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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

My parents are rolling over in their graves.

Where are we going? Is that light up ahead growing dim?

A new standard operating procedure has emerged in the Republican Party: that of contesting results of what all know to have been legitimate political elections. If, that is, the Republican candidate fails to win. 


If a Democrat is elected to Congress, for instance, state election results are challenged, even where the sitting Governor and election officials are themselves Republicans. Lawsuits are filed, recounts demanded. No evidence of fraud is necessary. It is enough for a Republican to lose a political race for the party to spring into action, claiming suspicion of fraud, where said suspicion comes most often from baseless rumors claimants have themselves disseminated. (We all know the originator of this vicious practice, so there is no need to mention his name.) Indeed, such challenges are planned in advance of elections, contingent upon the results. 


Nor are partisan grievances confined to legal challenges. Ordinary voting citizens, stirred up by their party’s public statements and shenanigans, first mutter and then shout. Election officials receive threats, and across the country many of these honest, hard-working, experienced overseers of the democratic process are resigning. Some fear for their lives. Or fear a minor, innocent, technical error could result in crushing personal debt under new state laws. Others have simply had enough.


It’s hard not to see this loathesome practice as a long-range strategy aiming to put an end to free elections in the United States of America.

How anyone can remain loyal to a party behaving so reprehensibly and talk about its “principles” is way beyond me. My parents’ Republican party has turned away from principle, from conscience, from decency, and from the American way of life. If you couldn’t see it from the way the Speaker of the House treated President Obama, what do you say now, those of you who continue to call yourselves “conservative”? And please explain to me how undermining the democratic bedrock of our country – one citizen, one vote, all to be fairly counted – fits into any conservative agenda worthy of the name?

Moreover, hideous as this new political reality is, it doesn't stop at our shores. Would-be dictators and tyrants around the world are taking a tip from the new American playbook. Once again, we are leading the world -- this time, in a nightmare direction. Sometimes the light at the end of a tunnel is an oncoming, high-speed train.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Hearts Are Breaking All Around

Cloudy with slingshots

 I’m old enough to remember (though I was certainly not of voting age) the presidential race that pitted John Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Then as always, Americans on both sides of the political fence had strong feelings about their candidate and their candidate’s opponent. Remarks about opponents were not always generous or kind. There were some bad jokes and cartoons. But never in that time did I see signs in front yards that would, if featured in a movie today, have brought an “R” rating for language. 


Now, almost a year past the 2020 campaign, remaining signs and flags have become only more vile in their wording. What is it like, I ask myself, for young parents whose children have begun to read and ask the meaning of some of those loathsome words and proclamations?


Politics is never only politics, and the nastier it gets, the wider the ramifications. A neighbor and I can differ on fiscal policy or foreign policy or even what constitutes strong education, but when I drive past a house (none in my immediate neighborhood this nasty, thank heaven!) and meet with language that is like a middle finger raised in my face, my pleasure in beautiful natural surroundings is given a slap in the face.


Community. Neighborliness. Goodwill. Fair play. Graceful, gracious losing. How many of us have had our faith in those notions undermined in the past six years or more? What message are schoolchildren receiving when their parents protest against masks and at the same time scream that the answer to violence is more guns?


When death came to Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, or Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce, in 1904, after the death of all his family and the loss of their homeland, the Colville Reservation physician reported that he had died of a broken heart. 


Philosopher Henri Bergson died on January 4, 1941, during the Nazi Occupation of much of France, including Paris, his health already poor, but you will never convince me that his death was due to anything other than a broken heart. 


These days Americans of all races and religions and political affiliations are going around with breaking hearts. Will there be an end to this in my lifetime?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

My Inner Editor’s Irritation (Over Admittedly Little Things)

In the early pages of The Midnight Library, a bestselling novel by Matt Haig, I screech to a frustrated halt on page 8. The character Neil “joined his hands together and made a steeple of his index fingers, which he placed under his chin, as if he was Confucius….” But he is clearly not the long-dead Chinese philosopher, so the subjunctive is called for in the sentence, which should read “as if he were Confucius,” and I’m mildly annoyed. 


A couple more flubbed opportunities to use the subjunctive correctly come along – and then, suddenly, on page 16, the author snaps into his grammar garb: “As Nora escaped the shop, she wished there were nothing but doors ahead of her…,” and I want to cheer! Too soon! We return to ragged error at the very next grammatical crossroads.


Then on page 25, a new demon rears its head. As Nora enters and begins to explore the magical Midnight Library, she is staggered by her surroundings. 


She turned down one of the aisles and stopped to gaze in bafflement at the seemingly endless amount of books


And once more my inner copyeditor screams out in pain. No, no, no! It is the number of books that astounds our Nora! Books can be counted, as can people. (A “large number of people” assembled for the event, not a “large amount of people.”) Sugar is measured in amounts (teaspoons, cups, pounds, etc.), as is sand and gravel -- also liquids, such as water or milk – and I have to say here that even the Word grammar-checker (not always my best friend) caught this blunder, double-underlining the word ‘amount’ in that sentence quoted.


And this is Viking, a Penguin Random House imprint, Viking, founded in 1925, that calls itself “a legendary imprint” on its own web pageI will continue reading the story but hope not to be amazed by the copyeditors’ oversights on page after page.

Of course, if I were seriously editing my own copy here for publication between hard covers, I'd eliminate this blizzard of italics. And that quote set in the middle of the page that's only two lines long, rather than three lines, is a boo-boo, too. A blog, however, is much more casual, more apt to let the author's voice go unedited.

Postscript: I finished the book and enjoyed it despite its flaws -- and despite having seen well in advance how it was going to end.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

If This Offends You, Too Bad

I have completely had it with snark. 


A prime example of what I mean by snark is saying that so-and-so (someone with whom you disagree) “drank the Kool-Aid.” This is supposed to be clever, but what are you really saying? 


Just this (my translation): “You are so gullible! You’d fall for anything! How can anyone be so stupid?” In other words, it is neither a counter-argument nor a rebuttal. It’s nothing but an insult. 


And before you or I go any further on this road, let me say that I’ve heard it from opposing sides of almost every current argument in our country, and I detest the expression and its message regardless of any position taken by the speaker. Masks, medicine, religion, patriotism, politics, science – in all these arenas and more, snark rears its ugly smarter-than-thou head. What does a speaker hope to accomplish with snark? Hope to change someone’s mind? Not gonna happen. Just want to vent your feelings? Yeah, you’re doing that, I guess, but aren’t you still stuck with those same feelings after you’ve put someone else down? Desire to show you’ve “taken a stand”? You could take a stand and still express it -- if not with empathy for those who disagree – in an open, welcoming manner. 


Just my thoughts. If being snarky makes you feel smarter, you’ll keep doing it. Just know that if you’re already on my side of an argument, I’m embarrassed by having you next to me, and if you’re part of my opposition -- on any topic -- you’re not winning my heart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

If I Were Really, Really Paranoid


Ah, yes, paranoia. For something as serious as genuine paranoia is, we toss the word around pretty casually. "Did that guy give me a really weird look?" "Oh, don't be so paranoid!" I'm going in a different direction today, though....

To continue: I am not saying that conspiracies absolutely do not exist, just that they are rarer than theories of conspiracies and therefore usually not the best explanation but one we should resist until evidence becomes overwhelming. Think Occam's razor. A conspiracy is never a simple explanation (but the world is not always simple, is it?), if only because (1) it involves many people, and (2) it depends on their keeping their mouths shut. A ring of bank robbers may conspire to commit a crime, but if one is caught and offered a deal for informing on the others, chances are good he'll take the deal. A group of Wall Street crooks may conspire to game the system for their own advantage, but if even one of them discovers a conscience, they can all go tumbling down. And, of course, discovery after the fact is pretty common. 

So just to be clear, I'm not launching any conspiracy theories here. I'm only saying that if I were really, really paranoid I would think, for example, that all these protests and lawsuits against masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were really a conspiracy to drive school teachers out of the profession, scare parents into pulling their kids out of school, and destroy public education

For another example, if I were really, really paranoid I would think that all these election recounts and recalls (like the one in California) are not expressions of doubt in the process at all but merely an underground campaign -- a conspiracy -- to bankrupt state coffers and destroy government by the people

But here's the thing: we don't need organized groups of conspirators to bring about these consequences. There doesn't have to be any kind of conspiracy at all. It only takes enough people taking action without thinking about likely unintended consequences. Sometimes (and this is scary) the very action people take to prevent a certain outcome increases the odds that it will happen. 

Is there a right-wing conspiracy to destroy public education and government by the people (or only the U.S. postal service)? Or is it just that those very real dangers would be "side effects" rather than the "cure" they hope to achieve?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Instead of Victory, Defeat, or Compromise, or, Beyond Robert's Rules


My first two years in graduate school, one of my best friends was a woman from one of Africa’s oldest countries. She and I were roughly the same age (that is, older than most of our fellow students), and both of us were mothers, but in many other ways our lives, including our undergraduate educations, had been different. She had read philosophers I had not yet encountered, and vice versa. Consequently, we had wonderful long talks on every conceivable subject.


Once on a long road trip (we were traveling to a philosophy conference), I realized that our philosophical arguments took a form somewhat unusual for those in our discipline, even students. We would start on opposite sides of an issue, taking polar positions, but it was rare (if it ever happened at all) that one of us would triumph over the other. Listening closely and questioning just as closely, repeatedly one of us would concede a point to the other until, resolved on agreement, we had come to a third position neither of us had held or even initially considered.


Why don’t I call this compromise? 


Because neither of us gave up anything we cherished. What each gave up along the way were some of our original, contingently held beliefs that had come to be recognized, in the course of mutual exploration, as inferior -- or at least inadequate -- to support a respective initial position. There was no “Oh, all right then!” about it. No giving up in defeat. Both of us were more than satisfied with what we achieved by our newly constructed final position. And this happened over and over. 


Another feature I should mention is that our initially opposed positions were much simpler than the final position we constructed in agreement. Over and over, we realized that the question was “more complicated” than either of us had realized before we explored it together. 


I keep thinking about these arguments -- or explorations, or discussions, or conversations, or whatever you want to call them -- as those graduate school experiences may relate to hotly contended political issues, local and national. We human beings, it seems, want so badly for questions to have simple answers: yes or no, right or wrong, win or lose, this or that. What if the best outcome isn’t majority rule (one side winning and the other losing) or compromise (both sides getting some of what they want and giving up other parts) but a whole new position or solution or plan?


One local Northport issue is that of short-term rentals: Allow or disallow? I like what one Northporter has suggested: “‘Perhaps this is an opportunity to craft ‘a more perfect union,’ a Northport Neighbors type paradigm.”


Another issue is the RV park/campground: For or against? Personally, I like the idea but am concerned about the size. Here again, another Northporter suggested a third choice: smaller overall development, with fewer RV sites, more tent sites, a few rental cabins insulated and heated so they would work in winter as well as summer, cross-country trails – in short, fewer people and a lower environmental impact. Sounded good to me.


Rarely does one size fit all, and local control means each community working out what best fits their wants and needs.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Life in a Small Village: Errors of Youth and Age

“It’s a public street! Anyone can park there all day, and it's not illegal!” 


True, but parking in front of someone else’s business all day, rather than parking in one of the several lots around the village, can be a serious inconvenience to the business owner and to his or her customers or clients. Actions can be inconsiderate without being illegal.


Many errors of youth result from inexperience. The young, after all, have never been old! On the other hand, errors of age can easily result from forgetting what it was like to be young. 


If we explain calmly and gently, in a friendly manner, to a young person why something they’re doing is working against us, aren’t we more likely to find a receptive audience? All too often, though, an offended old person simply launches instead into a tirade about the inconsiderateness of youth. (A perennial topic throughout human history!)


Will a gentle correction really work? Not always, of course. It seems to be human nature that most of us -- at any age -- are embarrassed to be wrong about anything or to hurt someone unwittingly, and embarrassment easily gives rise to defensiveness that comes out in anger. But isn’t the angry “correction” much more likely to be met with defensive anger? 


In a small village, pretty much everything becomes personal after a while, and just as happens in a family, daily proximity alone can sometimes be an irritant. Consideration for each other can be a soothing ointment and keep us all happier if we apply it more often.