Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Language Lesson from the Math Guy

If I want to get my husband MathMan, the high school teacher, bent out of shape about something, all I have to do is talk about some big, blanket education policy. For example, the mere mention of No Child Left Behind is enough to make him apoplectic.

During the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed that all states pass a law requiring students to stay in school until they graduate or until the age of eighteen, I immediately tweeted that to @MathMan6293. I couldn't see his face because he and Nate were driving home from work and I was at home, cozy, nibbling on a clementine the same shade as Speaker Boehner, but I bet MathMan made that face he makes when I say things like "Chloe called. She needs money." or "When are we going to clean out the garage?" or "How about we watch another Republican debate!"

That, of course, was not the end of the conversation. This is MathMan's take on not just that proposal (which he does not support unless we provide a wider array of options for students within the public school system), but as he puts it, is the primary problem with how we Americans process our policy information.

Oversimplification is the problem. Paraphrasing now:

When our media and elected officials speak in broad terms, they oversimplify the problems and the solutions. They reduce the issues to generalizations. All students. All poor people. All rich people. All business. All old people, all soccer moms, all veterans, all working class, all all all....

What happens is the individual is removed the conversation making it easier to think in terms of the nameless, faceless other. We talk in the abstract about education instead of understanding that we're really talking about the education of millions of children ranging in age from preschool to college, from all sorts of backgrounds, socio-economic situations and with as many needs as there are students.

One-size-fits-all solutions are rarely the answer. They are politically expedient and, I suppose, necessary at times if only to get the conversation started, but if we don't delve deeper, don't put a human face on it, if we don't bring the conversation to the level where the individual is addressed, then we get nowhere. Or worse, we get policies full of unintended consequences like No Child Left Behind.

All of which is to say that I suppose MathMan doesn't want us to reduce our important conversations to the lowest common denominator because once we do, we find that the transitive properties multiply exponentially. Or something.

What oversimplifications work your nerves? For example, I get annoyed by the generalization that the foreclosure crisis was caused by people who wanted big fancy houses they couldn't afford. That is only one segment of the problem and hardly the most influential factor, but when that oversimplification is repeated by the media, the pundits and politicians, it becomes accepted knowledge, facts be damned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Elephant Shit

Question posed to an Wall Street Occupier:  Do you know who Saul Alinsky is?
Answer:  Does he have a deli on the Lower East Side?

Question posed to Bob Grainger, Chair of the Lake County Democratic Committee: Do you know how Saul Alinsky is?
Answer: Al who?

Question posed to MathMan, a native of Chicago:  Do you know Saul Alinsky is?
Answer:  No. Why?
Me: Newt Gingrich is talking about him in relation to the President and he's trending on Twitter.
MathMan: Oh. Here, look at this graph of the x^2cos(1/x)

Question posed to a regular consumer of Fox News and right wing radio:  Who is Saul Alinsky?
Answer: He's the guy from Chicago who wrote Rules for Radicals which influenced the radical methods of Obama when he was a community organizer and who is now taking our country in the wrong direction with his radical ideas and trying to turn us into a radical European style socialist version of Europe. With its radical ideas. I think he was a communist.

Ah. And, of course, only radical liberals use Alinsky's principals for organizing.

Alinky's main message for organizing: Pick the target (Big Government), freeze it (Do Nothing Congress), personalize it (Gov't wants to take away YOUR rights), polarize it (We're going to take OUR country back). Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual (Obama) . Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame (Stop blaming Bush, this is YOUR mess, Obama!).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I believe in the power of redemption

 An intervention may be in order.

I've gotten sucked into the cesspool of election year tomfoolery and non-stop coverage of what Tengrain calls the Goat Rodeo.

Evidence that it's a become a real problem:

1. My politics/media twitter feed is enormous and growing. It's a fine blend of snark, bawdy humor and info links that could keep me reading all the ding dong day.

2. While I wouldn't have recognized a quarter of the celebrities on the red carpet at the recent Golden Globe Awards, when I click twitpic links posted by political reporters, I recognize about half the people in the photos. I repeat political reporters.

3. I've been having erotic dreams about a three-way with Dylan Ratigan and Melissa Harris Perry.

4. I followed Jonathan Capehart aka Mr. Butters' vacation to the Virgin Islands via Facebook.
4.1 I know that Jonathan Capehart is also Mr. Butters and when he gets his haircut. And when he goes to McDonald's or not after his haircuts.

5. I can tell the following people apart:
Ari Melber / Ezra Klein / Sam Stein
Chuck Todd / That guy from the bookstore
Thomas A. Roberts / Peter Alexander
Luke Russert / Jeff Spicoli
Ron Allen / Ron Christie / Ron Mott
Gov. Rick Perry / Fmr. President George W. Bush
Mike Taibbi / Matt Taibbi
Chris Mathews / Lawrence O'Donnell
Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney / Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
David Gregory / A jar of paste
Chris Hayes / Rachel Maddow

6. Confession: In my weaker moments, I yearn to run my fingers through Howard Fineman's gray hair while talking music with Jon Heilman and drinking shots with Willie Geist.

7. I know more about NY Times columnist Charles Blow's daughter's fencing career than I know about what's going on with my parents. Of course, my parents could fix that if they got a computer and had Twitter accounts. Slackers.

8. While MathMan likes to impress me by being able to identify a piece of classical music within a few notes, i.e. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, 5th movement, I like to turn him on with my ability to identify some pundit or other by their voice. It's awesome foreplay. "Oh, baby. You be Monica and I'll be Bill. Where's your blue dress?" It's so much fun resurrecting an old role-playing theme.

9. My little "problem" is affecting the kids. Sophie and I chat about the afternoon MSNBC personalities like they're family. "Did you see that exchange between Martin Bashir and that asshole from the South Carolina Republican Party?" I'll say to which Sophie will respond, "I almost threw my Cheez-its at the TV I was so disgusted so I changed the channel to iCarly. I know how angry you get when I make a mess in the living room."

We also worry about Mika Brzezenski's unresolved father issues because we can't help ourselves. We like her.

9.1 The cats and I are involved in a co-dependent relationship which now stretches beyond food. They insist I leave the TV on so they can watch Andrea Mitchell and speculate what it must be like to sleep with Alan Greenspan. They really have a mean streak, those cats.

10. And most disturbing of all, even though I've written about the many reasons for which I could never run for office, it's becoming increasingly clear with all the Republican hypocrisy shenanigans coming to light, I could indeed run for office as long as I'm willing to run as a Republican with a one hand on the Bible and a compelling redemption narrative.

I'm thinking there's really no downside here. I win and that's cool. I can be a public servant and support the policies I think will make this nation better for all of us. I lose and I can make some money on speaking fees. I mean $365,000 isn't a lot, but I could manage on that. Hell, one speaking gig at $40,000 would be twice as much as I made in 2011.

It's time for the Pussies for Peace and Income Equality (PfPIE) to get busy raising money for that Superpac. I just need to remind them not to put the money into investments in the Cayman Islands.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I don't like that dark stuff

I wheeled my semi-full grocery cart into the check out line. In front of me was a woman of maybe eighty, her hair newly done, makeup just right, a hearing aid implanted in her ear. Her cart remained unloaded while she leaned across it studying the cover of the National Inquirer or The Star.

The checker spoke. "Ma'am, are you ready?"

The woman snapped to and began loading her items onto the belt. I waited until she was finished and reached over for the black plastic separator to put between her order and mine. The cover of the tabloid that had so captivated the elderly woman caught my eye. "Obama Divorce" it screeched in bold yellow across unflattering photos of the President and First Lady.

I busied myself with unloading my cart in my usual OCD fashion.

"Oh, I forgot my coffee," the woman in front of me yelled.

The checker offered to hold her order while the bagger offered to fetch the coffee. The woman gestured toward me. "I don't want to make her wait."'

I appreciated that, but I wasn't in a hurry. "Thanks, but don't worry about it. I'm not in a hurry. Get your coffee."

She shrugged at the bagger who asked what kind of coffee to get. "The one on sale for eight dollars and something. But not that dark stuff. I don't like the dark coffee."

I went back to unloading my cart while the woman fussed at the checker for not ringing her up and letting her go get the coffee after she paid. The checker explained how she needed the bar code, but quickly gave up. The customer wasn't interested in explanations.

Another shopper pulled in behind me and noticed the hold up. I gave her a quick smile with an eyebrow raise. She craned her neck to see the other lines, looked back at me and shrugged. "Might as well stay put."

I smiled and pulled the checkbook out of my purse to fill it out while I waited. The bagger still hadn't returned and the woman tugged the sleeve of my jacket.

"Did you see that about that Obama?" she said pointing at the tabloid.

I looked at the tabloid and nodded.

"You know, her parents paid for him to win. That black son of a bitch was educated in Saudi Arabia," she said conspiratorially, incapable of a whisper.

I took a deep breath and turned to slip my checkbook back into my purse to give myself a chance to count ten and not react.

The woman behind me met my eyes and gave me the one eyebrow raise back. Her arms were crossed as she shifted her gaze from me to the woman tugging on my sleeve again. "Those blacks in Chicago rigged the election to put Obama in the White House. He didn't get all those votes."

I glanced at the checker who was clearly alarmed. The checker the next aisle over, a young African American woman had obviously overheard.


The bagger finally returned from Tennessee with three containers of coffee. "I brought you some choices."

The woman made her choice, paid her bill and continued to complain loudly that the checker wouldn't ring her up sooner, that she was unhappy that the Food Lion is closing stores in Georgia (we weren't in a Food Lion at the time), and, how much she hated Obama. Not once did she refer to him as President Obama.

The desire for her to leave was palpable. The checker, the bagger, the woman behind me, the checker across the way and I - we were all aghast. And then the last straw came. The woman tugged her pocketbook up onto her shoulder and turned to me.

"There aren't enough black people in America to elect him. That's how I know the vote was rigged."

I handed my stack of coupons to the checker and smiled. "I voted for him," I said.

"What did she say?"

I turned to the woman who was fiddling with her hearing aid. "I voted for him and I will vote for him again," I said with a smile.

"Ahhh, you're putting me on."


"I never met anyone who voted for him. You're kidding me."

"I'm not. I voted for him."

She drew back and eyed me. "What's wrong with you? Why would you vote for that --? All he does is give away the money of hardworking Americans to no accounts. People who won't get jobs on unemployment, food stamps. Just a bunch of lazy..."

The bagger interrupted. "Can I help you with this?" She gestured toward the woman's shopping cart.

I hoped she'd take the hint. I had no stomach for this pointless conversation. She ignored the bagger. "So what are you? One of them lazy people who won't get a job?"

"I'm one of those hardworking Americans who can't find a job," I said still smiling. I was surprised that I wasn't getting a surge of adrenaline, my heart wasn't racing, my palms weren't sweating and my voice didn't crack. I'd realize later that the medication I'm taking really does work well.

"Uh huh. That's what I thought. You're on welfare," she spat out.

The woman behind me shifted and bumped into my cart. When I turned to see what the problem was, she was glaring at the old woman.

"Actually, I'm not on welfare, not that it's any of your business. I was getting unemployment, but that's run out," I don't know why I felt compelled to keep talking, but I did. "Let me ask you this - do you get Social Security? Medicare?"

"Hey, my husband worked his whole life and paid for those things," she snapped.

"Well, that's true, but you're probably taking out more than he paid in. And what's more, I - me - I worked for twenty-five years paying into unemployment in case I needed it. So before you go fussing about what other people are getting, you should consider that you're part of the system, too."

"Well, it ain't welfare."

"No, it's not. But you know how you're upset that the Food Lion is closing stores? I can guarantee you if people didn't have food stamps, you'd see a lot more stores closing. And I don't know what kind of world you want to live in, but I don't want to live in one where people go hungry."

She opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing. I made an apologetic gesture to the checker as the old lady marched away hollering at the bagger about how rude I was.

I filled out my check and marveled at the fact that my hands weren't shaking. I felt so calm.

"You handled that well," the checker said to me.

I took the receipt from her. "Thanks. I really hate to talk politics. I know my views aren't very popular around here."

"Well, maybe she learned something from you. I know I did," she said with a smile.

The woman behind me cleared her throat. "I'm glad you were the one dealing with her because I would have whipped out my EBT card and shoved it down her throat."

Damn it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Politics of Envy


Mitt Romney, the man who has finally gotten to the head of the line, thinks we envy him and those of his stratospheric ilk.

Let's not lie to him or ourselves. We do envy him. But it's not for the reason he thinks.

Since it's rude for me to speak for you, I'll stick to why I am envious. My envy of Mitt Romney is specifically because he's never known what it's like to be financially insecure and it has nothing to do with his superior skills, hard work, or intelligence. By virtue of his birth, Romney has never had to worry about a lack of money. No, his only money worries have been about the accumulation of more wealth.

So that's the basis for my envy. What's at the root of my dislike for Romney is the fact that he seems unwilling to even imagine for a second what it's like for most Americans who have worked hard for the last thirty years and are still just running in place.

His refusal to acknowledge that there might be valid reasons for people to be pissed off tells us what we need to know about Mitt. He has no interest in understanding the plight of the middle and working classes, the poor. He subscribes to the idea that, unlike his situation of being born to wealth setting his destiny, if you're not rich like him, it's because you're not smart enough, you don't work hard enough. The fact that American socio-economic mobility is pretty much a myth and getting worse holds no sway with Romney.

I would say that by virtue of that same solid gold birth, perhaps Mitt Romney is incapable of empathy for the less fortunate, but then how do you explain wealthy families that breed bleeding heart liberals? Does it really come down to how the brain is wired?

Mitt Romney wants to run on his record as a businessman. Fine. Look at his record at Bain Capital where he was far more comfortable dealing with profits and numbers and data. People who lost their jobs were merely collateral damage. No, that's too generous. They were the cost of doing business and they were expendable.

Running a government is far different from running a business. The missions are different. Romney isn't smart enough to know that. As President, he would do just as he did at Bain. He would increase profits for the shareholders by any means just this side of legal while cutting out the waste and inefficiency.

What Americans need to understand is that unless you're a top investor, you are waste and inefficiency.

Read Bob Lefsetz on this.