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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For Members Only

One thing I do to help out around here is regularly harangue Maine Today Media about its lack of female political columnists.  Recent commentary published by MTM written by women suggests my Herculean efforts may be starting to finally pay off, but even more enlightening on the topic is an opinion written by a self-described “powerlifting pundit, paleo practitioner and paternal force for good.” We’ll call him “Dan the Man,” or “DTM” for short.

My simple rational argument is as follows: The male-dominated public conversation about politics feeds the male-dominated political landscape that causes war, climate change, the wage gap and overall degradation of civilized society. Over and over I make the case to MTM with the hope my refrain becomes an ear worm. (Not a mean, bitter ear worm – a nice friendly one)

Perplexed about why a mainstream newspaper doesn’t want to appeal to a mainstream tribe of thinkers like me who read the local op-eds and listen to morning talk radio with clenched teeth and a racing heart until near-death by exasperation? Me too! Only an editorial Epipen administered by NPR or the New York Times brings me temporary relief of my whiteguyitis symptoms. I seek an antidote to the underlying disease.

Major advances over the past two weeks offer a glimmer of hope that a cure to debilitating whiteguyitis is likely attainable in two or possibly three hundred years.

Last Sunday, MTM’s “Insight” section included the usual slew of opinion pieces written by white guys covering foreign affairs, national politics and Maine’s governor, but added to the mix was a riveting article written by a woman about hot flashes.

Menopause is a tough first act to follow, but this week Insight did not disappoint. Politics was “analyzed” again by the usual suspects, and a woman was given ink to offer her well-researched article about life after Jazzercise.

Calorie-counting and fantasizing about being a backup dancer at a Cher concert is heady stuff, for sure, but what aroused my interest was Dan the Man’s essay about the use of social media and the rise of the GOP.

Making the excellent point that moderate Republicans need to reign in extremists, DTM uses a titillating, very insightful pun. He writes, “a tweet from a member of Congress can add to the national debate. On at least one occasion, however, a member of Congress actually tweeted a photo of his member, and it is hard to come up with an example of a bigger self-inflicted public relations blunder.”

Hard, indeed.

I’m no columnist, but I thought a “member” was a person who belongs to a group. Who knew certain male body parts achieved personhood?  It’s no wonder women aren’t allowed in this club. We’re outnumbered two to one.


(Is it really hot in here, or is it just me?) 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Epiphany: We Are Irrationally Exhuberant


Lord knows hope of upward mobility for average people died and went to heaven, but what on earth gave Americans the fortitude in 2013 to reach such a high score on the consumer confidence index? It’s a miracle, if you think about it. With record numbers of people unemployed and living in poverty, and homelessness and hungry kids everywhere, we managed to score a whopping 78.1%!

It was a  mystery….how did the struggling mass of consumers manage to faithfully keep shopping when the economy still sucks for the average family, and who’s keeping score, anyway?

And then I had an epiphany.

An illuminating but simple discovery came to me days shy of January 6th, the Epiphany. I guess that’s what happens when Christmas carols start playing on November 1st. The advent of the shopping season tinkers with the Season of Advent, and we ebb and flow paycheck to paycheck instead of looking to scripture, the moon or the spinning of the earth for a calendar.  

It was revealed to me that consumers are the sheep in the nativity story, and we are getting fleeced.

‘Tis still the season, though, and blessed are we for the news of our high confidence scores, good tidings and great joy, which shall be to all people.  

And stoked are the richest 10% who own 90% of the stock market on the announcement it had its best year since 1995 and doubled in value since 2009. The perfect gift for that special someone who has all the gold, mir and frankincense they need.

My only son was born in 1995, not in a manger, but into the American middle class, that largest congregation of consumers on the planet. He’s confident, too, as are all his 19 year-old friends of their immortality and good looks. But that doesn’t reduce the ridiculous cost of their college tuition.

Like well-worn Christmas pageant costumes, the earnings of middle class families haven’t changed since 1988, while the cost of education, housing and health care has skyrocketed. We continue to consume in confidence, though!

Meanwhile the tiniest handful of angels consume all the money.

So my epiphany is this: having just three kings among 300 million people in a democracy is not just a sin, it’s ridiculously unwise.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Common Ground With Eliot Cutler

I’m happy -- flattered even -- to share my little plot of Internet real estate with my neighbor, Eliot Cutler. With the right algorithm, you might find his ad for governor at the bottom of this post, too. Since the holy grail of today’s politics is “finding common ground,” kudos to all seven people who read this blog and see his message. 

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” the saying goes, but the more interesting phenomena are not the tribes that politics create, but the tribalism. Politics can be silly, like grade school, which reminds me that the best thing I have in common with Eliot Cutler is his nephew, Jack.  

Jack befriended my son on the first day of kindergarten at Small School in South Portland. This funny, big-hearted, cute kid came with equal parts irreverence and wit, making him one of very few 5 year-olds fun to be around for more than 15 minutes.

Compared to my son, Harrison, the firstborn to nervous and mildly intolerant parents, Jack is the youngest of three to calm, incredibly warm, confident people who helped us loosen our grip, and as a result enriched our lives.  We reluctantly caved to gentle pressure, for example, to let the boys ski alone at Sugarloaf, in the glades, and they were out for hours having terrific fun. 

And we nervously agreed to let Harrison take up Jack’s generous invitation see a Warren Miller film at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, at night, when they were "only" 10 years-old. The Polaroid photo capturing their joy remains on display in Harrison’s room, and the memory of my anxiety waiting up for his safe return is now humorous. 

When the store opened in town selling Cosmic Wimpout and Lord of the Rings cards to tattooed people with black nail polish and guage earrings, Jack led the way. Soon packs of kids were running around our house waving sticks and beating back imaginary orks in breathless frenzy, as existential parenting questions raced through my mind.

“Is pretend violence okay if your child is fighting imaginary evil?”

Now after our family ritual of watching all three Lord of the Rings films, my non-violent kids inevitably pick up where they left off years ago, using rolls of Christmas wrapping paper as swords.

In October of 2003 we moved just up the road from South Portland to Cape Elizabeth. Jack came over to play, and his mother brought us a delicious cake on a beautiful square plate as a house warming gift. The two boys took off down the hill to our new neighbors’ yard to join a skirmish of kids playing, as if nothing had changed.

My new neighbors were very impressed with Jack, who they were told was the son of Governor John Baldacci. And they believed him. 

I laugh every time I think of this story, and I suspect Eliot might chuckle if he hears it, too.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting Good and Old

Serenity might be too strong a word, but forgive me. My mind is foggy from heavy injections of sugar, butter, and tryptophan. Just two helpings of potatoes short of Thanksgiving nirvana, I count my blessings and reflect.
As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, Thanksgiving was somewhat ambiguous. My nick-name was "Chub" which might explain why endless food as a holiday theme struck a cord. But some of it was really gross. Stuffing, for example. Soggy chunks of onions and celery? No thanks. Canned green bean casserole with chow mein noodles on top? Are you kidding me? 

There was a lot of love in the air in those days, with a touch of family tension. Leading up to sitting down for dinner, the momentum in the kitchen was palpable and intense. Humming of mixers, the buzzing of an electric carving knife and endless whisking was accompanied by the oven door opening and closing, again and again, in crescendo. Foil-covered bowls and pots outnumbered guests. "Stir the gravy!" It was hot. The dishes and pans to wash were overwhelming.
Then I got married and marched to the beat of Martha Stewart. I toiled over an artichoke stuffing with free-range walnuts that nobody liked. The turkey was blessed and fed a last supper of organic grain before it was killed, wrapped and priced accordingly. Roasted root vegetables with sprigs of herbs we grew in pots on our deck were not quite the hit I anticipated. That fourth trip downtown in heavy traffic for the Gewurtztraminer we absolutely needed for dinner made me cranky. The dishes that I transferred the food to from the pots in order to look good on the table were even more overwhelming, and not dishwasher safe. 

With a headache from our too-expensive wine, everything was more challenging. The icing on the homemade carrot cake was that my kids didn't eat much at Thanksgiving dinner and were hungry for macaroni and cheese shortly afterwards. And I made it for them.
Thank God middle age has set in!  I look in the mirror and the blurry, older version of myself accepts that I was never much of a fancy cook. That's why we have older sisters. All I want is for family, friends and my dog to be around and relatively happy. A "natural" Butterball Turkey seems quite content in my refrigerator. The pretty box of Bell Stuffing is sleek enough in its simplicity, and the ingredients thankfully too small to read. Pie-making is happily surrendered to my cheerful and enthusiastic daughter. I am able to turn a blind eye to my son drinking soda, eating cookies and playing video games minutes before dinner. It's their smiles and laughter I crave.

I drink the wine that is closest to me, and open. Even dog hair blowing around in tumbleweeds in the right light can be artistic. With this age comes freedom to give in to and thoroughly enjoy the unique energy and momentum of us.  The recipe for fond memories, it turns out, is pretty simple.
Presented on Thanksgiving is an opportunity to live in the moment of the incredible abundance that surrounds me. I'm deeply grateful to have, at last, the good sense to seize it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The First Step to Recovery

Thursday, November 21, 2012
Portland, Maine

Riveted to my computer screen today, I jumped back and forth from C-SPAN to Twitter, completely ignoring the piles of work on my desk and the phone that was ringing. My heart was racing, my mood euphoric, my palms sweaty.

I got high on filibuster reform today, and I might be addicted to change.

There were motions and emotions, speech and debate - all leading to happy hallucinations. Sen. Harry Reid was a strong, courageous cowboy. He was a Majority Master of the Universe who did not bloviate -- did not lecture. He was not pedantic, but instead passionate and virile. Reid fought for us, using words and the rules of the Senate as a mighty sword.

Such a powerful drug was this action in the senate, even Sen. McConnell didn’t annoy me. He was eloquent and brisk. In the fencing match of procedural tricks and machinations the repartee and votes were close and fast. McConnell’s arguments were hollow, of course, but everything looks good in the right light. Waiving Obamacare like shiny rhinestoned shield, McConnell threw up the white flag, shouting to his base,  “Retreat! Fire up the fundraising machine! Prepare for the public relations war!”

After seeing and hearing what happened in the Senate today, while reading and tweeting reaction and surprise, I finally know what its like to play Halo or be an NHL fan. Maybe this is what watching Downtown Abby does to people. 

The drama, the pageantry and the visceral emotion if captured and transmitted to the grid could power a bright future.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gasbags in Maine Explain Gender Wage Gap




The “liberal media” in conspiracy with the Census Bureau reported this week that women earn 80% of what men earn, on average.

Research explains roughly 60% of the problem: Women pull out of the fast lane to care for children or enter professions that pay less, for example. Forty percent of the gender wage gap “puzzle” however is a gaping black hole not explained by scientific study.

The issue of persistent inequality of income between men and women in the United States is open to sheer speculation, and one thing we know for sure is that gasbags abhor a vacuum.

Look no further than the Sage of Farmington to offer his keen insight as to why women don’t earn equal pay for equal work in the land of equal opportunity. His self-absorbed, back-slapping column doesn’t tackle the issue directly, but its mere presence in Maine newspapers offers some not-so-nuanced clues.

The Sage writes of his love to read and reread what a fellow curmudgeon columnist writes adoringly about him, but makes it clear he won’t stoop to read anything written by conservative-turned-liberal women, like Arianna Huffington.  While he delights in rattling off a laundry list of obscure male writers he and like-minded true “genetic conservatives” inhale, Huffington isn’t “intellectual” enough for his club. She is merely “good looking.”

With all his time spent reading hard-to-find works of underground pure conservatives, it’s no wonder the Sage has never encountered a single person who has drifted from the right to the left of the political spectrum. His worldview springs forth from an echo chamber like a breath of stale air. How privileged we are in Maine to read his opinions and ideas in the newspapers and on the Internet.

So what do the women columnists have to say about the subject of disparate pay in Maine, and the nation?  

Well, that’s left to speculation as well! You see there are plenty of conservative men who are paid to lament publicly about being treated unfairly by the “liberal media,” but no women paid less to weigh in on the gender gap, or anything else political for that matter.

A cruel irony, perhaps, is that women’s voices are welcome, for free, on the Huffington Post.

Why don’t things change and get better for working women, with regularly published lectures from men like the Sage who writes with pride that he “never experienced a transition?” What a surprise the gender wage gap continues, with daily doses of what old farts like him have to say.

The Sage is given a public voice by the biggest news outlet in Maine to write about his resentment of being constantly exposed to liberal points of view, while according to him “liberals” live their entire lives “without any direct exposure at all” to conservative brilliance.  

I dare you to speculate what will happen when the people of Maine are finally given “direct exposure” to women’s voices in the media about political issues like the chronic wage gap between men and women. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest us girls will be paid more fairly. Good looking, or not.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Double Standard for Women: Democrats and Republicans on Common Ground

As one Christian woman to another, I fully support Maine Republican House member Amy’s Volk’s legislation to erase prostitution convictions from the records of human trafficking victims. My God, what if Mary Magdalane had a rap sheet? We might not know He is risen.

But let’s put aside the merits of the legislation, and assume we are on common ground when it comes to having compassion and doing what’s right for those forced in to sex slavery.

What Maine’s political party chairmen did and said following the dismissal of Volk’s legislation by Democratic leaders is of interest to me.

"This is a Republican party and a conservative legislator who is desperate to try to realign a gender gap that their party faces at the polls, and a representative who needs to kind of soften her hard edges,” said the Democratic Chair Ben Grant, justifying the partisan smackdown of Volk’s bill.

Anyone who knows Representative Volk will attest she is hardly a woman with hard edges. “Curvaceous” is more like it. But it’s not her body Grant is talking about. For lack of a Christian term, it’s her chutzpah.

Grant’s remarks were offensive, like GOP Chairman Bennett said to his base, before dramatically demanding an apology while invoking Volk’s religion.

“For the Democrat Chairman to say that Rep. Volk is just trying to ‘soften her edges’ sounds patronizing and sexist...Rep. Volk is a Christian woman who feels strongly about helping people recover from difficult situations; she was involved in an effort at her church to raise money to fight human trafficking well before this bill came out….”

Did Bennett say something about Christianity and fundraising? That’s a familiar tune straight from the conservative hymnal. It’s not that Volk is feisty, she’s doing God’s work.

Either the weight of Catholic guilt or polling prompted an “apology” of sorts by Grant. His remorse was couched in intellectual terms, as if “patronizing and sexist” can be disproved with research or ignored like a whiny two-year old in the back seat of a Prius.

"I made several ill-conceived remarks last week about Representative Volk's proposed legislation. Since that interview, I have looked into the matter further and now understand that the issue of human trafficking does occur in all 50 states…”

Grant’s remarks questioning the need for legislation to protect human trafficking victims were ill-conceived, no doubt, and his apology noted.

But what about the remark that Volk needs to soften her hard edges? Grant blurted out what many believe but dare not say. Snarky is for guys.

The challenge for women regardless of party in the blood sport of politics is to succeed without appearing to want success. To win a fight without being scrappy. What’s admired as “bold” in men is scorned as brash in women. What’s sharp is shrill.

The Democratic Party and many “liberals” are theoretically feminist but fall short of always valuing women equal to men. There is a double standard about what’s politically correct. Likewise, theoretically the Republican Party is for “small government,” except when it comes to dictating what women do with their bodies. Prostitutes might not have a criminal record in their world, but they also have no choice.
 
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