

And this man, he weeps tonight,
And his head is bowed with sorrow,
But what can you do, sitting there,

And you let him cry tomorrow,
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.
Yes, you'll let him cry tomorrow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quote of the Week

"In the early years, you fight because you don't understand each other. In the later years, you fight because you do"- Joan Didion

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday, April 09, 2010

Student Sexual Assault Safety Depends Partially on Privilege

For years, student activists have fought to combat the disturbing numbers of rapes and sexual assaults which routinely occur on college campuses. Actual statistics are tough to come by because many victims are too intimidated and scared to report them, which is often compounded by apathetic university administrators who grant only cursory attention to the matter or try to sweep things under the rug. Colleges and Universities are unfortunately run like businesses these days, and none of them wants to entertain even the faintest hint of scandal. Fighting for tuition money, grants, and endowments trump keeping female students safe and protected. The amount of administrative staff in higher education is staggering, and no one wants to stop piling on layer after layer of middle management, even when most of it is entirely unnecessary.

In any case, props to the students at American University in Washington, DC, who have recently fought back against an offensive column (or two) in their campus paper by mobilizing to stand united against rape apologists.

Much of the protest centers around this particular passage, written by columnist Alex Knepper in the AU student newspaper, The Eagle.

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!

A previous passage noted, as well, that

Feminist religious dogma, long ago disposed of by neuroscientists and psychologists, states that men are essentially born as eunuchs, only to have wicked masculinity imposed on them by an evil society. This is usually presented as “social construction theory".

I am understandably pleased to observe such an outpouring of righteous indignation and with it a desire to push back and push back hard. Still, I am also struck that it takes a college flush full of money, privilege, and students already inclined to activism to set up such an elaborate response in the first place. Offensive as the passages are, I can at least follow the author's "logic", even though I disagree with it strongly. As someone who is not a native of Planet Progressive, I reflect back on my own upbringing in a solidly conservative state, where, to refer back to Knepper's column, no one talks about social construction theory, even in conversation with fellow students, nor does anyone acknowledge or have even the faintest notion of why it is offensive to use the term hermaphrodite in place of intersex.

As for me, when I was in college, I was not privy to these sorts of dialogues. And, for that matter, most students now enrolled in schools across the country are not, either. I attended a state school which gave perfunctory and short-lived attention to topics like educating men about precisely what constituted consent, and never spoke as any unified voice. LGBT students were greeted usually with a shrug, and it took years of effort to even establish same-sex partner benefits for university employees. I do recall that a scandal broke during my time there involving an early enrollment student who began her freshman year at age fifteen. She was then later revealed to have been frequenting the beds of athletes. Though the sexual contact was consensual, it was still statutory rape due to the female student nonetheless being under the age of consent. As is typical, the matter was dealt with internally and invisibly until the parents filed suit. Even then, once the matter became public, there were no protests, raised fists, or plans among the student body to go to the news media and raise hell. Most people were ambivalent to the matter. The lawsuit stalled and was eventually thrown out of court. Among many it has been forgotten altogether.

But to draw a contrast, I would expect nothing less than this sort of coordinated protest from a place like American, but again, I can't help but wish I'd see it in areas of the country not quite so blue and not quite so well off. This is not to say that women in predominantly liberal, highly competitive, and affluent schools don't face the chance of being date raped or assaulted on campus. That risk, unfortunately, never goes away completely, but the odds do increase dramatically when the framework meant to counter sexual assault and rape simply does not exist or exists so weakly as to become ineffectual. A program designed to accomplish this need not be as detailed and exacting as what American University is now doing, and indeed, a school with a much more modest budget could not begin to mimic that of a wealthier institution.

Being that I live in Washington, DC, and associate with several American students and employees, I know for a fact that the student who wrote the columns in the first place purely meant to provoke a response, not necessarily out of some inward conviction in his supposed cause. Taken this way, he was little more than a troll, and we all know how trolls love to needle us just to see us roar in response. Even though the writer might not have meant what he said in totality, I still think it's important that the students have adopted an important cause and are fighting to advance it. Again, I think it is imperative of them to spread the message to other schools across the country if they wish to fulfill their idealistic ambitions. It honestly breaks my heart to see just how much of that which is proposed and adopted in blue circles stays there and never leaves. Being that I grew up in a red state, I always feel somehow slighted when I see clear-cut evidence of all the things that money can provide with a snap of the fingers. This is bold evidence of classism and one of the deepest ironies of all is that it is on full display even in efforts designed to improve conditions for marginalized people whose voices have been ignored or silenced.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Musical Interlude for Thursday

I very nearly recorded a cover of this, but then reversed course, deciding that posting the original would be better.

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where will it go

I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where will it go

And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong, I'm right
Where I belong I'm right, where I belong

See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don't get in my door

I'm painting the room in a colorful way
And when my mind is wandering
There I will go

And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong, I'm right
Where I belong I'm right, where I belong

Silly people run around they worry me
And never ask me why they don't get past my door

I'm taking the time for a number of things
That weren't important yesterday
And I still go

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering

Where it will go, where it will go
I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Teabaggers, Confederate Flags, and Wishful Thinking

Though I no longer live there, I suppose I will always be a Son of the South. Where I grew up, a strong sense of solidarity with the Lost Cause of the Confederacy still existed, which to me was more a romantic ideal of what might had been then any desire for Round Two of the conflict. I always felt it to be analogous to the sort of people who support a particular sports team that is always a heavy underdog and spend much time waxing poetically between themselves about close losses. "If only", these attitudes seemed to say. "If only." So on at least one level I think I can understand the mentality of the Teabaggers, since their resistance to Progressive reforms is often tied to a profound sense of nostalgia for some golden age long past and likely never to return. The particularly irony, of course, is that this epoch they reference never really existed in the first place.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's decision to denote the month of April as Confederate History Month and the controversy surrounding it reminds me of the political back and forth that raged when my home state of Alabama was contemplating removing the Confederate flag from the top of the Capitol building in Montgomery. Then, as now, many of the same arguments were heard. After years of debate, the flag was at last taken down. South Carolina is the last of the southern states to keep the flag flying, but even so, several other Deep South states incorporate the design into their own state flags, having faced massive popular backlash when they threatened to remove the pattern altogether.

In 2001, Mississippi voted 2:1 to keep the Confederate flag very visibly incorporated into its own design. That same year, then Georgia Governor Roy Barnes modified the state flag in an effort to greatly downplay the Confederate banner, causing a popular uproar, and was swept from power the next year by an irate electorate. Barnes' successor and the state legislature quickly adopted a new design, one putting the banner back in prominence. It is not as though Confederate flags had flown atop state capitals ever since the end of Reconstruction. They were hoist atop rotundas for the same reasons why the Teabaggers seek to hearken back to the memory of the American Revolution, even when both don't exactly fit their purposes. The symbolism involved in both instances is not exactly difficult to decipher and the anger and hatred are very real.

One person's peculiar institution is another person's brutal heritage. Yet, what I find most interesting is that the veneration of the Confederate flag in its most recent incarnation usually can be traced back to the upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement and the refusal to integrate, two key factors which reached their apex in the 50's and the early 60's. Something long overlooked in the awful back and forth of those trying times is the occasion of centennial of the war itself, celebrated in 1961, which was a huge event and source of regional pride throughout the South. I even recall that my Grandparent bought a commemorative mug and proudly displayed it in their modest living room, years after the fact. So whether by coincidence or design, the two were held simultaneously.*

EDIT: A reader e-mailed me to state that in at least one Southern state, the Confederate flag was placed atop the Capitol building to commemorate the anniversary of the Civil War, but that very quickly what was meant to be a temporary four-year-long placement became associated with resistance against the Federal Government, and as a result the flag was never taken down until decades later.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. The romantic legacy of the virtuous Confederacy has been enshrined in public memory for decades. D.W. Griffith's racist, but groundbreaking 1915 film Birth of a Nation, advances a storyline in which the South, for all intents and purposes, rises again and wins rightful victory over the Carpetbaggers and Negroes who have overrun its own territory. The book and then movie Gone with the Wind spread the Confederate myth not just across the country but throughout the world. Since then, many groups who have struggled against high odds and overwhelming resistance have found something in the story that speaks to their struggles and their condition. However, theirs is a deliberate reduction of the true ambitions and goals of the Confederate States of America, circa 1861-1865.

All of these ways of thinking do not, of course, reference slavery. That matter is deliberately sidestepped, since the practice is indefensibly barbaric and furthermore distracts from the sweep and scope of the narrative. Or, to put it another way, on a recent trip to Pennsylvania I saw, much to my shock, a Confederate flag flying on the front porch of someone's residence. To my sensibilities, it seemed tremendously out of place, especially considering that I was well above the Mason-Dixon line. Pennsylvania had been a quite vocal free state during the War Between the States so it was incomprehensible to me why that which I had always known as a symbol of regional pride would have made its way into Northern territory. I was told that the Confederate flag had become a way for those who favored less central government intrusion into their lives and greater local control to denote solidarity, and that, these days, where it was flown wasn't all that important.

Any self-proclaimed movement which clings to the Tenth Amendment when major changes are afoot, seeking to place power in its own hands, and in so doing demanding the right to make its own decisions, will always reach for symbols like the notion of the brave Confederacy fighting against the Yankee oppressors. The veracity of this comparison will always be in debate, but there must be something quite human about responding to loss in this fashion. If we were talking about Germany, Post-World War I, we could bring up the Dolchstoßlegende, the right-wing legend that,

[Attributed] Imperial German loss of the war to the public’s failure in answering their “patriotic calling”, and to the war effort-sabotage of the Socialists, the Bolsheviks, and the Jews, and not to the Reichsheer’s inability to engage battle, it exonerated the military of their defeat. Culturally, the legendary dagger-stabbing of the German Army parallels the hero’s fate in the epic poem Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs), wherein Siegfried is stabbed in the back by Hagen von Tronje.

Growing up, I always saw Confederate veneration as something very misguided, but also very harmless. It reminded me a bit of the belief system of certain conservative Christians, yet since they and I kept a decided feeling of live and let live between us, I was all for peaceful co-existence. As for today's Tea Party members, I am wary of painting them all with a very broad brush. Based on what I have read and heard of recent history, there were only a few classless individuals yelling racial slurs and spitting on legislators after the passage of the Health Care Reform Act. Still, I am understandably uncomfortable when I see the very same motifs and imagined slights incorporated into anyone's canon. This is not Wiemar Germany, but this is a time of great transition, and in times of change, there are always unforeseen consequences.