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Political Sausage

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I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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A Tough Act To Follow

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There’s an election headed our way and depending on how you feel about your state/city/town it could be exciting. Here in New York City we’re poised to have our first new mayor in 12 years. Whether you’re relieved at that prospect or leery, the fact remains that change is never all that easy. Neither of the two viable candidates has anywhere near the celebrity status that Mike Bloomberg had/has. Mayor Bloomberg has the star power that comes with great wealth. He is able to exert influence on a national if not international level. That power impacts the local constituency if in no other way, than in that of confidence. A mayor that can buy his way in and out of just about anywhere and anything is not likely to be told to drop dead by any leader anytime soon.

There are New Yorkers who felt Bloomberg as mayor was a bully or at least too paternalistic for their taste. Some felt him too liberal (anti-gun) or too conservative (pro-business.) It’s probably safe to say that he is all of those things and a bit bombastic to boot. He stuck like super glue to his convictions/beliefs and if you happen to agree with those beliefs that was good. Some of his best moments have been fighting to preserve the separation of church and state. NYC is filled with many different cultures and religions and it would be ridiculous to even suggest that they all get along or want the same things. Each religion is defined by how it differs from other beliefs and those beliefs sometimes make their way to City Hall. You may remember the brouhaha over the Muslim Cultural Center built on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory. Mayor Bloomberg supported the center and its message of religious tolerance, amidst fear based propaganda and bigotry. The Mayor has been on the side of inclusion but shied like an abused horse in the face of preferential treatment. He has resisted several requests from religious groups over his tenure, presumably in an attempt to keep religion out of government and vice a versa.

It’s unlikely the next mayor will do the same. There is already much being made of the candidates’ positions on religious issues. Those issues most cited are; Muslim holidays included in the school calendar, ultra-orthodox circumcision practice, and churches using schools for worship. On the surface this appears to be a nice little trifecta. These are the religions most discussed in the media (though not necessarily an accurate representation of NYC residents.) We’ve got a Muslim issue (check!) a Jewish issue (check!) and a Christian issue (check!). Of course ultra-orthodox anything is by definition not representative of the larger religious group and Christian anything rarely includes Catholic something. But never us mind. It makes for a nice little “we are the world” media package. Any religious holiday that precludes a student or teacher from working should be included in the school holiday calendar. There is no religious reason for anyone to not attend school/work on Christmas, but public schools have always been closed on that day. There are many holidays outside of Christianity that are to be spent in religious worship. That should be the determining factor. Many religious festivals and holidays allow for work, they should not be included in the calendar. It’s that simple. The orthodox (or fundamentalists) of any religion enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. They intentionally live outside society but often avail themselves of societal services. If a religious practice causes harm to anyone (herpes in the case of ultra orthodox circumcision) it should be regulated. As a society we believe in protecting the health and well being of others. There are ways to regulate the procedure (no need to get graphic here) that would limit exposure to disease.

These issues, though somewhat novel are not that complicated. They address equity and health and don’t infringe upon anyone else’s freedoms or beliefs. (A mohel or two might be bent out of shape, but they’ll come around.) However holding religious services in a public school infringes upon the rights of just about everyone except the worshippers. Imagine just for a moment that it was a collective of imams wanting to hold Muslim prayer services in the public schools. It’s hard to imagine anyone saying; “eh what the hell, the school is empty anyway.” Public school is just that: public. It is in theory a safe haven and a place in which everyone is presumed equal. Being part of a minority, which in America is anyone who isn’t Christian, is challenging enough. No kid, or teacher needs to be reminded that Christianity is normative. Seeing your local school used as a church is disheartening. We attach an awful lot of importance to the buildings in which children learn. We even tear them down when something awful happens within the walls. To transform a school into a church can be alienating and even feel threatening. On top of the very real emotional response is the fact that schools are government buildings and have no business being used for religious practice.

It is not clear, from anything they’ve said, that either mayoral candidate sees the church and state issue at play. Granted there are actual life and death issues at stake in NYC with which a mayor must contend. But how we regard religion and walk that line between inclusion and separation says loads about us. How we view and treat each other is at the heart of almost everything else that there is and ever will be.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Casting My Vote

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I’m not new to voting; in fact I’ve been at it awhile. Without getting into specifics let’s just say I’ve seen a Bush or two on the ballot. Yet, the act never ceases to thrill me. It is the only endeavor I can think of that feels patriotic, defiant, virtuous and humbling all at once. It’s impossible to ignore how monumental the right to vote really is. There are people still fighting for the right in the 21st century. My gender has only legally been at the booths for less than a hundred years. And there we stand (sometimes for an hour or more,) surrounded by people just like us and entirely different from us. We have (for the moment) set aside our cynicism and are doing the least we can to create the world we want. On those rare occasions (reinsert cynicism) on which we vote for someone we wholeheartedly support it feels as if we’re giving a well deserved standing ovation. “I believe in you!” “I’m rooting for you!” Even when we cast a vote for “the one who is at least not as bad as that other one” we feel as if we’ve made our presence known and have done the right thing.

This year my polling station reinstated the manual voting booths. You remember those enormous metal boxes that arrived at your school cafeteria one or two days before each election? Upon entering the station I heard the unmistakable “clang swoosh” of the machine and felt just a tiny flutter. It is a singularly unique sound and should probably be programmed into electronic voting booths. (Those scanners need a whole lot of remodeling so why not throw in a sound effect?) Whether filling out a bubble sheet (with the world literally watching as there is no privacy) or flipping switches behind a curtain; there is a bit of anxiety. Unlike any standardized test I have ever taken, I actually review my answers: multiple times. Is the X on the right line? Did I fill in the bubble completely? She’s the one I like, right? I often wish I could ask someone to check my work. Perhaps I take it all just a bit too seriously (and could have used a bit of more of that in all those standardized tests over the years.) But I want to believe; a) it really does matter and b) you are what you say/do. So, yes I wake up more excited than any non-candidate has a right to be on voting day. And yes, I spend just a bit more time than is polite doing the actual voting. And yes, I’m always a bit bummed that I only get to do it once.

This would all indicate that I sit by my phone/TV/computer, watching exit poll results all day and into the night. No I do not. I find it all too stressful. On more than one occasion I’ve gone off to bed saying; “Wake me if he wins.” I can’t bear it, particularly after the 2000 Presidential election. I don’t do well with uncertainty and I’m not what you’d call a good loser. Crazy as it sounds, the results are secondary to the process (for me.) The communal act of voting, of gathering with neighbors and strangers to make ourselves heard is more powerful than the results. We are democracy in action. Those elected will go ahead and do a (hopefully good) job. In the end that’s all it really is: a job. But voting is a political and patriotic act and for this little voter, it never ceases to thrill.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Dateline: Twitter

If the 2008 election was the first grassroots get out the vote campaign (in recent memory) than 2012 was the first social media campaign. Since the dawn of the electoral process candidates (and their supporters) have said outrageous things. These statements, either patently false or a scathing truth about a candidate’s character, would mostly go unnoticed. Conversations or speeches made at fundraisers, or other “invitation-only” events might leak out but rarely with any consequence. Candidates making outrageous (if not flat out insane) misinformed statements regarding reproductive biology might be quoted in local media. If the statement or story was sensational enough perhaps national media would have picked up the story. But there was always still a chance that a whispered conversation or two might be able to quash a story.

But today all bets are off and there are few places to hide. Advances in hardware and software have created an everyman press corps. Audio and visual recording can be made with phones. Social media has created a souped-up uber-grapevine. The more outrageous the statement the higher it will trend. A statement made in public, which might have been reported in print, now can become a catchphrase/punchline in 24 hours.

Tradition media is influenced by all of this. Every candidate and his or her cadre of spin machinists know this. Which means that when a candidate utters something worthy of a hardcore Scooby Doo “huh?” reaction we can only guess what he/she has been trained not to say.

 
 

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Woman v. Woman

Can you hear it?  It’s bubbling up again.  There it is!  The woman wars.  Every so often (usually precisely timed to an election cycle) the media is abuzz with the ‘in the home versus outside the home’ battle.  There are so many flaws in this campaign it’s difficult to know where to start.  But I hardly see why that should slow me down.

  • There is no war – this is completely made up.  Nobody cares what you (or I) are doing with our lives.
  • If I’m wrong (and it’s been known to happen) and there are snips and snarks and snide remarks, they are being made by people who feel insecure about their own choices.  In other words, it is a very biased opining.
  • Semantics matter: “Working inside the home” means a person “works from home” – for money.  It doesn’t make anyone’s efforts less worthy to properly identify them.  Managing a household and perhaps children for no compensation is difficult and unrelenting labor and warrants its own term.  It is confusing to use euphemisms such as “working inside the home” simply because we’ve become allergic to terms such as housewife and haven’t come up with anything better.
  • Where a woman spends the majority of her time has little to do with how she votes.  Women can see the world as a larger place than what is directly in front of them.
  • When is it time for men to be pitted against each other in a fictional sophomoric war?

The whole point of feminism is freedom of choice.  Women should be free to choose the life that works for them at any given point.  Women should also be free from being a subcategory or manipulated to fulfill a stereotype.  Women are not a numerical minority, but historically have had limited access to opportunities.  Our country has a long history of creating fictional fracases within minority groups for the purpose of distraction.  Eventually people do catch on.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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