Posts Tagged ‘media’

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It’s Not Impossible, It’s Just Texas

2013.January.25

WHAT

Last week, I reached out for something vague with a flurry of spontaneous tweets. I tried to make it poetic, and thoughtful, and concise, but the failed purpose was to articulate something missing in my activist/ish life and hope my friends and allies could point me in the right direction. Responses were mostly negative on the helpful scale, to the extent that responses like “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and simple cyber-hugs were graded at the high end of an sharp curve.

There were five posts in quick succession, plus an epilogue and a disgruntled follow-up, all posted to my Twitter (where my smattering of activist followers seemed to be inactive that day). The tweets then cross-posted to my private Facebook, where I had hoped to reach the several dozen friends who currently or have previously worked for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, and other professional realms of activism (or at least the dozens more who advocate as volunteers, organizers, and educators on their own time) with one simple query:

“Where my idealists at?”

This was not the first time I had attempted the approach of, “Ask the Internet and it will come.” Except I wasn’t asking the whole Internet; I wasn’t even asking all 500 of my Facebook friends. Even omitting the various filters for me and Twitter, my posts could still only reach whatever friends happened to check their Facebook feeds around the time I posted. Activists or not, few of my friends (or anyone on Facebook) optimize Facebook’s feed options (subjecting them to a lot of irrelevant noise and shortening attention spans further), so even if they wanted to see it, who knows if they would have? If someone was busy at work that day, or sick, or forgot the phone they use to log in, or just needed a break from digital socializing on THAT DAY, there was little chance they would see it.

My approach was essentially aiming a shotgun at a hummingbird. Through a wall. And the hummingbird may or may not have been there in the first place.

It should surprise no one, then, that the tweets were ignored and the Facebook posts received the following array of responses: 7 “Likes”, 5 vaguely cynical comments, 4 vaguely sympathetic comments, 2 playful threats about my artistic license with grammar, 2 admissions that someone didn’t understand what I was after, 1 vaguely relevant joke, and 1 itemized derailment of the entire series (which helped trigger my disgruntled follow-up, 4 sympathetic comments, and conversations with both the grammarian and the derailer). Of these, the “I don’t understand” comments were actually the most helpful, because I realized that I couldn’t explain my posts any better — and that was the problem.

The posts failed to reach anyone who could recognize and answer the question I was trying to ask. Even I didn’t know what I sought, so how could I know if I was going about it the right way? Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), even the most upsetting of these comments led to productive discussion and reconsideration, to the extent that I’m finally able to articulate what it is I seek and why it has been so difficult. From the angst of failure, a better question came to me: not “Where are the idealists?” but “Why am I so desperate to find them?”

WHERE

When I left my “First Real Job” in D.C., it was to return home. Texas is decidedly conservative, in politics and in culture — and these days pretty in-your-face about it (part of why I left in the first place). Yet there’s a camaraderie that comes easily here as outcasts band together in a hostile environment; it facilitates a simpler acceptance of other people, and I’d found myself missing that. While my time in D.C. had been professionally rewarding, it had also been incredibly lonely. Living closer to the mainstream, I somehow felt further away from finding community or chosen family (outside of working hours) than I’d felt in Texas. As my life drifted closer to “normal”, I came to feel ever-more conspicuous about the differences that remained; back home, outcasts had always been outcasts, whatever differences they carried.

So I came back. The politics is still just as bad (probably worse), but I’ve found my community and my chosen family amid the outliers. The more uniform the culture here becomes, the easier it gets to identify, support, and ally with others who defy convention (and it doesn’t matter whether they defy it a little or a lot). It may be compared to a spirit of revolution, but I find it much subtler: for revolution, the first priority is to subvert the power system in place using any help you can get; you’re not yet worried about what power structure might replace it and therefor you don’t really screen your camarades (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that). Here, we’re just banding together and doing what we can to survive, all the while educating ourselves and others on how the dominant narrative is not our only option.

In a relatively free society (and whine as we might, we participate in one of the free-est societies ever, even in Texas), if you can be diplomatic with folks who perpetuate the dominant culture but also successful at convening with those who don’t, you can sustain a pretty nice little desert oasis. I can pick my battles according to what I want to do (because it can’t all get done); I can take a break whenever I need (because victory is never as close as burnout); I can even be rebellious and popular at the same time!

The choice to remain a(n ideological) minority does carry drawbacks, of course. The political bell curve places my most “hippie-ish” peers somewhere in the neighborhood of California Republicans. Bias and scorn seep out from most every news source; outside of Austin, there’s hardly such a thing as a secondary political narrative (and Sam Houston forbid you should ever try to find a middle ground on any issue other than the two conveniently polarized “sides”.) Eventually, you lose the ability to keep political and social culture out of any conversation with your friend-allies, and then you have little else to draw from for civil discourse amid family and neighbors who do support the dominant narrative. When you  find sympathetic stories, any anecdote from Texas is far more likely to anger or depress you than to give you strength or hope. It’s enough to make anyone jaded, really.

Or, increasingly I fear, it’s enough to make EVERYONE jaded.

WHO

There are a lot of us fighting the good fights down here in our own little ways: computer programmers who raise LGBT awareness by living out and proud, single moms whose households incorporate deep environmental awareness, elder-care-givers who network casual activists to one another and wax philosophic about underlying truths discovered along the way. OK, you got me, that last one is me.

I’ve been keeping my eye on a certain elder in my life for the majority of the seven years I’ve been back here, but it’s only been a full-time arrangement for about 14 months. At this point in his progression, I spend a scattered couple of hours a day helping him with food, doctor appointments, medications, tech support, and socializing, and 20+ hours a day keeping myself occupied while listening for one of those needs to arise (you can find out more at #badideacare, though #occupyFree could also be clever). I spend a lot of time at or near my computer, and the tone of my day is often set by fellow Texans; our communal strength and reliance upon one another is sustained largely online because we are pretty spread out by geography, logistics, and focus. When Texas liberals and/or nonconformists have a bad day (which is often), there’s a good chance I hear about it early and often. My mood can, and does, often suffer. (Because I care, dammit! :P )

Most of this circumstance is not really new. What I have learned over the past fourteen months is that when I reach out, when I ask for something positive from my network of amateur activists, the vast majority of responses I get will be cynical, snarky, pedantic, derailing — in a word, counterproductive. I probably spend as much attention on how we work as on what we’re working toward, so every time an ally approaches an issue with sarcasm, aggressiveness, smugness, or general misanthropy, my bright optimism clouds just a little more.

I can’t call out a single incident or a single person for this, because it is more subtle and erosive than that. The hardest part of running this treadmill isn’t the lost political battles, it’s the lost rhetorical battles. Most of the negative comments I get — from my own allies, remember — don’t stop at foiling my grasps at positivity, they often imply that I am foolish for even asking. The brand of idealism I hold is not only so much rejected as a personal choice, it is regarded as downright impossible.

WHY

I might share their bleak outlook if I had not seen otherwise in D.C. The organization where I worked shut its doors in 2006 due to unrelated — but equally painful — realities, yet even during lean times that small org was a hub of positivity whose network stretched nationwide and beyond.

Before I was care-giving full time, I could still travel a couple times a year and (re-)connect with folks in Austin, Colorado, California, or D.C., drawing strength from the great works and great attitudes I found. Activists in more liberal regions (even those who are no more professional activists than the elder for whom I care) get stronger support from their communities, maintain larger professional networks, have more educational resources available, and are more likely operate with the luxury of designated workspaces that (however difficult it may be) can be left at work once in a while. These opportunities bring with them a greater capacity for all things positive and effective, which can then be shared with organizations and individuals who are less centrally located — if they can manage to connect. This was, in fact, a mission of the D.C. project where I dedicated most of my time. We would identify, celebrate, and support effective community leaders, then gather them to foster collaboration while a group of academics attempted to glean big lessons on leadership from their efforts. Along the way, smaller networks became connected to one another, and a larger movement toward social justice became feasible.

The org where I worked encouraged straightforward values for advocacy organizations via an acronym, THE RAMP: Transparency, Hope, Exchange, Respect, Affirmation, Modeling, Pragmatism. We talked about our values, we swapped insights with others, and we made sure positivity was part of our movement. All around us were other organizations — other networks — who were just as positive, just as supportive, whose lights shone just as bright. They spent more time talking about what they could do than what they couldn’t. They spent more time building each other up than tearing anyone down for being imperfect allies (or even opponents). They never let one another feel isolated.

Those networks demonstrated many things beyond the plausibility of an affirming approach, but the most important to me were these:

  • The power inherent in language and art rests in a clear message to a clear audience, not grammatical perfection. (See also.)
  • There is an ongoing exodus of non-conservatives to the U.S. coasts and it is reinforcing the red-state/blue-state polarization we decry.
  • In order to make a difference to a place, one must be grounded there.
  • No changemaker works alone.

These are, in fact, the other reasons I came back to Texas seven years ago. I cannot be cynical because I’ve seen positive activism done well, and I believe it can be done here (and not just in Austin).

HOW

My old org is gone, and that old network has changed over time, but I have come to believe that successful relationships depend on impact rather than longevity. About half of my colleagues from that time have left activism but continue to live out their values and positivity in new careers; the other half are still at it, building and connecting and shining away with awesome projects in liberal hubs and conscious, supportive families at home. Alas, those same careers and families usually keep them away from Facebook, and since they still maintain their local support networks, they have less at stake in maintaining strong ties with me than I do with them. I’ve been looking for positive connections to augment or replace them.

I haven’t been calling for all the idealists, I’ve been calling for my idealists: those whose work to become more inclusive and more positive never quite ends. I need to bring conscious positivity back into my life, and I’d like to acquire the skills to help others do the same. I need the positive news and clever toolkits and erudite inspiration — not just some cat meme or Mary Engelbreit aphorism, but accurate insights from people who know it because they’ve done it. I’m not looking to swing the pendulum to another extreme; I just want to connect with folks who find hope in their activism as often as not. (I’d surely settle for a third of the time… maybe a quarter.) And for now, just because I’m difficult (and nearly quixotic), I need to be able to do this pretty much entirely online (yes, the same realm that brought you trolling and such sentimental acronyms as “DIAF”).

I could use any help that’s available. I want to connect with part-time activists who believe in affirmative approaches, especially in Texas and especially online, even if you’re no more sure how to do it than I am. I also welcome recommendations for positive outlets on Twitter or Facebook (I have a couple of groups there myself), educational resources on community building, amateur-friendly activists networks, and anyone who might know something about fostering a positive workspace for non-professionals. What else is out there?

I’d like to think I’ve continued to practice the values of THE RAMP in my efforts here, but Affirmation is by far the most elusive and the hardest to pay forward: I simply do not know how. I just need some reassurance that my values (both political and rhetorical) have a place in this state — that I have a place in this state — before the illusions of isolation and hopelessness become too strong.

Addendum: I swear I didn’t plan this, but as I’m posting this, two notable sex-positive conferences are scheduled for this weekend in my two backyards (online and off). Some of my favorite activists are gathering in Atlanta for Creating Change, an annual conference of queer activism; my participation in CC10 was the most affirming weekend I’ve had since returning to Texas. Then on Monday, some of my favorite people have arranged a day off for me so I can attend a Brown Symposium on sex-positivity (near Austin, of course). I can’t think of a better moment to ask again, “Where my idealists at?”. Both events should be thoroughly tweeted, so follow the conversations at #CC13, #creatingchange, #BrownSym2013, and #sextalkinTX. If sex-positivity isn’t your thing, watch this space and I’ll let you know what else I find as I find it.

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Voting and IDs Get Stricter: This Just Happened

2012.May.9

I took the elder for whom I care to get his driver’s license converted to a plain photo ID. His drivers license expired a couple of months ago (when I was still getting the hang of my new level of responsibility). I checked the DPS website, prepared the form, and brought both his expired license and birth certificate with me, just in case.

The office was busier than I had expected for mid-afternoon on a weekday, a lot of working people and more than a couple of folks traveling in multi-generational packs (whether because kids needed watching or because an elder relative needed assistance) but I got him to sit down while I stood in line. Several people were sent to fill out forms, but a couple were sent home for more documentation. I didn’t think anything of it. As we approached our turn at the check-in counter, I called him over to stand with me and the woman behind the desk invited us to skip the line when she was his fragile movement. I told her what we needed and she reached for a page she had at the desk. “He needs two documents verifying his residence, and then we’ll get that taken care of.” She knew this would be a challenge, because she didn’t even bother to ask whether we had his expired drivers license or any of the pre-existing requirements. She said the change just went into effect Monday. I tried to think whether we could pull enough documents from his wallet and the glove compartment, but no; we had to go home and come back.

I’m frustrated because this restriction seems to be cynical, unnecessary “protection” against fraud that is far from profligate in this state. Voter ID has been on the agenda for several election cycles, but it took the class of 2010 to make it happen. This change, which reinforces the disenfranchisement by making an ID more difficult to get, was passed in 2009 by a less extreme Lege. And isn’t it suspicious that a law passed nearly 2 years ago wasn’t implemented until election season 2012?

I’m frustrated that, news junkie that I can be, I haven’t heard a word about this change on local TV news, on local radio, or just in passing conversation. Maybe I haven’t been paying a lot of attention, but this seems like a story that should be repeated early and often. I worry that folks who wait until the last minute to do something important will get left in the cold. I worry that this will slow the participation of folks who move to our state or move within it (and I know from experience that the working class is highly mobile in this state).

I’ve gone back to the website and seen the offset gray box that alludes to the change, but it hardly strikes me as obvious; I actually would have noticed it better if they’d added it to the existing list. The good news is that, as a full-time caregiver of a fairly mobile senior (and forty-plus-year resident of the same house) , it’s not really any big deal for me to return to the office tomorrow with all the necessary documents. But we’re outliers; of the half-dozen people who left in the half hour I was there, how many took off work? skipped lunch? used up what little flexibility they have in their schedule this week/month? Even among those who can work it out again, how many are going to bother to do so?

How are we not turning voting into a luxury in this state?

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Challenges to Slutwalk

2012.April.22

[I am currently consulting the organizers of Dallas Slutwalk 2012; the following is began as a response to a question about the challenges Slutwalks have faced.]

At our first organizer’s meeting, I shared some articles on criticisms from last year. I’d be happy to share links (I posted a few on the page), but they can be summarized thusly:

  1. Language: the choice to embrace “slut” is dividing feminists as to whether the Slutwalks subvert or reinforce sexist language. Moreover, it has conflated participants who (sometimes unknowingly) represent two purposes: denouncing victim-blaming through satire and proclaiming sexual autonomy in earnest.
  2. Race: the Slutwalks have largely been seen as an enterprise by white women; efforts at outreach to communities of color have frequently ignored the history of sexualized marginalization against women of color, who, accordingly, have a different relationship with the word “slut”.
  3. Message: owing in no small part to the idiosyncrasies above, the media has largely failed to convey an accurate or clear message of the Slutwalks, instead choosing to focus on these controversies or simply the spectacle of the events.

My personal goal for this year’s walk is to make sure more attention is paid to these challenges before and during the walk, as well as to encourage and help organize follow-up events that will allow supporters to dig deeper into all issues raised.

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10 Points Marginally Related to Universal Healthcare

2010.November.10

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

#1) TARP isn’t going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the end. Almost all the money given out is getting paid back and all we’re going to end up being on the hook for as taxpayers is the administrative cost of the program. This is not the huge source of debt/spending that we’ve been led to believe.

#2) The stimulus spending isn’t a good idea. However, again, it’s not going to cost as much in the long-haul as we’ve been led to believe. Every job it saves is taxable income that the government doesn’t lose. No, it’s not going to be cost-effective in any measurable way, but a lot of the infrastructure projects that are able to go forward because of it are sorely needed. Who wants to have to wonder every time they cross a bridge whether it’s going to collapse before they can get to the other side? Things like that are savings that can’t be measured, and that’s exactly why some of these projects have never gotten off the ground — if you can’t show how it pays for itself, the people don’t want to pay for it.

#3) America can’t afford to NOT have some form of Universal Healthcare. The healthcare and insurance industries are slowly choking off the rest of the economy. Who cares if you make $200K a year if you pay $190K a year to your insurance/docs, and believe me, that’s where things are headed if these companies aren’t reigned in, and I mean tightly. Taxes are already a drop in the bucket compared to what a lot of people pay for insurance alone, let alone their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even if we go with socialized medicine and everyone’s taxes double because of it, most of the middle-class will be far better off than they are today in their cost/benefit ratio (and the poor will be protected, as well).

#4) A lot of people like to say that healthcare reform is about the government being able to control the people. Personally, I don’t see a single industrialized country that uses it that way. I also don’t see where socialized medicine has negatively affected the economy in the U.K., France, Netherlands, any of the Scandinavian countries, or anywhere else, for that matter. Where socialism gets dangerous to the economy is when the government tries to control all means of production and to plan an economy without the flexibility to change when the times change. Even the most ambitious socialists in the U.S. don’t think we should take things in that direction — at least not if they’re smart; it’s a direction that’s been proven NOT to work.

#5) If we eliminated every bit of government spending outside of the military and defense budgets, we’d save a whopping 15% of the total expenditures of our government. Not a single one of these Tea Party or even the oldschool conservatives is going to suggest we cut defense or military spending, even if we weren’t involved in two “wars”.

#6) Eliminating the “War on Drugs” could pay for healthcare for every individual in the U.S.. The way the insurance companies drive up premiums is by using a divide and conquer strategy. Premiums are based off risk amortization on what’s called a “pool”. The smaller the pool, the fewer people there are to foot the bulk of the risk, and thus higher premiums. One option that’s far short of socialization is to force insurance companies to consider the entire population as the “risk pool” when they calculate premiums for ANYONE. Another option would be to outlaw for-profit healthcare providers (the logic for this is simple: people’s health is too valuable a resource for this country to trust it to people who aren’t concerned with care before profits).

#7) There is a whole lot of “fuck you, I’ve got mine” going around in the U.S. right now. People forget that there were people there when they were struggling to lend a helping hand, or that they received benefits or, with even more irony, forget that their Social Security and Medicare benefits come from the government already. People are not just uninformed, they are being willfully misinformed. It’s my opinion that someone (Rupert Murdoch for starters, and we can go on and on from there) should be held responsible for that. Journalism is an art where objectivity is sacrosanct, and the companies that try and turn a profit on “news” are all guilty of letting their “sales” get in the way of their integrity. MSNBC, FOX News, CNN, all of them. There are still good journalists out there, and when you find one, they’re usually hanging onto their jobs by the skin of their teeth. It’s very difficult in the current market for people with the sort of integrity that the title of “journalist” implies to keep both their integrity and their jobs. This is why we have things like the “March to Restore Sanity/Fear” — it was as much about drawing attention to the media twisting things, slanting things, and dividing the people so it’s easier for the corporations to remain in power (make no mistake, the corporations “own” the majority of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle) as it was about any sort of partisan statement.

#8) Debt. Debt. Debt. Borrow your way to prosperity has been the American anthem for a long time now. It’s finally starting to bite us in the ass, and it’s going to be painful to work our way out of it. Does that mean we should sacrifice the future and security of the republic to do so? I think that would be a terrible mistake.

#9) The Free Market tautology. I hear a lot of people talking out there who think that the Market is some god-like force that can fix anything. God, however, is also a tautology. You’re free to believe in either, of course, but expecting the Market to solve something that it has already failed miserably to solve is (in my opinion) one of the truest marks of idiocy. In the U.S., the government has a track-record of stepping in and providing essential services that the market fails to provide — this is true of roads, police, fire, water, sewer, flood planning, food for the hungry, retirement, medical care for the elderly, medical care for small children, and many other areas as well. In the modern world, the health of the populace is as much a matter of infrastructure as roads, bridges, the power grid, fire and police protection, water, sewers, and so on and so forth. Like I’ve said elsewhere, Universal Healthcare should be looked at in the same way a sanitation law would be viewed. Sure, we wouldn’t need such things if everyone was honest, considerate, and rational, but that’s not the world we live in. Those aren’t the people that share it with us. We share this world with a lot of fuckwads that care a lot more about when they’re going to buy their next new Bugatti than whether or not they’re not trampling on someone else’s rights to do it.

#10) I want to see the U.S. spend as much on education as it does the military. Education is where all these problems started, and where they could all end if we as a people are committed to providing each other with an actual education, instead of providing a glorified babysitter that’s primarily designed to churn out complacent workers. We’ve seen where that leads, and now it’s time that we realize that our collective complacency is what’s put us in this position. It’s also what makes it difficult to face the actual work that would have to happen in order to accomplish this. But if we don’t, this country is going the way of the Romans, and we will have failed every Patriot that has ever given their life, their liberty, or their sanity for this nation.

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Dr. Laura: Read the Constitution

2010.August.20

Dear Esteemed Doctor:

How fares your research into the effects of insulin on 3-0-methylglucose transport? Well, I hope. I understand if you haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to it since you’ve been busy the last few decades taking radio by storm, but I am not so cynical as to figure someone of your stature would ever advertise her PhD without maintaining some connection to her thesis. (Plus, as I understand it, the California Board of Behavioral Science Examiners frowns on counselors using the title without a degree in psychology.) I look forward to reading more, whenever you can get around to it.

I hear you’re having a rough time of it right now, what with every politically correct, language-policing liberal in the country denouncing your recent use of the “n-word”. Well, I’m not here to do denounce your show — I always enjoy a good laugh. In fact, this situation reminds me of a cartoon I saw in a magazine once (I’m pretty sure it was one of my step-dad’s Playboys from years ago; don’t hold it against me, I was so young and curious!): two men are talking at a dinner party, and the guy speaking is casually holding a drink and pointing his finger while saying, “The way I see it, the Bill of Rights cuts both ways. The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, but the Second Amendment gives me the right to shoot you for it.” Hilarious! Oh man, I still laugh every time I think about it.

I want you to know that, like such luminaries as Voltaire and his friends, the Supreme Court of the United States, Charlton Heston, and that guy in the Playboy comic, I stand 100% behind your right to express yourself openly. I applaud your candor and your willingness to “say the wrong thing”, which is — truly — a tenet of my life. Unlike many other couch-commentators, I have actually listened to the show in question (available here on video and transcript) and noted that you never once used the n-word against anyone, but instead only quoted what you have heard from some rather explicit comics on HBO. (And isn’t HBO the standard to which we should hold society’s greater good? I mean, it’s not just television.)

So far as I can tell, you were — in your own, special way — trying to approach the painful and epic history of racism in America from a place of heartfelt reason. You were trying to ask a highly charged question that deserved careful, thoughtful consideration and long, contemplative discourse, wherein we spend more time listening to the experiences of those different from us than we do talking about our own, and that takes courage. Sure, you asked the question point-blank, with a raised, accusatory voice and a finger on the “drop-call” button, and without one of the nuances I above endorse, but you did raise them and I thank you for that. You went on to apologize for hurting people with the utterance and for not offering the caller help with her problem, and I congratulate you for recognizing how the conversation could have been handled better, albeit after the fact.

But despite your resoundingly adequate handling of the matter up to that point, I simply cannot stand by the follow-up appearance on Larry King, wherein you announced that you will soon end your radio program. I must protest the devastating impact this announcement is having on our country and our culture.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no strong opinion about whether you continue your radio show (it is, after all, a free country). However, I must protest because in your reasons, you perpetuated a common myth in our American culture that needs to be corrected. Sadly, someone must serve as an example to others.

See, check this out:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now, the rest of that stuff is pretty controversial itself, so let’s just focus on the parts about free speech:

    Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech [...].

Fucking A! That’s a good rule! Man, I love that rule. Thanks to that rule, I can get away with saying anything from “Fucking A!” to “George W. Bush Loves Dick!” to “Obama is a gingerbread man destined to be consumed by the nation he would save!” no matter HOW profane they seem. Ergo…

Under the First Amendment, any American (and most any visitor) has the right to:

  • Have any opinion about anything.
  • Express any opinion publicly.
  • Present a falsehood or misconception as fact (think misleading advertising… doesn’t it just make you sick, Doctor of Physiology Laura?).

Of course, this amendment only explicitly applies to Congress (not the Executive or the Judicial Branch, which regulate the notable exceptions for public safety, sworn oaths and testimonies, obscenity where there might be children around, etc.); an eroding distinction has been made between personal speech and commercial speech, but you’d have to go back for a J.D. to navigate those waters. Also, and this should be obvious but isn’t, don’t just assume you can invoke your First Amendment rights in another country…

But, here’s where it becomes relevant to you, Doc…

What the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee Americans:

  • That anyone will listen to you.
  • That you can make money by virtue of having or stating an opinion.
  • That someone else won’t exercise their free speech to disagree with you.
  • That you won’t say anything stupid.
  • That forces outside the government (such as public opinion, cultural progress, scientific evidence, advertiser dollars, your own guilty conscience, or the bigwigs overseeing your contract) will back you up if you say something stupid.
  • That you can say something stupid and avoid facing any consequences (e.g., social, political, or financial — you’re still covered for legislative, though!).
  • That your perfect PR apology for the stupid thing you said will be accepted and the whole matter forgotten by the offended party/parties.
  • That — outside of Congressional abridgement — some person or persons won’t take issue with the stupid thing you said and publicize / denounce / protest / boycott / demote / reschedule / fire / otherwise embarrass your dumb ass for saying it.

So, you see, when you said you were leaving radio to “regain [your] First Amendment rights”, you were doing a rather unpatriotic disservice — to yourself, to our Constitution, and to the civic understanding of the thousands of American children whose parents force them to listen to you — by encouraging bad information.

By invoking the First Amendment, you have placed the blame for your present predicament on Congress. Instead, I think you will find our polarized political culture offers you two ready-made scapegoats: the dehumanization of corporate Capitalism or oversensitive Black People. Just remember to choose one, stick with it, and don’t get them confused; we certainly wouldn’t want you to accidentally denounce the dehumanization of Black People! Boy, that would be embarrassing!

Now, I probably sound like I’m being a little harsh, but I need you to know that you are not alone in this misunderstanding. Liberals who denounced Bush, conservatives who denounce Obama, the poor over-moderated members of Internet community boards across the country, and plenty of Hollywood visionaries have made the same mistake. Maybe they’re using the Constitution as a metaphor, but I suspect most of them are just plain wrong.

The uproar over your comments, while unpleasant, was no more a violation of your First Amendment rights than your repeated interruption of the caller, ranting, and abrupt hang-up were a violation of hers. You yourself have decried the quality of education in this country; set an example and read up about from whom the constitution protects us. Maybe if more people understood our Constitution better (I’m pretty sure we all learned it in high school, but sadly we live in a culture where it is all too easy for facts to be overwritten by beliefs), we could get back around to meaningful conversations about the roots of such controversies.

Why is the n-word standard applied unevenly? Is the U.S. generally insensitive or overreactive about race? Is it possible to be both? Is the media’s coverage of racism just a little too much like wind applied to fire: whether blowing it out, spreading it around, or just making things miserable with a lot of hot air?

It could have been a good conversation.

Instead, what we heard was you and the caller getting defensive as soon as the n-word was out there (quite a Pandora’s Box, isn’t it?) and legitimate questions from both sides being buried in the most common reflexes to these situations: anger and self-righteous vitriol. At that point, no one can go on to win the argument, but those of us who’d like to see a thoughtful discussion definitely lose. Congratulations, you are now the proud host of every other political call-in show on the air! May your conversations be just as successful and productive as the legendary Crossfire!

Whatever you do next, I hope you will never hold back your earnest thoughts, so the dialogues can always be honest, the reactions passionate, and the deserts just.

Good luck in your future endeavors!

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Our Political Atmosphere: How Bad Is It?

2010.July.28

So bad that fear of one’s opponents is a faster motivator than those opponents themselves.

The short version is that a Black nonpartisan federal employee was caught on video saying something that sounded racist against Whites and was fired almost immediately, only for word to later come out that the video had been edited to place her comments in antithetical context to their personal-triumph-over-racism origin. Partisan officials from the top scrambled to apologize and offer the woman her job (or better) back.

So what role did partisanship play in the whole fiasco? Ironically, only the partisans are really talking about this, and you’re not going to get much of a straight answer out of either side.

Of course, liberals are pointing fingers at conservative media (e.g., Fox News). The NAACP (not staunchly liberal, but let’s say sympathetic; they were implicated because it was at their event that the video was shot) declared “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias … we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”

Conservatives rebut this by pointing out that Fox barely had time to mention the video before the woman was forced into resignation. The Tea Party activist who first posted the edited video has refused to apologize, swearing up and down that the video was already edited when he received it (source unknown).

Media sources that attempt to be nonpartisan are just shaking their heads going, “WTF?” because those who bought the story gave it legs and those who didn’t only avoided doing so because they weren’t fast enough. The old UPI motto “Get it first, but get it right” is clear in its structure about which half is the priority and which is the caveat.

Ugh. This is our politics. Just makes you want to burst into patriotic song, doesn’t it?

I watched a little of the ensuing tennis match between Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly earlier tonight. I laughed with Rachel and cringed at Bill like I was supposed to (grouse though I might about partisanship, I do tend to sympathize with those who tout social justice over corporate interests), but it felt rather distant from reality. There was one very meta moment wherein Rachel was speaking alongside a monitor displaying Bill, who in turn was shown alongside footage of Rachel… it was like looking at a reflection of a reflection of a reflection (AKA an “infinity mirror”)…

I was left feeling a little empty. I didn’t gain anything from watching this display, and I doubt Rachel or Bill or anyone on either of their staffs learned during those 5… 10… 30… however many minutes this volley will go on. The whole story seems to be showing us an ugly underbelly of politics and media, even as it is exploiting it, without offering any solutions or hope for improvement.

There have been some oblique references to how journalists should check their sources, but aren’t we at least past the point of confusing “commentators” with “journalists”? Just clarifying the difference between news for the sake of news and opinion posing as news for the sake of entertainment posing as political involvement would go a long way toward a calmer, more rational political climate for all sides. There are commentators trying to be journalists and journalists trying to be commentators, but a real newsperson isn’t going to have his or her name ahead of the word “News” in the title of a program. Instead of everyone saying, “Those journalists should have checked their sources!” how about we ask how and why journalists, commentators, the NAACP, and the freaking federal government could get so invested in a story without checking their sources?

How about the liberal commentators and officials check their sources, even now, and recognize that while, yes, Fox News and their allies have created an intimidating news environment, in this case they were behind the curve. Just because officials feared their backlash doesn’t mean the backlash had actually begun. While their at it, liberal and non-partisan officials need to grow a spine and not jump to defend themselves against every little attack. And liberal commentators who nightly denounce ideologues like Bill O’Reilly for being caustic blowhards need to not get involved in tit-for-tat, self-referential reporting, lest you become blowhards yourselves! (Oops, too late.)

And conservatives, who are more or less faultless in this one incident (congratulations, your seeds of self-destruction have been sewn quite well in the opposition), need to recognize that playing the frothy underdog for ten years has only made them bitter and lightning rods of fear (both felt and inspired). If they want to defend this country so well, they need to let go of the most extreme rhetoric and sit down and have a conversation with their enemies once in a while. Maybe then they can see we’re human beings, too, we’re Americans, too, and that somewhere between us is the path to a successful America.

Or that, at the very least, people look very different when not viewed through a reflection of a reflection of a reflection…

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Who Else Is Blogging?

2009.January.2

I don’t have a lot of blogs linked to the side there, but I have a long list of political blogs to check out… you know, when I have time.

But blogging is an artform of outliers. There are very few people out there who can blog about one sphere of life without it getting rabid, wonkish, repetetive, boring, self-righteous, or repetitive. Even the good ones have their ups and their downs (a few years back, I would read Tom Tomorrow’s blog on a daily basis, but lately even his comic fails to offer much amusement).

Sometimes you find the rarest gems in unlikely (web)spaces. So rather than try to throw together some half-thought-out entry about my ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (reaching out to Dem opponents and Iraq War supporters is good, but their foreign policy differences are significant), or the distinct differences in which Republicans and Democrats deal with political and sex scandals within their own parties (the Democrats can’t shun their members fast enough, while the Republicans will profess “innocent until proven guilty” as long as possibleunless your sex crime was same-sex, of course), or the sizable gamble of symbolism Obama took on by inviting Rich Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation… rather than discuss any of those topics, I thought I’d toss you a few gems from off the blogosphere radar:

The Sanctity of the Commercial Holiday Season” by Kadair: In this entry, a non-Christian presents a different take on what Bill O’Reilly (and few others) might call “The War on Christmas”. Too bad she wrote it before she learned that these days, you, too, can purchase your very own aluminum (well, wire and plastic) reproduction of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

Untitled” by J: A rebuttal to Bush’s recent statement on KWANZAA and, more importantly, the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to online media articles. Apparently all those snot-nosed kids from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have grown up and gotten real jobs where they have to bum around the Internet on professionally appropriate sites.

DTMFA-a-Thon” from Savage Love: Sex columnist Dan Savage cleared space on his popular and irreverent weekly to digress directly into political commentary. He cross references two studies on teen sexuality to show how ass-backwards (dare I say, literally?) abstinence-only sex education has made your children. Added bonus: it’s hilarious.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

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How Do We Clean Up Political Discourse?

2008.December.11

Well, we start by whittling down the pundits. OK, so it’s going to take more of a sea change than one radio program ending, but you have to admit that whatever “truth” lies in pundits’ claims that they answer the call of an audience, their influence has become self-fulfilling. The formula is simply this: be a white male blowhard who claims everyone agrees with him, get TV or radio show (preferably both) with which to saturate the nation, and after a few months (if that) you have acquired a dedicated audience that is ready to agree with anything you say. (Example 1)(Example 2)(Example 3)

So where are we supposed to get our news interviews? Those stuffy PBS-types? Maybe, but it seems to me there is room in the market for news talk that doesn’t make you hate everyone or put you to sleep.

Enter The Daily Show. I’m not suggesting it should replace the shows above (though it offers a helpful third leg*), or even because I believe it to be a consistent source of quality, unbiased news, but because its balance of humor, information, and parody sometimes stumbles into brilliance. There are some topics that Jon Stewart can approach and make interesting in ways that other news shows cannot; conversely, there are some serious topics that other humor programs can’t approach with any credibility. After nearly ten years on the show, Stewart has license to walk that line and can even get away with stepping into pundit territory, even as he skewers the real pundits for living there.

This week, Stewart hosted an interview with Mike Huckabee that sets a brilliant standard: an interview that can be serious yet fun, challenging yet informative, and divisive but respectful.

The link is to Part 2 of the interview, and the entire segment was devoted to Jon Stewart’s challenging Mike Huckabee about his stance on same-sex marriage. I have always believed that we gain more by talking to people with whom we disagree, face-to-face, than we do talking about them. Huckabee charmed many Daily Show and Colbert Report fans over the 2008 campaign who would not, otherwise, vote for the former governor, and I know that I and several other regular viewers were often caught off guard by Huckabee’s openness, humor, and empathy. But he’s a pretty conservative guy, right? How could he possibly have a heart?!

One wonders if Jon Stewart hasn’t been asking himself that very question and decided to confront it head-on.

I hope to have more on this soon, to analyze what was great about this interview (on both sides) and what we can learn from it, but for now I’ll just encourage you to watch it and leave me any observations you have.

*If you thought you detected a double-entendre there, then you would probably appreciate The Daily Show for its less political humor.

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