Monday, May 29, 2017

Let's Not Keep Open the Sores of War
On Memorial Day 2017 I am moved by the words of Robert E. Lee from 1869, Frederick Douglass in 1877, and the Mayor of New Orleans today.

“I think it wiser … not to keep open the sores of war,” Robert E. Lee wrote, “but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” 
“There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war," Frederick Douglass said, "which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget, and while today we should have malice toward none, charity toward all, it is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong, or loyalty with treason. … 
“The Civil War is over; the Confederacy lost, and we are better for it,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.”  

Kevin Ferris at the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a very thoughtful piece about statues scattered around the US commemorating those who fought against our government to protect slavery. Here is that piece in full. Well worth reading. Bolding choices are mine.

In 1869, the president of Washington College was invited to Gettysburg. The Battlefield Memorial Association wanted his help in erecting granite memorials to mark the “positions and movements of the armies” during the great Civil War battle of six years before.
Robert E. Lee declined.

“I think it wiser … not to keep open the sores of war,” he wrote, “but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

New Orleans has come around to the general’s point of view. 

The City Council voted in December 2015 to take down three statues of Confederate heroes — Lee, President Jefferson Davis, and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard — and an obelisk that honored an 1874 uprising by the Crescent City White League against the Reconstruction-era state government. Lee was the last of the four to be removed, plucked by a crane on May 19 from his 68-foot pedestal. He had towered over the circle named for him for 133 years, enshrined there almost two full decades after his surrender at Appomattox.

“The Civil War is over; the Confederacy lost, and we are better for it,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu was quoted as saying in the New Orleans Advocate this week. “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.”

The few who protested the removals disagreed, some arguing that the city was trying to erase history or their heritage. But New Orleans is right on the history and the heritage the statues represent. Whatever the individual virtues of Lee or hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers when it came to courage on the battlefield, whatever the sacrifices and burdens they bore, they took up arms against their country, killing more than 600,000 Americans in the process. All to perpetuate slavery. Whether that was why they enlisted, whether or not they owned slaves, that’s what they were defending.

On this point the Confederacy’s founders were unequivocal.

Article I, Section 9(4), of their Constitution states: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

Their vice president, Alexander Stephens, declared in his infamous “Cornerstone” speech of March 1861: “Our new government is founded … its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

There is nothing to defend or celebrate there, not now and not in 1884 when Lee’s statue went up in New Orleans. How, then, were he, Davis, and countless other Confederates honored in hundreds of places across the country they tried to destroy? David W. Blight wrote of the postwar drive for unity among whites North and South, and how that took precedence over hopes for a new birth of freedom, in his 2001 book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

“Three overall visions of Civil War memory collided and combined over time: one, the reconciliationist vision, which took root in the process of dealing with the dead from so many battlefields, prisons, and hospitals … ; two, the white supremacist vision, which took many forms early, including terror and violence, locked arms with reconciliationists of many kinds, and by the turn of the century delivered the country a segregated memory of its Civil War on Southern terms; and three, the emancipationist vision, embodied in African Americans’ complex remembrance of their own freedom, in the policies of radical Reconstruction, and in the conceptions of the war as the reinvention of the republic and the liberation of blacks to citizenship and Constitutional equality.

“In the end this is a story of how the forces of reconciliation overwhelmed the emancipationist vision in the national culture, how the inexorable drive for reunion both used and trumped race.”

Frederick Douglass remained true to the emancipationist vision, never losing hope despite the setbacks he witnessed. In a Memorial Day speech 140 years removed from this weekend, he said:

“There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget, and while today we should have malice toward none, charity toward all, it is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong, or loyalty with treason. …

“Though freedom of speech and of the ballot have for the present fallen before the shotguns of the South, and, the party of slavery is now in the ascendant … [t]he heart of the nation is still sound and strong, and … patriotic millions … will stand as a wall of fire around the Republic, and in the end see Liberty, Equality and Justice triumphant.”

This month New Orleans made its stand, choosing “to obliterate the marks of civil strife.” Others have taken a different path. In 1996, Richmond, Va., made a statement without tearing anything down. After much debate, the city added a memorial of a modern-day hometown hero — African American tennis great Arthur Ashe — to its Monument Avenue, a boulevard long dominated by Confederate icons. Those statues — and the history they represent — remain, but Ashe, like most Americans today, has his back to them, eyes fixed on a more hopeful future.

Kevin Ferris, the Inquirer’s commentary editor, is coauthor of  Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals That Help Them Heal (Skyhorse, September 2017).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Always ready to laugh. Kind to the core. Average cook but makes sure everyone is at the table every day telling stories and connecting. Treats every conversation as sacred.

Puts family first and there is no second. Somehow remembers every birthday, anniversary, name of distant relative or neighbor we have not seen in decades. Everyone welcome in her home.

This picture with my brother captures my Mom perfectly. The essence of life-affirming contentedness and good cheer.

It would be difficult to exaggerate how much of our parents live on in our inner selves, and for me that is the part of myself that grounds the rest, that feels the most like the me I want to be.

Happy Mother's Day Mom! Thanks for being, along with Dad, a living example for me on how to life life well. I learn more from you every day.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trump and the Alt-Right are Smart, So We Need to Be Smarter
George Lakoff is one of the voices anyone interested in democracy should be listening to these days. “Students who become Democratic operatives tend to study political studies and statistics and demographics in college. Students who lean Republican study marketing. And that’s his point. It’s a very different way of thinking.
Conservatives believe in a what Lakoff calls the “strict father family,” while progressives believe in a “nurturant parent family.” In the strict father family, father knows best… The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality….
The nurturant parent family, on the other hand, believes that children are born good and can be made better. Both parents are responsible for raising children, and their role is to nurture their children and raise them to nurture others. Empathy and responsibility toward your child also extend to empathy and responsibility toward those who are less powerful, or suffering from pollution or disease, or are marginalized in some way.
While Lakoff is an unabashed Berkeley progressive, he said Democrats are decades behind in understanding how to frame issues in a way that can reach swing voters.”

The full text of the article about Lakoff is here

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Backfire Effect

Here is a short cartoon used to tell a short story about the backfire effect...and it is well worth the 3 minutes it will take to scroll through it.

Really. check it out.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Decent Beer, Brilliant Message
Heineken is the beer my Dad considered that ‘something special’ beer as I was growing up. I love beer and consider Heineken a decent enough pint that I would likely not choose to drink, given the usual options. But the message in the new Heineken #OpenYourWorld campaign is BRILLIANT.

Rather than an ad filled with unrealistically beautiful young people suggesting that drinking Heineken is the secret to success…the company chose to teach us something important. Does this mean that some, like myself here, will then amplify the value of their ad spend by circulating their ad at no additional cost to the company? Yes. Happily.

The ad is a bit over 4 minutes. The experiment brings together folks who disagree and do not know each other (and do not know they disagree). They start by asking each other two simple questions.

Describe yourself in 5 adjectives.

Name three things you and I have in common.

While doing this they assemble stools and a simple bar together. They pull two cold Heinekens from a cooler and put them on the bar.

Then, they are asked to stand and watch two short videos. The videos are the two of them articulating two strongly opposing political views on climate change, feminism, and transgender rights.

Then, a loudspeaker gives them a choice: you can walk away or stay and talk out your differences over a beer. They stay, talk over a beer, and leave friends.

At the end of the Upworthy article linked to here the author notes that the message is not fiction…
“…A number of studies have shown that short, casual, in-person conversations with someone with an opposing viewpoint is one of the easiest paths to changing someone's mind.”

Here is the full ad

Here some info on the study linked to above:
“…A new study in Science, though, provides evidence for a promising approach.
…Part of the reason Broockman and Kalla were able to discover the irregularities that toppled [and earlier, falsified] paper was because they were looking to run a canvassing study of their own, in Miami. Their resulting paper has just been published in Science, and it shows that canvassing has some serious potential to nudge people… [toward changing their mind].
…one of the most important things about this paper is that it will help cement the norm that attempts to persuade people on civil-rights issues should be measured rigorously and independently. Gut isn’t enough.

The field of political persuasion, after all, has its own entrenched incumbents — that is, the consultants who bring home hefty paychecks without really proving what they’re doing works — and maybe it’s time they faced a stiff challenge.”

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Sober Assessment of Trump’s First 100 Days
The most commonplace assessments provided by professional journalists are concluding that the President either did not or has not yet delivered on campaign promises he made about what he would accomplish in his first 100 days. These generally, as in this AP story, include lists of the specific promises compared to what has actually happened. This is what professional journalists do. Some conclude he has delivered, but on promises to undermine democracy.

The President’s assessment (covered here by AP), like any president, starts with lowering expectations and concludes with ‘it’s a false standard’ and ‘I don’t think anybody has done what we have been able to do in 100 days…my administration has brought profound change to Washington.’

Neither assessment strikes me as sober. Journalists, focusing on the facts, miss the larger meaning of the word ‘accomplishments,’ particularly when associated with the President of the United States. The President, trying to assert his preferred label for that larger meaning, misses engaging with the facts on the ground needed to determine the validity of his claim. 

President Trump has been neither the monumental failure nor the threat to national security and world peace that many fears. He has also been unable to deliver on specific campaign promises.

But perhaps more importantly he has also demonstrated a capacity to learn just how ‘complicated’ governance can be. 100 days in he now says NAFTA is okay, the Fed is okay, China is okay, Putin is a problem, intervention in Syria is now a good thing, North Korea must be dealt with carefully, with no mention of Mexico paying for a wall that is not in the budget and continuing the Obama administration’s focus on deporting only illegal immigrants who have committed a serious crime.

As I see it, this is the best news at the 100 day mark.

We are not engaged in a nuclear exchange with North Korea or a trade war with China. We have not seen tens of millions of Americans lose their health care. These all appeared within the realm of the possible on day one.

So, I am thankful that our president has more than once commented candidly on just how ‘complicated’ it is to govern.

And I hope this message sinks in even more deeply for the president and for the rest of the country: all the BS about ‘government is always the problem’ is just that. As even this president has learned—governance requires weighing complicated trade-offs and looks nothing like the simplistic rhetoric that drives presidential campaigns.

We all need to internalize this insight: what we do when we govern matters and is not easy.

Now we can stop pretending that the solutions are ‘so obvious’ if only those idiots (on the other side of the aisle) would give way to a ‘real leader’ willing to cut through the nonsense and just do it. The masquerade where those anti-democratic sound-bites made sense has now been revealed as a fraud and this is the primary lesson of President Trump’s first 100 days.

In this very narrow (and low bar) sense, his first 100 days has been much more successful than I had anticipated. And I am hoping for more of the same moving forward.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

We Should Be Ashamed
Our ongoing struggle to provide a quality education to our children in Ohio, continues to be derailed by mostly Republican state lawmakers and lobbyists interested more in making private profits off tax payer funds than in education.

Doug Livingston at the Beacon has done an incredibly good job of reporting on this now decades-long corporate welfare scheme hurting our children and state. He reported again today, that Republican State Rep Andrew Brenner is proposing legislation to (again) make is easier for charter school operators to be held accountable for the flim-flams.

Keep in mind these same Republicans are those who have consistently made deep cuts in state spending on education (K-16) and have regularly subjected our public schools to ridiculously rigid testing schemes & rubrics that make teaching and learning even more challenging in Ohio--consistently punishing public schools who fail to score well on rubrics largely unrelated to learning.

Brenner wants to excuse charter school operators from accountability--that is, efforts to crack down on charter school corruption by sponsors. A lobbyist for charter schools had this to say about the 'problem' Brenner was 'fixing.'

"It's overreach. I think when we are evaluating a charter school [we should] sit down and say 'you're doing good on this and this and here's where we need to make improvements, but then we put together a rubric that nobody understands...and then say we're going to shut you down if you don't pass?'"

Precious. When this lobbyist pushes the state to treat public school teachers exactly the same way, he cheers. When he is then subjected to the same process and standard, he whines about it being a measure unrelated to performance. We should be ashamed that thinking like this, hypocrisy & profiteering being re-presented as public policy, dominates in Columbus.