Category: Culture


fight-truth-decay-man-with-signBetween the alt-fact efforts of new White House communications director Sean Spicer, and the shutdown of public communication from many federal agencies — EPA in particular; science-oriented offices in general — an obvious pattern is developing. The new WH is shutting off dialog, and keeping public eyes off of government agency work.  In some ways this doesn’t surprise me; Republican administrations seem to be less open than Democratic ones. Though the Obama administration was not as transparent as many hoped, it certainly did open the cyber doors to lots of input, as well as real life efforts to communicate with the public.  I expected it to swing back to a more closed system with the incoming administration, but it’s been much more severe than I anticipated.

The key to how this goes from here will hinge on how the press and the social-media-using public decides to get information out.

Social media is strong, and a major part of how the average citizen shares information about what is happening in the public sphere, but it’s still sort of figuring itself out. Thankfully I’m seeing my friends catch fake news more often, challenge poorly researched assertions in articles, and using the strengths of the medium to share what we are all observing.  But it’s not perfect, and we’ll need to up our vigilance in weeding out the bad info from the good if it’s to be effective in a time when gaslighting seems to be the norm coming out of the Trump administration.

And the press has to be vigilant as well, and in this area, huge swaths of the American press have been pretty damn lazy over the last few years.  Fortunately for those of us reading their work, Trump and his minions have both pissed the press off and committed themselves to such such stupid, obvious falsehoods, that many journalists are ready to start digging in, and the ones who already were taking all of this seriously are getting support for doing so.

Trump is engaged in a misinformation campaign. This is partly a strategy to allow the GOP to make sweeping partisan changes, and partly in service to Trump’s massive ego (juxtaposed next to a constantly crumbling sense of self worth). And it wears us out, public and press alike.  Whether its intent is to numb us through a ever-renewing cascade of laughably stupid and/or outrageously offensive statements, or that’s just the convenient natural consequence of all of the tweets and press statements and odd moments at the podium, the effect is the same: silencing us by making us weary of absorbing the blistering stupidity of it all.

But we can’t allow that.  As consumers of journalism, or as the creators of it, we can’t let ourselves be worn down.  And we can’t forget that while the press and us, its audience, is the target of this effort, the war is on objective truth.

It will be tempting for a lot of journalists to buy into the idea that they are the ones who are under assault. But they will do their jobs if/when they recognize that it is the truth that is under attack and the goal is to create the kind of chaos where anything is possible.

LeTourneau asks her fellow journalists to help us all avoid a world where, given that the truth is impossible to ascertain, there no longer remains any avenue, or point to trying to find it.

So, the press has to find footing in a very unsteady stream.  I suspect this will only work if the press divorces itself from, for instance, relying on WH press office statements to determine fact, which have become talking points without basis in subtance. The press will need to look elsewhere. This will be hard, this will be expensive, and it relies on public support, in paying the bills the media incurs just to get the job done, and in demanding careful journalism.

The key is to keep our vigilance going. We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced, nor can we afford to let the press be silenced.

 

I have no wacky uncles. Leading up to Thanksgiving, the interwebs were full of advice on how to deal with your crazy tea partier uncle and the theories he was sure to bring to the dinner table.

This year, as usual, I was blessed with a distinct lack of crazy uncles, and a table-full of mostly intelligent, liberal to lefty people who backed Obama, believe in universal health care, science and history, think the Republicans have been irresponsible troublemakers for the better part of 4 (or 12, or 30) years, and have no patience for the tea party, in the form of Uncle Jim or anyone else.

For this, I am truly thankful.

To be sure, in my family there are wacky uncles, and aunts, and cousins galore I’m sure, who are holed up in their tight little worlds, still trying to figure out how to get that Kenyan Muslin Usurper out of the White “It’s called that for a reason, ya know” House. There is a whole arm of the family in Eastern Washington and elsewhere who, I’m sure, are planted firmly in front of Fox News on a pretty regular basis, and who take their talk radio from the likes of Rush and Hannity.

But they’re not sitting at my dinner table. And I’m not really sorry about that. There was a time in the 1980s when my brother was a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and the right wing nut jobs of that day. Even though he railed wildly on extreme themes, was dangerously lacking in fact checking, and was downright rude to my girlfriend (he didn’t speak directly to her for 2 years), you could, sort of, have a conversation with the guy. Because he was a thinking man, after a while he shifted his views to more of a progressive Libertarian stance, and eventually  worked hard to get Obama elected in 2008.

Even back then, conversation was at least possible.

But the New Millennium version of the family right-wing nut job is a lot harder to deal with, and I’m very happy not to have the arguments of this era over the holiday meal. My larger extended family of right-wingers does their holiday on their own these last few decades (probably with Fox News tuned in somewhere in the background). At my own Thanksgiving table, we sit much in accord with each other, and it improves both the conversation and the digestion.

There are differences, to be sure, along our Democratic-to-Libertarian spectrum, but it’s founded in basic common ground: government, though prone to the failings of any large bureaucracy, can do good, and is how we pool our common interests and resources. All people are valuable. Religious freedom is serious stuff, and has nothing to do with protecting extreme Christians from having to acknowledge the very existence of other faiths or no faith. Women (and men) should be able to determine their own medical needs. A family is a family, straight, gay or otherwise. Education is valuable. Science is based on careful research and analysis. The world is not 6000 years old.

And I’d like to think that if a whacky uncle or three sat down at the table, we’d all be strong minded enough to actually have a great conversation together, to agree to disagree, to keep it sane out of sheer numbers, so many of “us” speaking truth as we see it to “them.” And I’d like to think we’d change some minds, open some doors, sweep the blight of right wing media lies from Uncle So-and-So’s thinking.

But I must admit, I’m glad I don’t have to.

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on a New York state assemblyman’s sexual harassment of his staff, after the accused grudgingly admitted he made a “mistake” – really? You think? Prompting this from my new favorite blogger:

Sexual harassment laws were basically invented for people who think “I’d like it better if you didn’t have a bra on” qualifies as management-speak.

via Why We Have Sexual Harassment Laws – Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.

And part of what I love is that the writer is a man.  20 years ago, I would have been truly amazed to read this coming from most male writers, certainly the ones writing for magazines like The Atlantic. Now, I am pleasantly surprised to find a succinct line of criticism, which could have just as easily come from a female perspective.

Things do change!

“Something that ordinary men do”

…..We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we havent accepted it is that its a painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain moustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. We dont want that to be the case. Hell, I dont want that to be the case. So, we all pretend it isnt. Justice, see?

Actually, rape is very common. [….] Its so common that – sorry if this hurts to hear – there’s a good chance you know somebody who might have raped someone else. And theres more than a small chance he doesnt even think he did anything wrong, that he believes that what he did wasnt rape, couldnt be rape, because, after all, hes not a bad guy.

via Laurie Penny: Its nice to think that only evil men are rapists – that its only pantomime villains with knives in alleyways. But the reality is different – Commentators – Opinion – The Independent.

[emphasis mine]

Good post, keying off the author’s reaction to Julian Assange’s supporters defending him against rape charges.

And where it took me was to a conversation – many connected conversations, actually – between myself and a college buddy, Jack. He would tell me, all men look at every woman and assess her sexually, even if all it amounts to is “too old, too young, too ugly, too married” – whatever the result, his point was that men assess women sexually all the time. He suspected it was hard-wired, shaped by social attitude and custom, but hard-wired in essence. Fact of life, maybe a sad one, but something to remember when thinking about how men interact with women, and with the world around them.

His other point was that any man – and he included himself – is capable of rape. And that for most men, himself included, the sense of right/wrong, the breaking of a kind of  interpersonal social contract (this was an interdisciplinary political science program we were enrolled in, after all), the shear horror of hurting another person, keeps them from committing rape.

That was scary stuff to hear. I don’t know that Jack was right in every detail of what he spoke about, but I do think he was correct, essentially. At first it made me nauseous – and Jack knew that it would have that kind of effect on me. The first time we spoke of these things (I remember it well, sitting late at night in the common room at an lake-side academic retreat in the foothills of the Olympics) Jack was very gentle – I think he knew the effect on me and another woman sitting with us. But he wanted us to know – not to terrify us or impress us or some other twisted “guy” thing. He wanted us to know because he thought all women should be aware of that, but there were few women he could talk to about it. Mandy and I heard it in the sense I think he meant it: an offering on a subject that is too scary to talk about most of the time, something men don’t talk much with each other about, and especially scary for men and women to talk about together.

But we did. And Jack and I threaded that hard truth through many conversations afterwards. I’m still having that conversation, mostly within my own head, because there are few women, and fewer men, who want to talk about it.  Still, it resonates, because it holds truth, because it helps me think carefully about rape, not knee-jerk style as the tendency runs in us quick-assessment humans.

Thank you, Jack. Thanks for trusting me with that insight you have about yourself and other men.

Writing it, reading it there on the screen above, seems weird. I’m thanking this guy, who I’ve only had occasional contact for the last 3 decades, for telling me that all men have a propensity to rape? that all men assess women (or men) sexually all of the time? Well … no. I’m thanking him for being willing to talk deeply with me and any one else willing about something so essential to the subject of rape, but too threatening to talk about openly for most people. I thank him for being the catalyst that took a suspicion in the back of my mind, and pulling it out into the air, where it was still scary, but less threatening, somehow.

It’s one thing for a woman to tell another woman that she thinks all men are capable of rape. It’s another thing for men and women to talk about it together. It reminds me a little of how hard it is for an honest conversation to happen about white racism in a mixed race group of people – not impossible, and after all, we’ve been working on this one for a while, but still hard. White guilt confounds honest discussion about race – “but I’m not a bad person!” or “some of my best friends/ political activism/ church work/ reading/ musician/ actor/etc” just being the start of a whole line of defensiveness which can waylay a good conversation on race. Discussions about rape between men and women are a bit like this. Awkward, defensive, faltering.

But you have to start somewhere. The conversation that Jack and I started in 1984 seems a long time ago in some ways, very present for me in others. After the initial nausea came anger, resentment, and a lot of deep thought. I think the best thing I pulled from all that was the conviction that if all men are capable of rape, most men are capable of learning – and do learn – not to rape. And if we talk deeply, honestly about all kinds of rape, not just the stranger-in-an-alley version, we have a better chance of raising up successive generations of men who “get it.” Who don’t rape. Who don’t turn their eyes when other men rape. Who teach their sons and nephews and students where to draw the lines between their desire for sex or power, and actually harming someone.

Some hard conversations lead through dark places to hope, to gradual change, to better … human communities? well, whatever the lingo, to groups of humans who hurt each other less.  Maybe less and less as the millennia churn by.

A girl can hope.

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish blog, an angle on Social Security and Medicare which I hadn’t considered for a long, long time:

A reader writes:

Many analysts assume there will be a war between the generations regarding who benefits and who pays for social programs like medicare and social security, both programs open to the vast majority of elderly, retired, or disabled Americans.

This misses a key point of both programs.

My own case as an example. I get both medicare and social security now that I’m 67 years old. But my first benefit from the programs came when I was 19. My parents sent me off to college, and sent my sister the next year. This would not have been possible without social security and medicare, which were available to my grandparents – the first generation to come of age under these programs. Without these programs, my family’s money would not have stretched to cover my college costs. It would have gone, as it did in countless generations before, to taking care of elderly parents and grandparents.

via The Coming Generation Wars, Ctd – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast.

The future years for my mother – and for me, as a potential caregiver, or at minimum, a sort of family overseer – have been weighing on my mind. She’s 77, still working about 30 hours or more a week. Thank goodness for Medicare, for Social Security, for all the things that got her to a relatively healthy, and definitely active seventh decade.

But if all of that wasn’t there, could I take care of her? Certainly not in the style to which she as managed to accustom herself. The modern manifestation of the New Deal and the Great Society have affected me, not so much as a direct recipient, but as the child of those who did, and who are now reaping the benefits of the bargain they made:  Work hard, let us take some out of your earnings toward your future, and you will be taken care of, and not be a burden to the next generation.

Also, for some reason, I keep thinking of The Grandfather and The Grandmother in the sickly sweet but fascinating children’s novel, Heidi. There’s more to that story than would appear, below its surface. Family is almost always willing to sacrifice. The question is, how much do they actually have to give? And for some, it’s precious little, though they’d willingly give it all.

Eugene Robinson, on the “little people” who mean so much in the lives of us ordinary folk, and apparently mean so little to those who live  life exclusively in the stratosphere of the 1%:

It may not be the driver’s job to help with algebra homework, but he or she bears enormous responsibility for safely handling the most precious cargo imaginable. A good bus driver gets to know the children, maintains order and discipline, deals with harassment and bullying. Romney may not realize it, but a good driver plays an important role in ensuring a child’s physical and emotional well-being — and may, in fact, be the first adult to whom the child proudly displays a report card with all A’s.

via Romney and Ryan’s disdain for the working class – The Washington Post.

My own bus driver experience rings clear and true, 40-some years later.

Stan, the bus driver, first picked me up when I was in Second Grade, when I rode the Junior and High School bus to my “new school” while my family was waiting on moving into our new house. I didn’t ride the regular bus with the other third graders. I rode the older kid’s bus, a weird route that managed to pick me up out of the school’s area, and deliver me safely to my new school.

And Stan made that happen.  He sat me right behind him. He talked to me all through that intimidating ride with the older kids. He watched me walk to the school. He was patient. He was nice.  I can still see his face.

After we moved, he wasn’t my bus driver for a while. But when I went to Junior High, Stan was still driving that bus, and was the driver all through the next five years.

There are so many memories: Stan coaxing that old creaky bus up a steep, winding, icy hill, slipping, restarting, always managing to get all the way up the hill eventually – and the soundtrack all the while: the screaching brakes, the whining clutch, our gasps and squeals and cries of fear.  And then us all being grateful – some cheering, some just silently sweating out the success – when Stan finally topped the hill, and we trundled on through the flatter roads.

Stan broke up fights.  Stan sat people so the timid ones wouldn’t get bullied.  Stan pulled the bus over to the side of the country road till the “bad kids” settled down.  Stan rarely raised his voice. Or maybe he never raised his voice – I can’t actually remember a single instance, though he’d have had plenty of reasons.  I do remember him shaking his head, I do remember a lot of sighing.

Stan was the bus driver that most of us wanted to please, because Stan was the guy who looked out for us, and did it in a very calm, confident, quiet kind of way.  He really was a model of compassion, of reason, of perseverance, of humor.  He really was a public employee who influenced me greatly.

So, Stan, here’s to ya!  And here’s to the fabric you helped weave for me and for so many of us.

Thanks, Stan!

Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the recently found tape of Malcolm X speaking in 1961 at Brown University:

I think it’s easy to forget how much Malcolm X actually enjoyed these campus visits, not simply as someone spreading Nation dogma, but as a person who had never enjoyed the constant mental stimulation of a college campus. There are many rewards along the autodidact’s road — but those who hail from a certain socio-economic background often find themselves without fellow travelers and respected interlocutors. My Pops often says that one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.

Oh, I can’t tell you how hard (in a wonderful way) this hit me: “… one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.”

(I will admit I had to look up the term “autodidact” – I think of it as someone who seeks knowledge on their own, without benefit of a school or teacher or academic program or mentor. The definition “self-taught person” seems to oversimplify the case.)

My parents were young moderate-lefty-ish white kids – not exactly the target audience of either Malcolm X or the Black Panthers – and while wary of the “incendiary” language of both Malcom X and the later-day Panthers,* they none-the-less had a definite respect for both that great speaker, Malcom X, and that great organization/movement, the Black Panthers. And it was this sense of hearing, perhaps of being PERMITTED to hear, the voices of “thinking, literate, politically-minded young people” who also happened to be black and so articulated their experience, that really captured their hearts. They might quibble over the details of the proposed revolution, but there was no doubt they were moved by the voices of its advocates. And they were moved not only by the content, but by the poetry as well.

I am lucky (as a little white kid) to have heard the words of Malcom spoken in his own voice. A lot of my little kid friends didn’t have a clue who he was, much less what he said. I wish more little white kids had heard it in its day. I wish their parents had shared it with them. I think it might have made a difference. That’s one thing the Youtube generation has going for it that we didn’t have in my day: access.

My parents and god-parents, from whom I learned about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, Malcom X and the Panthers, were the ones who taught me that the Panthers started out as a organization of young black men who were doing things like making sure little kids in their neighborhoods had breakfast, and shoes to wear to school. I know they learned it despite all kinds of efforts by mainstream America to thwart that awareness; I am forever grateful to them for passing it on to me.

 

***

* I’m not saying it was incendiary, just that they perceived it as so. When I hear those same words, I perceive them as grim but realistic.

I was watching Rachel Maddow run down the latest on the current (and dwindling) Republican presidential field. This is my screen capture from the segment:

RachelMaddow-ScreenCapture-13Jan2011Show-400x260pxl

It struck me all of a sudden: every face on that screen – except Newt – was the face of a “healthy-weight” person. Longer and thinner, and more angular because of that.

Not Newt. Newt is a kind of stocky guy, in the parlance of my childhood. He’s a heavier man. I don’t really care, figuring it to be his own business. But it does occur to me that any female candidate bigger than “pleasantly plump” (also in the parlance of my childhood*) would surely be the target of fat jokes just like any celebrity, of questions as to her ability to maintain control over things (she can’t even control her weight!), of some unspecified derision.

Such are the lives of fat women – criticized by unthinking people who have no clue whether it is a choice or not, and even if choice is involved, who are we to say?

So the absence of critique of Newt’s round face, or pudgy belly, or whatever fruit might be ripe for comedic pickings, is actually the way things should  be: attention on the person’s policy beliefs, ability to get things done, to attempt to prove their worth as a leader. Which Newt will not, at least not to enough people.

But for all his bluster, I think Newt at least thinks of himself seriously, at least some of the time.  I think he lives in a dream world, but within his framework, he at least attempts to make sense. And those are the things the voters focus on, for good or bad, when considering Newt.  Not his weight. His ideas, his record, his potential. Hate him, love him, it’s not about his physique, it’s about what’s going on in that crackpot li’l head of his.

Which, as I noted above, is the way things should be. For everyone, male or female.

 

* I think from descriptions of“Bess” in the Nancy Drew books.

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