Against the "think pieces" that will castigate people for their choice at the ballot box

You don't own me. You don't own America. You don't own anyone.

We have a democracy because it is the best system out there, even when someone doesn't like the result, wanted a different candidate in the primary. Centralizing power never works out well; on the contrary, the best way to achieve domestic peace is to give power to the people and respect the rule of law.

So I won't be reading pieces that say certain Americans are stupid, or ignorant, or underserving, or whatever. It's all crap. When you sign up for the public conversation, you need to meet the public, and the public isn't the people on your Facebook feed, in your neighborhood (if you talk to those people), or at your workplace. The public is everyone - and the number of times the people who have appointed themselves our mouthpieces and news sources got surprised by the public should tell you - they don't really know the public.

Here's one of their stories, told by Arlie Russell Hochschild:
You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.
If you want to represent the people of the United States of America, you need to understand the people of the United States of America.

In Praise of Decency and Intention in Late Night Comedy

I watch Colbert's Late Show on YouTube regularly because it is the model of intention. This is what Colbert told Stewart during his last Daily Show:
We learned from you by example how to do a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with with respect. 
I want to focus on the first clause. Intention is what I see in every show that Stephen Colbert does from the Ed Sullivan theatre - an intention to provide some levity, to expose us to new artists and art forms, to play in the purest form, and perhaps most important - to educate.

There's a theory of leadership by the late James McGregor Burns that gives us two types of leadership: transactional and transformational. Transaction leaders give us exactly what we want. They use what works, today, and keep the ship floating. They find the place that aligns best with the audience, and sit there, comfortably and likely profitably.

Transformational leaders think strategically about bringing us to the next level of success and thought. They seek to meet people at all levels to bring them higher and further - and the pull of change is not always comfortable for either party. I see that discomfort, sometimes, in the news stories and different skits put on by the Late Show.

I know the Late Show doesn't seek to change the world, but it can - and does - nudge the world. It nudges us towards a deeper, better humanity, more full of wonder and deeper relationships. It puts the "other" on CBS so that we can meet it and be more humanized. It's not perfect, of course, but the intention is there, and I notice that, and am grateful.

On Watch Lists and Firearms

Today, the Senate failed to pass a few measure proposed by either party in response to the Orlando massacre. One of the measures up for a vote would have restricted the purchase of firearms for anyone under investigation of terrorism, on the terrorist watch list, or similarly designated.

I am sure the issue polled well; it certainly has many people I know upset, but getting onto a "list" isn't due process, and as long as the Second Amendment provides for a right to bear simple firearms, I can never support giving the government power to curtail rights because someone is on a "list."

A list is not due process. A list is not a legal finding. A list is pure government executive fiat, shorn of the protections we set for ourselves when giving the government power to prosecute.
“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns or explosives,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor on Monday.
However, getting on a "list" doesn't make you a terrorist. You can be a victim of mistaken identity, get in trouble for having had contact with someone without knowing their past (guilt by association), or get on the list as a way to compel you to name other names.

Lists are not a path to justice. It disappoints me that people saw propagating them as a way to keep people safe.

Here are a few examples of laws I would have supported:

  • Legislation to restrict high-capacity magazines that enable full-auto and semi-auto weapons to kill many more people.
  • Closing loopholes that enable gun buyers to evade background checks.
  • Enabling waiting periods for all gun purchases.
  • Legislation to restrict firearm sales to people convicted of a crime such as domestic abuse.

A quick thought

Throwing judges out of office for a single unpopular decision may be reasonable in isolation (or valid in a specific case), but sets a horrible precedent for when the popular opinion isn't on your side.

Fear on the Street

I got into a small Twitter conversation last night about "walking etiquette:"
Thinking about that reminds me of something that happened over five years ago - one of those little moments that make a lifelong impression. I was in an unfamiliar city with a group of friends for a few days and during one of the nights, ended up walking back to where we were staying with three of them - another man and two women.

For whatever reason, the street was a little crowded that night with several men (maybe 30-40% full), all of whom were minding their own business, but our little group stuck out and I noticed that. The other guy got separated from us a little (I think he was walking more slowly), and I also noticed the women pick up the pace slightly, obviously a little uncomfortable, but nothing was out of the ordinary.

Then my two friends asked me - in short & nervous whisper - to hold them.

Now, I've had my share of walking around with my arm around a girlfriend's waist or over her shoulder, and with reacting to sketchy situations on the street, but this was different. My platonic friends leaned in, more comfortable with strange intimacy than walking on their own, and I found myself suddenly cast as tall male protector. I put my arms around each of them and continued down the street, comprehending fear through their body language; we got to our destination without incident.

These two women are some of the strongest people I've known. They can each hold their own in a bar, on the field, and in the spotlight; I'm sure they will each achieve respect and admiration in their chosen profession. Some people like to seek security in others, but not these two, and so their reaction took me by surprise. We weren't equal at that moment; they created a power imbalance via their body language so that anyone wanting to speak to them would be speaking to me. I was the leader, the guardian, and my arms were the security blanket.

That gap - between my expectation of that street and the reality of walking up it - seared the moment into memory. I felt both immensely honored by my two amazing friends, and also troubled that I had understood the situation so differently than them. So ever since then, when I walk down the street and see someone or something that might make someone feel unsafe, I try to be deliberate about what I do so that all parties can breath more easily. I can't know how they feel, but because of past experience I can try to react in ways to make all parties feel as safe as possible.

Sing, move arm, self learn

This past week, I had the honor of directing some of the music at a church service in DC. We call the role "Cantor," though it's not a Jewish service, and I was more nervous than I expected before and during the ceremony, which was mostly spent in song.

Nerves when performing in front of large groups aren't new for me (though I've grown a lot in this area since college); the strange part was that I had to feara or qualms about any of the singing - instead, it was the direction that distracted me. I was constantly monitoring if we were too fast, too slow, or having other issues, all while trying to figure out the appropriate moment to cut off the songs.

That experience, and others in DC, have helped me realize that I don't enjoy leading big group events unless there's a structure that I can create or enforce. That doesn't mean that structure is appropriate - it's just what makes me comfortable.

The lesson I take from this (knowing that more experience would make me much more comfortable) is that I am happiest when I can participate, support, and intervene vs lead. Staying the background lets me embrace my desire to analyze and observe without being so concerned about how people are perceiving my actions.

Experiences like this also make me appreciate the skill of being able to comfortably MC and corral a crowd. We collectively need people who can do this to guide us through the group experiences that bind us together more effectively than any blog or electronic communication. Those in center stage, in being themselves, display something we can identify with, and build a shared identity that maintains ua through trying times.

On Free Speech and College Campuses

Summary to date: student group invites an apparent white supremacist to speak on campus at my alma mater, students react, alum start to react, college president cancels the appearance, now time for the Monday-morning quarterbacking

I've been thinking a lot about free speech (as a value, not as a legal right) and wanted to record some thoughts.

  • I believe that there are lines where inviting a speaker just ain't worth it. The most basic and obvious line relates to personal conduct - a speaker that sexually harasses students, threatens students, or refuses to answer audience questions may not be worth inviting.
  • I believe that the test to *stop* a speaker gets progressively higher through the following list:
    • Issuing an invitation for a mandatory event like a class
    • Issuing an invitation from college institutional leadership
    • Issuing an invitation from the college faculty/staff
    • Issuing an invitation from a student or student group
    • A student group canceling an invitation
    • The college canceling an invitation from faculty/staff or leadership
    • The college canceling an invitation from a student or student group
This means that I would push back on the college issuing an invitation to an objectionable speaker, but will give students more leeway to pursue their own speakers, and that the highest bar for action is canceling an invitation on behalf of a student or student group.

In other words, I believe that President Falk's decision merits the highest scrutiny, most particularly because it blocked an invitation from someone in the "aggrieved" class (in this case, black) and falk is himself White.

I agree with Falk that there's a line; for example, in inviting a flat-earther, psychic, or astrologist in any context except allowing students to interact with someone pushing psuedo-science. I'm not sure that this crosses it. Racism is a real social organism in today's world, and students deserve a chance to confront it as they decide how they will embark into the world

Zach Wood, the organizer, says (1):
To many, Derbyshire’s views might not be worth trying to thoroughly understand. To me, they are worth the intellectual investment of interrogating and dismantling principally because that is the only way in which it may ever be conclusively decided upon that his racist views are invalid.

I also think there are a variety of steps a college can take to make a lecture like this useful. It could hold trainings on productive confrontation, counter-programming on the same topic, or even feature the college president to speak for the Academy and repudiate the views of the speaker. I'm not sure which of these is the best option. For some students dealing with racism at Williams, a speaker like this is (at minimum) unhelpful, and possibly harmful. I am not a student that would be harmed, and would want to listen to the student group about the best way to mitigate that.

I also think that I might be wrong. A former professor wrote eloquently on the lack of education value in some statements, and I think he's correct that there's a line where speech becomes harassment and that Williams has no obligation to "support" racist speech, though I'm not sure that providing a venue constitutes true support.

I especially agree with this (2):
Given the unusual circumstances of this case, the lack of prior community consideration of the invitation and the short time frames involved, his choice was reasonable. 
If I was a black student looking to apply to colleges, articles about invited speakers like this one without counterbalance could well give me pause when deciding which colleges deserve my time and energy. I know racism exists; I lived it growing up, and there are better ways to engage it than by inviting speakers like this one.

Its very possible the harm to recruiting made the dis-invitation worth it; I don't know enough to say, and I think the disruption of such a speaker is worth consideration. For me, a one-time invite is worth the one-time disruption, but a weekly "today's racist" series would not be.

In general, the trend of censorship demanded by students on campus is a little disturbing, and deserves its own scrutiny (though this came from the college president) (3):
More to the point, the world is not a safe place. It is extremely dangerous, flawed, full of bloodshed and corruption. By sheltering ourselves from its harshness we are doing nothing meaningful to change it. If we are serious about confronting power we must throw ourselves into the danger and hurt that so many people have no choice but to live with. While self-care is necessary to sustain us in the long run, avoiding the darkness entirely is nothing more than a cop out.
Williams doesn't have to support racist speech, but if students seek to engage with it, what better place to be exposed than at a college, with professors and fellow students to help unpack a viewpoint?


Muslims have always been part of America

From a recent speech by Barack Obama:
Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans.  And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths -- and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now -- “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”  (Applause.)
Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”  (Applause.)  So this is not a new thing.
Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants.  They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)  America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa.  The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s.  Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars.  A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.