We the People

We the people must protect ourselves, not with guns but with intelligence. Don’t let others manipulate you with emotional speech that hides their true intent. We are too smart for that.

While candidates hurl insults and accusations at one another, we must look deeper to see their motivations. These “remarks” they make are not really meant to hurt the other’s feelings, they are meant to manipulate our emotions and lead us to ignoring our own intelligence while acting in the heat of passion – love them or hate them, it’s all the same form of manipulation.

We need facts, and we need to use our good sense.

We the people must take a good look at each person, their words, their behavior, and all that it implies about their character, their personality, and their values. This goes for candidates and anyone else who wants to influence you.

Some things a candidate supports might be good in your opinion, others not so good. Each and every one of those who would claim to lead or represent us all have agendas of their own. Having an agenda is not bad in and of itself. What you must determine is whether their agenda is in conflict with what you believe is best and/or right.

This goes for people we admire as well as those we detest. These people come to us with personality traits that we might like or dislike, traits are part of a person’s psychology. From one extreme to the other – from Mother Teresa to Hitler – desires to be selflessly kind or to kill are influenced by early life experiences. A person can be passionate about saving the world and doing what they believed to be best, but that doesn’t mean that they are reasonable. Whether for better or worse, passion can cloud judgement. “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” (Attributed to Benjamin Franklin.)l

Now negative campaigning is nothing new – candidates did it back in the 1800s. What IS new is today’s media, and we have to look closely at their motivations as well. First, the traditional media such as network news programs are no longer as dedicated to truth in journalism because they don’t have time to fact-check and verify. Today’s news is immediate. If they take the extra time to verify, they risk being scooped by a competitor – never mind that the competitor’s facts are also not verified. Second, there are a multitude of competing sources, some professional, some not, but all immediate and many visibly biased toward one side or another due to pressure from advertisers and the company’s executives.

So what are we to do? First, stop and take a breath. I’m not kidding. Try to calm your emotional response and then evaluate what you are being told. Next, think for yourself! Whether you are hearing the words from the candidate him/herself, or from a supposed “person in the know,” or from the media, or from your social circle, or even best friend, do not fall into crowd mentality without thinking first for yourself.

Think about what is most important to YOU, and question the truth of what you are hearing and whether it truly makes a difference to your goals. If you think Clinton has lied about some things, does that mean she lies about everything? Does it make her unfit to be President? If Trump makes rude comments about women, does that make him a chauvinist pig and, if so, therefore unfit to be president?

I cannot answer for you and you should not allow anyone to control your thoughts and actions whether through persuasion, manipulation, or outright lies. Think for yourself. Do not believe everything you hear or read. Look at multiple sources and evaluate for yourself. I urge you to be true to your own values and beliefs and not be swayed by the crowd.

NOTE: this essay was inspired by my mother, a psychoanalyst who, along with her colleagues, is concerned about the effects of bombastic rhetoric on the population at large. She contributed thoughts and words to this piece, for which I thank her.

Gray is more than a hair color

I remember the clarity of my youth when I was certain about everything. Things were clearly right or wrong, good or bad. Love was supreme and war was reviled. Democracy was good, communism was bad. My friends and I were child activists, picketing the sale of war toys at a nearby “five and ten cent store” — GI Joe Must Go — and savvy enough to call the local TV station and end up on the evening news.

It was the 1960s. Our ideology was nonviolence. “Flower Power!” We were in favor of passive resistance and free speech. We marched WITH Dr. King and we marched ON Washington. We sang the songs of Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’“) and Phil Ochs (“There but for Fortune“).

In our teenage and college years our concepts grew a little deeper but still we held to a simple clarity of right and wrong. Quality was of higher value than quantity. We knew journalists to be reporters and fact-checkers who would not dream of ‘making news’ or becoming celebrities unto themselves. Without question, substance was supremely more important than style. I knew what I believed in, believed that I was right, and that fueled my confidence.

I don’t know when it changed, but the light began to fade and our vision required corrective lenses. When I was 42, a friend referred to me as “a woman of a certain age,” meaning, of course, that I was no longer a kid. I thought of myself as principled, but perhaps I was just naive? Answers to questions large and small no longer seemed so simple. I noticed style was rewarded even when substance was absent. Was it time to pay more attention to style, at least as it pertained to self and one’s future. I had improbably survived a stage four cancer and the graying temple hairs were now very noticeable — perhaps it was time for a little hair color and a brand new attitude. Time to grow up and ‘get ahead,’ whatever that means.

Get ahead? I invested in myself, looked good, worked hard and made a little money too. But the work was just for money, devoid of passion and not all that enjoyable. I watched my husband and others around me – the happiest and the healthiest of them were passionate about their work. “Don’t worry, be happy” sounds good, but how to pay one’s bills? Can one seek both money and happiness? Somewhere I took a wrong turn, another of life’s detours.

Fifteen more years have gone by and I no longer color my hair. I am once again clear about my likes and dislikes, ideology is back, BUT I have come to accept that nothing is simple, there is no clear black and white, right and wrong, just lot of pros and cons. There are many applicable quotations:

    “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
    ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
    “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
    ― William Keane
    You’ve got to get to the stage in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing.
― Arthur Ashe

Some phrases seem almost cliche, but their points are well-taken. I evaluate life’s compromises on a case-by-case basis. Embracing the gray is my new mantra for navigating life’s path. For this Libra, life is now a game of balance, and the prizes to be sought on every given day are the little bits of color one finds while unraveling the tangled layers of gray.

Joy to the World and a Pox on Wall Street!

Americans For Financial Reform web site exhorts you to “sing your displeasure.” Here’s a sample:

    (Jingle Bells) Goldman Sachs, bankster hacks, bailouts every day…
    (Deck the Halls) Wrecked our homes with loans of folly…
    (Joy to the World) Joy to the banks, the crash has come, the Feds reward their sins…

Click here for more lyrics.

And on a more serious note, check out what else you can do at Showdown America: The American People vs Wall Street Banks.

Life and Death and Michael Jackson

Is Michael Jackson really THAT important? More important than protestors in Iran? Famine? What about the millions of AIDs deaths in Africa? OK, music provides a soundtrack for our lives and Michael’s music has touched many millions of lives, and yes, death is sad for those of us still here, especially when death comes early in life. But really, can any one person be so important as to obliterate all other concerns?

At first I was sickened by the overabundance of Michael everywhere I turned, and admittedly, to some extent I still cringe, but reading Sarah Weinman’s June 25th post on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, I found her perspective to be more in keeping with my thoughts, and the comments from her readers gave me hope as well. Readers commented on his “troubled life” and hoped that in death he would be at peace. “The guy only seemed to come fully alive onstage,” wrote J.D. Rhoades. “In front of a crowd, he was damn near superhuman. But you can’t live life onstage 24/7, and he could ever seem to adjust to life on Earth.”

Weinmn saves her greatest appreciation for his dancing, writing that Jackson

“represented the ultimate American narrative, reared from an early age to work hard and produce, to support a family rife with internal tensions and jealousies and to appease the hangers-on, trapped by his penchant for excess and flaws tragic and monstrous….But when it comes right down to it, what brings me back to MJ’s classic songs, his groundbreaking videos and those breathtaking live performances is the way he moved, his total command over space, the upward slope of his arch and downturn onto the balls of his feet.”

For many years now, when I hear Michael’s name his music is the last thing to come to my mind. Media attention has focused on his private life more than his music, and the videos that capture his dancing prowess are somehow overshadowed in my memories by his crotch-grabbing. But last night, Johnny Pate called and mentioned a beautiful song by Michael that he heard at the end of Ann Curry’s NBC report. The song was Gone Too Soon from his Dangerous album. I don’t own any MJ recordings, but I do remember this beautiful song in the context of Michael dedicating it to Ryan White and shining a spotlight the importance of AIDs research. (It also garnered a lot of attention when Princess Diana died and was on a compilation CD titled Diana Princess of Wales Tribute.)

It’s sad that Michael lived such a tortured life, and it is sad that he died, but even sadder to me is the current state of our culture that feeds more on celebrity-gawking and not enough on arts appreciation.

Update: Interesting article in The New York Times – His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music

Of Interest

I often watch Bill Moyer’s Journal but I missed the April 17 episode with producer David Simon:

The executive producer of HBO’s critically-acclaimed show THE WIRE, David Simon talks with Bill Moyers about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism today. After a dozen years covering crime for the BALTIMORE SUN, David Simon left journalism to write books and tell stories for NBC and HBO, including his Peabody-winning cop show THE WIRE, which looked at the drug wars and the gritty underbelly of the inner-city. Simon is now producing the pilot for a series about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, called TREME.

Though not an avid watcher of The Wire, I have appreciated Simon’s past work at the Baltimore Sun, and am now intrigued by this potential new series.

Also worth noting is his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee kindly reposted here by ReclaimTheMedia

Thanks, Ken, for bringing these links to my attention.

Multimedia Enhanced Reporting

While I much lament what I feel is the demise of essential elements of journalism – shoe-leather and insightful reporting – I will not lament the loss of physical newspapers, should that eventuality come to pass. I remember my grandfather showing me how to fold The New York Times so as to manage the size and page turns, but I never learned to like the feel of newsprint nor the ink it left on my hands.

What I am enjoying these days is the online incarnation of some newspapers, particularly those that employ multimedia and narrative writing. One of my mentors, Tom French, has done several huge serial reports for the St Petersburg Times*, but the one-off stories such as the March 8th New York Times article Riding The Rails are just as inspiring and more easily consumable when pressed for time. rr_crossing_outside-boulder-co.jpgThis piece is an interesting short-form narrative, well-reported with occasional first-person interjections for that being-there-with-you feel. The multimedia portion includes images of the amazing landscapes seen while rolling across country and short video clips that allow us to meet some fellow travelers. Is it really just coincidental that only a few days ago I spoke of wanting to travel cross country by train?

* Series by Tom include A Cry in the Night and Zoo Story
zoostory.jpg tf_cry.jpg

Of course multimedia need not be reserved only for narratives. It is not surprising that art reviews are greatly enchanced by visuals. I still refer friends to the slides accompanying a review of Calder works at the Whitney — Calder at Play: Finding Whimsy in Simple Wire (October 2008).

More recently a March 5th New York Times article “The Unheralded Pieces in the American Puzzle” caught my attention, perhaps because last weekend I went to The Getty Museum for the first time in eons and found myself wondering how I might manage to visit there much more often (but that rumination is for another blog post). While the slides with this particular article are fewer and less intriguing to me than those of Calder, I did “discover” artists unfamiliar to me. My favorite is slide number 5, a 1911 painting by George Bellows titled “New York” with this description: “crowded with buildings, vehicles and people in the street, it is thought to depict Union Square in the snow, slightly reimagined and looking west toward the Sixth Avenue El.” ny_bellows.jpgApparently Bellows died young (age 42). His wikipedia entry says “Bellows’ urban New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods, and also satirized the upper classes.” Had he been of our generations, I wonder what his canvases would portray of life today.

A Violinist in the Metro

A Violinist in the Metro is the subject of a viral email that I received just this week. The story it tells, of renowned concert violinist playing in a Washington D.C. subway during rush hour who goes unrecognized and unappreciated, is true. The violinist was Joshua Bell and it was widely reported, by the Washington Post and NPR among others…two years ago. The event took place on on January 12, 2007 and I don’t know why this email is circulating now but it bears re-telling for it gives rise to questions that are worth considering.

The email concludes with this question:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments …. how many other things are we missing?

It’s a good question, but I would also have to ask whether the adults, who probably had no arts education or even exposure to the arts, would have had the ability to discern quality and beauty even if they did have the time to stop and listen. Some might argue that art has the power to touch all, and I might agree, but I also think that those who grew up in recent times may have had the innate ability with which we are born sucked out of them by adulthood. (The children in this story wanted to stop and listen, but the grownups pulled them away.)

It reminds me of a story I read some time ago about people are born with the ability to taste color or see musical notes as colors and shapes but the ability fades away from disuse, lack of encouragement, lack of adult understanding… It’s called synesthesia (“a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine”) and while I am not a scientist, I do believe that we are born with way more abilities and talents than we ever imagine, let alone nurture.

What do you think?

Best interests?

The issues are no longer clear cut. Maybe they never were, but now, I think, less so than ever. For example, are unions good or bad? There was a time when unions did a tremendous service, fighting for the rights of commenfolk. But today we seem to be in an age of me, me, me, and I wonder if the demands being made to supposedly protect the worker are out of line with common sense. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of corporate greed, and I would be the first to confiscate the obscene bonuses and out-sized salaries of the suits at the top. But take a look at this video report about Ford’s manufacturing plant in Brazil and tell me what you think. Is Ford doing “the right thing”?

Yes We Can…

And yes, we did.

My husband, who until recently thought he’d never live to see this day, has been predicting a revolution. He felt that as the divide between the haves and the have-nots continued to widen, that there would come a moment when ordinary people would revolt and take to the streets in protest. Whenever he said this I envisioned scenes from history books and movies of the French Revolution.

This morning I remembered that the revolution has long been underway (I was, after all, a child of the sixties who supported Dr. King and protested the Vietnam War and marched on Washington) and I realized that the struggle became vibrant once again the day Obama declared his candidacy. It’s been a true grassroots revolution, and last night people around the world took to the streets…in celebration. Tears flowed, but no blood.

I was struck not only by the grace and honesty of Obama’s acceptance speech (transcript), which I expected, but also by the  decency and generosity of McCain’s concession speech (transcript). He said what his supporters needed to hear, despite their unwillingness to hear it.

Now the really hard work begins. Can we do it? Yes, we can.

Barack Obama accepts:

John McCain concedes:

Be Careful!

Means do not justify the ends. It is important to determine the veracity of one’s arguments lest an inaccuracy undermine the credibility of the point you are trying to make. I really detest Sarah Palin for more reasons than I can count, but in these days of ‘spin’ and ‘at-any-cost’ I am not so quick to take political emails at face value, even one from a friend. The email I received began:

Let’s spend a few moments browsing the list of books Mayor Sarah Palin tried to get town librarian Mary Ellen Baker to ban in the lovely, all-American town of Wasilla, Alaska.  When Baker refused to remove the books from the shelves, Palin threatened to fire her.  The story was reported in Time Magazine and the list comes from the librarian.net website.

and it continued with another paragraph and a long list of books. So I did some checking.

First I went to the original Time magazine piece and found that it said only:

Over the past few years, a growing number of Evangelicals have been consciously distancing themselves from the more extreme stands of the Christian right. They live in the suburbs, hold graduate degrees, and while they might not want their children reading certain novels, would be embarrassed by attempts to ban certain books from libraries, as Palin is reported to have briefly considered while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

the caveat being “reported to have briefly considered.”

Then I checked out the post on librarian.net, not an organization web site, but one personal librarian’s blog on which she slams Palin (yes, I don’t like her either) and links to the list that was actually posted by one of her readers as a comment. The librarian/blogger also writes:

there’s some buzz being generated that says that this post contains a comment that lists the books that Palin supposedly wanted banned. The list is here, but there appears to be no truth to the claim made by the commenter, and no further documentation or support for this has turned up.

Another commenter on the blog pointed out:

The list of banned books is inaccurate. Several of the titles listed above, most notably the Harry Potter books, had not been published yet in 1996 when Sarah Palin attempted to fire the librarian.

I kept reading the comments and perseverance paid off when I came across reference to a New York Times article, Palin’s Start in Alaska: Not Politics As Usual (sept. 3, 2008):

“Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”

Ms. Emmons was not the only employee to leave. During her campaign, Ms. Palin appealed to voters who felt that city employees under Mr. Stein, who was not from Wasilla and had earned a degree in public administration at the University of Oregon, had been unresponsive and rigid regarding a new comprehensive development plan. In turn, some city employees expressed support for Mr. Stein in a campaign advertisement.

Once in office, Ms. Palin asked many of Mr. Stein’s backers to resign — something virtually unheard of in Wasilla in past elections. The public works director, city planner, museum director and others were forced out. The police chief, Irl Stambaugh, was later fired outright.”

So the book list is probably bogus, but where there’s smoke…. The is one scary lady!

There are myriad posts online about Palin, but one that caught my attention  evoked the ghost of Bella Abzug. (If you’re not of a certain age you might not know that she was a formidable congresswoman representing New York and a leader in the woman’s movement when I was a kid.)

Bella Abzug…once remarked that we would only have true gender equality when an incompetent woman could go as far as an incompetent man. That milestone appears to have been achieved with the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President.