The Broad is Back!

December 5, 2013

Eating Crow and it’s NOT Delicious

Earlier today, I posted a blog, written in part with my cousin,  with incorrect information.  It is now taken down, but I’m still angry, at me, and at the reality.

I apologizing for disseminating misinformation. I should have fact checked more carefully.

Noting the post, a friend commented on my facebook,

actually you, or your cousin, should get your facts straight… MSNBC never suspended Bashir.. they did however suspend and then fire Alec Baldwin for a gay slur. Bashir did NOT say Palin was full of sh*t.. instead he suggested that she should have someone urinate and defecate IN HER MOUTH! this is why he was ultimately (i’m assuming forced) to resign. the fact that you twist the story, and that not one liberal female or female group defended palin from this disgusting attack speaks volumes I do believe.

I totally agree with him.

So, Martin Bashir is just as bad as Rush Limbaugh, and the fact that I didn’t even hear about the Sarah Palin comments, and no one jumped to her defense is despicable, as well.

I’ve read the transcript of his comments, and they are vile.

The fact that it took 19 days for his resignation is a travesty.

I may not agree with Palin, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a human. No one should be tortured. No one. Can we no longer respect people with whom we disagree? And if we don’t respect people’s intelligence, must we belittle and berate them?

Bashir’s comments were totally disproportionate to anything Palin said to spark his “anger” (much of which I suspect was manufactured for the same reason Limbaugh manufactures his “rage”–ratings and shock value).

Actually, this entire incident (the Palin-Bashir one, not my posting) underscores the terrible state of American “journalism”. I no longer watch television “news” as it’s neither true nor real news. It’s infotainment at best, pure fiction at worst.  I ferret out news sources on both sides of the political spectrum because both sides have an agenda. The truth is in there somewhere, but digging it out takes time.

There was an excellent article in The New Yorker a few years ago, “America is a Joke” which I highly recommend for its discussion of the creation of media narrative and who controls “news” in this country.

But frankly, and I think most readers realize this about me, I’m disgusted with both the Right and the Left.  Pubic discourse in this country has denigrated to the point where both sides hurl insults at the other side and people shrug it off.

I responded to the comments about Pope Francis because they were just so ignorant of the basic precepts of Christianity.

But people have become so entrenched in supporting their “side” that partisan politics have trumped reason. I’m constantly reminded of Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

I’ve been thinking about Emerson a lot lately. As he said in “Self-Reliance,” where that quote is from, if our culture is not true, if it promulgates lies, we should not follow it. He called for a social revolution.  So do I.


October 22, 2013

Infant Nation

My students are currently reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” one of my favorite Emerson pieces. Ironically, I didn’t even assign it to them–the department did.  As I tell my students, I’m not a fan of Emerson’s style, but what he has to say? Wow!

Rereading the essay, I’ve been struck by how very relevant it is in 2013.  There’s one line I particularly wanted to talk about today:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”  Taking in stride the 19th century use of mankind to mean all of us, this is pretty much what I see every single day of my teaching career.

I teach at a college. I do not teach at a high school or lower because frankly, I don’t like having to deal with children’s recalcitrance. And I don’t like spoon feeding information.

But American society treats young people like children far into their adulthood. We know this is getting worse. Just google “extended adolescence,” read and weep.

My students have been infantalized throughout their k-12 educations, by teachers and parents alike, and information is spoonfed into them. They no longer take responsibility for their own learning, but worse, they don’t like to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Emerson would despair.

I despair.

We have crippled a good chunk of a generation with all the good intentions in the world.  Maybe. But what if the point of infantalization was to create a generation of sheep more easily manipulated than many generations that went before?

I have been told, point blank, that I must change the standards I set for student behavior, lower them, because this is what we do now.  The Transcendentalist in me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s as good a label for me as any other, roars in pain.

I am calling for a revolution. It’s not just our government that needs to be changed. Our whole society needs reform. I’m not saying go back to some “good old time” in the past. I’m saying look at the mistakes we’ve been making and change. Change radically.

We are too married to the old ways of thinking and the old dead forms of authority.  It’s time to take bold measures. As Emerson says: “It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; their property; in their speculative views.”

I say, “bring it on!”

Points to ponder, I hope. And in the meantime, take a look at “Self-Reliance.” It’s a doozy.


April 30, 2013

Tired of the Lack of Integrity

I did it again. I started writing for one blog and realized I was overlapping myself.  Instead of linking you to Patchouli Haze, I’m just going to repeat myself here. Nothing like self-plagiarism!  But the version you’ll read here is a little longer and a bit sharper in tone, I think. Instead of being optimistic, I’m slightly bitter, I fear.

So, here goes:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

The more I read things Eisenhower said, the more I think he had great common sense and great moral fiber. I think this is easy for me to say because I wasn’t alive when he was president. Looking at his record, I think we may have had slight differences of opinion.  But this quote? Amen, sir.

I’m thinking a lot about integrity in office today.  I’m not picking on any one sitting office holder. I’m thinking of all of them. Ethics have become “situational” in the 21st century. I’m not saying that politics have been cleaner in the past. Far from it. But I do think that when people transgressed, they knew they transgressed. There was a sense of crossing an ethical boundary for expediency’s sake.

But today, I no longer think the boundary exists.  And it’s not just politicians. I see it every day with students–I’ve been asked when it’s “okay” to steal and lie. When I say never, I am laughed at. Students routinely cheat in their homework. It is so endemic to college classrooms that I have colleagues who have given up even trying to stem it.

But those of us who are striving to “be the change we want to see,” still try to live with integrity.  I know I encourage it as a worthy value in my students.

It’s hard for them to take me seriously, though. They see politicians lying boldly. CEOs lying, sports figures lying, and not only lying, getting away with it! Being rewarded for it!

I know from class discussions that many of them pity me because I am so adamant in my sense of right and wrong.  It’s not all bad. Some I know admire me, and I appreciate that.  I don’t do it for admiration, per se, but I do take my job as role model very seriously.  I am not just teaching my students English. I am modeling a life that I think is well lived. At least I try very hard to demonstrate qualities I think are important for success.

Of course, my students and I often have a very different definition of “success”.  Mine comes from Bessie Stanley in 1905.  It is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, though he never said it. When I first saw it, it was as an Emerson quote. I’m not surprised he didn’t write it, as it’s not his style, but I still think it’s perfect:

He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Many of my students see success as quick wealth and an easy life, and this is what they tell me themselves.  Not all of them, but enough for me to sigh heavily on many occasions.

I know I am not alone in this cry for more integrity in American public life.  And I don’t mean a false integrity hiding behind words like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Christianity”.  I mean real integrity with a value system based on not putting one’s self and one’s desires first.

It’s time for our society to start rewarding integrity more.  It may seem like an impossible task, but society has changed, improved, many times in the past. And it can again.

If we don’t start real reform soon, we are doomed as a nation. I don’t usually use such bleak words, but the hollowness will destroy things.

May 13, 2011

Speech for the Graduates

Last night I had the great honor to give the keynote speech at the farewell dinner for graduating seniors in the Union College AOP/HEOP program. While all my students are special to me in their own way, this class holds a special place in my heart because they were the first class I taught in America after being away for 12 years.

For those unfamiliar with AOP or New York State’s program HEOP, these are fantastic programs to help bright, talented students with potential be able to attend schools they might not otherwise have been able to due to financial considerations.  Most of these students are from poorer areas with weaker public schools, so they also lack college preparation.  The students are often given an immersion program the summer before school, which Union College provides, and tutoring during the school year.  It was in the pre-freshman immersion summer that I met this graduating group.

Every single one of this group of 21 had distinguished him or herself in some way while at college, through leadership, scholarship, talent, service to the college or local community through volunteering or a combination of these areas.  AOP/HEOP programs nurture students, and with that little bit of extra care, these students blossom into the type of graduate America is hungry for.

I wanted to share the speech, minus the introductory and concluding comments, because I ad-libbed them, because what I have to say, while especially for that very special group, stands for many of the graduates of 2011.

So now, here’s the speech. Congratulations, as well, to all 2011 graduates.

I had many brilliant ideas for this talk. Sheer unadulterated rhetorical brilliance. But they all happened late at night, between sleep and wakefulness and I was too lazy to write them down, so by morning they were gone. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

At times I was seriously tempted to just get up here and wing it. I’m good at improv and sometimes just seeing your faces would have given me plenty of stories to embarrass you with.  But since this is a one shot deal, if it flopped, there’s no redoing it tomorrow.  So I thought the better of that idea.

Instead I wrote this, so I hope it’s OK. And I’m going to read it, more or less, and I know you’re not used to that from me, but if I don’t I might get off track and go on a tangent and who knows where we’ll end up.  And if I don’t have something to focus on up here, I might possible let some water leak out of my eye or something and  that would be gross.

Because I am that proud.

I look out you graduating seniors and my heart swells with love and pride. I remember the kids I met the summer of ’07. Shy, cocky, brash, brilliant, brats, unpolished but so much potential. I’ve watched you over the years, even though I’m far away I’ve got cyber eyes.  Between Facebook and a few summers coming back, I’ve stayed in the loop, and I’ve watched you become the outstanding men and women sitting here today.

You’ve accomplished so much in your four years here. Every time I hear about your studies abroad, your internships, your mentoring, the shows, awards, I feel pride again.

Now it’s traditional to tell graduates that they are the future of the nation because in reality, they are. No getting around that, and as I told you that first time I ever met you, I took your education seriously because you’re going to be taking care of me when I’m an old lady.

But you also know me. And tradition, while nice, is not all that important to me.  It’s good to know our roots but slavish following of what was done before is just foolish.

And you’re not just the future. You’re the now. You’re changing the world already. You’ve changed it already. You’re the role models to the kids in your neighborhoods, to your relatives, to the people who think they are unimportant in our society because our society shows them every day that they are not valued—the immigrants, the working class, the poor. Some of you are the first college graduate in your family, like I was. Through this achievement alone, you’ve already changed the entire trajectory of your family’s American history.  

That’s a pretty big responsibility for people so relatively young. But so far, you’re pulling it off with grace.

You’re a very lucky group people—you’re Union graduates. I’m not saying this because I’m at Union, but this is a school of which to be proud. Graduating from here grants you access to a different world, and your degree is a great gift. You worked very hard for that gift, but it’s still a gift thanks to the wonderful AOP/HEOP program that brought you to a school you might not otherwise have been able to attend.

But there’s a catch, and the gift comes with strings.  “to whom much has been given, much will be required” and no, I’m not paraphrasing Uncle Ben. He was paraphrasing the book of Luke, a much older source of wisdom.

The strings are in the choices you make. Humans are such interesting animals. They fascinate me. They are capable of much baseness and evil, and we see this every single day. yet at their best, they are brilliant. Most, though, choose mediocrity.  They take the easy path of going along to get along. They lose the spark and fade into age. 

Tonight, I am giving you a charge: Choose rightly: be magnificent. 

Choose whatever path you want to follow in life, even if you have to create the path as you go, but travel on that path with gusto. If you do something, do it flat out, no holds barred. Don’t hold back. As Emerson wrote, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

 This is a difficult choice I’m asking you to make. I know it. It is easier to hold back, to not give everything of one’s self. In the eyes of the world, it’s smarter. Protect yourself, they tell us. Don’t “wear your heart on your sleeve”. And for goodness sake, don’t be uncool. Chill, don’t be too enthusiastic. Not cool, man.

Edna St. Vincent Millay had this to say to them: “My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!”

Be a child of light. Continue to be an illumination to this world. That is the charge I’m giving you.

And do it with love—let that be the source of your power because it really can move mountains and change the world.

In “Praise Song for the Day,” Elizabeth Alexander’s poem written for Barack Obama’s inauguration, she wrote:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

I love those words. Love that casts a widening pool of light–what an image!  Can’t you just see the light of disinterested love widening from each person, enveloping one another in that healing, caring light–the light that drives out darkness?  As Dr. Martin Luther King tells us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.“

These are the things that will change this world for the better. And I charge you to try.

And since you’re going to be busy being magnificent you will change the world. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Do you want a kinder world? Be kind. More just? Be just.  Whatever you do, do with thought.  Ask: What are the ramifications of my action?

Again, this is not an easy path. But have I ever asked you to take the easy way? The easy way’s not worth it. This is a hard won, stony path to choose. It is so much easier to be thoughtless. To react instead of acting from thought. Take it from me, I know. But you will never regret anything you do or say if you act and don’t react.

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