Archive for July, 2009

31 July 2009

I didn’t used to be much of a fan of William Shatner, largely because I didn’t like Captain Kirk when I was a kid. I like him better now, but still find him to be a strange, strange man.

I haven’t been much of a Sarah Palin fan because she billed herself as competent to lead our country, and then said stupid and offensive things, sometimes outright lies, in her shrill voice and extreme tone.

I’ve never been much of a fan of beat poetry, bongos not withstanding, viewing it as rhythmically strange and annoyingly hoighty-toighty. Beat poets always seem to take themselves far too seriously.

But bring these three together, and magic happens. Who’da thunk? William Shatner, doing Sarah Palin speeches and tweets to the smooth backup of wood bass and bongos… somehow, it all fits together soooooo well…

Thanks Bill!


30 July 2009

No surprise that the advent of our first black president has and will continue to spark discussion about race and racism.  But I’m continually amazed at the narrow views held by extreme right media stars. 

Not such a surprise that Rush Limbaugh would fling accusations of racism, or reverse racism back on Obama, as we’ve see over many months.  Charges of racism?  Really?  Typical of Rush, typical of his kind of tactics, typical of someone trying to get a rise out of a radio audience.  So to me, the quote which came up for discussion today seemed mild by comparison.

Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman.  I think he is genuinely revved up about race.  You know me.  I think he is genuinely angry in his heart and has been his whole life.

But as bizarre as Glenn Beck can be, this comes out of the blue: he views Obama as "a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is…"  The guy goes on and on.  He seems amazed, appalled, and convinced that this is Obama’s whole viewpoint, that it is his defining characteristic.

Leaving aside my own confusion about where the evidence for this supposed hatred of white people or culture comes from, I would like to say that Rush’s accusation of Obama as an “angry black man” strikes as a “well, duh!” moment.

I don’t much expect anything else.  I’d be angry too, just like I’m angry at the limitations and dismissals I encounter as a woman.  Is this really surprising?  Of course not.  But it’s also not the whole picture.  One can be mad about something and still have a fairly even handed approach to those issues, to any issue.  Because you’re angry does not automatically dictate that you’ll view those issues narrowly, or make bad policy, or treat people unfairly.

When you have something to be angry about, you get angry.  It may well be that to allow yourself the anger, to admit it and recognize it, allows you in turn to view the big picture more clearly.  Pretending you are not angry typically compromises your ability to think clearly; it’s one of the elephant-in-the-room things, where you never acknowledge the anger, yet totally structure your life in avoidance of it.

In Obama’s case, his generally even-handed approach to things like racism, sexism, abortion, gay rights suggests he doesn’t much operate out of anger, however he might have passions stirring somewhere we can’t quite see them.  And as calm as Obama generally is, maybe he needs a little anger in the mix.  Spice thinks up, Mr.. Obama!  Show us your passion!

27 July 2009

A few thoughts on the day Sarah Palin steps down as the Governor of Alaska.

I’ve had a few whacky ideas about Palin over the months since she came on the scene at the 2008 Republican Convention, mostly inspired by her whacky behavior on the campaign trail.  The main one, which didn’t prove to be true whatsoever, was that John McCain and/or his campaign team picked her for VP as a bait and switch move.

My idea was that they’d put Palin out there, inspiring everyone with her snappy speeches and her appeal to what has become known as The Base.  Then within a few weeks, she’d step down for some reason ("special needs baby" woulda worked, but it could have been anything) and McCain would pick some OTHER extreme conservative for VP running mate, but someone not so extreme.  The new pick would compare quite favorably and appeal to a more voters, and yet be someone The Base would be willing to vote for.  With the right pick, maybe McCain could have won the White House.  Alas, poor GOP, it was not to be.

Now, had the McCain camp followed my scenario, Palin would have been out of the picture before anyone had a chance to discover how out-there, how thoroughly  immersed right-wing-nuttery she was, and before her lack of experience was so disturbingly exposed by Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson and others.

I just didn’t think the GOP was that clueless.  I really thought they had something more clever up their metaphorical sleeve.


Anyway, reflecting on Palin’s resignation, I have another whacky thought.  The current playlet, which I hope proves just as unconnected with reality as my Bait and Switch scenario,  is that Palin is stepping down to join her husband in spirit and membership in the Alaskan Secession Party (or whatever it’s called), going on from the Governors office to help free Alaska from the oppression of the new Kenyan Socialist friend-of-terrorists Muslin now running her sacred America.

Gawd, hope I’m wrong.  I’m probably wrong.  Right?

27 July 2009

Just a note to say I think Peter Orszag is adorable, possibly the most adorable economist we’ve ever had.  This is a real achievement in Nerd-dom.  He seems nice too.  Now, if he can just prove himself to Do the Right Thing, we’ll have achieved a lovely little trifecta:  adorable, courteous, and gets things done.  We can only hope.

Peter Orszag, the most adorable economist ever.

Peter Orszag, the most adorable economist ever.

21 July 2009

Today, a friend of mine asked me what I thought about Obama’s proposed health care reform platform.

Her question found me at lost for words.  Not that I haven’t thought about health care, and  health care reform.  Believe me, every time I feel a suspicious ache I think about health care.  I have none, you see, and can’t afford any, and so aches and pains are an open question. A not-well-planned for question.

But I don’t really look at actually acquiring health care coverage.  I can’t fork over three or four hundred bucks a month for it – and being 50, I’ve noted that the few among my contemporaries who are buying health insurance are indeed forking over several hundred a month for the privilege of having something like 75% of their potential  medical expenses paid for through insurance.

Now, it’s not that I have no health care coverage.

First of all, there’s workman’s compensation.  For injuries while I’m being a "workman" of course.  Should I be injured on the job, I’m covered, at least up to some sort of cap I haven’t really bothered to investigate.

And then there’s the car insurance.  For a few bucks a month, any (human) body damage endured due to a car wreck is covered.  Good, yet small comfort.  Particularly because there’s yet another cap once I hit some high water mark on medical bills.

So, as long as I’m working or in my car, I’m okay.  Hmmmmm…. So, anyway, back to my friend’s question.

Though I haven’t been tracking every detail of the health care debate, I am not unaware of the changes to health care being proposed by the White House and members of Congress.  I am not unaware of the potential, the great advance this would offer to our society and our financial crisis, and I do not believe that some kind of socialist system will sneak in.  It’s pretty hard to label something as socialist when the plan is to create a competitive market for health care options.  Competition, market… sounds pretty NON socialist to me.

But in my situation, with absolutely no money to spend on health care other than  out-of-pocket, nickel and dime expenses, all I can hope for is that the Obama administration can push things that much farther, getting closer to a time when I can afford basic health care.

I won’t get it during this term, or most likely the next, but eventually all the struggle around something I cannot afford will ripple down to me in some form of cheaper options.

I hope.

We’ll see.

19 July 2009

Another note on my fascination with Sonia Sotomayor’s Senate hearings, and with Congressional hearings in general:

Back in the Watergate era, when my mind was glued to every aspect of the unfolding story, I gathered my information from print newspapers and television news.  Notably, in this week of his passing, Walter Cronkite  was the voice of many of these reports, and I thank him for his sane approach to delivering the story.

But (typical of me) I digress.

During the Watergate hearings,  newspapers and network broadcasts allowed you to read and listen to the reports on what had happened each day, and how the overall story was unfolding.  But the raw story unfolded on public television, which broadcast (if I remember correctly) live from the hearings room, and replayed the daily proceedings late at night.  That’s when I watched most of the drama, because during the day I was in junior high school.  And drama it was, best taken in through those live recordings, where every nuance of facial expression, seat-shifting, and raised eyebrow added to my understanding of what was happening.

Naturally, chores and homework and bedtimes chewed into my viewing hours, so I never saw the hearings in their entirety. Thank the stars for Cronkite and the others who provided us with succinct summaries of the highlights, many of which I would have otherwise missed.

What a contrast to Senate hearings in this era.  And thankfully so, Cronkite and his colleagues not withstanding.

The Sotomayor hearings were broadcast on C-SPAN 3.  I have limited television channels, and only get C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 (which did re-air hearings in the evening).

For my viewing pleasure, I availed myself of, where live streaming video, and recordings of every session was available to me.  I primarily watched the hearings, session by session, through their recordings, which I could then pause (to take the dog out, or fix a sandwich), or rewind (because I just HAD to revisit yet another "wise Latina" question, or watch another Perry Mason exchange).  I could also fast forward through segments I’d caught in broadcasts or on tv the night before.  It was great.

C-SPAN provides the public an interesting and very useful component of our free press, even while it is part of the government.  But in offering recordings which can be viewed NOT in real time, and can be rewound and examined as only the pause and rewind buttons can provide, they make access to raw information available to an increasing population.  It’s one thing to read about Lindsey Graham’s "unless you have a complete meltdown" comment, or see it excerpted in a tv news report.  It’s quite another to see it all in context, complete with body language and facial expressions.  And as much as I appreciate punditry, and sought lots of it during the hearings, it’s great to get the information in raw form.

Suffice it to say I’m very grateful for the internet, and for C-SPAN.

19 July 2009

I grew up with Walter Cronkite.  I imagine a lot of kids in the sixties and seventies did.  He ate dinner with us during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, and was the calm voice connecting our household with the rather scary events in the world at large.

Walter Cronkite died Friday.  Though his voice hasn’t been in my life for years, it came to mind instantly when I started seeing reports of his health , and his likely passing, in the last few days.

Good luck on the next journey, Mr. Cronkite.  Thanks for everything.

18 July 2009

I’ve been watching government hearings most of my life.  It started back in the Nixon era with the Watergate hearings, and along with the rest of my family, I remain glued to the TV as much as possible, gleaning what I could from the probing questions and careful, cagey answers unfolding over the hours.

Since that time, it’s mostly been Senate confirmation hearings of the cabinet nominees, potential Supreme Court justices, and the like.  Hearings tend to be ponderous — perhaps even outright boring — but for some reason they interest me, even when it’s just to catch highlights.  But I perhaps have never been so devoted to following hearings (at least, not since Watergate) as I have been over the last few days, as I’ve tuned in to Sonia Sotomayor’s Senate hearings for confirmation to Supreme Court Justice.  At this writing I’ve watched pretty much every moment of the first three days, and snippets of day 4, and I will undoubtedly catch up on what I’ve missed this weekend.

Why, one might ask?  I certainly have asked myself that question.

Well, my original intent was to tune in, here and there through the days, to see how the Republican and Democratic philosophies of governance and justice played out.  Well, to be fair, I thought what the Senators would reveal is how they wished to "market" their philosophies, how they wished us to view their perspectives.

I got that, and more, from the hearings.  Though I agree with many journalists who’ve said that Sotomayor didn’t really reveal much to us about what she thinks of the burning issues of our day, she did indeed reveal a lot about how she thinks the law should be approached by judges.  And in the process, I received a basic lesson in how the Supremes must approach cases, given their job description.

If I understand things more or less correctly, it is a rare moment when an appeals judge or a justice of the Supreme Court is faced with a simple "right or wrong" question about the basis for a case.  They aren’t asked to decide "did this guy commit murder?" or "is this indeed the woman who robbed the bank?"  Instead, they must decide whether those who charged the accused, or those who defended them, or those who judged them at lower levels of the court, have acted in accordance with already-decided laws, and of course most importantly, with the Constitution of the United States.  Frustrating thing, justice.  Someone might have indeed committed murder, or robbed a bank, but if the people charged with bringing them to court screw up and don’t follow the law, the case is no good, and the appeals court or Supreme Courts may overturn lower rulings if they see the rules haven’t been followed.  The judges and justices of the higher level courts do this not to piss us off, but because that is their charged duty.  Their job seems rarely involved actually deciding the big issue itself.

This aspect of the Supreme Court — that they decide whether law has been applied correctly, not the case itself — was perhaps already obvious to others, but I’d never really thought about it.

In any case, the Senators repeatedly asked Sotomayor to share her absolute opinions on issues like abortion, self-defense, gun rights, gay marriage and so on.  If she has them, she keeps them private, for the most part.  In pretty much every case, she refused to provide a direct answer about a particular issue, on the basis that she couldn’t give an opinion in the abstract, and on a number of these more controversial issues, refused because those very issues were likely to come before the Supreme Court and any opining done at the hearing could be used to infer a prejudiced view one way or the other.

On the other hand, she was quite eloquent in describing the details of cases and decisions she’d had in front of her (and which were decided and not pending appeal).  This provided strange contrast with her cautiously evasive answers to the issue questions.  I, by the way, think was was smart to do so, because there was at least some direct, detailed discussion to balance out the repeated "I can’t answer that in the abstract" and "I can’t comment on that because it may come before me."  Though case-specific, I did understand her approach to law from her answers:  she strict about looking at precedent and constitutional law, doesn’t believe in judges creating new interpretations without a damn good cause, and considers her cases… well… case by case.  In other words, exactly what we want in a person sitting on the Supreme Court.

Much was made of the "wise latina" statement, and there a few other annoying themes that the more conservative Senators drilled her on.  But the essence of her careful responses revealed her, I think, to be a careful and cautious judge, one who considers the cases before her methodically, and with great deference to those who’ve shaped the law before her — the Founders, the Congress and state legislatures, and the judges who’ve decided past cases.

I was impressed.  I was impressed that she never showed a moment of irritation, though I noted the many pauses she took after yet another Senator’s question on something gone over numerous times before.  Early in the hearings, I imagined that she was most likely assembling her careful reply.  Later on, I wondered if her focus was on trying to say the same damn thing in a different way just to avoid sounding like a broken record.  She seemed patient, and considered her answers carefully, and yet opened up a different aspect of her personality when she laughed with the Senators over a quip here, a baseball or Perry Mason reference there.

A test of my impression from the hearings:  If I were party to a case that came before her, I might wonder whether she would decide in my favor — I am not so convinced that she is entirely liberal in her outlook.  However, wouldn’t doubt that she would look at my case carefully, and only apply the law to the case, not her personal view on the situation.

Essentially, what I gleaned was that Sotomayor will be a Justice we can trust to honor the Constitution.

17 July 2009

Why am I here?  Not in the metaphysical sense, but rather in the "why blog?" sense.

One can, after, simply keep a diary, private and free-form.  But putting something potentially in the public eye, even if nary a soul ever views it, puts useful constraints on writing.

You have to watch your words — not so much to avoid offending, but in order to articulate your thoughts clearly.  I admit it, this has a rather selfish root:  writing for the public in order to clarify my own thoughts, purely for my own benefit.  But it is an effective way to force myself to make better sense, to express myself better.

I find a comparison from my college days.  I was requested, at a couple of different points, to keep an academic journal, a collection of reflections on what I was reading, hearing, seeing, doing with my college studies.  My professors read through this journal a couple of times through the quarter, so while it was quite a personal reflection on my academic experience, I had to present my ideas in such a way that (a) my professors could understand what I was writing about, and (2) the reader wouldn’t be offended by my thoughts.  That is, I wouldn’t write in my journal something like a scathing rant on the professor who would be reading it, or report on my hot and heavy night with a fellow student in gratuitous detail.

Now, at the same time, I kept a very personal diary, which did reflect some on my schooling, but was more focused on my personal relationships, my toddler, the movies and music I discovered, my bitches and moans about life.  This collection I wouldn’t share with a soul, containing as it did the typical embarrassing rants and scattered musings of most diaries.

A couple of notes on the form of these two very different journals:

My personal diary was kept long-hand — I didn’t yet own a computer (this was 1984, after all, and I was a poverty-level single parent at the time).  In later years, I’ve kept my personal journals on the computer, and don’t even bother printing the pages out anymore, but back then this wasn’t an option.  My journals from those years are filled with almost illegible scrawl, many scribbles, and sometimes notes in the margins.

I wrote my academic journal on the college’s mainframe computer, sitting in the terminal room (a bit morbid of a title, I always thought) at round tables in front of black-n-green monochrome screens, without even a word processor to work in (we used some kind of program-writing program in lieu of the real thing).  I did this at my own option, partly to learn how to use a computer, and partly because of my atrocious handwriting.  I also let myself go back and edit these journals, both for spelling and grammar, and also to ensure that I was expressing myself clearly, or perhaps to expand on something that, upon reflection, I hadn’t explored fully in my journal.

To allow editing was a big difference in my mind between the journals.  My personal diary, with its scribbles and addendum and margin notes, showed where I had changed my mind about content or composition.  The printouts from the computer terminal (on a clacking dot-matrix printer so loud that it was corralled along with the other printers in its very own glassed in room) revealed nothing of any edits or reconsiderations I’d gone through in constructing the journal entry.  It felt like cheating.

The other difference between the two journals was in terms of shorthand references.  In a private diary, one can write "and it really bugged me because of that time at my sister’s house," and there is no need to explain what happened "that time" or why it relates.  When you are your own audience, you already have all the reference points.

In a journal to be read by others, such offhand references aren’t helpful unless explained, and in the process of explaining, not only is the point made more clear to both reader and writer, but you tend to reveal false links, poor logic, and badly thought out connections between the events in our lives.  Sometimes, you know, you can link up things for very poor reasons – like thinking your Aunt has hated you for decades, when really she was just scowling that time because of the bad potato salad your mom made (that’s fictional, btw) – and writing these things out occasionally forces you to face the reality that maybe there was some other explanation for the thing you were just so sure about.

Keeping these two types of journals simultaneously was an interesting experience.  And keeping those academic journals has led to attempting blogs, another form of written expression which you willingly put in front of another’s eye — more personal than journalism, but more public, and hopefully articulate, than a private diary needs to be.

Which leads me to here.

I have been intensely interested in the U.S. political scene since the 2008 election season.  I find myself watching, and commenting on in my own mind, all kinds of issues as they arise in the the news, and that leads to wanting to express myself on political and social issues for the first time in a decade or more.  For others, that expression might come through poetry or painting, but for me it’s writing out my thoughts.

And because these thoughts are issue-centered, I don’t so much want to just blather on about whatever is pissing me off (or inspiring me) at the moment, I want to informally dissect what I am stirred by.  Hence the desire to write, not just for myself, but for an unknown and most likely imaginary audience, in order to force myself to avoid the shorthand of references to unexplained experiences, or the lazyness of ranting.  Not to diss ranting.  I may do it here.  Sometimes it’s necessary, and almost always cathartic.

Anyway, this blog is starting up right at the end of the Senate hearings for Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the the Supreme Court.  Issues of law, the Constitution, and race are prominent right now, as they have been since the election.  I hope to start there, but we’ll see what crops up between this post and the next time I have a chance to write.

Here’s to new ventures, and clarity of expression!

–Sister Artemis

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