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22 March
maybe the operative word is 'school'...
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I'm dreading the impending media rehashing of the school shooting in Minnesota.

Schools have finally almost recovered from their freaked-out paranoia over the round of school shootings over five years ago. Kids can wear black to school and look gloomy again without being immediately sent for 'guidance'. We're not faced with a barrage of 'experts' condemning video games, music, and the popular culture... for a change. [Er, unless you count those freaks and the 'SpongeBob is GAAAAAAAY!' campaign. Duh, of course he is.]

So, yeah, I dread another round of media outcry against the world of kids.

I dread the interviews with verklempt parents and teachers trying to excuse themselves.

But you know the thing I dread most? That almost no one will ever take a look at kids shooting up their schools and actually think about the two words that make up school shooting. I dread the gun lobby continuing to make gun control laws an absolute joke. And I really, really dread the complete silence on the other thing all school shootings have in common: school. By which I mean not only schools per se but the entire system we use to 'school' kids, and the utter disrespect we show them.

Awhile ago there was a brief piece on NPR about a stupid kid who freaked out in the middle of a jewelry store robbery maybe 10 years ago and shot a man who happened to be a teacher. He was, because he lived in Texas, tried as an adult (he was 16 or 17) and sentenced to death. But Texas (unlike Virginia) has actually changed its mind on sentencing minors to death, so the guy's in jail.

NPR went to the school where the teacher had worked and interviewed other teachers. The vitriol! People who work day-in-day-out with 16 and 17 year old kids basically calling them wicked little monsters. We think they can handle their own decisions when it's convenient (if they kill, but $DEITY knows not if they want to vote), but we also think they're stupid enough not to see our thinly veiled resentment.

And we demand they deal with it for 12 years.

I'm not saying schools are designed to breed massacres (obviously the vast majority of students manage never to start shooting at their classmates), but that school as it stands remains designed to keep kids off the street and out of the way - and it's not particularly up to even that task. It infuriates me that we never look at the school environments when these things happen to kids (except inasmuch as we look at, say, kids bullying other kids): we blame the culture, we blame their parents, we blame them, but we never even look at the institutions that hold them for the majority of their waking hours.

Really. How stupid are we?

 

12 January
va hb 1677 gets pulled...
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Last week, the web went nuts over the proposed Virginia state bill HB 1677, which was theoretically intended to bump up existing penalties for dumping newborn babies but could easily be read as requiring police reports for any miscarriage or abortion.

Assuming that the intent was only to do the former, it was a pretty spurious bill to begin with. Callously put, one incident in a year or two is a very small situation to prompt a new law. But given the language, with it's shaky implications for reproductive freedom, I'm glad to see this one got jumped on so quickly.

The end result? The bill got pulled. See Democracy for Virginia's coverage for further news on the story. The weird thing, though, is that the delegate (Cosgrove, of Chesapeake) responsible for introducing this bill essentially got huffy with the internet for calling him out on his badly-worded bill. His back-tracking ranged from "oh, it was the police's fault" to "no one called/emailed/asked ME" (I know I did, with no response) to "I never meant THAT", without ever accepting responsibility for it.

Is this the best we can expect from our legislators? Well Timed Period reflects on just how sad that is. Or is this the best we demand? Are our standards that low? Cosgrove ran unopposed last time he was elected; it sounds like Chesapeake's just fine with sloppy law-writing, and he's clearly not all that chastised.

I'm just thrilled to hear Cosgrove's also sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, too. Maybe it will be written badly enough to effectively cancel out the Affirmation of Marriage Act from last year (although fortunately a repeal is already in the works).

 

20 December
noisy lazy something something
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I think I may actually want to have a kid. At some point. Not now, but at a vague hypothetical "later" time. This is a major shift in perspective for me, but it's not like I've come about this all of a sudden.

I've been meaning to get back to this conversation with myself for awhile (well, since the livejournal post that introduced it, or since the dinner conversation that sparked the post in the first place). You can obviously just go read that post, but it started from a conversation with some friends about their intention to raise their imaginary children with rules much more restrictive than those I grew up with. Like, "no earrings till you're 15" and such. And the Santa thing. That comes up a lot at this time of year.

I don't understand why so many parents perpetuate the Santa thing as a fiction they tell the kids. It's not just about Santa - there are many aspects of our dealings with children that involve belief in magic and imagination, but where the magic and imagination are proscribed. The Santa thing is one of these - why tell your children something you don't believe yourself? Talking about the spirit of giving or the magic of the holidays or something like that would be so much more fun - because it could be a shared belief, not a construct built around hiding stuff from kids. Surprises are fun and all, but I can't imagine feeling a burning need to pass off your surprise as coming from some fictional, if much beloved, character.

But so much of common parenting ideas seem to be about hiding stuff from kids "for their own good". About lying to them. About controlling them and fitting them into an idea. It establishes an adversarial relationship between child and guardian, where we beat kids into well-behaved adults like they're made of clay. Like a good adult is one who conforms and behaves well.

The comments after the LJ post helped solidify for me why the idea of parenting is so scary - it's not about kids' unpredictability; it's about parents' belief that you can control that. It's about educational philosophies that want the child to do all the bending, rather than allowing the philosophy bend to the child.

Some of my friends are very insightful parents, and the essence of their (mostly successful) strategy seems to be to have very little strategy to begin with. Not to prepare answers or construct fiction, but to engage with their kids and be guided by them.

Which is a pretty good philosophy for dealing with people in general, and one I could live with. At some long-distant future time, when the idea of bending around a smaller person seems more appealing.

Why do we think about kids this way? It seems so 19th century - about making good little cog-makers, not thinking citizens.

 

07 December
gift against the machine
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This is for Paul, who asked me to re-post the list of not-mall places where you could shop for holiday gifts.

Cause I think DIY and carefully crafted hand-made gifts are swell, but sometimes you just don't have enough time, but you have a little more money. So it's cool to buy the time and products of someone else's small crafty business.

Need ideas? Here's last year's list, with some additions:
Superfantastico (paper, gifts)
WackyJac (undies, tees)
DaddyO's and My Baby Jo (retro clothes)
High Class Cho (clothes made by Margaret Cho)
Fat Chance Belly Dance (belly dance videos, music, costumes)
Dyke Tees (t-shirts)
Good Vibrations (sex toys)
Book Sense (independent booksellers)
Bust (magazine, other stuff)
Bitch (magazine, other stuff)
Hula Source (dance stuff)
Super Hero Designs (jewelry)
Lush (cosmetics, bath stuff)
Flying Skirts (bellydance or generally hippie-esque clothes)
Mode Merr (hipster clothes for women)
Austin Craft Mafia (network of Texas crafters who make practically anything you may want, including kits so you can do your own stuff)
Novica (fairly traded world craftsngifts)
Poise (purses - you know "poises"?)
Stella Marrs (angry and cheeky stationery)
10000 Villages (if you have one locally, it's a good source for funky toys and holiday gear, and about as expensive as Target)

Point being. This year and every year, there are loads of pretty awesome people making stuff outside the Holiday Shopping Machine (you know, the buy-everything, go-to-the-mall-now mentality), so if you take issue with that kind of shopping, you don't have to do it. I kinda like the mall, but no one ever died by avoiding it. And hey, if nothing on this list strikes you or gift-giving in general bugs ya, why not just give money to a cause in your giftee's name (but, you know, make it something you share - don't give to the DNC on behalf of your Republican uncle).

You know, there's one gap in this list - stuff for kids (a lot of the links have stuff for older kids, but not little ones). Hey, lefty moms and dads, do y'all have suggestions I should include?

 

24 November
pilgrims? please, no.
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I wrote a piece last year around this time about the significance of feasting, mostly to counter all the Adbusters' Buy Nothing Day emails and blog posts I'd been reading. Really, there are only so many times you can see "don't buy anything today; Americans are baaad" [sure, that's massively reductive, but play along with me] before it starts sounding a lot like beginning of year weightloss product adverts.

This year, I'm seeing a more interesting trend in my blog bubble. A trend towards recognizing that celebrating the whole "First Thanksgiving" thing with the whole Pilgrim/Indian/kid in turkey outfit concept is basically like a big middle finger to native folk. And really, do we need to shoot another middle finger?

One of my LJ friends (who shall remain nameless) doctored a cutesy Pilgrim-Indian decoration with smallpox references, which I think was a fun, snarky way to encourage others to pause and think about the insultingness of our happy little icons. Because these things seem relatively silly to us grownups, but I think they root into our heads as little kids and give us slightly twisted ideas about this country.

I hate Pilgrims, quite frankly. I don't hate pilgrims, mind you, but the whole Mayflower thing. It creates this idea that the colonies were all founded by religious emigrants, which is patently untrue. Hello, Virginia? Jamestown? First - well, arguably second or third - colony, totally mercenary. And this fiction that we're a nation founded by Puritans gets twisted into thinking that we share - or at least should share - a single morality. Which we clearly don't now.

I think that's a good thing.

I'm not saying we need to do away with the whole day-of-thanks concept. Rather, could we just stop with the fiction around the founding of the country? Maybe make the thanks more about family in our discussion of it - as it is in our practice of it?

 

03 November
bummer.
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The continuing news coverage of the election gradually went from exciting and a little funny to downright sickening last night. It's not so much the Kerry loss as what seems to have happened to Congress - centrist Democrats losing against semi-evangelical right wingers.

And the thing the newsfolk kept coming back to around was "moral values". The BBC has a good article on the subject: [see link].

This election was exciting, if frustrating, from the "you've been served" primary days when Dean et al called Bush out and challenged each other surprisingly little. But the voting last night - or rather, the spin on the voting last night - fundamentally challenged my view of how this country is divided.

See, my own experience leads me to believe that most Republicans actually share my views on most everything. They just disagree on what's important and how to solve the problems we all see. I think we can't let go of social issues, the stuff the press is calling "moral values" and still be a decent people; they think we can't address social issues without individuals and business feeling safer.

But I always thought most non-extremists could agree that it was wrong to deny someone a basic civil right - marriage, for instance, based on any difference between ourselves and others. I always thought that most people were iffy about the ethical question of abortion, for instance, but understood a need to keep it legal as long as we weren't effectively protecting a woman's jurisdiction over her own body by preventing unwanted pregnancies.

I figured the things we really disagreed on were logistical - like, how to fund adequate healthcare, or what the best form of education reform must be.

But it seems that "moral values" - the things that amount to believing that one life is of greater value than another (a murderer should die, someone who isn't born yet shouldn't, a hetero couple is deserving of civil rights a gay couple isn't, etc.) - are the issues that most effectively got people out to vote on the right.

My centrist pro-choice Southern EMILY's listers lost. Most (if not all) states with referenda on gay marriage and civil unions went the path of discrimination. At least it was close in a lot of places. At least the vote was gotten out. But that makes the results that much more unsettling.

People weren't voting on the other side based on economic and defense issues. They were voting, to put it meanly and bitterly, for hate. Which means this country is surprisingly divided over social issues - things that I wish we wouldn't even legislate - not conflicting priorities. I miss the real Republicans, the ones who were embarrassed to court Southern racism in 1960 (not that I ever knew that party, but it sure sounds nice).

Damn.

It's going to be a long four years.

 

14 September
a better website for women voters
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As a counter to the godawful voting for single gals website I posted about a few weeks ago, I offer you 50 million women count.

It's a fact-based, action-oriented site that also happens to be simple and not egregiously ugly to behold (not a thing of beauty to you CSS fiends, but hardly enough of an issue to distract you from the content).

At some point, I'll have to contemplate why we have 50 million websites about how important it is for women to vote (there are many, many more examples beyond the sucky one I mentioned and this one). Couldn't everyone just pool their resources into one really really really good website?

 

19 May
in abstract
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Someone said of the photographs of tortured Iraqi prisoners that we're not so much outraged by the acts of torture that accompany war but by the fact that we've been forced to endure the pictures.

There's some truth to that.

I've heard people say torture is just what we have to do to protect others. Torment information out of one guy in order to save thousands. Okay. A trade of one for a thousand seems logical in abstract. Seeing or even reading about seeing a photo of someone suffering forces you to empathise with the one guy. Creates feelings we don't want to feel about our "enemies".

I think most of us recognize that horrid things happen during a war, but we'd like to believe in their horridness as abstract. If it's not abstract, then it shines light on things terrible and uncomfortable.

Does anyone think torture is a good idea? I mean, from a sit-down-at-look-at-it perspective, ethically and otherwise. I don't think so. But we're willing to accept it as an undeniable part of the way we wage war, and willing to accept war as part of the way we live. As the thing we do when we can't negotiate. Or sometimes, without attempting negotiation.

Is it possible to shift our paradigm enough that those undeniable things no longer happen? Or can we only expect that a few rules about how cruel you can be will be enforced and adhered to? Perhaps the best we can hope for is that war will maintain a veneer of civility, that at least we won't have to see it up close. [Er, a side note... which is that "civil" is of cities or culture, and I wonder if war isn't precisely that - what happens when we draw boundaries around ourselves.] Perhaps violence against each other is essential, ingrained, or part of the nature of living in a civilized world.

I don't know.

 

14 May
this is a good country, dammit.
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I've read a couple of fellow liberals' journal postings lately about how they're going to fight fight fight against W this year and, if they still don't win, they might just pack it in for Canada.

With all due respect for those folks, that's a coward's way.

This country is built on debate. It's a child of the Enlightenment, of disillusionment with church-run states and state-run churches, of argument, of out-on-a-limb science and philosophy and theory. It's kindof an experiment.

And while we don't need to know or care what the country was founded for (and if anyone else tells me what Jefferson thought as if that's what I'm supposed to think, I'll slap them), we ought to remember that we have a history of change and fighting and revolution behind us. And probably in front of us, too.

There are major problems with the How Things Are in the US today. There are also solutions to those problems. Those solutions depend on the changes of individual people, which become the changes of groups, which become the changes of a country. This is not overnight change I'm talking about.

But if you feel strongly enough about something, the way to effect it is to change 100 other people's minds. To make them feel as strongly as you do, strongly enough to change 10,000 other people's minds.

If you finally got off your ass and started caring about politics this year, or last year, or four years ago, you need to understand that your opinions can change in that span of time, but the opinions of a whole country are slower to mobilize. The most important thing you can do as a citizen is push other people off their asses and into caring - even if they're on another side of your issue. Hell, especially if they're on another side!

What does democracy look like?

It looks like everyone who can contribute to the politics of decision-making actually doing so. It does not look like only 30-40% of eligible voters showing up. It looks like all sides showing up, fighting it out, and coming up with a compromise.

If you as a liberal convince 100 people to vote this year, even if your candidates don't win, you've pushed us 100 people closer to democracy. If you don't like the pace of social and political change, work on convincing 10,000, or 100,000.

It takes courage to make those demands of other people. It takes constant energy to mobilize yourself and others. It takes even more courage to do those things in a social climate that tends to apathy and handing off your decision-making to others. It is much easier to withdraw into complaint. And it's much colder in Canada.

Yes, it will suck if we lose the presidential election this year.

But there are Congressional elections, too. There are state and local folk. There are thousands of other people who make decisions that could change the How Things Are. All of those people combined are more important than one more guy in a white house.

And all too often, more than half of the people eligible to select those people - and the guy in the white house - don't show up for the fight.

If we lose the presidential election this year, don't stalk off in a melodramatic huff. Explain to a fourteen-year-old why it sucks. Show her how to register to vote. Give her a feminist book. Take her out to vandalize "voting is for old people" t-shirts. ;)

Because we are a good country. And we are not being represented when half of us don't even vote. And we will be even less represented if you disengage.

Build more activists. Make an army of voters. Don't be a coward.

[cross-posted to livejournal]

 

14 April
oy, condoleeza
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I really don't like Condoleeza Rice. I've seen her on television so many times saying things about Iraq [basically "they love us to bits!"] and the economy [basically "it rocks the socks!"] that don't really jive with the evidence available to the public. The Bush regime may or may not be responsible for the way things are, but all evidence seems to point to the Iraq thing and the economy kindof sucking.

So, if you're going to go on the teevee and say encouraging things, I don't think it's too much to ask for you to support your statements in some way.

Condoleeza isn't the only person in the Bush administration who does this - in fact, it seems to be a characteristic of the administration to be unflinchingly optimistic while simultaneously not sharing any background information that supports their optimism. [They can't all be insane, can they? So this must be some sort of tactic. It must have some purpose.]

So, Kerri's WHB question about Rice this week had me laughing.

What do you think of the way the media is portraying Condoleeza Rice in terms of sex and race?
Do you remember when Rice first joined the administration? There was a lot of talk about her as "slim" and "pretty" and such. Very much "ooo, look at the nice, soft unchallenging black woman, such good eye candy". That irked me. It's a bit like having Halle Berry (who is pretty but not a great actor) win an Oscar - it makes her position so unthreatening, so powerless.

But that seems to have gradually fallen away. I think partly because Rice, despite her dainty suits, very solidly follows the Bush admin's party line, acting very serious while she does it; she's business, not pleasure.

Is the Rice we are being shown a fairly decent reflection of reality, or is her image being spun?
Every political figure is spun. I think 95% of them believe what they're saying and believe they have the best interests of the country at heart, though they disagree on what those interests are. But that doesn't mean they don't use every opportunity to manipulate their image to get something done.

Rice & her people certainly went with the "pretty" thing early in her tenure. I think that made her a more appealing mouthpiece. But now, particularly because the administration seems so unwilling to publically support their assertions about some issues, I think the decision to be more sourpussish was a conscious one - designed to make the mouthpiece more serious. I suspect Rice herself, like most people, is complex enough that both images reflect her real persona to some extent.

What do you think of remarks about how she appears to be a "sourpuss"?
The media favors people who are entertaining or can be quickly pigeonholed into a role or type. It makes for better cartoons.

That said, I think we originally wanted Rice to be this icon of feminity, and she didn't consistently play along with that. And a woman who isn't smiling and agreeable is, by default, a cranky sourpuss.

Is she still an African-American woman, or has she become "one of them" by accepting a role within the government?
I'm sure that Rice sees herself as still part of the black community, she's just part of the black Republican community. Democrats aren't the only ones whose politics benefit black people - particularly not if you're a wealthy black person.

As for women, well, we're the majority in this country. If we actually had a single Woman Party platform, we'd win. But what we actually have is socially conservative, tax-cutting, pro-defense women on one side and socially liberal, tax-cutting, pro-defense women on the other, and a variety of people of widely divergent other opinions on whatever side they like. Women don't generally agree on even the issues I think we should all agree on, so you're hardly not a proper woman for being on the wrong side.

 

27 February
a liberal case for bush. sorta.
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Maybe I should vote for Bush.

It would be a dangerous bet, of course, but I'm thinking that in four additional years, assuming we're all so focused on him that we forget to vote reasonable folk into the legislative branch, he might really succeed in turning the country into something resembling a military theocracy. At which point everyone will feel dangerously and radically liberal, both in comparison and response to the government.

In other words, things will have gone so dramatically to hell that middle of the road Americans will find themselves wondering why gay people and women and people of any non-white color are still such second-class citizens. Why they themselves still feel like second-class citizens. And then, maybe, we'll have a brilliant groundswell of liberalism.

Alternately, nothing dramatic at all will happen, because liberals will be so pissed they actually start turning out to run for and vote for state-level positions and legislators, who then block every idiot idea W releases.

Meanwhile one of the left-leaning candidates from this year's Democrat pool will have had additional time to build a grassroots liberal organization with even a tenth of the lobbying power of the Christian Coalition in the early 1990's. And either that candidate or Hillary Clinton (who, let's face it, is totally running for president as soon as she reasonably can) will win in 2008. So the country will swing to the left-of-center position (or lefter) that reflects the true feeling of most people who can vote, and we might have the added bonus of a chick president and a return of the eight year party that was the Clinton I regime.

Look. It's pretty clear that the country swings left to right and back every four to eight years. So, if the choice is either Kerry, followed by a Bush-like clone, or Bush again, followed by someone truly liberal - or at least interesting - the risk of the latter option might just be outweighed by its rewards.

That said, I'd still have an easier time staying home in November than casting a vote for Bush.

[this entry was originally posted in my livejournal]

 

16 February
gay weddings en masse, narf
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The pictures look so happy.

It's about time.

 

28 January
come on, howard, smile a little
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Is it me, or do most of the pundits' criticisms of Howard Dean as non-presidential and non-electable ultimately come to the point of: ew, he has emotions. Sometimes not just bland happy smiley ones.

Egads.

Dean was on The Daily Show the other night doing a brief, ridiculous interview with Jon Stewart. Howard rocked this interview. I don't know how pre-scripted it was (certainly the "internal monologue" voiceover portions were read from a script, as we saw in the show's closing credits - I think designed to prove that Dean has a sense of humor and wants to appeal to the kiddies AKA me). But it was good. It was funny, and Dean came across as a serious politician who was fully and happily aware that he was being a complete dork on national television.

It was pandering, without a doubt. Yet I suspect that Dean must actually be the sort of person who can have a bit of perspective on things, if he's either a) enjoying and relishing the whole Jon Stewart experience [Hey, I would!] or b) deliberately and calculatedly acting the freak to appeal to young people.

The screaming thing - well, I rather like that. It fills my little head with images of a president who can take off the poker face and be honest with us. It makes me trust him just a bit more. None of the candidates meets my political requirements, but Dean is starting to feel like someone I could vote for without massively compromising my ideas about representative democracy.

And that's something.

 

18 January
virginia & lee-jackson-king day
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This is only the fourth year the state has celebrated Martin Luther King Day. For a couple of years before and several years after the institution of the federal holiday, Virginians combined it with Lee-Jackson Day, celebrating Confederate generals. Now, there's the Confederate holiday (not observed with a day off) the Friday before or after, and there are fewer people in gray [unless it's blue, I can never remember; they look sortof slate blue] uniforms semi-reenacting around the monuments.

Virginia's wacky history with Lee-Jackson-King day is less about racism (as might be implied by combining it with the longer standing holiday for the Confederates) than it is about defending causes. Most people assume, for instance, that Virginia was all Arizona-like about the MLK holiday and crammed the other celebration in with it to be less cooperative and more statesrightsey. But the Confederate thing started shortly after the Civil War, and Virginia waffled about how to celebrate King for years before the federal holiday was implemented. First, it was New Year's Day, then it was moved later in the month. The coincidence of Lee-Jackson Day and MLK Day didn't strike the state legislature as particularly ironic in the late 70s/early 80s when it was first implemented.

To people who haven't spent serious time in southern states, it's probably odd to imagine that a civil rights leader and Civil War generals could be celebrated simultaneously. For many white, traditional southerners, Lee and Jackson represent a kind of historical glory and willingness to take a stand. King represents the same thing - to blacks and most whites, despite all the racial conflict around segregation earlier in the century. All of them are southern heroes after a fashion.

Of course, ultimately, most Virginians came to see that the history of the Confederacy is to dodgy, too grey to be celebrated along with civil rights (though there were plenty of racially-fuelled debates along the way). But a lot of southerners still do the whole Lee-Jackson thing. Some of them are, honestly, creepy fucking racists. But some of them see the generals as icons of independence, history and a time when Virginia was an industrial and cultural center it hasn't been since.

 

16 January
michael moore's celebrity candidate endorsement
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Michael Moore will vote for Wesley Clark, which should be no surprise if you've read the last chapter of his book (which keeps coming back to the essential fabulousness of Clark).

You should read the endorsement, whatever you think about Clark or Moore, because as is so often the case these days, Mike's saying some of the most reasonable and balanced things you'll hear out there in the ether. It's well-written and he's right about how things are, if not about Clark.

More than any other media figure could, Mike's endorsement makes me think seriously about the campaign he supports and the reasons Clark has earned his support. If Mike thinks Clark is a reasonable, balanced person who can bring the country back to the gently left of center position it seems to like best, then Clark might just be that guy.

I wished I'd realized in advance that I'd be travelling the week of the VA primary. I don't know if I'd have voted for Clark, but this is the first thing that's gotten me really excited about it (you know, other than the general opportunity to vote W off the proverbial island.

 

22 December
dean turns out to be right
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I'm still on the fence about the Democratic nominee possibility, but I have to give Dean credit for pointing out what no one else would - that capturing Saddam didn't necessarily mean squat as far as America's security was concerned.

And what happens the week after? That's right, the terrorist threat level rises.

Karl sums it up quite tidily.

 

16 December
saddam and middle school
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My first thought when the news started showing pictures of Saddam Hussein post-capture: Aw, he looks cute.

Really, with a softer haircut and rid of the Stalin facial hair, he looks like a fuzzy little old man. Cute.

And this is why I don't comment much on international news.

Something that pisses me off, though. When I was in middle school (in the eighties), I distinctly recall being taught that Sunni Muslims were the friendly, secular, "good" Muslims, and that Shi'ites were basically raving fundamentalist meanie mean pantses who were not our friends. And now the news is all "yay, Shi'ites"/"Sunni sucks" and apparently we're not at all concerned about fundamentalism - ironically, a word I came to associate with "narrow-minded badness" through my education in a southern US state, right next to one of the hotbeds of christian fundamentalism. Which is worrisome (not my ironic education, the whole Sunni/Shi'ite thing).

I mean, first, this proves that our government's perspective of the week has a major influence on textbooks, what kids learn, etc. Ergo - the citizens aren't very informed, because someone else decides what most of us get informed about and how. So, okay, we knew that. But it's still disturbing to see it proved so blatantly. I'm feeling a little police-statey here.

And of course, there's the whole implication of a judgement upon non-christian religions in what's supposed to be a secular school system. Not to mention the semi-racist implications of our general attitudes towards fundamentalism in Islam.

But worst of all is that, let's face it, we're big liars. It's absolutely to be expected that, over 15 years of changing US interests in the Middle East, our allegiances would shift. Seriously, people, it's a bit absurd to criticize the US simply for having supported some group that turns out years later to be a group we don't like. Sometimes people make mistakes, or things change. But to not own up to those mistakes is lying, and failing to take accountability for the parts of our problems that we contributed to ourselves.

 

04 November
coffin ban
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Did you wonder why the media hadn't been showing images of body bags and such? I thought they were exercising a combination of improved taste and spinning the war coverage so we didn't have to think too much about death.

But hey, I was wrong - the press isn't allowed to film dead soldiers, so there are no pictures to show. Roni linked up this article about the ban on filming coffins. Hmm.

 

03 November
sigh. election day.
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Election day is tomorrow. And. There's no one for me to vote for.

Seriously, all of the offices in my district are being pursued by Republicans who are running unchallenged. Now, I don't have a moral opposition to Republicans in general, but I can't vote for any of these particular ones. I don't agree with them. Mostly they're whining about how the school system didn't consult enough people before rolling out a program 2 years ago to give all kids free iBooks. Whine. Whine. Whine. The school board elections, which are the only county elections with any issues being discussed, seem to be largely a referendum on the iBook rollout. I'm for it. I guess. I cared more about local issues when I lived in the city, where schools aren't doing so well that the primary issue is whether or not to give out computers.

I really wish there were in fact a binding "none of the above" option. Maybe next year I should run for some sort of county office?

 

09 October
i didn't do it!
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The clever kids at MoveOn.org have started a PR stunt to get W to take a closer look at the source of the Valerie Plame leak.

The stunt? They're asking loads of random liberal folk to sign their affadavit stating none of us were responsible for the leak.

And I've been checking out a bunch of places like Smart Mobs that talk about ways to use technology to form politically-motivated mass action (such as the flash mob idea, where people instantly gather to protest and then instantly disperse).

You may find these things silly, and they are. They're the tools of both people who care deeply about issues and people who are mostly concerned about protesting everything. But. This is how change happens - through humor, organization, and massive numbers of people all doing something slightly off the wall.

 

23 September
the populace is your pal and dean wins
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It seems to me that the key difference between most democrat- and republican-identified elements of the Populace At Large (aka your PAL) is their belief in which side of the head must dominate.

See - most people are pretty centrist in thinking. They're for social equality as a matter of course, no matter how stereotypical their views of other people; they think of capitalism in terms of the American Dream, meaning they believe that, while economic inequalities exist, most other people could achieve some measure of success if they tried; and they think that pretty much all aspects of the government should be run like a reasonable business - the most benefit for the least cost. Except, of course, when they're scared - which is probably why so many people on both sides of the political fence have become much upbeat about defense spending in the past couple of years. Democrats appeal to most people's social mores, and republicans to their pockets.

Sometimes we have a rash of people voting their social mores, and other times they vote their pockets. When pockets are full, mores are important. When they're not...

Democrats running for office seem to grasp that, which is why they're always sounding rather vacillatey about things like defense spending and taxes. It increases the electability of a democrat when pockets aren't quite so full. You have to placate the PAL in order to get elected, and I suspect you come to share their centrist perspective over time even if you didn't start out in the middle.

At the end of the last century, though, democrats were pushing a social agenda, but republicans were touting economics. Despite little difference between their economic agenda, the republicans kept winning because they told the PAL that's what they cared about.

And so we ended up with this climate of creepy conservatism for the past few years, a climate that the PAL was really never after. When Bush does things like declare metaphorical war on Roe v. Wade and continuously attack civil liberties, though, he starts getting the PAL thinking about how their pockets still aren't that full, and they really disagree with this idiot's social policies. Because most people really do think fairly liberally about what one should and shouldn't be allowed to do, no matter what they say the rest of the time.

Enter Dean. Kerry. Edwards. Et al. The lookalike democratic candidates with social agenda and fuzzy thoughts on economics. If Bush continues to position himself as creepily conservative and doesn't deliver any real economic win (which he probably doesn't even have power to do), one of these guys will be president. I'm sure of it.

And it's okay with me. I don't have any passion for one dem. or another right now, but it would be an improvement. Four years ago I was hot for Ralph, but now GW has set the bar so low, anything less than creepy would be an improvement.

 

13 June
privilege
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Anyone who doesn't already regularly read DruBlood needs to check out the conversation on her blog about privilege.

She's making salient, important points in her usual ranting style. I want to add more, but again with the no internet. [Another definition of privilege: the things you have and can't seem to function without, despite the fact that the majority of people around the world get on without them every day.]

 

30 May
stupid tax cut
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You can tell when my feelings overwhelm my capacity for rational argument. I start to sound like a 12 year old (see "stupid tax cut" title today).

But I'm miffed by the content of HR 2, specifically, that it kept up the 2001 limitations on poor families receiving the child tax credit (see the NY Times explanation of the issue) after much discussion and promising to help working-class families. Aren't taxpayers in the $10-30K income bracket working-class?

Most congresspeople's response when questioned about the last-minute limitation of the child tax credit was something to the effect of "Geez, what do you people want, more money for poor people? Well, that's just insane!" What's most important in cutting taxes to stimulate the economy is to cut capital gains and dividend taxation, apparently.

I'm actually not infuriated by tax cuts related to investments. No, they probably don't directly stimulate consumption, but they could at least ice the bruises of the stock market temporarily. What irks me is that, given the opportunity to shave a couple hundred million off the cost of the bill, the first place the Republican house went is to stiffing the working stiff.

Of course, even the counter arguments (the ones FOR including the working poor in the child tax credit) are stupid and biased. Something to the effect of "Well, middle class people are spooked, so they'll save their $400, but working class people - man, they're so poor and confused, they'll run right out an buy a washing machine!" I'm sure the poor thank you for your high estimation of their judgement. Seriously, if you're making say, $15K a year post-tax, a few hundred dollars is a major windfall. It's bills you can pay on time, or a start to the rainy-day fund you always wished you could put aside. It's a chance you'll make a living wage that month.

But hey, you'll still get back 50 cents a payday. What's not to love?

Oh, and if you want to know how your congressfolk voted, visit Project Vote Smart. It won't tell you where they fell in the last-minute discussion, but it's useful.

 

29 May
growing out of it
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Why does it seem that no one who takes a conservative viewpoint on politics or a defeatist viewpoint about social change is told they'll "grow out of it"?

I'm serious here.

See. I've been pretty liberal for most of my life. Except, maybe, for the period right after I first discovered politics and decided I was a Libertarian. [In many ways I still am a libertarian, philosophically, but I am not going to associate with those people. I mean, eep.] And I've always been told by people slightly or more older than me that I will eventually have money and a family and I'll want to protect them and I won't be liberal anymore because liberal is somehow not about family and people having enough money.

Well, I have money and I sort of have a family, and I have to say. I don't feel a sudden wave of fiscal or social conservatism washing over me. You know what? The support of my family and the freedom afforded by that money just make me more radical. So, there.

When are you, annoying people who tell me idealism is for kids, going to grow out of being pompous, apathetic and powerless? When are those of you who don't even bother to vote going to grow up and start paying attention?

Rant aside, I don't recall any of the conservative kids I knew when I was younger being told they were young and idealistic and going to eventually grow out of it. That actually makes me feel an itty bit better - if every highly politicized youngish person got that kind of flak, it would be a sad, bitter commentary on the American political system and its reputation.

So, why this association of liberalism with youth and foolishness (why, for that matter, the association of youth with foolishness)?

I'm beginnning to think it's just another part of the lack of an American mythos. Lacking a collection of godlike archetypes and having a Puritan sense of order and organization, we categorize things. [I wrote a paper in middle school I think analogizing Piaget and some other child development guys' notions of adolescence to American culture and politics that tied into this as a reflection of that pre-adolescent fixation on magazine quizzes; it was actually pretty clever. I was reading a lot of fin de siecle German theory at the time.] So, when mass media kicked in the sixties, and everyone saw kids running around being liberal, maybe we decided that liberalism equaled kids and Ronald Reagan equaled normal, adult America.

I think it's about time we grew out of that.

 

02 May
privatizing charity
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A common conservative perspective is that charitable giving would increase if rich people didn't have to pay all those darned taxes. So, cut taxes and, from a trickle-down theory perspective, everyone who needs a little help still gets it. In fact, with the minds who run corporations able to contribute more to charitable organizations, everything would run better!

Leave aside the implication that monetary success is all about innate ability and has nothing to do with one's economic class of origin (an assumption that sociological study after study has proven to be flat-out untrue), and you see what so many conservatives don't admit to: wild idealism and impracticality. See, the problem is that a large proportion of those rich people are quite conservative, and also quite convinced of the whole innate ability argument. This lends them a certain perspective on charitable giving.

I started thinking about this again last night. Chris Matthews (not entirely conservative pundit and former host of Hardball, a show I never watched) was on Celebrity Jeopardy with someone from ER and Lorelai from the Gilmore Girls. They played for charities like OxFam and children's hospitals. He played for his private schools' scholarship funds - actually, for funds he himself endowed, which seemed rather cheap. While equal opportunity in schooling is damned important, I doubt that funding scholarships at private schools really bridgets that gap.

If the Chris Matthewses of the world were to take charitable policy upon themselves, would they actually give to the causes that needed it? Would they sponsor universal healthcare and education? Or would money get inequitably bestowed upon their pet schools and churches? Would money get distributed at all if it were left up to individuals to decide?

The tax-and-spend approach to government may result in misguided funding, may glaze over areas that need it, but if you think that privatization on that count will solve those problems, you're dreaming.

 

08 April
freedom, schmeedom.
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I've been thinking about a comment I made on Rev's war humor yesterday or so. [Yes, I'm actually thinking about a comment I made on someone else's blog. It's not self-involved; it's reflective.]

I said, basically, that the notion of freeing the Iraqi people is obviously not the root cause of this war, so it seems silly to me to argue over whether it's worth it to Iraqis to die in the cause of their freedom. It's silly to speculate about the feelings of others in any case. But it's just so clear to me that we're only fighting a war on behalf of the Iraqi people because that sounds better than what we're actually doing. Let's look at the chronology of reasons to go to war (as told by me):

  1. Saddam is just plain bad. Bad bad bad. Um, bad for business, that is.

  2. We think Saddam has chemical weapons. He should be disarmed.

  3. More importantly, he's really no good for the rest of the Middle East. He's clearly down with building coalitions against the west, and that could turn out very badly for all of us.

  4. We're pretty sure he doesn't like us. What if he really does have chemical weapons? And then there's that thing with North Korea, you know, where we called them evil? What if he buys their nuclear weapons and uses them to distribute chemical weapons which he points at the US and and and...

  5. You know, come to think of it, he's clearly buddies with that Bin Laden guy. Saddam is a terrorist. We think he was behind 9/11.

  6. Actually, he was behind everything. See previous statement about badness. Clearly a threat to American national security. We're just defending ourselves, yo.

  7. Wait! Did we mention he's a mean old dictator?

  8. Yeah, that's right! This war is about freeing the suffering Iraqi people! Also, Shi'ite Muslims (the ones we said were bad in the 1980's) are now good, and the Sunnis are bad.

The real logic behind this war, what we're really doing, falls somewhere between numbers 1 and 3. And the thing is, I don't disagree with what we're really doing. I do take issue with wrapping it in the guise of freeing Iraqis, though; even if that's a much welcomed side effect, the truth is we're trying to find a way to make the Middle East less threatening (and, apparently, we suck at diplomacy).

Please, though - I wish the Bush administration would stop the babbling about freedom and evil. We, the listening public, are not that gullible.

Er, or maybe we are.

[For additional reference, good reading, and the shocking assessment that 42% of Americans think number 5 is true, see Arundhati Roy's Guardian piece from last week. Bring on the spanners, indeed.]

 

23 March
someone else (room for debate)
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I hate major political events.

They worry me.

Specifically in the sense of this: when politics go grand-scale, it seems like ambivalence - the acceptance that one does not know and can see validity in multiple perspectives - becomes unacceptable.

This is the thing that worries me most about this Iraq war. Its opposition and support are on such a global scale that it seems there's no room to question either opinion; you support one or the other, or you're "ignorant", "apathetic", "oppressed", any number of epithets that may or may not be true.

Is it impossible to see both sides of a grand issue?

I don't think so. But I also don't think there's room in this debate for my opinion, or for the opinions of millions of others who just aren't sure. And neither side is actually engaged in debate, from what I've seen. There are people moving forward on one opinion (roughly stated as "America Kicks Ass") and people shouting another (also, roughly, "Give Peace A Chance"). I apologize for trivializing your opinions, but please - it's just not that simple.

Nothing is that simple.

The war "debate", if you'd like to call two sides shouting into microphones that, has also brought out two dramatic stereotypes of what it means to be American. And both are so simplistic, so offensive in nature and intent, that they make me want to weep as much as images of explosions in an Iraqi dawn.

We have, of course, the now well-known governmental and media slant on things. War on Iraq is not only a way to defend ourselves - nay, the world! - against potential terrorists with potential weapons, it's also about Protecting American Freedom. Iraqi Freedom! World Freedom! All Americans are Heroes. All soldiers are Heroes. It goes on and on and on. Surely it must be exhausting to repeat this litany of the greatness of America?

I have a series of WWII propaganda posters in my hall. They're narrow-minded to an extent (they're Rosie-the-Riveter sorts of things), but I find them somewhat reassuring. A nation steeling itself for war can appear to be a nation of small-minded idiots, but that isn't necessarily the character of the nation.

I worry sometimes that to be liberal, to be progressive in our modern world, is to essentially hate humans. To look at war, say "this is human" and "this is appalling" and to equate those two statements. To feel humans are appalling. This is extended in our current "debate": now, not only are humans appalling, but Americans who fail to come out against the war are "apathetic", meaning brainwashed by the machine of capitalism. Meaning we don't read, don't investigate, don't question.

I strongly believe that most educational systems in [the English-speaking, at least] world fail to equip people with the tools they need to be effective learners and critical thinkers. I suspect that mass-produced education is inherently flawed and aspects of the media support these flaws by delivering information in the most simplistic ways possible.

But those of you who work in bookstores and libraries (a common liberal occupation for our generation) know, fall 2001 showed a huge spike in the number of copies of the Qu'ran, books about Islam, books about Afghanistan, sold and read in America. And we've seen an increase in sales of books about the Middle East and its history in the past six months. What this means is that Americans, lacking an effective means of mass distribution of this information (a gap that exists in most countries), are still trying to figure things out. For every person who simply accepts on perspective or another on war, there's someone else who won't do that.

Thank god for someone else.

There are, of course, stupid Americans. There are stupid everythings. But there is always someone else. And as someone else, I will at least do this much to question the validity of this war - and, now that it's started, what comes after.

 

21 March
yellow ribbon
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If someone offers you a yellow ribbon today. Take it.

Don't take it because you believe that to be a patriot means to unquestioningly accept a Commander in Chief, whoever he may be.

Don't take it because you're for or against war in Iraq.

Don't even take it because you care about the life(ves) of a particular soldier or soldiers who are just doing their jobs.

Take it because, even if you don't have someone you love fighting in a war or living in the midst of one, if you did, you'd feel a little better seeing yellow ribbons and knowing they weren't ignored. Because you, whatever your situation, care. [I'm trying not to sound like a television commercial for sick kids, impoverished kids, kids on drugs, etc. - but I might be failing]

I haven't talked much about war because, unlike a lot of my fellow liberal bloggers, I'm not sure this one is wrong. I'm not sure it's right, either. But I do think it's possible that something done the wrong way and for the wrong reasons might turn out to have been the right thing to do after all.

I haven't talked about the war, but I can't help feeling strongly about the people who are active participants. The soldiers and civilians who have a perspective on war that I, as an American who doesn't exactly hang out in war-torn countries, simply do not have.

So, yeah. I have a yellow ribbon making whipping noises off my car antenna. You should, too.

 

02 March
what is anti-american
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Many people who feel themselves patriotic feel an obligation to be so blindly. To be patriotic is to think - no, to not think - only that your country is the greatest, best best best thing ever. This is true, I think, primarily in America, where the idea of patriotism appears to have outgrown itself. Instead of an idea, it appears to many people as tangible fact.

Perhaps, lacking a distinct mythology, Americans have forgotten how to treat symbols as symbols. So much of our popular culture is literal. And simplified to a degree that permits transmission in as many media as possible.

I read this article about Toni Smith, a college basketball player who turns her back on the flag in protest of the possible war on Iraq and the social inequities in the US. I read this article because someone at the office saw a picture and was so appalled he had to share. She's a bad American. Yankee go home. Love it or leave it. These colors don't run. Push it or shove it. [Er, wait, maybe that last one isn't exactly a slogan.]

I'm not appalled. It's appalling for a college student to have no political views. That is, in my opinion, being a bad American. The flag, though, that's just a representation of the people - including that girl - who make up a country. It's also a symbol of the government, which is democratically elected and does not require fealty. And, if the people around you ignore something you think is important, a gesture towards a symbol they won't ignore is powerful.

I've said before that the function of any democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. And, if you believe the hype, America is all about Betsy Ross, the mother of invention, independent spirit and all that: exactly the qualities one expresses when publicly and creatively shunning a symbol. What, exactly, is anti-American about that?

 

22 February
why i hate "liberals"
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We all know I don't actually hate liberals, but I do find some of them irksome at times.

I belong to a local (state, actually) Green Party discussion list that recently decided to limit membership to, well - membership - that is, to people who are "serious" enough about Green to belong to the party.

Aside from what I believe to be foolishness in removing a key link to the rest of the [non-member] community, the logic surrounding this change was just plain offensive. What happened was that the list was invaded by a troll, who didn't have a lot of value to add to the conversation (actually, the conversation tended to be rather petty to begin with, so I'm not sure the list added much value to my life, period). The moderators shunned him. The crowd (a handful of other members) went wild, sparking what turned out to be an interesting debate on censorship within liberal organizations - and in general.

And ultimately, the Green Party [or rather, the individual members who control the list] appears to come down on the side of censorship.

I quote, from an "official" email distributed to the list members: "On the censorship issue, I'd be surprised if anyone is completely against censorship. Is it right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater? Is hate speech protected?"

Surprisingly, yes. Some of us are completely against censorship. While I may feel some forms of speech are not right, or are offensive beyond what I will personally tolerate, I do feel that it's necessary to allow all political speech, whatever form, to be permitted [The "yelling fire" thing, so often used by censorship fans as the great "getcha", is not political speech, and is a spurious example. A red herring.]. My rationale is this: if people who agree with me get to decide what is and is not permissible now, what happens when people who don't agree with me are granted that power?

In order to protect my own speech, I must protect the right of others to speak. Period. A "liberal" who does not understand this is not liberal at all.

 

27 January
war. huh.
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Here's the thing.

I'm a leftist, yes. But I am not always anti-war. In fact, I wouldn't even say I'm ever anti-war, because that statement implies that I think war is just a bad thing, period.

And I don't think that. I think war can reap political and economic benefits. I know the legitimate threat of war can solidify someone's commitment to diplomacy.

I have to say that I'm a little angered by certain perspectives that assume that women are inherently anti-war. Here's why: the assumption that I'm anti-war because I'm female presumes one of two things. Either I am female and therefore grander, softer, less warlike - or I am female and therefore a victim and not a perpetrator. The latter is, in part, true. Women are still more likely to be non-combatants, to be innocent bystanders. But, active participant or no, both men and women are killed in war (more men than women, commonly). People are the victims of war.

Maybe a government by women would be less warlike. Maybe we're actually soft, fur-lined pouches. I don't think so.

In any case, I'm simply ambivalent about going to war. I thought bombing Afghanistan wasn't necessarily the appropriate retaliatory act, but that at least it might benefit the Afghani people (that remains to be seen). With Iraq, I suspect some mode of violence will ultimately be called for. I think that action could have some benefits, even as it further destabilizes the Middle East.

What I don't support is unilateral action in a global environment. I find it uniquely frustrating that conservatives - pundits and individuals alike - assume that calling for cooperation with, say, the U.N. is a stall tactic. It's just the proper way to behave on the playground.

Ah, but you don't get to be a pundit by playing well with others.

 

21 January
raising your voice
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Kerri asked via comments the other day what I thought people could do to make their opinions heard.

Here are some of those ways.

Stay informed
Track your congressperson's voting record. It's readily available online for the US Congress and for most other democratically elected officers in the US and elsewhere.

Join citizens' action groups related to your primary political interests. I keep up to date on events via FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), Citizen Works (Green Party), NOW & Feminist.org (Feminist Majority Foundation), and Planned Parenthood. Most political groups have websites and mailing lists you can join without even joining the organization.

Get your news from at least two different sources in at least two different media. I use CNN, NPR, and the Guardian. And, of course, Lisa's We Have Brains news posts. Plus the Daily Show and The Onion (hey, news can be funny!).

Read books. Read lots and lots of books. Magazines, too. And blogs. Never stop researching and reconsidering.

Ask stupid [and not so stupid] questions.

Hold your government accountable
Vote. In every election. Your vote is your most obvious opinion.

Write letters. Email letters. Call people. Not only your congressperson, but any other elected official and any company whose products you consume. Tell them when they're doing well or poorly on a specific issue. Remember that you're their customer, and remind them of that fact.

Join a letter-writing collective like Progressive Secretary. Get friends to join. This amplifies the power of your voice by delivering the same message from several different people.

If you feel strongly about something, go to protests, conferences, and demonstrations. If you can't take the time, send money to the organizers so someone else can go in your place.

Become a dues-paying member of the organizations you most strongly agree with. That increases their clout as political action groups - the more people they count as members, the more power they possess.

Buy products from companies that support your political views. There's a host of information on the internet about companies' social and political contributions that you can use to feed your shopping habits.

Share your opinion locally
Start a blog. Start a zine. Start a book group. Join a group. Start something that you share with other people. It will promote discussion, allow you to develop your opinions, and potentially convert others to seeing things your way.

Don't hesitate. Yes, there are some situations in which expressing a political opinion is inappropriate (mid-meeting at work, for instance), but don't be afraid to tackle political subjects when the occasion arises with friends, family, even vague acquaintances.

Wear your opinion. T-shirts, bumperstickers, and buttons are obvious signs of your affiliations.

Honestly listen to people. Don't just wait to tell your opinion - hear what others have to say, too. It's surprising sometimes how much people actually agree when they think they're disagreeing.

Got other suggestions? Post them in the comments. That's a means of sharing your opinion, too.

 

19 January
women and the state
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Kerri's question to the world at large this week: Do women benefit or suffer from the State?

I think a lot of the way this question can be answered depends on how one defines and views the concept of State. How do I define it?

  1. A nation with non-physical boundaries

  2. A collective government (cooperative or authoritarian) that defines rules and priorities for that nation

Given this [possibly oversimplified] definition, I tend to believe that people in general benefit from the existence of a state. Why? This may be cynical, but I think people tend towards territorialism and aggression in the absence of limits and structure. My vision of a world without nations is one in which civil war becomes the order of the day. Shifting that aggression to a national level, and placing the decisions of territory into (generally) the hands of more than one person is, in my belief, better for the daily survival and productivity of the individuals who make up a nation.

You might disagree. You might think that the idea of nation creates territoriality on its own, and that people are inherently peaceful. I just don't feel that either history or individual interaction bears out that theory.

Collective government sets up a "state" (in the sense of governors) apart from and accountable to the people. Even the most authoritarian states must ultimately have the approval of the governed in order to govern. This approval can be achieved with fear, but in most modern states, it's achieved by a combination of acculturation and exchange. We accept government because we're taught to, because it delivers tangible benefits, and perhaps simply because we need and want it.

Are women served by the tangible benefits of government? Yes. And no. Women benefit from welfare systems, public education and health provisions, and a range of other state-sponsored programs that vary from nation to nation. Women may also suffer when the collective voice of women is overwhelmed by other voices, making the state less accountable to us - for instance, when pharmaceutical companies use campaign funding and lobbying to speak louder to legislators than individual women do (thereby allowing potentially dangerous products to remain on the market longer).

I think the way to ensure the state remains accountable to everyone is to continue to demand accountability. In a republic, this is best achieved by making your voice louder by joining others - not by eschewing your voice as is common in America. The modern Western state requires active citizenship, and I think a lot of the failures of our state to support its people are due in large part to our own passivity.

 

14 January
the new a-prime
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I'm starting a new language. I'll call it a-prime. You can use it with e-prime if you like. The two languages are quite complementary (and hey, by using both, you could be simultaneously communicating in three languages).

a-prime will abolish the use of the words "they" and "we". It's increasingly becoming a word that angers me. There's little room in "they" or "we" for dissent. It's the most convenient way to lump individuals, with individual opinions, into one dismissable or laudable group.

This morning I read a comment that Kell posted on the We Have Brains topic for the week. It was an eloquent comment that demanded respect for people who don't want to see porn or any aspect of the sex industry. But it had one tragic flaw - the continual use of the word "they" to refer to anyone who supported porn, as if all persons who consume porn or work in the sex industry have one, single platform. And all of those people, of course, are all about in-your-face comments designed exclusively to anger those who disagree. It was, suffice to say, a comment that has put me temporarily off reading a blogger whose writing generally excites me.

There is no one "we" of pro-sex feminists. No one feminism, no one fat accceptance movement, no one queer movement, and no one "pro-porn camp". There are individual voices that might unite in one message but do not share one overwhelming agenda.

If belonging to any of these groups requires me to accept these "we's" and "they's" people love to toss around, I'll renounce them all here and now: I am not fat, I am not a feminist, I am not queer, and I am not anyone's "they" or "we". I am one person with a set of opinions that may or may not coincide with yours.

 

11 December
jimmy carter!
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in the bicentennial summer of our faded glory land
a bright new face appeared upon the scene.
of an honest peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter.
his eyes were set on every school boys dream.

I meant to post very enthusiastically awhile ago that Jimmy Carter won a Nobel Peace Prize, but I guess it's old news now. Still, Carter's enthusiasm for peace and communication seem appropriate given both the current global political climate and the marking of Human Rights Day this week.

I worry that even our most international peace mongerers in America become jokes of a sort. Too many people cynically laugh at Jimmy Carter, at what he does in Cuba, at the notion that we'd listen to him urging Georgie Porgy to work with the UN.

But tonight, let's just sing.

well the odds were stacked against him
but he was not afraid to fight
the mighty facist empire lined up on the right.
so shake the hand of the man
with a handful of love
the one and only Jimmy Carter.

(quotes from the song by Blue Mountain)

 

05 December
awareness
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It's probably impossible to know how much control we each really have over our thoughts and actions. How much we're influenced by all the things around us.

I like to think it's all about free will.

But.

I find myself thinking other people are the product of their environment. And to try to forgive them their annoying characteristics as something they can't control.

For instance, I know a woman who is somewhat whiny and also fat. I wonder if she's whiny in part because she's experiencing the world as a fat person. Her tendency to tell me too much about when and what she eats, to mock herself, these could be things she does because that's what fat people are supposed to do.

This isn't fair of me. It's almost as if I presume she has less control over her response to life just because she's fat. Would I think the same thing if she were a thin woman? I suspect I'd just think she was whiny and tended to over-disclose. Or, worse, I'd assume that her fixation on food was directed at me. I know for sure I wouldn't think the same if it were I acting that way; I'd skewer myself, stew over it, and do many other cannibalistic-sounding things. I would not forgive and chock it all up to some form of gentle oppression; ideas like The Media [o, great singular conglomerate] would not enter the picture - it would be all about me.

If we could all just say, to hell with it, wouldn't that be better? Wouldn't it be easier to just drop activism and live our lives? That is, if we just did whatever we did, accepted it as free will, and therefore automatically rejected stereotypes, oppression, all those little social inequities.

The problem is that thought sometimes has to be consciously changed. We follow a pattern of automatic thoughts for so long, and they don't just change like that. No *poof*.

On the surface, social activism can seem like bizarre thought regulation - it's okay to say cunt, maybe, but not to say girl. It sounds like just rules for what you can and cannot think, when it's really about awareness. If that awareness makes you unwilling to say and think and do certain things, it might be good for you, but you don't get to awareness by following rules about what you can and can't do.

I forget that sometimes. I don't want to hear things from other people that offend me, and it's easier to command don't say that than to impart awareness.

Because. People are influenced, to whatever extent, by conventional wisdom. We all carry with us a handful (or more) of stereotypes and other automatic assumptions of what we and others are and do. Only awareness changes that.

but wait! there's more


 

15 November
democrats, huzzah
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There are tons of articles out there about Nancy Pelosi taking over as House Minority Leader. I like this one; it has a nice "just the facts, ma'am" quality about it.


I'm also more than a little amused at a Washington Post article that tells us, essentially - "No, she's not just a hippie - she's a real politician". I think part of Pelosi's appeal is her odd Mom quality. You really can see a bit of your own mother in her, whether your mother is a homemaker with 5 kids, a wacky liberal, or a career girl. [Is it hip and retro of me to use "career girl" in a sentence? Or just offensive? I can never tell.]


In any case, I'm glad Pelosi's advancing. She just seems to deserve it. Oh, and she's the first woman to lead a party in the House. I think that deserves a quiet "huzzah".

 

12 November
internet politics
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I've seen one depressing response to this week's collab topic already. Although I suppose it wasn't a formal response, as I just happened upon it. Ironically, only one person has actually posted a response to the question. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening.


So, here's the question:

How has your participation in the internet changed your participation in and your perspective on politics and activism? How could the internet be used to improve the global political environment?

but wait! there's more


 

11 November
inconclusive
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The problem of anti-consumerism is that it seems to be entirely an upper class phenomenon.


Not unusual, right? Leftism is sometimes a necessity for the poor and working class, but always an option for those with money.

but wait! there's more


 

07 November
rush is right... wing.
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I know this was an honest, if silly, mistake, but it's still funny.


See, a few days ago, Rush Limbaugh was accusing (by implication) the New York Times of being a liberal media outlet, out to suppress pro-Republican reports that would, ironically appear in the Times that day (the Times article requires you to register, but it's not really that fascinating, so you don't really need to bother).


A long time ago, I talked about my youthful fondness for that sort of boy. And Rush, while he comes across so often as clever but misguided [er, "misguided" is me adding my personal perspective, a little flamebait for you Rushphiles], is one of those boys. Rush cannot wait for the chink in the armor; he will make one himself if he must. His words will bully you into sounding stupid.


Or, as in this case, he'll just seem like a snappish little boy.


I find this immensely satisfying and funny.

 

06 November
i suck, but so do you
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Consider this my juvenile unsent letter to the Democratic Party.


I didn't vote yesterday for the first time since I turned eighteen. I didn't vote because I suck, which means that when we moved, we changed our addresses with the DMV but failed to submit the additional paperwork to re-register to vote. In Virginia, that means you can't vote anywhere - you don't live where you're registered, and you're not registered where you live. This is stupid (not the rule, my failure to follow it).


But I don't think it matters that I didn't vote. Because you suck. In my local house race, you put a Dukes of Hazzard cast member against popular representative, in a race where neither of them had any actual opinions.


You didn't even bother to run anyone against the Great And Powerful John Warner.


And. Most of you wimped out on Iraq, and then you turned the Republican's whining about delaying the vote into a griping opportunity. Rather than diplomatically stand your ground, you folded like aluminum foil. Sure, there were some of you who made a point to find out what the people you represent wanted, and some of you who took and kept a position. But most of you floundered.


Don't even ask me about my residual bitterness for those of you who blamed Ralph Nader for Al Gore's fake loss two years ago.


A young Republican with terrible hair was on CNN this morning talking about the Democrat's lack of vision and definition, saying that the Republicans know they're the party of capital, and you don't know what you're the party of.


He was right.


Also, the undergrad who ran for city council in my old district lost. That might be your fault, too.

 

15 October
get a grip, people.
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Okay. I know we've gotten used to the idea of terror and terrorism. And by "used to", I mean "likely to completely freak out and go on a media rampage at the mere mention of".


But let's step back for a second on the Beltway shooting thing, can we?

but wait! there's more


 

10 October
that's it, i'm moving
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I've decided that, despite the cold, I'm moving to Chicago.


This is based entirely on the fact that Dick Durbin is an amazingly good speech maker and senator, and that my senators are horrid conservatives. I mean, John Warner has the whole senator since the beginning of time working for him, and is very dignified and smart, but he spews as much thoughtless rhetoric about patriotism as any other senator.


Or maybe California.


I guess I should be glad that at least some people of Congress are considering both sides of things, but it upsets me that they're practically all talking like the war/no war thing is their decision.


Representatives, get it? Representatives.


(Oh, and new design. Is it broken for anyone?)

 

11 September
turn it off.
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I'm choosing to mark the anniversary of grief grief grief by turning it off. Off with the television and the radio and anything that wants to sell me something to magically morph sad into patriotic fury.


Sometimes there's a place for patriotic fury, and sometimes there isn't. This is an isn't. And I don't want to listen to anyone who won't let me talk back today. None of that push push media for me.


That said, I think grief is important. I think marking it is important. I won't wear a mass-produced "day of remembrance" button, nor does my car cry out for a magnetic flag. I won't co-opt the legitimate loss of people for whom this day is really really hard because my life isn't that emotional and I need a good cry.

 

03 September
bullies
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I suppose it's a mark of my naivete that I'm surprised by Israel is deporting family members of Palestinian bombers.


Yes, I can see Israel is desperate, trying anything that might work.


But still, I'm surprised to see a country whose origin is in apologism for the terrible abuses of human rights (by Nazis) during World War II using this sort of rhetoric. See, these people are a real threat [they might be]. They're not being deported, they've been reassigned residences. If you put another name on it, it's no longer a civil rights violation.


I can't imagine where Israel might have gotten these ideas. It certainly couldn't be from fellow bully nation America. Of course not. We have a stellar history of upholding civil rights. At least, as long as there's a big enough group to complain about it on television. And, unlike the Pope, we never feel the need to apologize for our past embarassments. I'm sure that, if it could escape international media attention, there would be serious talk in the conservative media about deporting people of Iraqi descent (though I like to imagine that this serious talk would be overridden by serious people).


Okay. So I'm cynical on some counts. It still disappoints me when other countries follow our impeccably modeled bad behavior.

 

17 July
windfalls!
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Sometimes I have to curl my fingers into my palm to keep from typing you there, are you really that stupid?


I am not a relativist. I am desperately self-righteous. And it is really, really hard for me not to tear down every person whose undefended, unresearched commentary offends me.


When I was younger, I made people cry. Look at me and my reasonable discussions now!


This is not what I came here to tell you. What I came for was this: the Japanese restaurant found my sunglasses, kept them for two weeks, recognised me when we came in last night, and gave them back! This unforeseen windfall made me delight in the wonder of small things enough to again dispel the notion that I might need a new car.


This becomes a long story...

but wait! there's more


 

16 July
james brosnahan
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John Walker Lindh's lawyer gave an excellent interview on NPR this morning in response to the settlement agreement reached yesterday.


He spoke about being worried that we weren't as free in America as we used to be. He spoke about the American public's willingness to hate a kid who followed his religious beliefs. He spoke about our quickness to assume guilt, our conversion of fear into violence.


And the interesting thing was: what he said could almost have exactly been placed in the mouths of strangers to answer the question we keep asking. Why do they hate us?


They hate us because we all think exactly the same way. Threatened people are quick to react to push the threat as far away as possible.

but wait! there's more


 

02 July
the US versus the World
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Why aren't we talking about this?


We're pulling out of the Balkans (a rare bird, the functional peacekeeping mission) because we (the US) have a paranoid schizophrenic's notion of the International Criminal Court's secret desire to persecute American soldiers.


Look, as far as I'm concerned, all American soldiers are my daddy, or the little girl who lived across the street when I was a tot. My great not-a-raving-liberal stance is my defensiveness of the individuals who make up our armed forces. [Er, and also that I don't really recycle.]


But please. If you read the ICC material, you'll see that, though US concerns may have originally been valid, the changes made in response to US dissent have substantially changed the mandate of the court. It can now only try individuals who have participated in widespread, systemic war crimes [those endorsed by the state they represent] when the national court of their country cannot or will not effectively conduct a trial. In other words, only for massive scale war crimes, genocide, and other equally appalling acts.


The latent conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the uncooperativeness of the Bush administration doesn't bespeak some intent to perpetrate a few "war crimes" of our own. Maybe to systematically torture some Afghanis down in Gitmo? Because otherwise, I just do not get it.


[Conservative readers, consider this an invitation to "educate" me. I look forward to your responses.]

but wait! there's more


 

28 June
update on allegiance
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By the way, if you found yesterday's rant about the pledge of allegiance in any way inspiring, you might want to check out vote.com and post your opinion.


At last check, the count was something to the effect of 12% for leaving the ruling alone, and 88% for singing Yankee Doodle Dandy in the streets [metaphorically speaking, of course].

 

27 June
not under god
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No one can terrorize a nation, unless we are all his accomplices.

Edward R. Murrow


I refused to say the "pledge of allegiance" when I was in school. I recall finding it creepy. But standing and not saying anything had become such a habit by the time I was old enough (say, thirteen) to be an effective researcher that I never really delved into until recently.


Knowing a little more about its history, I find the whole thing even creepier.

but wait! there's more


 

21 May
oh, please
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As I listened to NPR and watched CNN (my daily dose of politically oppositional news), something occurred to me.


Specifically, something about the way we've been intently watching to see if maybe, just maybe, the US government could have been aware that terrorists were about to fly planes into buildings.


What occurred to me is this: Does it really matter? Honestly, if the government had known and had taken steps to prevent it, would we have believed it?

but wait! there's more


 

24 April
viva that other revolution
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I realized something about revolution the other night.


I was sitting in this funky space, in a funky chair, next to the most movie-esqe butch/femme lesbian couple I've ever seen [Have you seen Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love? Remember the older woman the white girl was dating at the beginning? They were that woman and the white girl, except the one wasn't old. Perfectly costumed and everything. They were so movie, it was amazing.]. And people were cheering the idea of shutting down Paris by blocking a key alley way at rush hour.


This is when I realized:

but wait! there's more


 

19 March
demographics (an unoriginal post)
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I almost never read metafilter, but I did today, and I saw something interesting (which I'm sharing on the basis of my assumption that you don't read mefi, either): Where does your zip code fit demographically?


The wild inaccuracy of the assessment for my zip code probably has something to do with the diversity of the neighborhood, straddling one of the richest and one of the poorer communities in the city. So I was curious. It appears breakdowns are also available by census block, which would explain why we (on the poorer side, also near an older population) largely receive direct marketing offers for things we would never, ever buy. We get direct marketing targeted at bilking older people.


Anyhow, I thought I'd gather a little more information. I'm curious. If you are, too, you can read the breakdowns of MicroVision segments or PRIZM clusters. Intriguingly, the MicroVision calculation for my area seemed to weight the poverty of my zip code higher than did the PRIZM one.


And if you're really curious, you can also read the (slightly old) book, published by Claritas or browse some less sales-oriented background information.

 

22 February
cute little anti-globalisation lady
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oh, you just have to read the third page of salon's latest "state of emergency" article. that's "state of emergency", the game.


the bit with barbara garson is priceless. it makes me want to go find out more about the people leading the anti-globalisation movement (all i know about her is gleaned from another salon article, though i should read her book.).

 

15 February
what i perceive as a lack of focus
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so ralph nader was talking to jon stewart yesterday (or the day before, i suppose, as i tend to watch the rebroadcast of the show). and i have to say.


ralph, i love you, i really do, but even your own mother would have to agree that you undermine your credibility when you start to say things like and they're going to own our genes in that persistent voice you sometimes use.


ralph, you're a smart guy. why not explain these things to your audience instead of sloganeering like that? you suck at that kind of propagandist approach, ralph. and it's not what the people want, anyway. really, it just makes you look creepy.


i voted for nader in 2000, and i've always appreciated his watchdog nature. but i appreciate it much more when he brings us information than when he howls in the middle of the night at leaves blowing in trees. he sometimes encourages the same sort of blind acceptance in progressives that he criticizes in the general population, and that's just not okay.


but then, ralph suffers from what much of the liberal left suffers from: a glut of issues. conservatives tend to have one or two things each that they care passionately about. and will make compromises to get those one or two things done (usually compromises that ultimately benefit them). but progressive politics isn't focused, not at an individual level and not at a leadership level. this was fine during the clinton administration, when we didn't need to be defending things so much, but it's not working for us now.


i'm not sure what to do about it, other than this: pick my issues, and be louder about them.

 

13 February
i'm an angry girl
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I am an angry girl.

I'm tired of hearing things said like "I said they were fat because they were annoying" because fat is a great insult. That makes me angry. When a fat person says it, it makes me even angrier.

I've been thinking about all the reasons the world doesn't change. That it takes time. That the people who are given most of the power aren't taken to task by the people who give the power. And the people who give the power think it was taken from them forcibly and that they can't take it back. That so many people don't care who has the power and who doesn't. That even more people don't care, period.

The worst thing I learned from hippies. Is that believing in things like buddhism and taoism and "going with the flow" can lead too easily to sitting on your sofa smoking pot and failing to do anything. Because, after all, what's meant to happen, will. With you or without.

The idea that it will all work out. With us or without. Makes me angry. Makes me boil.

Lucky for me I don't hang around hippies anymore. Lucky for them. Because.

I want to kick everyone who complains about things and doesn't do anything. Then I want to kick everyone who isn't paying enough attention to complain in the first place. I think I'll kick those people twice.

Cause I'm an angry girl.

 

25 January
i'm righteously indignant
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Don't ever pretend to me that Bill Clinton was a great man or brilliant president. Don't ever.

Because he stalled and stalled and stalled on an important decision until last week. As if everything would be fine; that was the impression to be gotten from the LPDC. Or at least he was really thinking about it. That years of begging and lecturing and pressure from people about the world who care about human rights would finally take effect. So I hoped.

But Leonard will stay in Leavenworth.

Bill took the time to make a deal that protects him from legal problems. To admit what everyone already knew - that he walked a careful line between legal truth and just plain lying. Did anyone really care about this? Is this a presidential act for the history books? I don't know. Cut to an image of a man leaving work in embarassed silence.

And his missed an opportunity. To do something greater than himself. Maybe not something that would go down in history, but nevertheless something remarkable.

I'm not denying that Bill ever did any good in office. But did he leave a legacy I respect? No.

So don't pretend.

 

10 November
die bob dole, die
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I'm really annoyed by what seems like a complete disregard for voters on the part of the Republican party with this Florida thing. Bob Dole!? I expected more from you. What's with these accusations that the Democrats are sore losers? They haven't nearly lost yet... there are thousands of absentee ballots, and the 19,000 misleading ballots that were thrown out still to be considered. Considering the scale of Bush's so-called victory (< 350 votes as of this morning), it seems like fairness demands we wait on these things before a victory is declared. Particularly now that the Republicans are talking about recounting in states where THEY lost, pointing fingers at the Democrats just seems stupid and hypocritical.

I, by the way, voted for Nader. I didn't see a big difference between the major candidates until this morning. And it comes down to this... Bush is a whiny brat who only cares about winning, and Gore is a whiny brat who cares that each American's vote gets counted. Which would you rather have in office?

Let's just redo the whole thing!

I used to really like Bob Dole. I thought of him as a man of reasonable convictions, a cool guy in general. Now I'm sad. Bob Dole is an evil Republican.

 

30 October
bite me, sierra club
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I don't know why this happened, but I've recently gotten two separate, identical mailings sent to my house by the environmental group The Sierra Club. They want to send me a free backpack if I'll send them the right amount of money. I have tendencies towards bleeding heart liberalism, admittedly, and I seriously considered sending money to this organization after the first glossy, probably non-recyclable mailer hit my doorstep. At the second (within a month, I might add), I was still considering. But my Naderite sensibilities were deeply disturbed by a feature piece on the Sierra Club's "issues advertising" in support of Al Gore.

One of the most common things said by Ralph Nader's supporters during the past few months of this presidential campaign is that the main reason Ralph won't win is that everyone believes that Ralph won't win. Okay, it's really just one of the reasons. Ralph not being allowed onto the debates, not having the money for TV ads, and not having posters and flyers smeared all over the place are some other reasons. Face it: the Green Party got started late with this whole campaigning thing, and it shows. And, despite exhorting lovely young voters such as myself to "Vote your hopes, not your fears", Nader has managed to come across kinda negative - less about bringing important issues to national attention or offering solutions to problems than about attacking the other parties for not thinking about these issues. But one thing you could never accuse the Green Party of is lacking clarity of stance when it comes to environmental issues. If the environment is at stake, the Greens are for whatever protects it. Duh! Why else would they choose such a name for the party (no, they're not Irish)?

Most environmental groups understand this, and understand that the Green party may be growing into a force to be reckoned on a state and local level soon. Most environmental groups have either come out in full support of Nader or straddled a sortof Nader-Gore fence. Not the Sierra Club! They just spent 1 million dollars of their members' generously donated funds to create and air an advertisement designed to emphasise Gore over Nader as an environmentalist candidate in the state of Oregon. Now no one, not even the president of Sierra's Oregon chapter, thinks that Gore is more pro-environment than Nader; that's just a huge joke. The sad thing is that a political action group like the Sierra Club is clearly voting its own fears rather than hopes, and that kind of cynicism from a narfy agency like them... well, it just depresses me.

No, Sierra Club people, I will not send you money. And I don't want a backpack.

 

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