|May 22, 2012||Unemployment in Unicoi State Park||2 comments|
|May 14, 2012||The Canterbury Tales and Contemporary Politics||5 comments|
|January 24, 2012||Carolina Games||1 comments|
|January 17, 2012||The Mormon Question||4 comments|
|January 05, 2012||Corporate Conviction: The Bottom Line on Mitt Romney||1 comments|
|December 29, 2011||The Bus Stop Divide: Working versus Stay-at-Home Women||3 comments|
|December 19, 2011||The Pitfalls of Political Withdrawals: Remembering the Hmong||3 comments|
|November 16, 2011||Talking with the Taliban?||4 comments|
My husband and I went on a guided hike around Helen on Saturday. We joined a small group of delightful strangers from different cities in Georgia who had all traveled north to enjoy the great outdoors. As we eventually ate lunch together on a platform overlooking a waterfall in Unicoi State Park, two things struck me as worthy of note.
First, we are privileged to live in a gorgeous state with incredible natural resources that enhance our quality of life and are worth treasuring and preserving. Second, in an arbitrary party of nine, which included folks in their early twenties to late fifties, three of our hikers had lost their jobs in May.
This latter fact was astonishing to me because according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate in Georgia in April registered at 8.9%. This is slightly higher than the national unemployment rate President Obama touts as falling to 8.1%. Yet the actual unemployment rate amongst our random sampling of Georgia residents was a whopping 33%.
Of course, I realize this number comes from an anecdotal experience. I am no Paul Krugman; this was not a scientific poll, and I don’t even know the detailed circumstances surrounding why three people in different industries had been so recently laid off. (It is always bad form, you see, to drill too deeply into another’s misfortune an hour or two after exchanging names.)
Yet it somehow felt significant that subsequent to crossing a stream and eating turkey sandwiches, three people felt comfortable enough to share the loss of their livelihoods, as if such losses have become so common, they are now a topic of casual conversation, as neutral a discussion as how those Braves are playing.
If this perception is reality, politicians should take note, because it hardly inspires faith in an “improving” economy.
I mean, even in that peaceful setting amidst wild rhododendrons and purple butterflies in the Georgia mountains, 33% of us, at least, were carrying a burden of uncertainty about the future that no statistics spouted on the nightly news have the power to alleviate.
Rather, it should seem as clear as sunshine in this newest election cycle that the one thing that will matter most to an astonishingly large number of voters—whether they keep an R or a D behind their names—will be the path that leads them to a new employer.
My son and I recently went to see a modern adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. This classic work of British literature sparkles with wit as it offers keen insight into the ageless nature of mankind.
After all, while just a commoner, the “father of English poetry” served two kings as a diplomat. As such, he became well versed in the art of discerning the true intent of the human heart.
From what we understand of him, Chaucer was never beguiled by pleasant words or high station. In fact, he used his pen to point out some of the absurdities of his own time, couching scathing criticism for both church and state within his fiction.
Understanding this, I watched with extra interest the retelling of those stories we all read in high school that were staged in a twenty-first century context: the Wife of Bath with a Gucci purse, the Miller coming across as a loud-mouthed football fan, and the Pardoner in his salesman’s suit.
Though it lost some of the nuance found in the original stories--some of the complexity of the ideas explored as well as the intricacies of the prose text--the production did something for me that it surely would have done for Chaucer’s audience in the Middle Ages. It made me think immediately of politics.
For example, naughty but smart, the Wife of Bath is portrayed as using her best assets to assert dominion over her own fate in a time when women had little power and garnered less respect from society.
The recent comments by Hillary Rosen that caused such a broo-ha-ha about the role of women raising children today—their right to voice their opinions on broader issues than child rearing—made me wonder how far the fairer sex has really moved towards not being judged for personal choices… towards having real sovereignty over their own existence.
The Miller with his coarse behavior and lewd story is the blue-collar worker who enjoys a beer on a weekend and laughs at the rest of the world with hearty approbation.
Yet the Miller is too loud for the Reeve who wishes to tear him down with a tale bent on destroying the very thought of him, just as political correctness scorns those men who inhabit the heartland as ignorant and uncultured: a group of people only to be tolerated for inhabiting a sizable voting block as members of labor unions.
Then there is the Pardoner.
In The Canterbury Tales, this is the character most reviled by Chaucer. While his tale is, perhaps, the most polished, the one with the best moral, the parable that one remembers as well as any lauded populist’s stump speech, he is shown in the frame tale as the master manipulator that he is, the snake-oil salesman who pretends to ply his wares in the interest of others while only concerned about himself. He says that greed is bad, which it is, but then he uses guilt and fear for his own profit.
Can we guess which slick talking politician of today who focuses on class warfare, the peddling of ineffective policies, and the power of demagoguery for political points that the Pardoner called directly to my mind?
Well, let me give you a clue. It wasn’t Mitt Romney.
Yes, The Canterbury Tales is a valuable work of art with universal themes that remain timeless and worthy of exploration.
It is good to take lessons from literature.
Politics can be important, but this weekend I didn’t pay attention to any of it. Not the debate in which Newt Gingrich got a standing ovation for punching back at the media. Not the pundits who talked about Mitt’s lack of substance on the stump. Not the polls in a state where the governor long ago endorsed the business acumen of Romney, but the people seemed to prefer another option.
I didn’t listen to the broo-ha-ha about Iowa in which a handful of votes has been turned into some sort of landslide upset. I didn’t scan the exit polling that showed the former speaker of the house putting his name on the board, and I definitely didn’t tune into ABC’s airing of that same speaker’s dirty laundry.
While I care passionately about the presidential election, this weekend, I was focused on doing more important things with my time.
You see, my son is a senior in high school. He plays rugby. His team needed chaperones to go on a tournament, and my husband and I volunteered to help out.
In one of two white vans packed tight with equipment, snack food, and rugby players who like to collide into one another on a regular basis for entertainment, we drove up I-85, straight through the Palmetto State in the heat of its primary contest, and into the heart of North Carolina.
For more than four hours one way, I listened to the chatter of testosterone-driven teenagers, which is similar at times to the chatter of the political classes: always passionate and opinionated whether or not anyone’s actually saying anything that moves the conversation forward.
Even so, under strict instructions to not act embarrassing, I bit my tongue when the boys commandeered the radio and blared Eminem at one thousand decibels. My ears had started bleeding, but I laughed out loud when another not-a-slim-shady-fan held his head as if in pain and yelled out to no one in particular, “We get it, Marshall Mathers! You grew up in a trailer park!” Continuing to echo my own silent sentiments about suffering through the classless music, he added, “It’s like I’m in Guantanamo Bay, people!”
But we endured the popular man of the moment until the crowd lost interest again. Oh, I was grateful—and amused--when someone else suggested we go in an entirely different direction and put in the reliably solid sounds of Johnny Cash instead.
So later I stood in the pouring rain and watched my boys in the heat of their contests: scrumming, mauling, driving heads straight into the ground. They had had a couple of great wins the weekend previous, so perhaps they had driven to the Carolinas a bit overconfident. Regardless, hubris turned into humility when their faces got rammed hard into the mud.
Come to think of it, our tournament turned out to be a bit like Romney’s interaction with Dixie voters. Not quite pleasant.
Sometimes you lose.
Rugby and politics are not sports for the meek.
In the early stages of the season, it only matters in the long run if you don’t learn from a defeat, if you don’t get back up and charge on.
As the radio got re-cranked--and I endured four more hours in a van with half a rugby team that hadn’t yet showered steaming up the windows—I might have thought a little bit about the Republican primary.
Of course, I wouldn’t have missed watching my kid for any politician’s race, but I’m looking ahead to seeing what will happen in Florida.
It’s anyone’s game, I think, and no one plays rugby on Tuesdays.
This primary season has changed cocktail party chatter. Surely to the horror of Emily Post, talk at social events these days is drifting more often into the forbidden territory of politics and religion. For many, this first topic has always inspired as much fervor as the second. For others, the second defines one’s appropriate response to the first.
Regardless of which type of person you are on a Saturday night—political junkie or evangelical Christian--with a man like Mitt Romney making his way onto the top of the Republican ticket, you’re bound to eventually engage in a conversation about what it might mean to have a Mormon as a president.
After all, if people get a bit ideological about the big D or R on their voter registration cards, they get downright narrow when it comes to questions of salvation. So in a country with a strong Judeo-Christian foundation, they find comfort in knowing the guy in charge is at least in their same book, if not on the same page.
Of course, President Obama still isn’t a member of a church. He has derided people for “clinging” to religion. Before it hurt him in the polls, he followed the preaching of that Jeremiah Wright fellow who was certainly a radical something. But Mormonism feels a bit stranger than even a leftist intellectual who at least knows how to look the proper part in the pew he occupies on Easter Sunday.
You see, everyone knows an Obama type: that run-of-the-mill American man whose acknowledgement of God makes him acceptable to others, even while others understand that same guy will skip a sermon to take in a round of golf whenever he’s landed a good tee time. He still puts up Christmas lights in December, occasionally takes communion, and can produce photographs of himself standing with his head solemnly bowed at his children’s baptisms.
So this begs the following questions.
Can journalists even take a picture of Mitt Romney at a Mormon service? Don’t Mormons stop the rest of us from going inside parts of their churches? Isn’t there a “veil” of some sort hiding how they worship?
It’s probably not politically correct to say it, but that sort of secrecy about what is supposed to be a Christian religion feels downright weird to other Christians. It makes one wonder what Mormons are doing in Temple Square. The inability to find out gives new meaning to the phrase “lack of transparency.”
But I propose now that, while interesting, those questions are mere diversions. The one that matters is, can we as a nation believe in the leadership of a Mormon?
Seeking an answer, I look to see how people have historically addressed uncertainty about the faiths of political candidates. After all, despite the American tradition that separates church and state—that throws out a religious “litmus test” for leaders—I know questioning a prospective president’s religion is nothing new.
For instance, Thomas Jefferson was maligned as being an atheist. It’s a matter of record that our third president traveled down various roads of belief, including those signposted with deism, which eventually led him to a rather unorthodox Christianity. (For one thing, he didn’t believe fully in the concept of the trinity.)
Then there was Abraham Lincoln who was called an “infidel” when running for Congress in 1846. Our sixteenth president had a complex spiritual existence, which makes the details of his belief difficult to discern, but it is certainly true that the adult Lincoln was never affiliated with a particular faith.
And then let us not forget JFK because he draws the clearest parallels to Romney. As a Catholic, Kennedy was accused of being part of a cult. Enemies said he would become a papal puppet. At the least, his faith was widely viewed with suspicion.
Yet religion did not interfere with the administrations of Jefferson, Lincoln or Kennedy. In actuality, all of these men have almost hagiographic legacies written in American history, and they are widely respected by both political junkies and the religious who take the time to study them.
Therefore, when waxing philosophical on the question of Romney and religion, I understand I need to look to the man’s policy proposals when deciding whether or not to vote for him. For my part, I will advise friends at cocktail parties to look to John Locke’s famous axiom: “The care of every man’s soul belongs to himself.”
As long as any future president honors the same for me, I can lift my glass to him.
The Iowa caucuses are over, and Mitt Romney has finished first.
In my estimation this is a good thing, even though I admire Rick Santorum who was able to surge into an almost tie after having been ignored for much of the primary.
You see, while I am very sympathetic to many of the social issues Senator Santorum has highlighted in his campaign—for instance, I am unapologetically pro-life and am glad he has championed that cause—the battle lines in the general election will be drawn around the economy.
On that front, I am more impressed by a Harvard MBA with executive experience than a senator’s heartfelt social convictions. I suspect the out of work, the underemployed, and the underwater will also care the most about their money when voting in November.
Here it seems undeniable that Mitt Romney is more unassailable than Rick Santorum.
Unlike almost every other contender for the Republican nomination, Romney is a former governor. This gives him a distinct advantage over the senator from Pennsylvania (or the congressman from Texas who placed third in Iowa), as it means he’s developed a skill set in management that better coincides with the job description for commander-in-chief.
Unlike a legislator, a governor must set his state’s spending priorities. A good governor pushes a fiscal agenda through his state’s congress, and--in contrast to President Barack Obama who has often relegated the task of defining a vision for America’s fiscal future to others--Romney has shown he can act like the CEO he once was when it comes to the politics of economics. After all, in a notoriously liberal state, Romney was able to forward conservative ideas to stimulate business. I see that as an impressive feat of leadership.
In fact, I found it especially telling to hear Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, derisively say on January 4 in response to the Iowa caucus results that the only “conviction [Romney] has is to boost corporate America.”
I answer emphatically, “Exactly.”
It seems to me, while some Republicans (however nobly) focus on issues that are not necessarily in play during this election--and the Democrats continue to engage in class warfare that paralyzes the economy--Romney could follow through on that laser sharp corporate conviction he’s accused of having, and we could capably contend with the most pressing business at hand: getting Americans back to work, my bottom line.
The Feminist Movement has a long and interesting history that has been written by many women who are greater than I will ever be. Partially because of that movement, I grew up understanding that my voice is as loud as my brother’s. I have never been told I am limited simply because of my gender. I have always had choices, and that is a beautiful thing.
However, there is another side to all this “choice” that warrants discussion.
Not that long ago, I ran into a friend of mine who has three gorgeous children as well as a demanding job as a lawyer. She is ebullient, smart, and ambitious, and I am certain she is capable of making partner at her firm if that’s the path she chooses.
Yet our conversation took a familiar turn when she acknowledged it is difficult to balance professional pursuits and parenting. The expectations that are put upon modern women to achieve that perfect balance can feel a bit crushing. Per the blurred roles many women now play, there is a tug that constantly pulls on a woman’s spirit, that can rip her apart if that pull becomes a tug-of-war on her time and emotional resources.
This brings me to the great lie ultra-feminists seem to have established as the gold standard for which we must all aspire. When we are young, we are told we can have everything, but how is this possible? Most of us are not wonder women. We cannot bend time. We must choose one stage on which we’ll star, or we must accept we will play supporting roles that don’t come with top billing.
Intellectually, I think women know this is truth. Emotionally they often feel that when they can’t do it all, they are less than everyone else. Forget the professional glass ceilings that are inevitable for women who in their prime earning years choose to interrupt careers with the duties of child rearing. Forget the men they say get in their way when they want to move forward. Women judge themselves much more harshly than men ever could, and they also judge other women.
As my lawyer friend pointed out to me, this is clearly evident at her Cobb County bus stop where women who work and women who don’t show up in their respective suits or slippers to send their children off to school most mornings. The suits stand on one side of the curb. The slippers stand on the other.
Perhaps in those wee morning hours, the working moms are dismissively thinking as Hillary Clinton once said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession…”
At the same time, perhaps the stay-at-home moms feel superior as they know they will be back at the bus stop in the afternoon, and they will provide the snacks and supervision for some of those latchkey kids, who crave adult attention that they simply won’t get from their own parents,
Who is better? Suits or slippers?
Now that’s a loaded question.
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the bus stop divide, and I know the choice to work outside the home or not, is never clear-cut. Sometimes finances determine this choice, especially in a downturned economy. Sometimes a special circumstance such as a special needs child makes pursuing a profession more difficult.
So when I asked friends this question—which choice is more valid--regardless of their household circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when many of them came clean about feeling judged for whichever life they’d chosen and resenting women in the opposite position.
One said, “I’m sick to death of hearing stay-at-home moms say they’re tired.” But another noted when she worked in an office, she felt she had more time to sit down and gather her thoughts, so working outside the house was easier in her opinion than the constant treadmill lifestyle of catering to kids, making contributions to her family that she felt were as valid as her husband’s paycheck.
This all brings me back to those feminists.
I understand mothers who work in and outside the home are the same in that both are working. Both must prioritize in their lives, and both are often left questioning whether or not what they are doing is the right thing for themselves or for their families.
Neither one can do it all.
Perhaps instead of staring quietly at each other across the bus stop divide as if suits or slippers signify different tribes, women should have more open and honest conversations about the implications of the choices we all must make and how these choices truly impact us and our society. Perhaps through mutual respect, we could even find a way to help each other.
After all, I believe we should embrace the choices feminism has opened up for us, but we should also understand that reality shows us choices are inevitable.
If we don’t accept this truth, we will never feel whole, as we will always be torn in two by none other than ourselves.
In the end, that’s far worse than being judged by someone else.
As our flags go down over Iraq and surge troops pack to leave Afghanistan, I cannot help but think about that other war to which our current entanglements in the Middle East are so often compared. I especially worry that while President Barrack Obama is keeping campaign promises to antiwar activists that the United States might inadvertently inflict damage on allies who must continue to live in regions we evacuate long after we’re gone. After all, this is exactly what happened to the Hmong in Laos after Vietnam. To add insult to injury, not only were these allies abandoned for political reasons, most Americans have never even heard of them.
Even so, originating in the mountainous regions of China, the tribal Hmong people have a long history that extends more that 2,000 years. They moved south to escape brutal Chinese oppression at the beginning of the 19 th century. There they were subject to new influences, as Laos became a French protectorate in 1893. In the first half of the 20 th century, Hmong clans would fall on different sides of the “Free Lao” movement, which would further complicate their modern history.
Regardless, in 1961, one of these Hmong factions led by Vang Pao, a Royal Lao Army officer, answered the call of the CIA under President John F. Kennedy to open a secret front designed to resist the advance of communism. Armed by the United States to be guerillas in Laos and working as spies who gave safe haven to American pilots shot down over the jungle, these Hmong valiantly fought for American interests for more than a decade.
Unfortunately, the Hmong decision to ally with the United States would prove to be a costly one. Apparently unconcerned about the consequences that were inevitable for any American allies abandoned in the region, Congress stopped funding the war effort in Vietnam in 1975. For many of the Hmong, this political action of “friends” in Washington meant exile or death was soon to follow.
In fact, many Hmong were simply shot and killed by the triumphant Pathet Lao communists. Soldiers who had served with Vang Pao were sent to “re-education” centers where they suffered through hard labor and starvation. Hmong peasants who remained in the hills were (and are) subjected to political indoctrination “seminars” and forced labor collectivization.
All of this gave rise to refugee camps that still exist on the Thai border, which is where I first encountered the Hmong. In the 21 st century, those Hmong who are in these camps live in a perpetual no man’s land without hope of entering Thai society, kept under tight military scrutiny, and frightened of taking their children back to Laos.
For this reason, many Hmong are still granted political asylum to live in the United States, and there is even a Hmong community in the Atlanta area. In light of our current withdrawals, it’s ironic that Vang Pao, the complicated but revered leader of the Hmong who continued to work for his people while in exile, just passed away in 2011.
Of course, I know the United States can never leave troops in any one country forever, and President George W. Bush created our withdrawal date in Iraq. However, I cannot help but be concerned about the political machinations that seem to have infiltrated military decisions in the Middle East because I know—while liberals at home may think they’re doing something wonderful for the people we leave behind—if we are not careful, we will create new misery and hardship for those who bravely partnered with us to build better futures in their countries. To prove this point I only need to remember the Hmong.
Rising to prominence in the wake of a power vacuum after years of devastating war in the late twentieth century, the Taliban derives its name from a plural version of the Arabic word talib or student because it was first controlled by disaffected youths educated in Pakistani madrassas.
An extremist group of radical Islamist militants, the Taliban has forced members of minority religions within Afghanistan to wear tags to identify themselves as non-Muslims, instituted medieval punishments such as stoning and amputation for petty crimes, outlawed free speech and education for women who are now treated by Taliban men as less than chattel, sanctioned murder, and reigned with uplifted fists closed as iron tight around guns as any Nazi fascist’s in the dark days of Hitler. The Taliban has openly harbored terrorists, killed American soldiers, and brutalized local populations with a totalitarian mindset focused on restoring an absolutist (and ideally global) caliphate in which human rights are secondary to an ideology built upon a terrifying zealotry.
Yet President Obama announced as part of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, our country is about to “reconcile [with] the Afghan people, including the Taliban.” Furthermore, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, “You end wars, unfortunately, by talking with people whose interests and values are very much opposite of yours."
Is it common practice to leave a political entity with different interests and values, which many in the United States consider evil, standing in a country after they have been brought militarily to their knees? If so, why bother to go to war to topple them from power in the first place? Why did we follow a policy of deNazification after World War II? Why did Allied powers occupy Japan for seven years after an unconditional surrender that required a new constitution be written? How were those countries rebuilt in a more Western image when we certainly did not initially share the same ideals?
I understand that Afghanistan is a complex and multilayered political problem for the Obama administration. The years of war under Bush were no less frustrating. I also must acknowledge we have achieved part of our mission by destabilizing al-Qaida in the region and killing Osama bin Laden. However, if we are to claim any moral authority — or to seek any long-term solutions in what has long been a troubled country — it seems nonsensical to pretend the Taliban, which can’t be ignored ever again, can be moderated now through diplomacy.
Rather, if any move towards freedom or enlightenment or human dignity is ever to be made — those things we portend to uphold — a malicious group like this one, which is not even as old as I am, must be disabled, disbanded, destroyed before it takes deeper root. Period.