Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Letters to My Mom

I wanted to start a new series on my blog called Letters to My Mom.  These will consist of letters I am writing to mom about how she influenced my life.  Here is the first one. 

Dear Mom,
I have been thinking about a lot of things recently as I watch Noah grow up.  I like seeing how I influenced his life, his choices and his hopes.  But I wonder what little things will make a difference later.  I remember things that you did that have never left me.  One memory is so clear I am not even sure if it is real, but it has been with me since I was very young.  I remember a sunny warm day and a man was working on the corner of New York and Rensselaer Avenue.   You ask me to go down and ask him if he wanted a beer.  He said he couldn’t but wanted water, I carried a glass of ice water and some kind of snack.  This story may not be true but it is you.  I remember so many times you helping others and as Mike Fourneir recently mentioned to me you were famous for bringing coffee to the fire fighters when there was a big fire in town.  It is ironic that the one I remember the most was the fire at the old Pepsi bottling plant. 

As you know, we grew up half a block from the old building and I always wanted to explore it.  I remember the house at 30 Rensselaer which was the last block before the literal other side of the tracks.  The abandoned Pepsi plant was one a several industrial buildings that sprouted up along the Oswegatchie River and the Railroad tracks.  Well it caught fire about a year after we moved to the other side of town.  It was a big fire and one that threatened a lot of houses that were built near it, including our old home.  You made several thermoses of coffee and we went over there.  I got to watch the fire but what I saw and remember is not the building that eventually burned to the ground, but you, making sure all the fire fighters here given a drink. 

I never asked you why you would do this.  It seemed so normal to me to offer something to people in community service jobs.  I lost that along the way.  One of my teachers recently brought a bunch of left over bagels to the local fire hall.  I thought of you.  I realize some of the work I did growing up was directly related to these moments that you reached out to help others.  Thank you for giving me a good foundation.  It helped me find my way.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Mom...she is always part of me...

So what I expected since June has happened.  They found a tumor on my mother’s brain.  Her particular cancer, though beaten back in the lung has a tendency to reappear and the brain is one of the favorite locations for it.  They can beat it back, radiation is a wonderful weapon. This will be an ongoing battle but my mom seems up to it.  I never bet against her.    Her life story is a series of battles some won, some lost, but in the end she is a survivor. 
But I was thinking about her influence on me.  A few years ago there was a study that suggested that teens moral development, among other things, were more a product of their peer group norms than their families’.  But what I hope the researchers will do is to re-investigate these subjects later in life.  I dare say while at the time of the research it would appear the peers have more sway but in the long run the foundation of our morality happens at the dinner table and on long rides to vacation stops and the daily actions of life we grew up with. 
I was struck by this many times over the years. Last year when I met one of the women who went south to fight for equality during the civil rights movement spoke about how at the time she didn’t realize the power of the values learned from her parents, but reflecting back, she clearly sees a straight line from her Jewish values learned at the kitchen table and while the culture at the time influenced her as well, the base was built in family conversation and action. 
For my mom, I remember the day I realized that it was my mom who helped create the radical I was in college.  Twice my mother encouraged me to protest as a young person, both times ironically around the issue of getting a haircut.  I always like having my hair long.  In 5th grade I was going to join the Boy Scouts.  When I filled out the form the Scout Master told me that to be a Boy Scout I needed to get my hair cut short.  My mother made it clear to me that I would not join a group that requires uniformity.  Later, in high school, a similar thing occurred with National Honor Society.  My mother applauded when a got my pin with my hair in my eyes.  I wish I still had the picture.
So as I watch mom fight this battle I know her influence made me who I am today, and I am happy to be have been able to tell her.  Say a prayer for my mom and tell your own parents if you are able what they meant to you.  If you can’t tell them, then tell their stories.  Share their gifts with the world.  I hope to share all she gave me over time.   

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Birthers Unite

Tonight Joe Biden will debate Paul Ryan and Martha Raddatz will moderated.  And yesterday the right wing noise machine lost their minds over the fact that 20 years ago Martha married a man that was a friend of the President's when they were in law school.  Raddatz has seen divorced President Obama's friend but to the right it is one more left-wing conspiracy.  They ignore that debates are organized by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.  This is the latest in a long line of fake outrage and quite frankly this is disgusting.  Anyone, and I mean anyone, who slanders and libels Martha Raddatz by suggesting she will be softer on Biden because the President is a law school buddy of her ex-husband should never again be taken seriously.  There is nothing in Raddatz's award winning reporting to suggest that she will not do the job in a fair way.  Tabloid rags like the Daily Caller who "broke" the non-story has just sought to pollute the way many Americans will make their decision on who will lead us for the next 4 years.  The sickness that somehow if the roles were reversed the left would be up in arms.  Yeah, because there is no media/GOP connection?   Fox News has been the propaganda wing of the Republican Party for years, once posting on their website as their own reporting a GOP talking points memo, including a type found in the GOP release.  There have been 23 OP-ED pieces in the Wall Street Journal that were written by paid and unpaid advisors to the Romney campaign that never mentioned that fact.  This is what happens.  The media and politics at the highest levels pick from the same basket.  That is just the way things are.  But think about this.  The outrage is about the fact that a friend of the President's ex is the person asking questions tonight.  Think about any wedding you went to in college where you were friends with one of the two getting married.  How many are divorced?  Will your friends ex do you favors because you gave them a punchbowl or a set of steak knives in the 90s?   Seriously this is as ridiculous as the birther crowd.  The right wing has become the voice of conspiracy.  They are the Ancient Alien crowd only their lies and craziness could have real results in our lives.  It is time we call them out.  If you are a Democrat, then respond when your right wing friend posts or says one of these crazy ideas.  If you are a Republican, hold your party to a standard of reality. We have to.  This is a Democratic Republic.  If we allow the lunatics to control the message we will only elect more lunatics.  There are those who always say "We Need to Take our Country Back".  We do, from those who build reality our of smoke and mirrors.  I would rather talk about the policies Obama and Romney are proposing than the pate the President ate at Cambridge Hilton in 1993.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ignorance is not a virtue...

Yesterday, the President of the United States dedicated the latest National Monument.  The burial place of labor leader and activist Cesaer Chavez and his home for the last 22 years of his life is now a new protected treasure of American History.  Chavez was a giant of the 20th century and an important voice.  But here's the thing, many people jumped on Twitter to be critical of the President for dedicating a monument to HUGO Chavez.  Think about that, someone heard somewhere that President Obama was dedicating a monument to the Communist Dictator of Venezuela and felt compelled to comment about it in the social media without thinking.  Let's just pretend you could believe that the President would be in sync with the man who once called President Bush the devil at the UN.  Does anyone believe in a highly politically charged country, during a close campaign for re-election, could anyone allow the President to do anything that would show support of a dictator.  The ignorance of anyone who could believe that is mind numbing.  Yet those people's vote count the same as yours and mine.  

This is the state of our country.  Large chunks of people of live in an echo chamber and seek out information uncritically and just vomit it back into the world.  It use to be this kind of a bizarre thinking that would only be reserved for those seeking the secret knowledge to undo the Kennedy Assassination or UFO cover-ups, now it penetrates everything in politics.  In the last 15 years we have been gifted with a segment of the population that believes, the 2000 election was stolen, Bush and Cheney were part of 9-11, and  President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who has faked birth certificates and plans to destroy the economy.  Even smaller issues rise up, in the run up to the Republican nomination we heard about all manner of things like vaccines causing retardation from many of the candidates running for President, down ticket races have included "legitimate rape" and support for executing rebellious children.  

People running for office take advantage of this ignorance.  The Romney campaign convened a whole night of their convention around the "We Built That" theme, taking off on a line from a speech where the President expressed the role of government in making growth possible.  President Obama was speaking about roads and bridges but the right wing noise machine edited the tape and focused on 4 words creating a mythology believed by many.  Interestingly, that evening had a business woman running for office in Delaware as a Republican, Sher Valenzuela was speaking about her business she claimed to have built by herself.  However she received over $17 million in government support and is quoted when speaking to other businesses said "But where do I start?" Valenzuela wrote in a presentation to a group of women entrepreneurs at a Delaware business conference earlier this year. "With your BIGGEST secret weapon!" the presentation read. "You start with the no cost/low-cost resources that you, the taxpayer, have already paid for."

Yet we will still hear the GOP say "We built it" acting as if government is something that is hostile to growth.  This to me suggests one thing, the Republicans think the American people are stupid.  That they can lie to them and assume all those who will call them on their lies will be ignored.  The Romney campaign said as much when indicating that their campaign will not be dictated to by fact checkers.

This is not only true on the right, but certainly has been more starkly apparent from them in this election cycle.  We have seen Democrats exploit mythology of the big bad conservatives who will throw Grandma off the cliff, steal candy from babies and of course end all entitlements.  This is a real problem.

This more than anything is a threat to our Republic.  When we have no voices to trust.  News media has spent more time fighting for market share than giving information.  News and opinion are all wrapped up together in people's minds and while there are many more outlets of information, less is looked at critically.  In fact I bet everyone reading this can remember at least one story from the parody website The Onion that was reported as fact by a news agency.  This would be simply a good laugh and we can point at those caught and yell "Burned" or create a meme.  But these mythologies are cause real policy shifts.  Think new voter ID laws and restrictions on soda sizes.

I want everyone to vote, but I also want a voting population with facts.  Tell you what to my GOP friends, I will continue to hold my party to the simple standard of honesty and you do too.  Stop repeating myths that rise up and in the next 25 days let's see if we can have a discussion and not a fiction slam.  Oh, and maybe my guy will show up at the next debate to make some of that happen.

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