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March 5, 2016

Politics and the “Aloha Spirit”

Filed under: Books, Personal, Politics — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:24 am

UNFAMILIAR FISHES 1 MB

About a year ago, I read the book Unfamiliar Fishes, a history of the colonization/Americanization of Hawaii, by a favorite of mine, Sarah Vowell. Hawaii is fascinating, yo! Such a fusion of peoples and cultures! Such a history tied to the island’s incredible natural beauty! I was especially interested to learn about their impressive educational achievements, literally becoming one of the most literate nations on earth in a span of just over 40 years by in the mid 1860s.

But what stood out to me most was a statement Vowell came across in an internet forum debating the meaning of a particular Hawaiian word. A Hawaiian named Hoopii had prefaced his comments with this:

“As I read the comments posted by each individual about this specific forum, I do so in respect to each and every single person’s beliefs. I sense the passion in each of your concerns and I hope that I do not offend in any way.”

Vowell contrasts this “Aloha Spirit” with the statement of French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was working to compile the Enlightenment era Encyclopedie:

“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”

While I embrace examination and debate, what a different world it would be if all prefaced their debate with Hoopii’s level of respect and concern for others’ beliefs and passions! But it’s tricky too, isn’t it? Over the past couple of weeks, I have posted several negative videos about Donald Trump on my Facebook page. I have felt truly compelled to do so if for no other reason than to let others know where I stand. I find many things about that man reprehensible, but the one that perhaps weighs on me the most is how I believe he is fanning the flames of racism (well, that and the fact that he has the strongest record of flat-out lies I’ve ever seen in the years I’ve been following the fact-checking website PolitiFact). My Facebook feed is a testament to the pluralistic society we live in with friends on absolute extremes of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. Sadly, my feed has sometimes revealed the success that Trump is having inciting racial animus, and it deeply saddens me.

And yet, still, I seek to have respect for others’ views, to look for their legitimate motives and beliefs, to still concern myself with their feelings. I challenge my students almost weekly to find common ground. I remind them that we are all human, and as such, have more in common than what differentiates us. But I’m finding Trump support to be one of the wider chasms I’ve encountered. I’m still trying to understand (this article was excellently thought-provoking on that point, though I’m not sure Trump fans themselves would agree) and I believe that I am capable of not allowing a stark political or philosophical difference to undercut a friendship, but I can’t say that I’ve always been concerned about whether I’ve “offended in any way.”

I still have work to do to internalize a Hoopii attitude. But is it always desirable? Are there limits to his civil and forbearing attitude? Thank goodness I’m losing sleep over this whole Trump phenomenon so I have more time to ponder that! Any thoughts for me?

 

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October 18, 2012

Politics, again

I think what this blog needs right now is more pictures. Perhaps the new life story, part IV wherein I finally spell out our adoption plans in more detail (part III left some people hanging; it left me hanging). What it probably does not need is another post about politics. But I’m gonna do it anyway because it’s my blog and I can mess it up as I see fit.

My last political post was about name-calling. To sum up, if you want to sway a (still) undecided voter like me to your team, replace name-calling with discussions of what you feel passionately about, value deeply, and why your preferred candidate aligns with those values. I love that many of my friends and family have been willing to do this even if it hasn’t completely convinced me yet.

This post is about a related phenomenon that especially cropped up with the beginning of the debates. I call this the “I hate his face” phenomenon, mainly because there was a sudden uptick in people who hate their non-preferred candidate’s face. “I can’t even stand to look at [Mitt Romney] and that ridiculous smirk.” “I just want to punch Joe Biden in the face.” etc. etc. [I am, by the way, quoting friends of friends whom I don’t know personally.] When I read comments like this, I can’t help but think what I would say if my child came to me and said this about one of her schoolmates. I fast forward to Addison having to cast a ballot for 6th grade class president. Who do you think you’re going to vote for, Tootie McGibbons (current nickname of choice)? “Probably Grace because I can’t stand the other guy’s face. I CANNOT imagine having to look at it for a year.” Epic parenting failure.

Am I being overly sensitive about this? Is this more harmless than I think? I obviously recognize that part of what people are responding to is not just the physical appearance but what they feel is being expressed through body language (e.g., Romney’s knowing smirk, Biden’s mocking interruptions). Still, the same way I said human beings deserve respect in a comment on my previous post, I think they also deserve to not have people talking about how much they hate their faces.

And now for a message we can all get behind:

August 21, 2012

Brain dumping again

We’re back from ALL the vacations now. We have been for a week, and oh, what a week it has been! Activity days; Primary Board dinner; teaching Relief Society (women’s organization at church); Neal teaching Elders’ Quorum (men’s organization at church); cleaning out an infestation of moths, ants, and spiders in our kitchen; watching the Olympics and Project Runway episodes I missed. (Clearly, it’s a tough life with DVR!)

Not many people will appreciate these pics of the clean kitchen, but I will always treasure them!

Last week, I told myself, was for catching up on all those mundane tasks I let slide for a few weeks: bills and insurance forms and budget updates and laundry (coincidentally, all things I could work on while watching said DVR). But this week, I’m supposed to be back to hardcore work. I’ve got a revise and resubmit on one of my academic papers due September 1. I’m trying to help my parents get their rental house rented by September 1. I’m planning a one-day family reunion on September 1. (Is it just me or is that too many things on September 1?) Then I start teaching my online class on September 10.

Neal and I worked out a new caregiving schedule yesterday, on account of a difference of opinion (perhaps a Parenting Ref post waiting to happen, Neal?) about how to handle “naptime” (always in quotes; there’s no actual napping going on), and I thought I was ready to hit the ground running today:

  1. Read my scriptures
  2. Go for 20-minute walk
  3. Morning hour with Addison
  4. Start on article revisions

Instead it went more like:

  1. Roll out of bed and lay down in kitchen while coaxing Addison to eat oatmeal
  2. Get back in bed
  3. Surf the internet
  4. Start new book
  5. Surf the internet some more
  6. Blog

You’re all caught up now.

But really, the reason why this day has been far less than lackluster is that it was preceded by a rough night of sweating (no AC at my parents’ house — we’ve moved downstairs for any bit of relief from the recent 98-degree temps!), itching, and thinking. And what I realized in all that thinking is that it has been almost two months since I wrote something really pour-my-heart-out meaningful and truly self-expressive. That’s a long, freaking time for an over-sharer like me!

At the end of June, I devoted an entire day to only writing — I didn’t even open Facebook, dang it. I was committed. It was going so well that I spent most of the next day writing as well, and then the next. I probably wrote for a total of 30 hours in those three days. I wrote a preface to my therapy series, and then covered all of couples counseling, and the round of therapy the summer before that. And it felt so freaking good. I think I finally figured out how to talk about this thing that I kept thinking about but ultimately shying away from. I got to a place of almost-clarity about how to write more of my personal history, something that I feel quite compelled to do pretty much immediately.

[This is a sidenote to be sure, but I keep worrying that the reason I feel so compelled to write some things down now, ranging from my experiences in therapy to my spiritual journey, is that I’m going to lose my mind, either via accident or early onset dementia or something. That sounds ridiculous I know, but when I think about the worst thing that could happen, it is that. Death — oh man, I’m ready for that. Total paralysis — I have already planned out what I would do to pass the time, ranging from Masterpiece Theatre to writing a book entirely by blinking one eye (watch the Diving Bell and the Butterfly if that confuses you). But losing my mental capacity, if I knew that was happening to me (as some people close to me have experienced), I just can’t decide how I would find meaning in that life. Now of course, the chances of that happening seem remote in my early 30s, but I can’t help worrying that this compulsion to record now is a preparation of sorts. It’s happened that way before, from small things like finishing my stats final just before the appendectomy/bed rest knocked me right out, to larger things that I felt like I needed to do just before my health came crashing down during college. Okay, I think that tangent is over, but raise your hand if you think I’m way too morbid . . . ]

Even though I rationally knew that the end of June was the last of that sort of intensive writing I would have time to do for a few months, I think my psyche did not get the memo because that seems to be what it wants to do . . . at 2:00 am. I’m getting the message. I need to plan another day of writing sometime soon (but clearly not before September 1). In the meantime, I’m going to use the rest of this post to say my piece about another thing that has been plaguing me in the middle of the night.

***

I have written before about my love/hate relationship with politics. But friends, there’s no love right now. I can’t wait for this election to be OVER. I’ve long accepted that politicians bother me — partly because they seem to become the worst possible versions of themselves under the strain of so much campaigning. But the thing that is bothering me most this time around is not the politicians but the citizenry, my friends/family. I see so much name-calling going on, and until this last couple of days I had no idea how much it was bothering me. I don’t think any of the specific people I’m thinking of read this blog, but even if they do, I’m going to give my little plea for dropping the name-calling (hopefully, without offending anyone). Mitt the Twit, Obama bin Laden, and so many more I’ve seen just in the last few days on a cursory glance through my Facebook news feed — how are these helpful? Here I am, an independent swing voter who is still undecided in this particular election — just exactly the sort of person that people who feel strongly about their politics should be trying to reach, no? And I honestly care about what my friends feel passionately about; I want to hear about how they’ve arrived at their decisions, what they view as decisive issues and why. I have clicked on a tremendous number of links over the last several months, exploring what people I know and don’t know think is worth talking about in the political discourse. But attach a derogatory name to someone and it just loses me.

It’s good to write this out as a manifesto for myself as well. I’ve certainly been guilty of name-calling at times, both toward public figures and personal connections. But when I do it, rather than more clearly identify what it is that bothers me about this particular person or their actions, the fault is inevitably with me. I’m taking the easy way out rather than acknowledging someone’s more complex nature and respecting their humanity. If you catch me doing this, on here or in person, I hope you remind me that I can be better than that.

***

Also, I had a dream about Ryan Seacrest last night. So you can see why the world seems to be turned upside down for me right now!

July 17, 2012

Radio crush

Filed under: Personal, Politics — Tags: , , — llcall @ 11:31 pm

Speaking of celebrity crushes . . .

This may or may not qualify but it has recently come to my attention that I have a special affinity for Kai Ryssdal, the host of Marketplace (on public radio). Is it the topic? I do love economic talk. Is it his unique name?  Admittedly cool. Is it the fact that he always sounds like he’s having a good time, even when he’s talking about the European debt crisis or Timothy Geithner? Probably.

All I know is I look forward to Wednesday nights in particular when I get to drive solo to Activity Days and listen to Kai “do the numbers.”

Have you ever had a voice-crush on a radio personality?

May 16, 2012

Committed

I’ve been reading a book called You Can Adopt: An Adoptive Families Guide that walks you through all the questions/decisions/issues/procedures that you will have to navigate in the adoption process. (After my first haul from the library, I asked Neal how many books on adoption he thought I would read based on my track record with pregnancy books: “all of them.”) So, um, did you know there are like a bazillion things to consider when trying to adopt?

This is not such a surprise; there should be a bazillion considerations to something as significant as trying to find loving, supportive care for children all over the world. But still, it feels overwhelming at times because there are just so many decision points, many of which you can’t completely prepare for beforehand. Although Neal and I feel a lot of natural consensus about some of the decisions, questions of race/ethnicity have not been so cut-and-dry.  The fact is when we picture our future child, we each picture a different race.

The book has a short section about evaluating whether you can parent a child of a different race and one of the things it recommends is taking some Implicit Assumption Tests (IATs), which are meant to measure how strongly a person holds certain stereotypes, to better understand yourself. We spent an interesting afternoon taking some IATs (using Harvard’s website — click on Demonstration and it will bring up a range of assessments), mostly on race and skin color, but also gender stereotypes and religious preferences. It was enlightening to see what implicit associations are strongest for me — my strongest, by far, was on the Gender-Career IAT where I had a strong implicit association between females-family and males-career. Interesting, considering most people (including me) don’t think I fall into a very traditional camp in that regard.

Coincidentally, this week I also ran across a Jezebel article entitled, “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism.” Although there were far more f-bombs in it than I would prefer (fair warning), I thought it was an important treatment of the topic of “ironic racism,” which could be loosely defined as a method of joking about race to show that you’re enlightened/aren’t racist. There were a lot of bits worth reading, but this section toward the end really stuck out to me:

If you claim that you are not a racist person (or, at least, that you’re committed to working your ass off not to be one—which is really the best that any of us can promise), then you must believe that people are fundamentally born equal. So if that’s true, then in a vacuum, factors like skin color should have no effect on anyone’s success. Right? And therefore, if you really believe that all people are created equal, then when you see that drastic racial inequalities exist in the real world, the only thing that you could possibly conclude is that some external force is holding certain people back. Like . . . racism. Right?

I hope it’s absolutely clear that I think racism is alive and well in this country (and world). I see it in a lot of places, but the criminal justice system is a glaring, glaring example. But being able to identify racism and working to eliminate it, does not automatically mean that I’m not racist myself. Which is why I appreciate that caveat that being “committed to working your ass off not to be one . . . is really the best that any of us can promise.” I totally believe that. It’s my responsibility to continually examine my thoughts, beliefs, reactions, opinions for racist stereotypes and beliefs. Some people would say that is the price of privilege (I agree). But I also think it is simply the price of being human surrounded by other humans who are not me.

It can be a tricky endeavor to see differences between myself and others and not subtly assume that what I am is better (because it’s what I know? because I’m surrounded by it? because an ingrained part of me believes that a particular trait is better?). It can be equally tricky to determine how to acknowledge and embrace differences in a positive way (I don’t believe “color-blindness” is either possible or desirable). None of this applies just to race, but because racism casts such a long shadow over our country, it seems like one of the most important subjects to be vigilant about.

So if you’re like me and don’t want to be racist (I hope that’s everyone reading this), let’s never assume we’re not racist because {insert rationale here} and start saying that we are committed to working at not being racist every minute of every day until we die. Deal?

January 8, 2012

What I’ve been reading lately . . .

Besides Getting Things Done.

CBS doesn’t know Ron Paul is running for president?

My good friend and former roommate Jenn Morrill writes about politics and Ron Paul for the Examiner.  If you think I follow politics closely, meet Jenn, who makes me look like a casual observer at best.  Even though we don’t share all the same political views, I love reading her articles because her passion for and dedication to her values are so evident.  Her articles have also sensitized me to issues I haven’t always recognized.  For example, Ron Paul and the media.  Whenever supporters of a particular candidate start to talk about unfair media treatment, I am a bit skeptical — I mean, every ardent supporter thinks their candidate is getting the short end of the stick, right?  But over the last several weeks, I have begun to think that Ron Paul supporters are right.  Following the Iowa caucus this week I read two articles in major media outlets that failed to mention Ron Paul at all.  Seriously?  How does that happen when he was only about three percentage points below the first place finisher?

2011 Lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem

One of Neal’s friends (only on facebook, of course, in real life I am his only friend) posted this and he sent it to me, and I like it.  I think most of it represents the way I experience motherhood.  As my parents so often remind me, for most of my life I swore I would never have kids, only monkeys (that I would obviously dress in diapers).  And I can see why I felt that way.  Because parenting is tough.  And if a certain biological clock hadn’t started ticking in a crazy-loud, undeniable way, I could see myself still doing other good in the world sans Addison.  Truthfully,  many days I want to do those other things I used to do in the world because they were far less tiring and never-ending.  Sure, I often worked 12-hour days at various non-profit organizations, but I got to SIT all. day. long.  And when I opened a snack, no little hands took it away.  Or deleted the text I was writing.  So luxurious.

The point is, I don’t hate when people say, “Enjoy every minute.”  Or tell me that they enjoy every minute of parenthood.  Probably because I think it’s not really true (but also because, hey, good for them if they do!).  But I’m comfortable with the fact that it’s not like that for me.  I don’t call them “Kairos moments,” but that’s what I look forward to — moments when I’m a little bit awestruck that I get to know and love Addison every day.  Some days I think of her as my baby, but more often now I think that she is just an incredible human being, already so full of good intentions (but still needing a little guidance about the social unacceptability of nose-picking).  I am grateful that I get to spend these days the way I do, but I’m not giddy about it from moment to moment.  It’s just too exhausting to make me giddy.

Erin Caroline’s Birth Story

I love birth stories.  I’ll never have a birth story like this, but I might if life always worked out just exactly how we would like (although I’d still want my doula there; she was so fantastic!).

December 7, 2011

The Occupy movement, part II

You didn’t really think I was just, like, never going to offer any opinions about the Occupy movement, did you?  No, I didn’t either.

Of course, there’s too much to say to cover it all, but probably a good place to start is to tell you something that my brother-in-law Tristan said to me during our conversation about the movement.  I was telling him about how, for the most part, I was annoyed reading the now-famous Tumblr page We Are the 99 Percent.  Annoyed because many of the frustrated writers seemed painfully unaware of the privilege inherent in their problems.  [The student loan debt issue that my friend Sabrina mentioned in her comment on my first post is as good an example of this as anything for me.  To have had  the opportunity to accumulate student loan debt is something that many people I have worked with will never experience.  I mean, any type of meaningful education has completely eluded many of them through little fault of their own.  Do I think there are predatory lending practices in the student loan industry?  Yes, definitely.  But I’m really not convinced that the majority of students who have huge debt were victims of such practices.  I feel this way particularly in regards to graduate student debt.]  Anyway, back to my conversation with Tristan.  I think our exchange went something like this:

Me: I’ve heard a sob story or two in my work — and I work with impoverished people in the United States where our poor have a better life than many in other countries — and so many of these “99%” are not even in the same ballpark as a sob story.  I would be more sympathetic if I felt that more of them were addressing the real inequalities I have seen, but my incarcerated men can’t post things on Tumblr.

Tristan: Well, your frustration is because you’re more of a radical than the majority of Occupy protesters.

I really had to chuckle because it’s been a long time since someone called me a radical (this was not that uncommon in my late teens/early twenties, but I have mellowed emotionally and become more of a centrist politically in the intervening years).  But you know, Tristan’s right to an extent.  I don’t think acknowledging structural inequality or institutional racism in our society is particularly radical, but I own that some aspects of my beliefs and the way I am trying to live my life might be considered radical, even by other radicals (since Tristan is definitely one of those).

I’ve been staring at that last sentence for awhile, trying to figure out where to go from there.  To explain those “radical” beliefs further would require answering questions like, How do we want to live now and in the future, and where?  How will we make a living?  And the one we get asked a lot, what are we even doing in California, living with my parents?  It’s not that I don’t want to address those questions more fully, but the topic feels too expansive and work-in-progressy for the present moment (of course, articulating more about our goals and plans would no doubt help me make progress, but it also feels too time-consuming for these naptime musings).  I guess as simple a way as any to give a sense of where I stand is to briefly dissect one of Samantha Bee’s interviews in the Daily Show clip I posted last time.  She’s talking to a young man and asks whether he would share his iPad 2 (which he’s holding) with some of the “hobos” in “downtown” Zuccotti Park.  He’s says no, but that he does support a society where everyone has access to technology.  The exchange continues:

Samantha: So it’s not so much about sharing, but about everyone having an iPad 2?

Young Man: Or at least everybody having access to the material wealth of life.

I don’t doubt this young man has good intentions, but even beyond some sense of hypocrisy, I personally feel that he may be aiming for the wrong things.  And this is a sense that I get from many of the Tumblr posts as well.  People believed/thought/were told that hard work and education would get them a nice home, a good retirement, college-educated kids, steadily-increasing wealth, new technology, etc.  and now many are mad because it hasn’t panned out.  But to me, we ought to be in the business of scaling down our own personal expectations, especially if we are concerned about inequality.  I just don’t believe that we will live in a world where everybody has access to all the good things available, and so I’m personally trying to want a more modest life.  Even though I think iPads are cool, I know they’re not a part of my current or future life, so I don’t let myself think about wanting one (the iPad and most technology is easy for me, accepting that the kind of travel I would love to do is probably not in the cards for us, that’s definitely more difficult).  I’m not invested in telling individual people what they should or should not have since every life experience is different and one person’s need is another person’s luxury, but I just don’t believe that the kind of consumption and scaling-up that was happening just a few years ago is sustainable — especially if we care about access for everyone and not just ourselves.

Having said that, I do agree with some of the aims of the OWS movement.  The idea of getting money out of politics seems to me too broad an objective (as my friend Emily got at in her comment on my last post), and on its face, just impossible.  But I support, for example, closing the loophole that allows congresspeople to participate in “insider trading” that would be illegal if they were not elected officials, as well as a number of other particular proposals that would make our elections more about public service and less about wealth accumulation.  As for the question of corporate personhood, I remain conflicted.  I sympathize with the frustration about corporate money in politics, but I also think that many people fail to acknowledge some of the benefits and innovation that exist because of the laws governing corporations.  I also wonder, is it really a consistent position to say, I want to limit corporations in this way, but I will still contribute to their wealth by buying and using their products?  I don’t know, those are still issues I’m grappling with.

When it comes right down to it, occupying and protesting are not my preferred methods of political involvement, so in that way, it’s just not a movement that really resonates with me.  And I definitely sympathize with the point that the author of that Washington Post op-ed about low black participation in the movement was making when she said:

Why should they [black Americans] ally with whites who are just now experiencing the hardships that blacks have known for generations? Perhaps white Americans are now paying the psychic price for not answering the basic questions that blacks have long raised about income inequality.

Sadly, the stories of so many of the black men and women I’ve worked with, known, and loved, are much, much sadder than those of so many of the Occupiers and I worry about obscuring some of those issues that I find more troubling.

Still, I think most of the protesters are good people who are trying to do something meaningful.  I was undeniably moved by Rossana’s simple statement: “Do I think this is going to change things, in the government?  No, probably not.  But it’s changing me, it’s changing us.”  I respect her recognition that, at the end of the day, life has to be mostly about changing ourselves because there is so much out of our control.

November 30, 2011

Occupy Nashville

Filed under: Personal, Politics — Tags: , — llcall @ 10:52 pm

AP Photo posted here: Arrested Occupiers after release

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Occupy movement.  Sometimes it’s because they know I read a lot of news.  Sometimes it’s because they know I have a lot of political opinions.  Sometimes it’s because they know I have a radical brother-in-law.  Sometimes it’s because I’m the only under-45 person in the room (that happened at my conference in Jacksonville, more than once — I guess it was a really old crew).

Here, now, I’m going to attempt to do something I have never done on my blog before: offer some information without injecting any personal opinion.  I think I can do it, but it might make me light-headed.

I mentioned before that I spent an hour or so at Occupy Nashville; this is because my brother-in-law Tristan (the blond in a blue windbreaker, fist in the air, in the above photo) and his girlfriend Katy are two of the key people involved in the movement (or non-movement, as Tristan told me it is not really a movement — but we didn’t delve too much into that, so I can’t explain it any further).  We didn’t have much time to spend because Addison was napping in the car (attended by Katy; don’t worry, we didn’t leave her alone) and we had a two-hour drive to Huntsville still ahead of us.  But I wanted to do as much fact-finding as I could while I was there.  First, I got my hands on some literature that was being disseminated.  These somewhat-“consensus documents” — there seemed to be some disagreement about whether they had been agreed to by the whole group or whether a few people had decided to create them, but they were on kind of official-looking cardstock and I counted at least 20 or 30 people holding them — listed three aims of Occupy Nashville:

  1. End corporate personhood (this Wikipedia article gives a primer on this issue, which was reignited after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010)
  2. Get money out of politics
  3. Support the Occupy Wall Street movement

Next, I wanted to talk to some people directly and ask, “Why are you personally here?”  When a young (early thirties maybe?) Hispanic woman approached me to ask if I wanted to hold a sign in the upcoming march, I asked her that question. Rossana had a lot to say; it would have been good to have a digital recorder handy.  But I’ll try to relay what I can.  She started out by explaining that she’s concerned about how things are going in the country.  She doesn’t like either major political party or feel they represent her ideas and opinions on the issues.  She doesn’t see them coming up with solutions.  Then she said something to this effect:

Do I think this is going to change things, in the government?  No, probably not.  But it’s changing me, it’s changing us.  And I’m doing something to show what I want and believe.

She went on to talk about her attire — she was wearing a fair amount of make-up and was dressed quite fashionably, but if I even try to describe her ensemble (it was truly an ensemble), you’ll know immediately that I don’t speak fashion.  I can say a few things with certainty: (1) she knows how and dresses much nicer than I do, (2) her scarf, which was more decorative than utilitarian, was turquoise, and (3) her earrings were dangly.  She said that she made it a point to dress nicely when she came to the plaza because she has a job (something PR-related) and she wants people to know that she’s not homeless or unemployed/unwilling to work or just concerned about her own personal plight.  She said that she was hoping to use her international background and PR experience to help the Occupy movement transcend individual locales and become a worldwide movement.

From here, I asked more about her background, where she was from, what brought her to Tennessee, etc.  She was from Chile, where her father had been involved in political activity in opposition to the dictator in power.  He had thus been kidnapped and tortured, and from that trauma had developed schizophrenia, among other mental health issues.  She had gone to Brazil for school and there became part of a radical wing of the Communist Party.  When she eventually came to the United States, she had continued to be involved in violent protests and activism, although she ticked off a few places/events so quickly I didn’t have time to register it all.  She then reflected on how different Occupy Nashville was from things she had participated in previously, where she and her fellow protesters would just “blow sh&%$ up!”

I was hoping to talk to some more people around the plaza, but she suddenly broke off to join the march and most of the plaza emptied out.  People were carrying signs about issues ranging from teacher salaries to free speech to the 1%.  There were lots of blank posters, ready for people to fill with their particular interests.  There was also a food area with donated coffee, bagels, fruit, and other assorted foods, to which I added a partially-eaten plate of hummus (because my falafel lunch came with an obscene amount of it).  We left as the main plaza was emptying and the Occupiers were marching across the street.

So that’s all for my firsthand reporting on the ground at Occupy Nashville.  But a couple of weeks later, Katy wrote this article while they were waiting for eviction from the plaza (Tristan, along with about 30 others, had already been arrested for staying overnight on the plaza).  So if you want to know what Occupy ____ means personally for one Occupier, there’s her thoughts and experiences.

Finally, I’ll hit you with three other links (minus commentary) I’ve found interesting in the last couple of weeks:

  1. Washington Post opinion piece, “Why African Americans aren’t embracing Occupy Wall Street
  2. USA Today piece, “‘Occupiers’ defy simple descriptions
  3. Daily Show clip (I was trying to embed the video, but it turns out I don’t know how to do that.)

So, how’d I do at reporting versus opining?  Admirable effort, no?

But rest assured, I want YOU to opine (and/or report).  What do you think about the Occupy movement?  Do you have any personal or family experience/involvement with it?  What do you think “they” (or you, if you’re involved) want?

April 16, 2011

A momentary vent . . .

Filed under: Personal, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 12:17 am

You know what one of my pet peeves is . . . oversimplification.  When I said yesterday that I was glad to complicate my student’s worldview, I was very sincere.  This isn’t to say that one can’t confront complication and still come out with strong, definitive opinions (because if you don’t know I have strong opinions then, really, where have you been?!) but to ignore the complication and imply that there is only one way to see things, especially big, important things, is just maddening to me.  Political rhetoric in general excels at this kind of oversimplification and it drives me nuts — no wonder I have such a love/hate relationship with politics.  But after seeing a link to this Twitter post making its way around Facebook, I think, God help us, if we’re now into Twitter politics.  I’m sorry but I just don’t think an issue like abortion can or should be boiled down into 140 characters or less.  Period.

I’ve been working on my paper diligently for the past three days, but I’m happy to say that it’s almost where I want it to be.  So if I’ve neglected your phone calls or emails recently, rest assured that I won’t for too much longer.

March 31, 2011

Thesis Thursday: My life’s work

Today I want to show you something astounding.  If it doesn’t seem astounding at first, wait for it . . .

This is pretty basic, right?  We have good evidence from many different studies that suggests that impulsivity (defined as initiating action without adequate forethought) is a key factor in incarceration.

But it begs the question, doesn’t it . . . why are some people more impulsive than others, and thus more likely to get into trouble with the law?

Well, of course, we don’t really know for sure, but we have some strong evidence that it is at least partly “genetic,” which makes sense if you consider that most incarcerated people have family members that have been or are incarcerated as well.  But mostly I want to focus on three other possible causes beyond the “genetic” (genetics, by the way, are far more complicated than we sometimes make them out to be, which is why I like to put it in quotes like it’s something of a quaint idiom).

Intrauterine hypoxia occurs when a fetus has an inadequate oxygen supply.  Although there are many possible causes, cigarette smoking is one of the most preventable causes.  And cigarette smoking is strongly correlated with lower income and education levels.

Maternal stress during pregnancy . . . there’s still a long way to go with this line of research, but there is some fascinating stuff already.  The bottom line is that we have growing evidence that maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy impacts not only an infant’s functioning but has effects well into childhood.  For example, one study found that “prenatal anxiety was significantly associated with behavioral regulation problems, impulsivity, and attentional difficulties” in 8-year-old children.

The ACE study is another interesting one: in short, they found that exposure to childhood trauma was significantly related to a host of medical problems in later life.  Other studies support the conclusion that adverse childhood experiences actually alter kids’ chemistry at the epigenetic level.  So, for example, some kids’ “fight-or-flight” response is altered in such a way that they stay in a “fight” mode, which appears to be tied to impulsivity.  Not surprisingly, adverse childhood experiences are correlated with lower income levels as well.

I wish I had loads more time to write and talk about this, but since it is actually peripheral to my thesis, I really really don’t.  But if you possibly have time, I highly recommend two recent RadioWest (a production of the Salt Lake NPR station) shows: The Poverty Clinic, which talks in depth about this New Yorker piece, and The Social Animal, in which David Brooks discusses his recent book.  (These podcast links may expire because it seems that the website replaces them with new shows as they occur, but the article and book will remain available.)  I don’t have time to go into detail about how these particular radio shows tie in, but trust me, they do and are fascinating to boot!

While all this is peripheral to my actual thesis and the work that needs to be done on it (preferably today since, you know, it’s Thesis Thursday), it is in no way peripheral to my life’s work.  So what do I find so astounding about all this?  Why do I feel compelled to spread it?  Here’s two take-aways I hope you’ll consider:

First, if you are one of the personally-hoping-to-change-the-world camp, this should alert you to the fact that it is FREAKING HARD.  (Or so one of my undergraduate students told me she realized yesterday after class.)  The situation is endlessly complex . . . there’s societal, community, family, genetic, epigenetic, and even “maternal womb environment” factors.  And the conclusion that many people are coming to is that we can’t impact poverty in such a piecemeal manner — better education!  therapy!  immunizations!  after-school programs!  parenting classes!  Not that any one person can be an expert in everything, but we need to think holistically and expansively and interdisciplinarily.  We need to be looking for gaps that our program or effort is not filling, and try to connect the people we serve with some other person/program that could fill it.

Second, when I work with undergrads who are encountering incarcerated individuals for the first time (either in person or through our data or in previously-published studies), I see them struggle with the same thing over and over again: I feel sorry for them, but they must pay for their mistakes.  It’s sad that their families have to suffer, but they made the choice themselves.  Justice. . . but mercy?  Mercy, yes, but what about justice? It can be this endless back-and-forth for some of them, which I think is a natural and legitimate struggle.  But I also think it’s the wrong thing to focus on.  What I try to get across — with varying degrees of success — is that they are not personally responsible for society’s law and order, they are not personally knowledgeable about or involved in any individual’s legal case.  And because they don’t bear that responsiblity, they are completely free to choose only compassion for them.  And indeed, when we realize just how many difficult circumstances most of them have had to endure, how the deck is often stacked against them in both obvious and subtle ways, it’s likely that no degree of compassion would be too great to extend.  This may be true for all of humanity, but I promise, it’s true for every single incarcerated person I have ever met.

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