A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, December 31, 2018

Some Good Things Happened in 2018! (Didn't They?)

I have only posted six blog posts in 2018, which is probably a reflection of how much I hated politics this year. President Trump seems to suck up all the oxygen in the political atmosphere and turn it in to toxic smoke. Ugh. November's Blue Wave in the House of Representatives brought hope, but the Senate is still going to go along with Trump's agenda and the next two years will probably just be a proxy for 2020 presidential campaigns. Sigh.

A picture to sum up 2018 in a nutshell!
But, some good things did come of 2018! So, sit back and relax while we talk about something really important: Me. LOL. Here are my 18 good things from 2018.

18) Spent time at the Happiest Place on Earth (TM). I spent two weeks in January teaching a work training to college new hires for my company. Luckily, it took place in Orlando and on our partially free weekend the company gave us a "park hopper" pass to visit the Disney Parks. So, I got to ride Space Mountain and visit Epcot. It had been a long time since I visited Disney. Still need to make it to the Harry Potter park!
Me at Disney!!!!!!!!!!!
17) First trip to Nashville. I was in town for just over 24 hours for a work presentation - just enough time to try Hattie B's Hot Chicken, a Nashville staple.
16) Annual trip to see the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin in DC. This has become a yearly tradition - I usually go on a morning around sunrise to see all the blossoms without the huge crowds. It is so beautiful!
Cherry Blossoms at Tidal Basin
15) Got my culture on! Attempted to paint a watercolor at a Relief Society event. Don't be too impressed - they had us trace the picture in wax, which made it easy to fill in. Also made a centerpiece celebrating 10 years of the Best Book Club Ever!

Book Club Centerpiece, featuring books we've read over 10 years
14) Attended a live taping of my favorite podcast, The West Wing Weekly. This was so fun - they even had Bradley Whitford, an actor who plays one of my favorite characters, as a guest. #nerd
13) Tried new cooking skills. Made orange curd for the first time (as filling for a friend's requested birthday cake), baked chocolate baguettes for Cookbook Club, made chicken pot pie for a Pi Day celebration, and made Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna) for Father's Day. Also baked over 300 mini cupcakes for my brother and sister-in-law's wedding reception (first and last time I will ever do that!).
331 mini cupcakes, with six different flavors!
12) Visited the Frick Collection in NYC for the first time - it's a classy little museum, and we saw an exhibit of paintings of the twelve tribes of Israel by Zubaran.
Central Atrium at the Frick
11) Tried to appreciate nature more - visited a little rainwater pond near my house that I hadn't been to before and tried to capture the beauty.

Love the reflection of the clouds in the water!
10) Visited the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, which features a cast iron statute by Augustus Saint Gaudens commonly known as "Grief." It was a favorite place of Eleanor Roosevelt when she was first lady, and since I have been slowly reading her biography I wanted to visit. While I've lived in the DC area for a long time, I still love finding out about random and interesting places to see here.
9) Rediscovered the joys of ocean swimming. A trip to North Carolina for a co-worker's wedding provided an opportunity to swim in the ocean, something I enjoy but haven't done in years.

8) Participated in the "March for Our Lives" against gun violence and the "Families Belong Together" rally to protest separation of immigrant children from their parents. While both marches didn't really accomplish much in terms of concrete action, it was still great to see so many people committing to causes I strongly support.

7) Visited Portland for the first time to see my friend Jenny. So many things to love about this city, not least of which is Powell's Rare Book room and Voodoo doughnuts. Also made it out to Cannon Beach on the coast, which is magical. Oregon generally is green and beautiful - loved exploring near Multnomah Falls and the Japanese Gardens and Rose Garden in Portland.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
6) Went to my second Diner En Blanc. Though the venue wasn't ideal, it was still fun to see everyone and see all the great costumes.

Dinner En Blanc, Nats Stadium
5) Temple Tourism. Due to the closure of the DC temple for renovations, I visited some temples in other places as I traveled. Specifically, I did temple sessions at temples in Orlando, Philadelphia, Seattle, Birmingham, and Newport Beach. So glad that there are so many temples around the country that I can visit and feel the spirit there.

Birmingham, AL at night

Newport Beach, CA

Philadelphia, PA

Orlando, FL

4) Road trip to Alabama and Mississippi. I had intended to do a separate and complete post on how amazing this trip was, but never got around to it. Suffice it to say, you should really visit the civil rights sites in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama.
MLK's church in Montgomery, AL
3) Activity Days and Primary. I joined a family ward this year, and have enjoyed helping with Activity Days (weeknight activities for girls 8-11) and teaching a Primary class for the 10-12 year old girls. It's been fun to be around kids on a regular basis. They're fun and funny and unpredictably lovely.
2) Went to my brother's wedding in Newport Beach, California at the end of November. It was phenomenal to all be together as a family - first time in 2-3 years all my siblings and parents had all been in the same place at the same time. Plus, my brother and new sister-in-law were so happy and full of joy.
1) I got a dog! I've been wanting to do this for a while and am so glad that I finally did. She is cute and cuddly and wags her tail when I come home, which makes me feel happy. Unconditional love is where it's at, my friends.

I hope you each ring out 2018 with friends, family, fun, and food. Here's wishing you the best in 2019!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Justice and Jane Austen in the #MeToo Era

There's a line that has been running through my mind from Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice this weekLet me start with some context from the novel. During a conversation where Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennett, Elizabeth accuses Darcy of (among other things) separating her sister Jane from Jane's love interest, Mr. Bingley. Darcy writes her a letter to respond to her charges, stating that he had carefully observed Jane and Bingley together and was convinced Jane wasn't in love, so he did in fact convince Bingley to desert Jane. He writes:

That I was desirous of believing [Jane] indifferent is certain- but I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears. I did not believe her to be indifferent because I wished it;- I believed it on impartial conviction, as truly as I wished it in reason. (emphasis added)

Essentially what Darcy is saying is that his own desire for something to be true did not influence his conclusion that it was true. Except, this is not what happened. His own preconceived notions did influence his perception of reality and caused him to make a grave error of judgement. Jane and Bingley actually are in love, and he has deceived himself into thinking that this is not the case.

What possible relevance could this novel plot point have to today's news? Well, you may have heard a little bit about the man nominated to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and the women who have accused him of sexual assault. On Thursday, one of his accusers, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified in a Senate hearing that Kavanaugh assaulted her at some point in the early 1980s [Note 1]. Kavanaugh also testified at this same hearing that this accusation was untrue.

Right now, we find ourselves in a situation where one of these people is lying or mistaken. Both stories cannot be true - either Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, or he did not. While I've been following the news coverage, today was the first day I had a chance to actually watch the opening statements made by both parties.

Now that I have watched the hearings, I feel like I can confidently compare Senate Republicans to Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Literally one day after the testimony of Ford and Kavanaugh, Senate Republicans chose their side: they chose to believe Kavanaugh over Ford. They have convinced themselves that their desire to believe him did not influence their decision, but I think this is incorrect.

Republicans have railed against Democrats bringing this up too late in the process, to which I say: "so what?" I fully concede that the Democrats have handled this wrong - there are ways that they could have brought this up earlier and still maintained Ford's requested (and deserved) confidentiality. But THAT IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT ARGUMENT TO HAVE. To quote Mandy on The West Wing, "You are fighting the wrong fights and you're doing it for the wrong reasons." That process argument is important, but the more important point is: did Kavanaugh sexually assault Ford? By railing against Democrats for being political, you are sidestepping the salient point, which is: who do you believe?

Even this part of the story has parallels to Pride and Prejudice - in the same part of the book, Elizabeth accuses Darcy of further misconduct towards her friend Wickham, but Darcy is actually in the clear - it is Wickham who has wronged him. Similarly, the Republicans could be COMPLETELY right about the Democrats playing politics, but it doesn't absolve them of the responsibility to seriously examine Ford's claims and not just confirm Kavanaugh because they agree with his politics.

Watching the statements today, I can understand Kavanaugh's anger if he is falsely accused. However, we owe it to Ford and sexual assault survivors everywhere to treat claims seriously, even if corroborating evidence isn't available. I found both witnesses compelling and emotional, but I ultimately believe Ford. Some of the reasons, in no particular order:

- Who has more reason to lie? I think that is important to note here. Kavanaugh wants a job as a Supreme Court justice, Ford wanted anonymity and has not sought the spotlight. Kavanaugh has a much greater incentive to be dishonest. Ford does not seem to fit the pattern of those types of people who make false claims of assault. If the Senate does not confirm Kavanaugh, Trump will likely nominate another conservative to replace Kavanaugh who would likely vote similarly. I really don't think Democrats are going to take the Senate - and if they do, I think they should vote on whoever Trump picks (*cough* Merrick Garland *cough*).
- "I went to Yale" does not strike me as a great defense - plenty of people who go to Ivy League colleges are Grade A jerks. I wasn't a fan of Kavanaugh citing this as part of his proof that he would never sexually assault someone. Several of his college friends have stated that he has mischaracterized his drinking habits in college - in other words, he lied. Kavanaugh seemed to me a bit entitled and egotistical (but hey, I assume most powerful people are).
- Ford has told numerous people over the past several years that she was sexually assaulted by a man who became a federal judge. This seems like a really long con on the off chance that Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court.
- Kavanaugh repeatedly referred to statements by friends that "refuted" Ford's testimony. Yet those statements merely provided that those individuals named do not remember the events. I don't recall parties that I attended last week, let alone decades ago. This does not prove or disprove either side.
- Many of my friends have worried that this will start an era where any allegation of sexual assault will completely ruin a man's reputation. I'm going to set aside that this prioritizes men's reputations over women's pain as survivors of sexual assault (which is a HUGE concern for me - I could write a whole 'nother post about it). I simply don't yet see this as a concern. None of these allegations have been brought forward against Neil Gorsuch, confirmed by the Senate just a year and a half ago. No allegations have surfaced against many other politicians and candidates. Instead, statistics suggest that the vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported, simply because women don't think they'll be be believed. President Trump can easily find another conservative who does not have these allegations against them.

These events make me worry about the message sent to survivors of sexual assault - are we saying that if you come forward, we will automatically believe the man? If we find both witnesses credible, how do we decide what to do? In baseball, there is a concept of "tie goes to the runner" - how do we handle this in a sexual assault context? Do we default to always believing the man? Or always believing the woman?

Ultimately, I can't say for certain what happened in 1982. After all, it was before I was born! But based on what I've seen, I think there is enough of a chance that Ford is telling the truth that I don't think we should put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading through what is, at best, a very lukewarm take on a hot button issue. Tune in next week, when I compare modern politics to Jane Eyre - everybody's got a crazy wife locked in their attic! [Note 2]

Note 1: Throughout, I will be referring to Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh by their last names. I mean no disrespect to either.
Note 2: Kidding. Mostly. Also, "spoilers" if you haven't read Jane Eyre. It's pretty great.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Believing Women

Reading this blog post got me thinking about stories in the bible where men fail to believe women. I recently got called as a primary teacher for the 11-12 year old girls in my ward. Last week, I taught my first lesson, which was Lesson #25 in the Primary 6 manual about Samson. Reading Judges 13-16, there is a lot there which is probably not appropriate to share with young girls (the whole Samson-gets-his-wife-killed-in-an-ethnic-war thing is PROBLEMATIC to say the least). 

One aspect of the story was something I had forgotten about. In Judges Chapter 13, Manoah's wife (Note 1) gets a visit from an Angel, who tells her that she's going to have a son, despite the fact that she's barren (Note 2). The Angel tells Mrs. Manoah that (a) her son will be a Nazarite (one dedicated to the Lord) and (b) her son is going to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The Angel also communicates how to care for the child - telling her not to drink strong drink while she is pregnant, and not to cut the child's hair. This is a pretty remarkable experience - the Angel appears to her alone and gives her some Pretty Important News that will impact not only her life, but the course of her entire nation.

Naturally, Mrs. Manoah communicates this to Mr. Manoah (Judges 13:6). Now, the text is unclear, because it doesn't actually contain any of the words that Manoah spoke to his wife. But his immediate reaction to the news is to pray and ask God what they should do with the child (Judges 13:8). What is clear is that at least he believes his wife is going to have a child - so I guess he *partially* believes her. But he somehow doesn't believe what they should do with the child (which, remember, the Angel told Mrs. Manoah!). So Manoah prays to God and asks what they should do.

At this point God hearkens to Manoah and sends the same Angel to...Mrs. Manoah! So rather than appear to Manoah in answer to his prayer, the Angel appears again to Mrs. Manoah. This time, she goes and gets her husband. It's important to note that when Manoah asks the Angel what they should do, the Angel says the same thing in verses 13-14 that he did in verse 7 back when he was speaking to Mrs. Manoah alone. In fact, the Angel specifically says "Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware" - basically, "Dude, I already told your wife this, but if you need to hear it from me, here you go."

What's interesting annoying about the LDS Primary Manual is that it asks this question: "When Manoah heard what the angel told his wife, what did he do that showed he had spiritual strength?" I mean, sure, it is important to pray and receive our own testimony. But to me, that isn't the key takeaway from this part of the story. My takeaway is that Manoah didn't trust his wife to receive spiritual revelation impacting the life of their child. So, needless to say, I did not ask this question during my lesson.

Manoah and his wife named their baby boy Samson, and he...had some issues. But that's another post, the moral of this post is: Believe Women! They have amazing spiritual experiences. Mrs. Manoah's experience has echos in the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist. Zechariah didn't believe Elizabeth, but at least Joseph did believe Mary (although...come to think of it, he did have an Angel appear to him to help him out too...). Seems like maybe men need some repetition over this message for the past few thousand years!

Note 1: Samson's mom isn't given a name in the text, though Wikipedia suggests it was either Hazelelponi or Aselelphuni. We'll just call her Mrs. Manoah. Interesting how women are so often defined in relation to the men in the story - which is why I'm excited I get to teach about Ruth and Naomi this week!
Note 2: It's always the *woman* who is barren. In reality, it's possible her husband was the infertile one. This is just a symptom of the larger point.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Woman's Hour

One childhood memory I have is being caught reading multiple times on the same night AFTER lights out. I don't remember what I was reading, but I do remember the secret thrill of re-opening the book, getting out a flashlight, and trying to squeeze out a few more minutes of reading. Adults often say that they don't have time for reading, which is true for me too, but every once in a while, a book comes along and sucks me in - when that happens, I usually have a compulsion to finish the book. At that point, all I can do is enjoy the ride and be grateful for great books.

That happened to me this weekend, when, amidst other things that I *should* have been doing, instead I read all 330 pages of "The Woman's Hour" by Elaine Weiss in less than 24 hours. It's a book about the battle to ratify the 19th Amendment in Tennessee in 1920. Remember, the 19th amendment is the one that "gave" women the vote. That passive phrasing belies the thousands of hours and hundreds of campaigns that women waged in order to get their rights.

Most Americans may learn a little bit about the suffrage movement during their high school American history course. They may learn about Susan B. Anthony and even Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But beyond that, we typically don't spend a lot of time discussing the suffrage movement. This book brings alive the characters and forces that shaped this moment in time. It's a gripping story with a lot of twists and turns - even though I knew the outcome, it kept me engaged right til the bitter end! It talked about the grand strategies and plans, but also had a lot of great details (Get Women the Vote was translated into the colors Green, White, and Violet).

Instead of another Transformers/Avengers/Fast & Furious movie, I started thinking about the fact that this book HAS TO BE MADE INTO A MOVIE. Or even a Netflix multi-episode series. Once I started thinking about that, I started to cast the movie/mini-series in my head. So, without further ado, here is my casting dream team for "The Woman's Hour" movie - if we start filming now, we can get it released during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment's ratification in 2020!

At the beginning of the story, three women are boarding trains - all headed to Nashville to fight their chosen battle, as Tennessee could be the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, thus enacting the amendment.

First up, Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA). This is a role that Meryl Streep was born to play, and she MUST DO IT.
Compare Carrie Chapman Catt's photo to Meryl Streep in the movie "Suffragette," and you'll agree this is fate
Our second train passenger is Sue White, a militant suffragette who was part of Alice Paul's radical "Women's Party" and was also a native of Tennessee. For this role, I'm casting Brie Larson - she's got to be tough and smart.
Brie Larsen / Sue White
The third train passenger is Josephine Pearson, head of the Anti-suffrage movement in Tennessee. It may shock you to know that there were many women who were against suffrage, but it's true. One of them was Josephine Pearson, an educator from southern Tennessee, who led the charge in 1920, and was *almost* successful. In my mind, Kathy Lee Bates would play this role with gusto and empathy to Pearson's concerns.
Kathy Lee Bates / Josephine Pearson
These three women converge for a multi-week battle during a hot summer in Tennessee. They are joined by loyal footsoldiers from the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, including:

- Catherine Kenney, a Catholic redhead who headed the Tennessee Women Voters' ratification committee. I see Amy Adams in this role.
- Anne Dudley, a society woman and mother who made suffrage socially acceptable, to be played by Felicity Jones.
- Betty Gram, who left a Broadway career to become a suffragette (and confronted and publicly shamed politicians who double crossed the movement). Jennifer Laurence can portray her.
- Juno Frankie Pierce, an African American suffrage leader who addressed the first meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters in the statehouse. This role is for Octavia Spencer.
- Anita Pollitzer, a veteran political operative who combed the hills of Tennessee to find out politicians' stances and convince them to vote for suffrage. Carey Mulligan would do a good Anita, I think.
- Nina Pickard, President of the Southern Women's Rejection League. Reese Witherspoon is from Alabama, and Nina was too, so this is meant to be.
- Charlotte Rowe, a professional anti-suffrage speaker who spoke out across Tennessee. I would love to see Allison Janney play this role.

These women have to contend with double crossing politicians, wily presidential candidates, journalists eager for sensationalism, and the racist/sexists attitudes of the times. I really like how this book places the fight in the historical context, and draws out the issues swirling around these women. While it focuses on the 1920 fight in Tennessee, the book also lays out the history of the movement, going back to the Seneca Falls Women's Rights convention in 1848. I also like that, while the book obviously talks about the male politicians and journalists, it focuses squarely on the women, and their gumption and determination.

Helen Mirren / Febb Burn
The last character I'll mention is Phoebe (Febb) Burn, who wrote a pivotal letter to her son, the youngest state legislator, urging him to "be a good boy and vote for suffrage." Febb was college educated, and ran the farm after her husband died, while raising her kids. (Spoiler alert) Her son, Harry Burn, the youngest state legislator, ended up casting a deciding vote in the Tennessee House for suffrage. My vote is for Helen Mirren to portray her in the movie. So, Netflix and Movie Studios - it's your move. Make this happen for me!!!!
Couldn't resist casting one of the men in the story - Harry Burns, to be played by Chris Pine

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Expecting Big Things

As you may or may not know, the LDS Church will have two new Apostles this weekend. The governing body of the church is the First Presidency (a President and two counselors), and 12 Apostles. The last time vacancies happened was in October 2015, when three new Apostles were called. To the surprise of some, all of the Apostles were white men* from Utah. This time, many are hoping that the new Apostles will be a bit more diverse. As the Church has grown over the past few decades, there are more international members than domestic members, yet the only non-American Apostle is German Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

This post is part of my thought process the last time new Apostles were called. I want to posit that maybe these white men are an opportunity for us to expect more of ourselves. This might just be me "making lemonade with my lemons," but some of the talk around diversity seems to think that only if the Quorum is ethnically diverse can they lead an ethnically diverse church. In a way, this expects very little of white people - it assumes that they cannot empathize or understand the struggles of people of color. 

What should we should ask of our leaders (and ourselves)? That they only represent or understand their own race? Or should we expect more? Maybe we should expect BIG THINGS - that they talk to and understand many viewpoints different from their own. We should expect them to reach out to everyone, to examine their own biases, and truly seek to know God's will. Taken to an extreme (and this is probably a straw man), it would mean that I as a white person would not be well represented by an African (or African American) prophet. That's bogus - I think we should expect more of our leaders. Empathizing with the experiences of others requires listening, and I think that skill transcends race.

All that being said, I am personally rooting for more diversity. I do think there are great benefits to have a more diverse leadership, and it would be healthy to have a bit more diversity of thought and experience in the Quorum of the Twelve. But, if it is two white men, I will be praying for them that they will seek to understand the struggles and challenges of members in *all* situations. For the record, I would choose Gerrit Gong and Joseph Sitati as the new Apostles, but since I don't get a vote, I will just have to watch Conference this weekend!

*Male Apostles were kind of a given, but the whole gendered dynamic of church leadership is a whole 'nother post (or series of posts!).

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reflections on Hillbilly Elegy

One of my book clubs decided to read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance as our March selection. Vance's book is a memoir about his self-described hillbilly upbringing in Kentucky and Ohio with a dysfunctional but (sometimes) loving family. The book has been a New York Times Bestseller and is highly acclaimed by many seeking to understand Trump voters and "Middle America." I finished the book a few days ago, and I've been struggling to articulate what it is I didn't like about it. So, I am doing a blog post to see if I can capture some of the reasons I found it problematic.

To start with, I should say that writing a critique of someone's heartfelt memoir is problematic in and of itself. This book was a well-told story of a painful upbringing, and it was written compassionately about people who otherwise might seem crazy. It would be wrong of me to critique someone's life story - it is Vance's lived experience, and I thought he told his truth well. I know much less about Appalachia than Vance, so it is of course presumptuous of me to criticize Vance's experiences. However, I think the book goes awry when it extrapolates Vance's family's experiences to a culture at large, and proscribes "solutions" that involve people just trying harder.

I should also say that there is much that I liked about the book - Vance does a good job of painting the picture of a kid who is a fish out of water at Yale and in the military. I definitely think there are issues that this book illuminated for me, which I wouldn't have thought about otherwise. But, my "hot take" awaits! Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I didn't enjoy about the book. I've tried to use examples that I remember from the book, but I'm bad at finding and citing them, so I do apologize about that.

Poor People Deserve to Be Poor
While not found on every page, in some of the stories that Vance tells, there is a whiff of Social Darwinism. By that I mean, he often ascribes poverty to people's own poor choices. He describes working in a tile warehouse where a young man who was hired was lazy, took long breaks, and was ultimately fired. Vance uses that story as an example of why hillbilly people ultimately don't deserve to prosper, yet within the same story he also admits that most employees of the company have been there for years, which undercuts his claim that it's hard to find non-lazy employees. I don't think he adequately explains the role of luck, which I think has a lot more to do with our success or failure than we care to admit. 

Welfare Queens
Related to the point above, Vance tells some stories about people who game the welfare system. He's understandably frustrated to see people sell their food stamps so they can buy cigarettes and booze, or who have late model cell phones yet use government assistance. Yet I was annoyed that he used this as a sweeping indictment of the welfare system for everyone. Are there people who misuse welfare? Yes, of course! Is that a reason to dismiss all welfare recipients as undeserving moochers? Of course not! These types of judgments allow us to feel morally superior, but don't have a basis in reality, because most studies show a pretty low level of fraud in the welfare system. Not to mention, most food stamp recipients are getting $1 - $1.25 per meal per person, which is hardly enough to get wealthy on!!!

Us Versus Them
The narrative is often driven by a rhetoric of grievance - "coastal elites" versus "hillbillies." While of course there are many many many differences between those groups, I firmly believe that both groups have selfish and selfless souls. Rather than seeking to unite us, the book seems to push the narrative that the snobby elites can never really understand or empathize with the hillbillies. Nor does it seem to acknowledge that many of the problems affecting hillbillies also impact other marginalized groups (immigrants, African Americans, etc.).

It's Up to Us (the Hillbillies) to Fix It
In one anecdote, Vance derides hillbillies who don't or won't recognize that children's teeth rotting from drinking soda is a problem. This is understandably terrible, but I think he fails to recognize the many ways society contributes to this problem. For example, we subsidize corn, which makes corn syrup, used in many sodas, a cheap ingredient, thus making soda very cheap to buy. Vance finishes his book with a declaration of the inadequacy of government solutions, and a call to each of us to think about what we can do to individually to solve this problem: "These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them" (Page 256). I think that analysis is fundamentally flawed in a lot of ways. It lets me off the hook - since I don't live in Appalachia, there is nothing I am required to do to help my fellow citizens.

I posted earlier this week about "big government" and this is one of those areas where I do believe that government can play a role in addressing systemic poverty. We can adequately fund drug treatment and trial diversion programs. We can address housing inequality, an overworked social worker system, gun violence, lack of educational opportunities, inadequate minimum wage, and other barriers that prevent people from rising above their circumstances. To do this, we have to recognize that we are all in the same boat - this is a problem that affects all of us, and we need to come together to find societal solutions. None of this is easy, but to address these problems we need the recognition that there is a problem, and I do think Vance's book helps explain the scope of the problem on a "micro" level.

Some Links
Here are some links that I thought about while reading, or found while looking up points for this post.
Just How Wrong is Conventional Wisdom About Government Fraud? - From The Atlantic
I Drove my Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps - OpEd from Newsday
Who's Missing from College Education? Rural Students - From NPR
Living on Food Stamps - A Twitter Thread about the Realities of Being a Food Stamp Recipient (read the whole thing!)
EITC Promotes Work - Report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the effectiveness of the "Earned Income Tax Credit"

So, have any of you read Hillbilly Elegy? What are your thoughts? I won't pretend that my opinion is the only one that matters.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

BIG Government

Well hello there! It's been a while since I blogged about politics, and in related news:

Hahahahaha, but seriously. I don't really feel like blogging about the dumpster fire that is the current administration. So this post is of a more general nature about the role of government.

In one episode of The West Wing, Toby Ziegler, President Bartlet's communications director and chief speechwriter, rages against a phrase that some people want to include in the State of the Union address: "The era of big government is over." He makes one of my favorite speech-lets of the series after President Barlet asks if he wants to cut the line:

I want to change the sentiment. We're running away from ourselves, and I know we can score points that way. I was the principle architect in that campaign strategy...But we're here now. Tomorrow night, we do an immense thing. We have to say what we feel. That government, no matter what its failures are in the past, and in times to come, for that matter, the government can be a place where people come together and where no one gets left behind. No one gets left behind, an instrument of good. I have no trouble understanding why the line tested well... but I don't think that means we should say it. I think that means we should change it. (From The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 12, "He Shall, From Time to Time")
One of the things that makes me a liberal is a belief in government. I really struggle when I see people posting on social media things like the Ronald Reagan quote "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." What they are really saying with that quote is that they don't trust themselves. In a democracy, "we the people" are the government. I believe that government can and should be a place for us as a people to come together - to "self-rule."

There is, of course, such a thing as too much government - I'm by no means suggesting that every aspect of government is perfect (or needed!). But I do think that a government that reflects the best of us, and our popular will, is an important part of society.

When he accepted the position to serve as Energy Secretary, Rick Perry took some ribbing, considering that he famously wanted to abolish the Energy Department but couldn't remember it during a Republican primary debate (okay, I guess this is a *little* bit about the current administration). But he came to see why it was an important government agency once he learned about what they do. I think there-in is a kernel of wisdom - everyone is against government until they learn about the important functions it serves.

I saw a bumper sticker today with a quote of PJ O'Rourke that said "Republicans say government doesn't work & then they get elected and prove it." Democrats can be just as bad at making government effective, but the special disdain Republicans have for government makes it more than a bit ironic that they continue to seek to run for office. So, yes, I am a fan of "big" government - a government big enough for all the people to come together and work towards making our society a better place.