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15 January 2018

Opting Out of 'Optics'

OK, I promise to stop with these little pet peeves postings soon. Stop using the neologism "optics." Unlike "impact" and "proactive" which are business-speak, "optics" seems to be political-speak. The more appropriate synonym is "perception" or perhaps "impression." It's true that languages are in constant flux, but it behooves us to know the cultural and structural push and pull from whence these changes arrive.

02 January 2018

Veterans, Holidays, and Health

You know those thoughtful friends who remind us every year around the 4th of July and New Year's Eve that many vets are hurt by the fireworks and gunfire around those celebrations? They are good, thoughtful people, and we should thank them. They are also wrong. OK, maybe not "wrong," but I think they unintentionally are missing a chance to address the root cause of the issue. When vets are hurt when we celebrate our national birthday and the beginning of our year, we shouldn't question our celebrations; we should question war. Let's end war. No one should need to suffer PTSD or TBI for my freedom. Freedom may not be free, so we're told, but we should be fully aware of who bears the cost for whom.

31 December 2017

Be Proactive with Your Language by Avoiding 'Proactive'

While I'm at it, stop using the neologism "proactive." (See my previous rant against "impact" here.) The synonyms "active" and "preemptive" are almost always adequate. Like "impact," "proactive" is business-speak and reflects the creeping, hegemonic influence of capitalism. Resist these intrusions.

14 December 2017

Convenience, Kids, and Camaraderie

My three-year-old attends two different "preschools" this year, one Monday/Wednesday/Friday and another Tuesday/Thursday. (We'd prefer that she attend just one, but we missed our shot at the five-days-a-week class.) It's presented a natural experiment of sorts. The dropoff policy for the MWF school is that parents park their cars and walk their kids to and from the classrooms. The policy for the TR school is that parents queue their cars in the driveway and allow the teachers to come get the kids out of the cars. I have generally good interaction with the teachers and administrators at both schools. The stark difference ends up being in the relationships among the parents. The simple act of walking past the same faces six times a week, the eye contact, the head nods, the hellos, and at times, the conversations generate solidarity. Staring at strangers through my windshield and rearview mirror may generate curiosity but not much else. I know many of my daughter's classmates and their parents by name at the MWF school. At the TR holiday program today, I realized I was standing awkwardly among a group of nameless strangers. The convenience of the rolling dropoff isn't all that convenient after all.

13 December 2017

It's Time to Take Place out of Politics

FiveThirtyEight has a cool, ongoing podcast series on gerrymandering. It's gotten me thinking about an underlying issue that everyone seems to take for granted and no one I've heard is questioning. Namely, our entire representative democracy is based on geography; that is, we are represented based on where we live instead of (or even in addition to) our political ideology, social identities, etc. That's not to say that politics, identity, etc. aren't a part of electoral politics; it's just that those things are all mediated (inefficiently, I would argue) through place.

Undoubtedly, the central role of place in our democracy is owed to the technological limitations of colonial America. Moreover, land (and thus place) mattered in agrarian society in a way that it longer does in a post-industrial society. Place, then, is a decidedly 18th-century solution to representative democracy that simply no longer represents the people of the 21st century. I've written around this idea previously.

One reason that place has persisted is that place can quite easily be exploited by those with terrible intentions. For example, "state's rights" (i.e. regional autonymy) was invoked as a defense for first slavery and later Jim Crow discrimination. Another example is calls for "local control" as a defense for segregation in school districts.

A term that shows up in the podcasts (which I assume is from the political science literature) is "natural political geography." The basic idea is that people "naturally" sort themselves by place, most importantly by conservative/Republican and progressive/Democrat. In other words, it's not so much that people on the coasts have convinced each other over time to become liberal and that people in the "flyover states" have convinced each other over time to become conservative; instead, it's that people have been more likely to move to specific regions, states, cities, and neighborhoods where people already share their ideology. (Incidentally, sociology has long known of the structural sorting that happens for race and class.) However, there is nothing "natural" about people choosing to live by those with politics that are similar to their own or, more accurately, choosing not to live among those who are politically intolerant to them. If this phenomenon does indeed exist, it is at least in part a response to the fact that we do politics via place.

Our current set of political issues are not bounded. They include structural concerns over race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. We need an electoral system that acknowledges this. Moreover, the problems that SCoTUS is currently considering in Gill v. Whitford, including "packing and cracking," are created by our insistence on place and could be remedied if we admit that we don't live in that world anymore.