Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 1: Hating Politics

This is a post I've been putting off writing since practically when I started this blog.

I've been putting it off because I don't know exactly what I want to say. I've been putting it off because what I want to say covers such sprawling territory I don't know where to start. I've been putting it off because I know so painfully well how much I don't know.

But I've come to the point where I can't not start saying something.

This is likely to be pretty raw -- in the sense of not being more than very lightly edited. As a writer I often massage my message before I unveil it. That's been less true of this blog, and I think it will be even less true of this post or series of posts.

So. To begin.

I've come to hate politics. I engage in what's going on just enough to do my job as a journalist, some of which involves writing about the media. But otherwise I keep myself at an ever-increasing distance. When NPR comes on in the morning at 5 a.m., I shut it off, and DairyStateMom is kind to indulge me. (Of course, she will get to hear the same cycle during her 1-hour commute to The Big City a couple of hours later, but still -- I appreciate her accommodation even so.)

I do occasionally get sucked in during the day to certain political news items, whether on the NY Times or Washington Post websites or on more specialized sites, blogs, etc. Sometimes I post a link on Facebook to some matter that I find especially trenchant, but I'm fairly restrained about that, too.

But for the most part, I tend to push away from my mind much contemplation about what's been going on politically.

I am constrained from direct activism on account of my journalistic work. I'm a freelancer, so that is arguably more of a personal choice. (I could, after all, choose to freelance in areas that don't overlap politics.) But because of the topics I tend to write about -- maybe even want to write about, it could be argued -- I feel it more appropriate to keep arm's length. (Two exceptions: In 2004 I put up a Kerry sign on my lawn; in 2006 I would wear a discreet button opposing the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage -- but never to interviews.)

That seemingly necessary detachment may contribute somewhat to my aversion to politics these days, because to some extent that aversion is driven by a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. If I worked in another field, perhaps I might find myself throwing myself into some volunteer political activism, so that I might be able to say to myself, "I'm doing all I can to help bring about the outcomes I prefer / stop the outcomes I fear..."

As I have on other subjects, I find it most helpful to start with autobiography.

I grew up in a politically engaged home. I often say my parents were Stevenson Democrats (as in Adlai -- the guy who ran against Eisenhower in 1952 and '56), but it would be just as accurate to say they were Roosevelt Democrats, too. It's probably pretty safe to bet they never voted for a Republican in my lifetime, but that didn't keep my father from paying close attention to the other side. I recall listening to the Republican convention on the radio with my father in 1964, and hearing Clare Booth Luce ("Mrs. Luce," my father said, telling me who was speaking) giving what must have been an endorsement speech for Barry Goldwater. (My clearest memory from that time is when she referred to him as "the wave of the future," and my father recoiled, recognizing the title of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book that saw Fascism as inevitable and counseled submission to it. I was in 3rd Grade that year. That fall My Weekly Reader had an article about the election with big side-by-side head shots of LBJ and Goldwater on the cover. A friend of mine drew pictures of devil's horns on Goldwater and a halo and wings on Johnson, and I followed suit. There may have been kids who did the opposite; I cannot recall with certainty.

In 1968 I went to bed on election night not knowing for sure who had won the presidency; it was the first question I asked my mother when I awoke the next day. Of course, we weren't happy.

In 1972, a junior in high school, I volunteered for the McGovern campaign. I have three specific memories from that time: A Saturday morning spent calling voters to identify their preference ("You gotta be kidding!" said one woman when I asked if she planned to vote for McGovern in the election, before slamming down the phone); a trek through some neighborhood in my [very Republican] rural southeastern Pennsylvania community to hand out fliers; and a depressed election night at local HQ watching the returns on a black and white TV (as I snuck sips of beer from the refreshments cooler). I wrote a morose, rambling and probably not very coherent memoir of the evening -- the very next day, if memory serves -- and showed it to my English teacher (whose politics were very definitely not left of center).

That junior year was fateful in certain ways. From 8th grade through 10th grade, I had gone, instead of to the local public school, to a Quaker school in Delaware. For 11th grade -- for reasons that were, I believe, mostly financial (certainly not academic ones) -- I was sent back to the public school, with the promise that I could return to the Quaker school in my senior year (which I did).

As it happened, that junior year back in the local public school re-united me with a childhood friend, whom I will call The Card-carrying Anarchist (The CCA for short). And that's where I will resume my story next time.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some weather we're havin'...

Andrew Leonard at Salon asks

Ah, science. How many latter-day wrecks of the Edmund Fitzgerald are we going to need before we start paying attention again to what it has to tell us?

(Thanks, DairyStateMom!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Witness Speaks

Some year I hope to go to the UU Christian Fellowship annual revival.

These remarks from a speaker there may help explain why.

I especially like how he finishes it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today's Obnoxious Sales Pitch

From Barnes & Noble [we have a membership for discounts, so we get e-mails promoting special sales]. This was the headline on today's e-mail message:

Why Pay Full Price To Make A Child Happy When You Can Save 20% on Any Toy?

Just contemplate that for a minute, if you can.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Bullying

I don't have any purple clothes, or I would be wearing purple today.

I certainly had my encounters with bullies in my lifetime, and to my shame, there have been times when I have been the bully. But I don't have much to say that's original or especially eloquent on the topic.

Instead, I want to acknowledge the best two things I've read about this subject, and the larger issue captured in the "It gets better" campaign, are this today by Coffee Em, and this a few days ago by Desmond Ravenstone.

Both are calls to action. Both are prayer in its best form.

To which I can only say, Amen. May it be so.

Update: When I refer to my own bullying, I'm not speaking in the context of anti-gay bullying. I'm thinking of times in the past when I've lashed out inappropriately in other contexts. Just thought I'd make that clear. Not that it makes it any better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Another 'Waiting for Superman' Observation

Waiting for Superman truly excoriates the union–in incredibly vicious ways. While there are many areas in which I’d like to see unions become more progressive, I don’t want us to forget that it was the union that brought us pilot schools and it is always the union that fights for better conditions in classrooms (often when districts or even the public is looking the other way). And if the union was so much the problem, why wouldn’t non-unionized states like Texas, South Carolina or Virginia have fabulous schools?

Linda Nathan.

Hear, hear!

Quote for the Day: On Our Polarized Culture and Politics

I recall nearly two decades ago standing up during a talkback, or maybe during Joys and Concerns, to express my distress at the then-dominant mode of political discourse: The reckless demonizing of different opinions.

It has only grown worse, as Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show Being (formerly Speaking of Faith), observes.

What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.

For months I've been planning to write a post on why I've come to hate politics. I still may write that, but this eloquent summary touches on a part of the answer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

James Freeman Clarke on The Bible

Boston Unitarian's "A Wonderful Epoch" has this inspiring passage on approaching the Bible after one has come to realize it cannot be literally true:
Then we shall be set free from the bondage of the letter, and be able to open our souls to the coming of the everlasting Spirit, which moves where it will, creating light and life in the midst of darkness and the shadow of death.

I'd love to know more about when and where Clarke said or wrote this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

'Sympathy for Garrison'

"Lizard Eater" describes a moment that put her in touch with Garrison Keillor's offense at the altered "Silent Night" that consumed the energies of so many of us last December -- and then wrestles her reaction through to closure. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'Waiting for Superman'

I haven't yet seen "Waiting for Superman," the new documentary about education reform, but what I've heard so far about it makes me skeptical.

Full disclosure: I do editorial work for a group of education scholars who bring both rigorous scholarship and progressive values to the subject of school reform. I happen to believe that their scholarship is far more soundly based than the work of most of the loudest voices in the school reform debates, but my relationship with them arguably makes me biased. For that reason, I don't often directly engage education myself, here or in my day-to-day writing.

But I was heartened to see this rebuttal to the memes that appear to be embedded in the "Superman" movie.

I do not think that public schools are free of problems. But I detest the way the discussion over making them better has become so bound up with failed, market-based ideologies while ignoring the complexity of the problem and the multiple contexts of class, poverty, cultural divides and political dysfunction in which those schools operate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Question of the Day

From DairyStateMom:

"Why is it that when we talk about blue-collar workers, 'competitive' means wage cuts, and when we talk about CEOs, 'competitive' means higher salaries?"