Category Archives: Politics

3 articles/1 video

In the last few months, the AV Club have published three articles that I’d like to share with you.

Each article, in its own way, deals with the struggles of women in our modern society. One discusses the balance between motherhood and careerhood as portrayed in pop culture, the next deals with the stigma of weight and personal beauty, and the third is a glimpse into the career of a lesbian stand up comedian.

God knows there is more than enough blustering on women’s issues by the group least qualified to speak with experience on such issues: white, American men. So I want to leave most of the discussion to the writers of these articles, because they discuss these themes gracefully and intelligently.

Secondly, I want to share a video that you might’ve already seen, as it made the Internet rounds a couple weeks back. I had been putting off watching it; it was actually my little sister’s posting it to Facebook and writing a quick bit about it that made me finally watch it.

Without exaggeration, this is easily the most affecting “viral” type video I’ve ever seen.

This was incredibly convicting to watch, because I know I’ve used language like this in the past. Maybe not specifically referring to someone’s inferiority as “like a girl,” but other language that degrades and trivializes females. And however innocuous it seems, it completely fosters this culture of women as less thans, not as good as, weak-willed and unimportant. I don’t want my little woman growing up in a culture where her self-confidence is savagely attacked every time she turns the TV on, or walks through a store’s check-out aisle filled with magazines promising to make her body look like it needs to look, or is told she can’t do something like a boy can.

In the midst of reading these articles, reflecting on only a few of the myriad of struggles that women have to face throughout their lives, the strength and the confidence of the young girls in this video is so beautiful and inspiring. I hope they encourage you to be strong, like a girl, and to fight for real gender equality for our young ones.

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B.I.T.S: “John Adams” – David McCullough

john-adams-cover-2John Adams is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Adams written by historian David McCullough. It is a pretty magnificent book, meticulously researched and sourced through many primary sources, but primarily the letters written by John Adams and those in his social network throughout his life. While I am no historian, and it goes without saying that no historical account is without some bias, this book is an unvarnished look at the life of Adams and his numerous accomplishments that helped the United States survive and flourish as a new nation in the world.

McCullough writes in a very accessible way, and while the book is a hefty read, there wasn’t anything that left me confused or intimidated. By drawing so much from the primary sources of Adams’ own writing and the writing of those around him, both friends and enemies, he is able to paint an accurate picture of one of the chief Founding Fathers that illustrates exactly how integral Adams was in the birth of the United States.

I learned a great deal from this book, but there are a few key events or aspects of Adams’ life that I found particularly fascinating:

1776

Man oh man was this book a learning experience. I had no idea how huge a role Adams played in the birth of the United States. I think that since George Washington was the first man voted into the presidency, I always associated him with the role of securing liberty from Great Britain, when in reality it was Adams who carried much of this struggle on his back, if not militarily (though Adams did originally nominated Washington for role of Commander-in-chief of the colonial army in 1775), then ideologically. There were few Americans who believed in independence from Great Britain so firmly and thoroughly as Adams did.

This is especially evident in McCullough’s narrative of the four days leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As calls for the American Colonies’ independence from Great Britain had increased exponentially in the prior months, there were still many Colonists that were loyal to the British Crown, or at least thought that fighting a war to gain independence was futile. On July 1st, 1776, the last such argument was made to the Continental Congress by John Dickinson, who vocally recognized that his standing up against a war on Britain would be the final blow to his already diminished career but thought it necessary, as declaring independence would be “to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.”*

Adams was the man who countered this argument. While no transcription of the speech was made, it was a powerful and moving speech, and McCullough counts it as the most important speech Adams would give in his lifetime. Even Thomas Jefferson, who would find himself at political odds with Adams multiple times throughout their lives, wrote that Adams was “not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent,” but spoke “with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.”**

The congress voted and just narrowly missed unanimously voting to declare independence. After another day of deliberation (and some under-the-table negotiations and deals), on July 2nd, 12 of the 13 colonies voted for independence, and with no representatives from the 13th colony (New York) to cast a nay vote, the deed was done, and in no small part thanks to the leadership of John Adams.

Interestingly enough, Adams wrote to his wife that July 2nd would forever be commemorated through grand celebrations by Americans. He was only two days off.

Abigail Adams

As I said before, one of the reasons this book elicits such a clear picture of Adams is that it draws heavily from the archived letters between himself and his wife, Abigail. Mrs. Adams was an outstanding woman, and in an era where women couldn’t vote or own land and were generally relegated to child-bearing roles, Abigail held her own with the men of her time. She was very opinionated and wasn’t shy about her views, whether personal or political. And she was an amazing partner for John Adams. Adams was constantly nourished by the presence of his wife and treasured her as his closest confidant and friend throughout their entire marriage. He looked to her for support and advice during the many trying times he would see in his political career and she provided it. The book draws directly from their personal correspondence, and it illustrates why Adams was the man he was.

Past/current political atmosphere:

One thing that was a huge surprise to me was the amount of savage political attacks so early on in this country’s history. As a general rule, I am appalled by the current state of political discourse in this country. However, I always assumed it was a recent development; that only in the last few decades have we become so immature and entrenched in our political beliefs.

Rather than it being a recent trend, I think I just wasn’t aware of it as a kid. In reality, as long as the United States has existed, so has the current level of political discourse. While Washington started his first presidential term with the great majority of the nation’s support, that was quickly lost, as the Republican Party (then, it was ideologically more like our current Democratic Party) started to attack Washington for having monarchical sympathies. This attack was thrown even more strongly at Adams during the two elections in which he ran.

Aside from the insults and attacks from the opposing political party (which were to be expected), Adams dealt with opposition in his own party as well. While the Republicans accused him of being too Federalist, men like Alexander Hamilton were of the unwavering opinion that Adams wasn’t Federalist enough. Hamilton was so anti-Adams that during the election race of 1800, Adams was only narrowly defeated for a second term by Thomas Jefferson, and this defeat was attributed mainly to a scathing attack of Adams by Hamilton in the form of a 54-page letter that was leaked to the public. Hamilton wanted to go to war with France, while Adams was strategically making decisions as president to avoid such an outcome, and so Hamilton attacked, and Adams subsequently lost reelection.

It was disheartening to read about the opposition Adams faced his entire political career, from both his political enemies and colleagues. His unwavering goal was independence for the United States and establishing this nation as a strong, fiscally responsible and enduring member of the global community of nations. Yet he was consistently attacked by those close and far from him. It saddens me that the current state of modern, mud-slingin’ political discourse is not a new phenomenon.

Slavery

You know that thing where the Founding Fathers signed a document declaring that all men were created equal and deserved freedom to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, yet a lot of those men were slaveowners? John Adams (and his wife) thought slavery was an abhorrent practice, and not only never owned slaves themselves, he never even hired slave labor from his neighbors to work his land (a common practice among men of the Revolutionary Era who didn’t own slaves. Like renting a workforce). He spent his life truly committed to the freedom of all men and women, regardless of ethnic background. It’s sad that he was the exception and not the rule, but it makes me respect him more for standing firm for these principles, even when it meant standing against the status quo of the society in which he lived.

There is so much more I could touch upon here, including Adams’ presidency, his personal family struggles, his many years as foreign ambassador to France, England, and Holland. Instead, I highly recommend this book. McCullough puts together an extensive and intriguing history lesson that really illustrates who Adams was as a man and as an American.

*pg.126 of the book

**pg. 127 of the book

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Chipotle and The Scarecrow

In the last year, I’ve learned more about agricultural and the modern agricultural system than I’d ever known before in my life. This isn’t saying a lot; although I am an Iowan, Born And Raised, I grew up in the city and was the furthest thing from a farm boy. But after taking a job with one of the Big 6 Ag companies in the industry, I’ve spent the last year learning as much as I can about the modern agricultural process, both from the perspective of the large ag companies and also from the perspective of the organic-only, anti-GMO camp through the means of blogs, documentaries (King Corn and Food, Inc. are two great ones), etc. It’s been a fascinating topic to learn about, because especially in the U.S., if a person doesn’t grow up on a farm nor is closely associated with one, they most likely have an idealized yet inaccurate idea (if any idea at all) where their food actually comes from.

Yet I’ve been very hesitant to write about the topic of agriculture, mainly because it’s as polarizing as any a political topic I could find. You mention GMOs (or abortion, or gay marriage, or ACA, or gun control, etc.) and you’ve got people on either side of the argument shouting their digital voices hoarse. I’ve tried my best to be reticent about my political views in the digital space in general because I didn’t want to add to the Noise, so I’ve abstained.

Until now! I recently read a blog post about Chipotle’s recent video, The Scarecrow. If you haven’t seen the video, I’d say start there.

First time I watched it, I was immediately moved to go support Chipotle by buying one of their delicious and ethical burritos. And I didn’t give the piece much more thought, other than I figured it was a highly idealized way to portray the modern agricultural system and there were likely some exaggerations or inaccuracies, but didn’t care enough to investigate them.

Fastforward a week later and I stumble upon this absolutely fantastic blog post by Diana Prichard, the owner of “…a small farrow-to-finish hog operation in the heart of Michigan’s farm country…” I then learned that a farrow-to-finish operation is a farm where hogs are born, bred and raised until slaughter for pork meat. She also “works as a freelance agriculture and food writer, photographer, and professional speaker.” She does it all, and all from the frontlines of the modern food system. Prichard’s writing sounds informed because it is informed, whereas so much of the dreck that’s written from either side of the political food debate either isn’t informed or is too biased for its own good.

Long story short, Prichard saw The Scarecrow and reached out to Chipotle’s corporate spokesman, Chris Arnold. He responded, and thus began an intriguing and revealing back and forth between the two regarding The ScarecrowRead her blog post here. It’s short and extremely well-written.

What I love about Prichard’s piece is that it’s well-written and deeply informed. This isn’t shouting, it’s not anti-GMO or anti-organic or even anti-corporation (although after this experience, she might be a Pancheros’ convert…). She writes from the perspective of a small farm owner, and who better to comment and discuss the issues surrounding the modern agricultural system than the small farm owners? These are the people who grow or raise a great deal of the food that we eat. They should have a bigger voice than anybody.

I’m not condemning Chipotle for The Scarecrow. It’s an incredibly effective weapon of marketing, eliciting exactly the response it’s meant to elicit. But do I think Chipotle has dressed up inaccuracies and misconceptions in their pious, Sunday best? Absolutely. The average consumer is likely not going to be able to see through these inaccuracies and is almost certainly going to be drawn towards certain moral conclusions about the food system because they most likely have no context about the larger issues at hand. Chipotle could’ve done better at educating the consumer with factual information rather than going straight for the emotional jugular with no regard for inaccurate or misleading information.

So no grand call to boycott Chipotle here, more a reminder to watch with a keen eye what is offered up as fact in the media. Divisive and important cultural issues will almost never be discussed fairly or holistically, either on Fox or on the Huffington Post. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll choose Pancheros’ over Chipotle. It’s all about the tortilla.

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Thoughts on Newtown

fredrogers

This picture brings tears to my eyes every time I look at it. When you’ve finished the last paragraph of this blog, please look again at this picture.

I want to share a video that I saw a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to share it, write something about it. It couldn’t seem more timely and important in light of the heartbreaking event in Connecticut a few weeks back.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

-Fred Rogers

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, almost every day. I enjoyed the show a lot; feeding the fish, seeing what Mr. McFeely would deliver, the trolley to the Land of Make Believe, Picture Picture. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an immensely soothing show. Nothing over-stimulating, nothing too loud. Mr. Rogers spoke softly and slowly and allowed childhood Jon to listen and really digest what he was saying. He was constantly encouraging our imagination and creativity, and the expression of our feelings, whatever they might be.

I had no idea at the time, and I’ve only just realized it recently, but Mr. Rogers was an incredibly strong proponent of mental healthcare. He cared deeply about caring for children and helping them understand that they were loved, cared for, and understood. He was constantly teaching us to express our feelings, to communicate with others in our worlds, and to not fear being unique. I can’t stress enough how deeply I’m touched by this mission.

I have lived through only a few heavy events in American history: 9/11, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and others not mentioned. My heart was heavier than all of these when I first heard the news of the Newtown massacre. That’s certainly not to diminish the tragedy of those other events, rather only to say that I felt this one differently than the others. The thought of what transpired in Newtown absolutely breaks my heart. To think of such innocent lives snuffed out in such a vicious manner truly makes me weep. There are several things about this tragedy that make me sad:

1. Twenty children, between the ages of 5-10, were inexplicably murdered. In their elementary school. This is senseless violence. Pure evil. Forty parents learned that Friday that their children had been killed. I don’t have kids and I cannot truly feel the unimaginable horror that these parents and families felt and still are feeling, and it breaks my heart.

2. This could’ve been prevented. With smarter gun control policies and affordable mental healthcare in place, that day might have gone much differently at that elementary school.

3. Even such a heartbreaking catastrophe as the Newtown massacre can’t seem to push this nation past throttling each other’s necks over political issues. I fault people on both sides of the spectrum for this. I find it inappropriate for anyone to talk about needing to arm our children with guns, and equally inappropriate to lambast somebody over being “insensitive” by discussing about political issues at a time like this. If a true discussion can’t be had now, when are we ever supposed to talk about this with openness and a desire to not win the argument, but to solve deeply-rooted societal problems?

My heart breaks for the parents of those children and the families of all the victims of this event. They have been in my sincere prayers over these days and weeks. And yet I firmly believe that the country and the officials in government have to start discussing and coming to a solution on the two root issues that caused this, gun control and mental healthcare. For anyone who says it’s inappropriate to talk politics, I want to quote (of all people) a comedian who, the day of the massacre, tweeted, “Now is not the time to talk about gun control. Yesterday was.” People on all sides of the political spectrum have to be willing to talk about these difficult issues and make compromises to truly find solutions to the immense problems facing our society. The fact that a deranged person can get access to multiple weapons and then walk into a school and murder many innocent people is chilling. It doesn’t matter who you voted for in November, we must figure out how to curb this behavior.

This is where the second issue comes into play. I think it’s overwhelmingly important we start to discuss the mental well being of our children. Kids have to be taught how to express their feelings, how to deal with anger, how to communicate well with their peers and those younger and older. I’m tremendously proud of the work that my wife does with young kids, teaching them “simple” behavioral skills that many people think are second nature but are being taught less and less in homes. I could’ve used behavioral health when I was a kid. I couldn’t communicate well. Or at least I couldn’t express my feelings well. I was a pretty fearful kid and I don’t think that really came out, or at least I didn’t have much chance to get that out and deal with it, from what I remember. And so many children could use these services, to learn how to express emotion, that it’s ok to be angry, or sad, or super happy. That what’s really important is learning how to appropriately give voice to those feelings. So thank you to Colleen, and every parent, social worker, behavioral health specialist, paraeducator/associate, and teacher that understands this and works to educate and raise young children with these skills.

Finally, the Mr. Rogers video. A bit of background: this was in 1969, before Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a popular show on Public Television. President Nixon had proposed scaling back a $20 million grant to PBS to half the amount, due to spending on the Vietnam War. Fred Rogers went before the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications to argue for the full amount. He spoke in front of the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator John Pastore, generally known as kind of a hardass. He comes off as almost patronizing in the clip. Please watch the entire video. It’s only about seven minutes long, and it is truly moving. Fred Rogers had a heart for children, and had a way of coming across calm and reassuring, in this video and when he was on his show. He understood how incredibly vital it is for a child to feel as though they are heard, that they are able to express their feelings, whether it’s anger or happiness or fear. He communicated Love in a world lacking it. I hope I can raise my kids this way, and I hope our country and our world begins to understand that only Love is where the solution to these horrific societal problems lie.

-Jon

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love’s in need of love today.

finally we can be done with pre-election talk. the problem is that now post-election talk starts. and my goodness is it vicious. i have a feeling in about a day i’m going to wish it was still pre-election time.

the problem i see is this. although everyone is talking about the atmosphere of unity that is coming over our nation, it’s hard for me to see it. that’s not to say i don’t see it at all. america just elected the first african-american president in our nation’s history. that is a solid step away from the awful racial division in this country. where it’s hard for me to see unity is the callous attacks from both conservative and liberal camps towards the other side. we have our new president-elect, he’s black, he’s liberal, he promotes change, hope, and unity, and conservatives are hurling rage and hate towards his supporters. on the other hand, the bipartisanship that obama has attested to is nowhere to be found where i’ve seen. today there was such a smug feeling on campus of “in your face” from obama supporters to mccain supporters. instead of following obama’s message of change and hope and unity, the presidential race has been degraded into a “nanee nanee boo boo” contest. it’s so petty. both sides are reduced to children because their guy won or their guy lost. this was not what obama, nor mccain, was encouraging during this campaign. do we honestly think that mccain supporters were more interested in ensuring the republican party’s future rather than supporting this country, or that obama is getting prepared to make america a communist nation? at the core, i think both parties want the same thing. democracy, freedom, hope to hold on to. it’s a shame to get so blinded.

both parties are guilty of it. and it’s awful. it makes me doubt the real passion of the citizens in this country to make things better rather than just to have their guy win. i sincerely think that of the 56 million people who voted for mccain, the overall goal was the same as the goal obama supporters ascribed to, to better our nation. but to see supporters of both sides lash out in this horrible way is such a disappointment and completely against what this race was about. this race was about how to move our country forward toward real democracy and freedom, to uphold the ideals that the people who founded this country believed in. neither party should be faulted for having an opinion, and i believe that, even if i don’t agree with someone else’s opinion. it’s sad to me that people automatically disregard things someone says because they supported mccain, or obama, and i’m guilty of that just the same. this country was founded on freedom. i just wish both sides would focus on that more than the differences that divide us. and in the meantime, just because the election is over does not at all mean the time for action is over. our nation is struggling, and this is when it needs its citizens the most. go volunteer at a food bank. pick up some trash. get involved in the political system in your city. ride your bike more. work harder at school. read more. this election does not signal the end of our involvement in our country’s betterment.

i think this sums it up perfectly:

-jon

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