Nancy and Hillary: keeping democracy alive?

It’s disturbing to me how often I hear of lobbyists or lobbying groupCurrent Speaker of the House, Nancy PelosiCurrent Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosis using political strong arm tactics to try to get their way.  I am floored more than I care to admit over how much influence lobbying groups have in our political landscape.  At times it seems they can simply walk up to the steps of the capitol building and slap the collective legislative branch (or even worse, the executive branch) across the face with a wad of cash and leave having gotten their way.  The current lobbying culture reminds me of old mafia movies…money greases the wheels and damn those in the way.Current Speaker of the House, Nancy PelosiCurrent Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi

Current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi

Current Speaker of the House, Nancy PelosiCurrent Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi

The most recent example that sticks out to me is the letter written to Nancy Pelosi, current Speaker of the House, by a list of 20 or so Hillary Clinton backers warning her to, “reflect in [her] comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates,” in response to comments she made where she stated that she felt that it would be wrong of the superdelegates to overrule the will of the voters.  They’ve basically threatened to withdraw their funding of the Democratic party if Speaker Pelosi didn’t respond to their letter by saying that the superdelegates were free to make up their own mind.  While I’m not advocating robot superdelegates that don’t think for themselves, I’m sick of all this negativity being thrown around, and I’m pissed that these people would threaten action unless Speaker Pelosi withdrew her comments.  She was saying that the voters matter!  She was saying that the superdelegates have a responsibility to follow the will of the voters!  But all credit to Pelosi, she’s not backing down.  Good for her.  I don’t want to see the craziness of this campaign hurt the eventual Democratic candidate’s chances for election, but I don’t want to see us leave our democratic senses, or betray the principles of our republic and our standards of the will of the people (remember: no matter what they say…OUR COUNTRY), for the sake of brevity.  I’m not necessarily backing Hillary, but I don’t want her to drop out until it’s clear that the people have spoken.  Even as a non-Hillary supporter I have to admit that it’s still too close to call and Clinton deserves the right to carry on as long as she feels she’s in the race. The Washington Post wrote a great editorial in which they said: 

“No doubt the Democrats have gotten themselves into a fix with rules that may leave the final decision to unelected superdelegates — but why is the answer to that less democracy? Why not give as many voters as possible a chance?

 There are things left undone and unfinished in the Democratic primary, issues still not yet hashed out, and we’re stuck slinging mud instead.  Obama and Hillary both need to step up to the plate and speak to the issues.  If done right, this protracted campaign doesn’t have to weaken either candidate.  It could very easily created an amazingly strong Democratic candidate that has already been weighed and measured, has fired up the Democratic voters, has won the hearts and minds of their constituents, and has come out with the broad support of their party.  This will, of course, take a bit of rising above the fray from both candidates.  Are they up for it?  One can only hope.

Did Robert Smithson’s vision include an oil rig?

The New York Times reported today that the very same lake that contains Robert Smithson‘s 1970 work of land art, entitled Spiral Jetty, is at the center of a debate right now because of plans to allow for the drilling of oil a visible five miles from the site of the art piece.  This issue ranges across art, economics, environmentalism, and politics.  Personally, while I would hate to see an oil rig set up near this artwork, I think the sadder issue here is one that is akin to the debate over opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve for oil drilling…we are Big Oil’s bitches…all of us.  Maybe we just tend toward dependency as a race, maybe there really isn’t any choice at the moment, maybe I’m missing something, but our dependency on this one non-renewable resource as a necessity of life is ridiculous.  We fill our SUV’s with it, we rely on it to connect us with time and space, we resist admitting the changing climate happening around us for it, we constantly risk doing the un-doable to suckle at the tit of this one naturally occurring liquid.  For pete’s sake, you’d think our bodies needed it to function the same way they need water.  Drilling in ANWAR, damaging the environment near Spiral Jetty…these are un-fixable crimes.  Do you know how long it takes the frozen environment in Alaska to recover from damage?  Try taking a big gouge out of a piece of ice, putting it in your freezer, and coming back to it later.  Did the gouge heal?  Obviously not.  The ground is the same way in the northern parts of Alaska.  There are few natural processes healing the land up there when it is damaged.  To open the Great Salt Lake up for drilling will damage the landscape there in such a way that will take generations to heal, thereby changing the aesthetic of Spiral Jetty.  Should we care about the “aesthetic experience” of some piece of artwork that just happens to be out in nature?  Some people might not care, it’s true. There are those that believe that the economy and business should be our primary concerns, and that our natural resources are here for exploitation.  I only wish I could find someway to understand that shortsighted point of view.  I see no justification for believing that it’s okay to slash and burn our planet now for financial profit with no consideration for future generations.

And then there’s the art piece of it.  Didn’t Smithson look for places where industry and natural environment overlapped for his works anyway?  Even if he did, you have to consider that he still was creating an experience in a particular land setting.  To change the setting after the artist has left moves the art away from the artist’s intentions.  Are we actually destroying Spiral Jetty to drill for oil in the existing environment around it?  Look, honestly, if you don’t understand art from a philosophical, spiritual, or simply personal standpoint, you won’t understand what you’re doing to the piece by setting up an industrial oil rig nearby.  All too often in this world we make compromises in these small, peaceful, and soul-cleansing corners of life that accompany the arts.  We do this in the name of pragmatics and business.  Somewhere, sometime, someone has to hold the line and say, “Not this one.  You can’t have this one.”

 currently reading:

Who Let the Dogs In? by Molly Ivins

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

currently listening to:

Wincing the Night Away by The Shins

Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do by Reliant K

The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot

Sharing sentiments with McCain

I know a lot of people in the Democratic party are blasting McCain for not saying what they want to hear about the Iraq war (I don’t agree with him either). And there are those who believe that he is nothing but a continuation of the Bush administration (I stop short of saying that, but I’ve been watching with an unsatisfied feeling as he makes some turn abouts on previous stances). And I know a lot of Republicans are leary of McCain because they say he isn’t conservative enough (see my post “In which I run across the issue of polarization…again” for more specifics), but I have to recognize his calls for a more international community and his recognition of the climate change issue as an important one. The Washington Times reported today that McCain, in an address that was apparently to give a layout of his international vision for the United States, “said the U.S. can no longer assume the mantle of lone democratic superpower, and is instead now a first among equals that must rely on an emerging ‘league of democracies’ to secure peace and freedom.”

Yes, I’m looking at the words “first among equals” with some skepticism, but his call for more international cooperation (which has been sorely lacking these past eight years) and his previous calls to draft a new treaty to fill in when Kyoto runs out are welcome words coming from the Republican camp as far as I am concerned. I want to feel that (whatever the reality) both major political parties have the country’s best interests at heart…I’ve not felt that from the R’s for a while. Good for John McCain.

Just thought I’d share…

It’s been a while since I last wrote an entry and I’m sorry for that…work busy-ness. Anyway, I found an extremely appropriate political cartoon today while looking through the Washington Post online. Just recently George Bush was quoted as saying that the eventual outcome of the war “will merit the sacrifice.” How should we feel about this sentiment? What is he actually saying? Well, I thank Mr. Toles for his astute summary.

The Man Behind the Curtain

The education Race

I found an article today in the Washington Times that describes a mentoring program for black males in Maryland Schools.  I’m writing about this for two reasons.  First off, the need for males as teachers within the education sphere is constant.  I’m not in any way trying to knock the teaching ability of females, quite to the contrary.  But the balance in teaching right now leans heavily to the females, and I’ve seen the effects that a balanced teaching staff can have. 

The second, and more important issue of this article, is the issue of black males in teaching (or at least in this case mentoring) roles.  I’m a caucasian male teaching in a mostly minority school.  There is no friction between me and my students, there are no racial issues within my middle school.  BUT, whenever we have all school staff meetings, I look around and see 6 or so black teachers out of our staff of 30 or 35.  Considering that our student body is almost 90% minority (largely black), I feel like an oportunity is being missed.  The unofficial mission that is passed among the teachers at my school is to prepare these students for life after they leave us, and yet they’re being taught to do so by people that have no real connection to their ethnic or cultural heritige.  I’m a big believer in our planet as one people and all, and I’m in no way insinuating that there is some sort of racial prejudice at our school.  I just feel a slight twinge for these students and the disconnect I see between what we want to be doing as a school and the unintentional message our staff composition is sending.  I worry that the minority students in our school are getting the message that they need education to be successful, but that the truly educated people are white.  Maybe I’m making that up, maybe that’s only in my head…but I haven’t been able to shake that concern.  A program like this one provides some male students with positive role models that are their own gender and are culturally and ethnically relatable.

 One more thing before I go: in this article the mentor, a gentleman by the name of Will Trice, is confronted with something that I myself have heard on occasion…the dreams of a young student to grow up to be a pro-athlete.  As teachers and adults (who may or may not have had this dream ourselves) we often approach this situation as either amusing, or a reason for a scolding.  We want the best for them, and as a result end up imposing adult-style realism on a young mind that doesn’t deserve it.  I love that Mr. Trice treats these kids dreams as something that is real and possible…because it is.  It is reality and it is possible to those boys, and Mr. Trice treats their dream with the respect it deserves.  And yet he craftily steers the conversation to accomplish what he wants.  He helps them see that flexibility is important, as it is with any career ambition, not just athletic ambitions.  The education and teaching world needs more programs like this, and more individuals like Mr. Trice.  Hopefully a program like this will create an mind-set where minority students will believe that their influence on the education system is important, and they will in-turn pass that on later in life.

In which I run across the issue of polarization…again

This morning, as I’m home for the first day of spring break, I picked up an old copy of the Washington Post that I had bought a little over a week ago while on a trip with my students. I never ended up getting a chance to read over it, and decided to just sort of pick through it. I like to read the opinion page because I like to see what those with some authority at the paper are thinking. What should I see but an editorial about entrenched incumbency and it’s role in creating polarization on tough issues. As anyone who has scrolled through my few blog postings up to this point will have noticed…this is something I have begun to harp on lately. It’s everywhere! I know I’m not the first to notice it or even bemoan it’s effect on our society, but I’m always proud to add to that chorus. The fact that we now have a congress whose collective minds are made based on how ideologically pure they stay to their party ideals is a poison…nothing less. It means that instead of being loyal to us, the citizens and voters, they are loyal to some conceptual Big Brother created by those party leaders who are looking to root out moderates and others who wouldn’t tow the party line as flamboyantly as they would like. It means that decisions are being made, not by those we elect, but by ideologues that are back at party headquarters deciding what it means to be Republican or Democrat. It means that Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter (every time I say their names now it’s almost like welcoming back an old friend) are making decisions in the legislative branch, because anyone who crosses party lines on an issue or who dares try to mediate a compromise will be decried a party traitor. Now I have no love for our current crop of Republicans, and I’m not planning on supporting John McCain, but I find abhorrent the reactions of Rush Limbaugh toward the candidate of HIS OWN PARTY for the presidential nomination. He said that he betrayed conservative principles (not Mr. Limbaugh’s words, but his sentiment), and even jokingly backed both Hillary and Obama rather than McCain. And he’s not the only one. This venom is being splashed from some who seem to revel in the polarization of our process. David Limbaugh, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote about some of the responses he recieved for his willingness to support McCain as the Republican nominee in an article for the Washington Times. One response read as follows:“For me to cast a vote for [Mr. McCain] at this time is totally unthinkable. I would have to don from head to toe our surgical isolation gear with heavy gloves and boots and wear a gas mask, too, and carry my ballot over to the ballot box by a pair of tongs. Then I would have to hurry home to shower off in the hottest of water and then douse myself with bleach. … And I say this knowing that McLame is (supposedly) more conservative than Obama or Hillary.”All of this may possibly be the cause, or maybe at least in part cause, for the interesting turn that McCain has been making as we near the elections. Limbaugh (the David one) goes on to mention some of these conservative inconsistencies in Mr. McCain’s messages. McCain says he’ll extend the tax cuts passed by Pres. Bush although he “vigorously opposed them initially.” He seems to be giving lip-service to the conservative side of the immigration issue by saying he’ll protect the border although he favors amnesty for 20 million people who are considered illegals. There are other examples, but I feel like I may be getting a bit off topic. It’s the idea that this polarization is necesary for American politics that upsets me. It’s the idea that to support someone who isn’t the candidate incarnate of the party’s every ideal is a betrayal of the country somehow that makes me boil. I hate to burst their bubble, but America is bigger than either of their little political parties. I realize that we’ve been taken over by the two main parties and that most politics run through either the House of Republican or the House of Democrat, but we must realize that our government wouldn’t collapse without them…they just happen to be in the spotlight right now. In the grand scheme of things political parties come and go, and until we get back to politics as a way of supporting and helping our lives and away from politics as a way of proping up these political parties, who can be just as much hives of extremest political ideals as some terrorist organizations are hives of religious ideals, we will be a country trapped at the poles of discourse.

For some more food for thought, and some nicely written thoughts on balance, read this blog post by LeoPardus.

How the immigration issue is now picking on kids

Well, it’s not like it didn’t pick on kids all along…but I need to read more specifics on that before I go shooting my mouth off on things other than what I’m writing about now.What I do know is this (and it’s something you should know before you read any further): I am a complete idealist in my heart-of-hearts. I’m a realist too, after all I would just be blind to ignore some of the truth behind why idealism can’t always work. But there are times when I feel that idealism trumps realism and I’m forced to ask the question, “I know ‘that’s just the way it is’, but for God’s sake, have a heart!” This is one of those cases.We are all citizens of a greater world, no matter what any hillbilly tells you. It is impossible to separate ourselves from the world at large. This is becoming especially more true as we move through this new century and the world become smaller and smaller. People are more mobile than ever before in history. We are becoming one people of this Earth, and because of this nationalism is begining to struggle back. I would love nothing more than to see borders be only lines on maps that deliniate space, rather than baricades designed to keep foriegners out. To see people freely move about this planet and among one another regardless of culture or place of origin…would make me happiest. But nationalism and national pride, government’s responsibility to it’s people and therefor it’s need to define who “it’s people” are make that difficult if not impossible right now. But when that idea begins to tread on children who are trying to make the best of an available education…I get upset.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/12/education/12education.html

This is about how the immigration laws are now forcing bright, hard working children out of education systems in which they are being successful and forcing them into unknown futures because we have not yet figured out a way to handle immigration without blindly and dumbly cracking the whip at these people and simply labeling them “lawbreaker!” I’m sorry, but we need to do better as a country. There’s got to be a better way. It just feels to me like this entire issue is based completely on the money. That’s disgusting. I understand the view that hard-working tax-paying citizens of this country shouldn’t have to shoulder financial burden for people who aren’t paying into the system themselves. I’m a realist, remember, I get it. But to me this entire immigration issue reeks of a lack of empathy…a lack of ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes. We are blinded by the fact that we have grown up here and are accustomed to our way of life. We have no concept of how life would be if we had grown up in a situation where we were not so fortunate. Can these angry people honestly say they wouldn’t try to do better by their family if given the chance, just because the country that offered that chance hadn’t pulled it’s collective head out of the sand and decided exactly where it stood in immigration? Maybe I’m completely misguided…I’d love to hear what others have to say about it, but I just know there’s got to be a better way.

In which science and religion collide…and ruin the party for everyone

Please forgive me if today’s post seems a little foggy brained, I’m pretty stuffed up right now and in a little bit of a mental haze. But I put off writing about this yesterday because I had been in a groove off a different sort with the political stuff.

To begin today, I suggest you read this blog post first, entitled “God Makes 216 Million Americans Scientifically Illiterate.” What I want to say isn’t necessarily about this blog (I’m ignoring the connection between the title, which accuses God himself of making people ignorant, and the polarization discussion I’ve been having in my posts the last couple of days), but is more my response to this issue of “religious” people and their scientific literacy in general.

I honestly don’t want to flog the issue any more (read some of the responses to the article above), but feel it only fair to weigh in on the subject seeing as how I am a science teacher who is also of the Christian faith. Having a religious faith doesn’t preclude a person also accepting science as fact. We do not, “have mental deficiency,” as responder Anthony W. Allsop suggests. We are people of a faith…we believe in something. Unfortunately there are times that this faith clashes with accepted science of the day. But it does so in FAR fewer instances that I think the average non-Christian (or even non-person of faith) believes it does. The failure here isn’t just in the failure of the Christian to “believe fairy tales and myth over proven facts.” (again, thank you Mr. Allsop) The failure comes from both sides and their petulant reluctance to try to bridge the gap between. Christians need to realize that science isn’t out to get them and disprove our beloved faith…it’s out to report the facts and discover truths. Science needs to stop believing Religion to be the bogey man (or maybe they think we’re chasing the bogey man) and admit that there’s more to faith than just blindly assigning Olympic gods to questions we can’t answer. As a science teacher I believe there are some things that clash with accepted faith doctrines…even my own…and this doesn’t mean that I cry out for it to be silenced and to have it’s discoverers forced to drink hemlock juice. At the same time, as a person of faith, I believe that something like whether the Earth is older than 6,000 years or not is NOT a major tenant of my beliefs…I believe the Bible to be divinely inspired…but it has been in the hands of men since it’s inception…even the books included or excluded were chosen by men. There have been issues added and subtracted from the details over the years based on what the rulers of the day thought. It has been translated and re-translated over and over. The main thing to remember is that Christianity especially (and I won’t speak to other faiths here because I don’t know enough to speak for them, but I would love to hear from someone who could) is not in the details of which sin I’ve committed today or yesterday. That is between me and my creator and is my own struggle to answer for. Christianity is in the individual relationship forged between a person and God. Science is the same relationship…but between man and his world. Humanity is inherently curious and desires to know about his surroundings. That’s Science. Humanity also desires to know about itself on a spiritual level. That’s Religion. They’re the same search…Man’s attempt to understand. Science is not the dark to Religion’s light…it’s the chocolate to Religion’s vanilla…they appear opposite until you actually try them together. Then you realize that, although different, they can compliment each other and be greater working together than apart.

Al Franken’s senate run, and the “Fairness Doctrine”

So Al Franken now leads his race race for the Minessota senate seat against incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman 49 percent to 46 percent (according to a pole taken last month)…that’s freaking awesome…

I have to admit, I’m not usually a big believer in celebrities running for public office.  I think it’s too easy for people to just vote for someone they recognize, paying little attention to what’s actually coming out of that person’s mouth.  But in this instance, I’m willing to make an exception.  I have read both Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and  Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and, although I must admit that I find Franken hilarious, I was most struck with how thorough he is.  In reading his work you get the impression that, although he is a comedian by trade, in large part his books are written for what he wants to say and not just material for jokes.  He knows his stuff and it’s important to him to be complete and to know what he’s talking about.

While I do believe that he can come across as divisive, as Sarah Janecek, publisher of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter and a Republican activist, has asserted, I also boil at the attempts to characterize him as only a comedian.

The more Minnesotans kind of look under the hood at Al Franken, they are not liking what they see.  In the months ahead, we hope to unveil the real Al Franken, not the celebrity. Representing Minnesota in the Senate is not a funny job, it’s a very serious job,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey.

I invite anyone who is worried about Franken’s ability to take politics seriously to read (or better yet get the audio book and listen to Franken read it himself) one of his books and you tell me if he sounds like he’s just in it for the laughs.

The other thing I found today was an article about legislation raised by congressional Democrats that is under consideration.  The legislation is about something called the “Fairness Doctrine” that aims to keep issues explored in broadcast medium fair by requiring equal time for competing views and ideologies.  Bush has threatened to veto it if it should pass because, “Supporters of this regulation say we need to mandate that any discussion of so-called controversial issues on the public airwaves includes equal time for all sides. This means that many programs wanting to stay on the air would have to meet Washington’s definition of balance. Of course, for some in Washington, the only opinions that require balancing are the ones they don’t like.” “We know who these advocates of so-called balance really have in their sights: shows hosted by people like Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson, or many of you here today. By insisting on so-called balance, they want to silence those they don’t agree with.

Here’s the thing…I’m all conflicted and frustrated because I actually agree with Bush on this one, which in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal.  But I agree with him because I believe in the First Amendment and that people should be allowed to express whatever their opinion is and shouldn’t be regulated.  Who gets to decide what “balanced” means?  I think that’s too tricky to even touch.  BUT: I just know that he isn’t doing it for that reason.  He doesn’t want Rush and Bill and Anne and his other pals to have to explore both sides of an issue.  When he says, “The truth of the matter is, they know they cannot prevail in the public debate of ideas. They don’t acknowledge that you are the balance … The country should not be afraid of the diversity of opinions. After all, we’re strengthened by diversity of opinions,” what he’s actually saying is that He doesn’t believe that we should have to regulate it because the main talking heads on the political scene these days are conservatives.  Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, Hannity, and the rest of them have the nation’s airwaves right now and George is okay with that.  It’s not that liberal ideas can’t survive in the market place of ideas, it’s that conservative view points are being touted by people whose main tactics have been to bully opposing views out of the arena.  Liberals have been too meek in expressing their ideologies and have allowed themselves to be pushed out.  The answer isn’t to legislate themselves time, it’s to get out there and actually express it.  I don’t mind agreeing with Bush when he’s honest…I just don’t think he’s being honest in this case.