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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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Modern Family

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“De Blasio Takes His Modern Family On The Campaign Trail” blares the headline. My heart skipped as I searched for the photo (or at least mention) of Rosie the Robot. After a sip of coffee I came to my senses and instead sought mention of adult children living at home, or surrogate, biological and adoptive parents living as one big happy family. Finding none of these, I briefly considered that perhaps the newspaper was sensationalizing a large family filled with triplets, quadruplets or more! Blurry eyed but caffeine fueled, I found none of these.

It would seem that the newspaper of record considers a family of more than one race/ethnicity to be “modern”. In 2013. Mr. De Blasio appears to be of European descent (with a name that backs up that theory) and his wife appears to be African-American. His son, featured in a recent ad, sports (brace yourself) an old school, pick in the back pocket, Afro. How terribly terribly modern! In 1963.

This is a New York City political season (and race) filled with more marital horror stories than ever. On a local level we’ve transcended Gary Hart and Bill Clinton, in the lying, adultery and arrogance. And there are the wives, one of them a protege (in apparently every sense of the word) of Mrs. Clinton. They stand by their husbands (at least while the cameras are rolling) and sport huge bubbles of balance sheets (of what’s most important to them,) over their heads.

Perhaps this is what makes the De Blasio family so modern? Look a married couple in which the wife hasn’t endured public humiliation! Perhaps De Blasio’s family is modern compared to his strongest competitor; Christine Quinn? Ms. Quinn’s wife is a lawyer (snore.) They were married by a judge in the most traditional of ceremonies (yawn.)

This headline is not unfortunately just the result of some “old white guy” on the editor’s desk. Other major and generally liberal, media have remarked on De Blasio’s son’s hairstyle. A more optimistic person would think these comments stem from enjoying the throwback of a fluffy symmetrical Afro. It would be nice if newsreaders were flashing back to The Mod Squad and the uber coolness of Link. But even if that was the case, why don’t we look at women with their ubiquitous stick straight blown-out hair and flashback to Julie? And why don’t shaggy haired Caucasian young men remind us of Pete? It is much more likely that these newsreaders view the Afro as some sort of statement.

This is New York City not Sweden (which by the way is not entirely made up of pale blondes.) Every color, size, shape, religion and orientation resides here. For decades this city has, if not welcomed, than sheltered, people and families who did not fit their hometown mold. This is one of the places racially mixed couples flocked to in the early days (when it was still illegal in some places.) So how in the world could there be anything modern about an interracial couple in NYC in 2013?

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Stuck In The Middle With You*

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We don’t like to discuss social class, period. Perhaps it’s a relic from our British independence. When Americans talk about class what we’re really talking about is money. We believe that if you have a place to live and that place is not a castle, you are middle-class. Everyone is middle-class; it’s like being above average. For some the designation is a badge of honor, for others it’s a disingenuous humility. Periodically an elected official or government agency will declare what the economic threshold is for middle-class. Sometimes they even include the ceiling on the perimeter. It really doesn’t matter as everyone wants to call themselves middle-class.

What we deign to call ourselves is hardly significant. Clearly it’s important to us, but doubtful that it’s important to anyone else. Introduce yourself at parties as a stay-at-home actress/scrapbooker/snackatarian and note how quickly the interviewer resumes talking about themselves. When classifications matter is when they’re used to make larger points or policy. By viewing economic class as an ideal rather than a reality we risk working against our own best interests. Recently we’ve begun to embrace discussing the economic upper-class; we now call them the 1%. But we still shy from identifying or discussing the working-class. During the most recent presidential election we used terms such as “working families” which is close, but mostly just conjures child labor. We also have started using the term “working-poor” which has more to do with a livable wage and full-time employment opportunities than an economic class. There are wage, tax, healthcare and many other public policies that potentially affect the working class more than any other group.

It’s not that surprising that we’ve evolved to this point. There was a time when we discussed class irrespective of income. People came from a working-class background, or they were middle or upper-class. However, we used the terms with hushed voices and a bit of self-consciousness. We are a culture obsessed with the outcomes of these delineations but hesitate to discuss the cause. We spend a great deal of time trying to make our country abide by social middle-class values but don’t label them as such. (Ironically the United Kingdom, the mother ship of the class system, views middle-class values as something to be avoided.) It’s interesting that in a society that enjoys talking about the melting pot, diversity and inclusion, we feel rather strongly that everyone should really embrace the same values. It’s why we all identify as middle-class. Americans are averse to the social class system (but we do obsess about the Royal family. It’s all so confusing this relationship we have with the homeland.) We see class not as static, as do our friends across the pond, but as something we transcend. We are a pull yourself up by the bootstrap kinda country. Where you’re born in not where you are to stay (unless it’s at the top.) Therefore when we talk about class we tinge it with aspiration. It’s like calling someone a “bride-to-be” or “rising senior.” It’s about where you’re going not where you are.

But what you call yourself and how you see yourself are two different things. How you identify, at a party or elsewhere, is immaterial, but it matters a great deal politically. Too many of us support candidates and parties who are most definitely working against our best interest because we want to identify with them. Some candidates intentionally make themselves very relatable to the working-class but are no friend to the policies that (disproportionally) affect the group. There is an old adage that you should dress for the job you want (not the one you have.) When it comes to voting; you should vote for where you are, not where you hope to be.

*Stealers Wheel (1972)

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Seizing Semantics

Have you noticed that once widely available words have been appropriated and winnowed down to the most streamlined of meaning? Take the word; family, for instance. Family once meant people one was connected to who did not fall into the category of friends. Hence the phrase; friends and family. Family could mean one’s family of origin, including generations past. Family could also reference those brought into the holiday fold year after year. Family could also be self-constructed, augmenting a loss of familial connections. The word was open to subtle interpretations but maintained a overall meaning of connectivity. These days you might hear several phrases touting the word ‘family’ that have nothing to do with human connection. For instance:

  • Family Values – Whose family values? Have you MET my family!? Or do you really mean ‘conservative values?’
  • Family Friendly – I think the phrase you may be searching for is “Child-centric” no? I assure you, your themed restaurant is not friendly to my family, it is our 7th circle of hell.
  • Working Families – Now if the children are actually grabbing their briefcase and headed for the 7:15, you have my full support.

Of course the same wholesale take-over of terminology is not new. “Faith” and “patriotism” have come to mean very specific beliefs and practices. Believing in the potential of human beings to be their best selves and to reach out and help up is a definition of faith. Believing that how we treat others is directly connected to the health of our souls is faith. But when we hear the word being bandied about it’s meant to communicate an adherence to an organized religion. When we hear calls of “patriotism” it most often is in reference to military support or flag waving. Those fighting; to separate church and state, or for freedom of speech or press are rarely referred to as patriots.

Politics and verity make strange bedfellows, that’s certain. But there’s no reason in the world the rest of us need follow and adopt the constricting definitions. Language is many things, including contagious. If we commit to using terminology that strikes us as more accurate or inclusive, others may very well follow. Our words are the most lasting and telling clues to our inner self. Our ability to create meaningful language is what in fact makes us human.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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Life, Liberty And A Parade

Independence Day is so inherently celebratory and stress-free it seems odd to think of it as a holiday.  There are no cards or gifts; there is no real family obligation.  There is no food preparation or turning one’s home upside down.  What there is though are oodles of ways to celebrate (and zero societal expectation to really do so.)  Eat a hot dog, wear the colors, hold a sparkler and you’re part of the festivities.  Sit at home and read historical doctrines and you’re in.  Drive on the right side of the road and feel grateful & you’ve partied. Regardless of personal politics or religion, it’s hard to bristle at the substance of the holiday.  Declaration of Independence? Birthday Party? What’s not to like.

Fireworks are nice, though I prefer mine small, local and muted.  Barbecues and picnics are just an excuse for that berry flag cake for me.  What really makes me happy and filled with that 4th feeling is a small town parade.  I’m not sentimental enough to care whose small town or where.  I just want to see kids pulling wagons or riding their decorated bikes. I want my Uncle Sams and scouts of all ages and I want to be pelted with candy from fire trucks. Truth be told without the incentive of impending candy pelting, I’m not sure I would find some of the marchers so endearing. So this 4th, in pursuit of a parade I suited up and crossed a bridge for my slice of the patriotic pie.

At the first sight of re-enactors I knew I’d found the place.  I’m afraid I can’t get more specific than “re-enactor” as the men were dressed in Revolutionary garb, the women were dressed in 19th century dresses and they were all playing Dixie.  The local Republican Party and local Democratic Party were in modern dress and marched with their banner.  I’m accustomed to politicians (elected or running) marching, but these were just party members.  I know we think that there are only two political parties in this country but that doesn’t actually make it true.  They are of course recruiting for their locality and why not?  But what about the disproportionate representation of the military at the parade?  I am all for honoring those who serve but I find it difficult to consider the Fourth of July as a military holiday.  If the military marched to represent service to our country where was the contingent from Teach For America, Americorps and the Peace Corps?  If they were marching to represent our ‘freedoms’ how about a media float or marching judges and voting booths?

I know I was at a small town parade, but that’s the point isn’t it?  Our country is made up of these towns and on some level they really do represent how Americans feel and think.  I’ve no doubt that there were parades around this country that were broad and inclusive.  But the majority were probably more like my sample of one. I’m not convinced though that we need to forfeit quaint and charm to avoid reductionism.  Sitting in my shady spot, trying to blend into the fauna and flora, I learned about what mattered to my sample of one; a small suburban town 20 minutes outside of New York City.  To the naked untrained eye, the marchers and spectators seemed to be of the same ethnicity and perhaps religion.  They were not overly enthusiastic about children (the cars participating outnumbered the children participating 2:1) and they really liked bagpipes and kilts (not one, but two marching groups!)  They are a generous people, supplying spectators with; candy, flags, candy, pinwheels, candy & temporary flag tattoos.  And you did not need to be Jane Goodall to detect that they really like firetrucks.  At least 12 of them were wheeled out at the end (a la Santa Claus.)  One dozen firetrucks.  For a small town whose most popular form of architecture is brick colonial homes.

As the final four firetrucks made their way down the route, I put on my straw hat, grabbed my mini flag and headed cross the river.  No, I had no powdered wig, and yes I was technically headed in the wrong direction, but a little poetic license with one’s re-enacting can be festive.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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