Politics by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
Choosing Women’s Health
August 11, 2015 12:15 PM | 68063 views | 0 0 comments | 1996 1996 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

view as list
Facebook and Politics: The Loss of Manners in a New Age
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
August 03, 2012 09:03 AM | 3745 views | 3 3 comments | 118 118 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Facebook is an interesting forum for gauging how people really feel about how politics should mix with polite conversation.  In fact, I am often amazed by the information people disseminate through social networking with nary a thought to whether or not that information is accurate, skewed, or downright offensive to others.

The most interesting thing is that unlike the strangers who share opinions at the end of blog articles, if you can read a Facebook post, you must know the poster.  You went to high school or college or summer camp together, so you probably don’t feel it’s unreasonable to expect these “friends” to avoid crudely spitting on your views.  

Yet people don’t seem to mind doing just this in the Facebook forum, as if Emily Post never owned a laptop so can’t weigh in on manners in the New Age.  

Now I must admit that I have occasionally tried to engage with people who start political threads of the incendiary nature because I figure if a person posts an image labeled “Too Informed to Vote Republican” or “Too Informed to Vote Democrat” on a fairly public website, that person is “informed” enough to expound on his or her views.  Certainly, if challenged, one should have enough intellectual capital to justify and defend a published point.   Like a campaign sign staked in a front yard, posts declare positions, and positions are worthy of discussion, right?  

I am, apparently, entirely too optimistic for cyberspace.  

In truth, people who ignite bombs on the Internet with the push of a “share” button are generally not interested in the ideas of others, and they haven’t often gone through the bother of analyzing their own, oft-sophomoric demagoguery.  

Ironically, it’s those “friends” who attack political opponents with the most vicious abandon, who shoot off bullets from their keyboards as fast as their semi-automatic fingers can fire, who almost always feel as if they’re somehow more open-minded than those they disparage.

It’s a most curious state of affairs.  

Sometimes it leaves me pining for the world as it used to be when people avoided certain topics at cocktail parties for the sake of communal harmony unless they were really capable of having civil exchanges.

Of course we used to still talk about hot button topics at such social gatherings, but we also tried to remember our manners. We either managed to debate, explore ideas, make each other think, and even agree to disagree without real rancor, or we kept silent.  We certainly didn’t make broad statements about any friend’s lack of morality based solely on a person’s politics, which, I suggest, is about as fair as racial profiling or cultural stereotyping, neither of which would be deemed okay to do on the Internet.  (Just ask that Greek Olympian about the fallout from her recent Tweet!)  

At the absolute least, in those innocent days when people interacted face-to-face, it was unacceptable to walk up to a fellow partygoer and start shouting about how ignorant and mean he must be to come from a certain political persuasion while spewing little flecks of spittle onto his cheeks.

Why has this become okay to do electronically?     

Keep in mind these observations are not meant to admonish or stifle vigorous and honest debate in any place, including Facebook, where people wish to bandy about passionate opinions.  In truth, in a free society, open discourse is essential for an informed and engaged electorate.   I’ve “met” people of different political persuasions who have made valid points on a “friend’s” thread, and I value those interactions because I think they bridge divides between Americans, which makes our country stronger.

But I would caution us all to consider how we comport ourselves in every forum when we’re talking about sensitive topics.   

Just because one’s “speaking” from the safe confines of his or her basement, it’s not okay to belittle or bully like an intolerant blowhard when someone else has a different perspective.

Worse than trolls who at least realize what they’re doing, such “friends” come across as self-righteous morons, and I want to engage with them about as much as I wanted to talk to the guy who got sloppy drunk and started swinging his fists at yesteryear’s cocktail parties.

Of course, I suppose an easy solution is to “unfriend” those posting beyond the bounds of good taste, but I like having this window into the minds of others.  It helps me know who to exclude when I send out invitations to people I’d like to have swing by for a chat in my real house.
comments (3)
view/post comments
Chris Sanchez
August 05, 2012
Barbara: very nice article! The kinder, gentler days of yesteryear are but a memory. In their place we find a populous who is quite comfortable lobbing grenades at people anonymously like it is some sort of Olympic sport. But such behavior begs the question: why?

Why is it okay to behave in a way that a mere twenty years ago would lead to one being an outcast? It is the "everyone kid gets a trophy for participating" approach to raising children so prevalent today? Something else? In our nation the public discourse has fallen to such lows that it is difficult to imagine a positive change. Oh how I pray for that though!

The Sweet Taste of Activism
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
July 27, 2012 01:45 PM | 2637 views | 1 1 comments | 118 118 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Despite the fact that I am ideologically opposed to the very progressive ethos of Ben and Jerry's, I have just finished licking the ice cream off my spoon because those boys with the cows in their ad campaigns sure know how to dish up Cookie Dough; they have every right in a free country to have political views that don't gel with mine, and as long as they put out a good product, I'll buy it.   (Yummm...  Ice creammm....)  

But hey!  If I ever change my mind and decide to try and stop an ice cream parlor from opening in a city with a 9.8% unemployment rate because the multimillionaire founders say things I don't like, I can tell that guy who wants to feed his family--who needs the wages he might have earned in the store that never quite opens--to just shut up and eat cake.  Or apply for food stamps.  I have my principles at stake.  

Makes total sense, right?
comments (1)
view/post comments
July 28, 2012
Makes perfect sense :)

I love B&J's ice cream, also; and don't give one whit about their politics.

The Destruction of the Individual: A Foreign Concept
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
July 18, 2012 11:13 AM | 2833 views | 13 13 comments | 121 121 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

There is a series of statues in Prague that serves as a memorial to the victims of communism. This series is called the Pomník Obětem Komunismu. It was erected twelve years after the Velvet Revolution, which was the historic pulling away of the Iron Curtain from a Czechoslovakia too long obscured by the dark powers of Stalinism.

Today, Pomník Obětem Komunismu reminds citizens of all nations of the brutal oppression and loss of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in the dark days of totalitarian despotism when the Soviet Union was the undisputed Big Brother of Eastern Europe. It can be found at the base of Petrin Hill in the Czech Republic, and it is, indeed, a visually powerful work of art.

In fact, out of all the many amazing things I have seen in extensive travels, this memorial has impacted me in a way that many other, similarly focused works have not. I’ve thought about it often, and as a teacher, I’ve even used images of it when addressing themes in George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984.

However, I did not ever expect an American president to make me recall this memorial as President Obama did last week in a campaign speech extolling the virtues of government sponsored group work, the illusory power of the individual.

First, I need for you to imagine a long flight of stairs cutting up a green hill. On those stairs walks a bronze man with an expression of misery. His body is naked and vulnerable. But what you notice most is the same man a few steps further up the hill. This version is cracked. Now he is missing a limb, two limbs. Now he is not himself, not a man, not a whole human being. Now he is broken.

The system under which this man—and the many real people he symbolizes--lost his very sense of self was an insidious one built in parallel to the ideology of double-think used to destroy Orwell’s fictitious Winston Smith in the aforementioned 1984. Under its banner, the government was glorified, and the worker became an insignificant drone in a living hive focused on collective perpetuity.

So why did President Obama recall this memorial to my mind?

I do not think that President Obama is a communist. (In truth, British author George Orwell was a democratic socialist, not a capitalist.) But I do think the president’s speech shows an ideological bent counter to my understanding of the United States.

For example, when praising the higher income tax rates President Bill Clinton imposed in a time of prosperity on higher wage earners, President Obama said, “We created 23 million new jobs… We created a lot of millionaires.”

This simple statement, which has not garnered much attention from any press, is the most shocking to me. It puts “we”—which is the government per the president’s use—into an almost God-like position, shaping the financial fortunes of the chosen few, as if it is through the power of the state that men are made.

This is not the idea upon which the American system is built.

Rather, our Founding Fathers formed a government to deal with collective affairs of state in a way that keeps the individual sacrosanct. Voters dictate policy to the government and then consent to fund that government’s initiatives, not the other way around.

Therefore, “we” in Obama’s sense of the word never create jobs or millionaires.

People in the nineties were allowed to pursue happiness as they saw fit to create their own wealth. They then gave a percentage of their earned income to a government that worked for them to maintain the infrastructure and hire public servants needed for the country to run smoothly, not the other way around.

In other words, the private sector creates jobs, is responsible for millionaires, and employs everyone who works for the government, not the other way around.

President Obama then said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Again, this foreign sentiment strips an American of the right to any contributions made to his own system. It suggests “somebody else” dictates success. Therefore, no one should have pride in ownership, no sense of accomplishment, no right to the forging of his or her own destiny because the individual isn’t important.

To visualize this worldview is to visualize the Czech statues. To think this way is to deny that some individuals squander every advantage; others press even the most miniscule of opportunities, and all free people have the power to choose.

Furthermore, if one reads the president’s entire speech made in Roanoke, there is a great deal of class demagoguery couched in contradictory populist platitudes (or double speak), which suggests all good comes from government programs, not the other way around.

My favorite sentiment toward the end of all this blather is the promise that the president said he has fulfilled, which is to wake up every morning to think about how to make “your life a little bit better.”

I suppose he is deciding which of us precious few drones shall have jobs in his command economy. Perhaps he is choosing which of us is allowed to walk up that government-built staircase on the green hill of success for certainly we cannot get to the top without him or improve our lives on our own.

Truly, it must be nice for him to be such a powerful individual in this country where only he can stand alone.

comments (13)
view/post comments
August 04, 2012

In reading the posts, I find that you are far too kind in your responses, but I admire your knowledge, reasoning, respect and patience with those with whom you disagree..

You are a better man than I am...

A Mandate is a Tax is a Penalty: The Politics of Semantics
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
July 06, 2012 11:02 AM | 2685 views | 0 0 comments | 113 113 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Benjamin Lee Whorf was an American linguist who put forth the principle of linguistic relativity.  Basically, he believed the structure of a language shapes how a speaker thinks.  His thesis has been contradicted to an extent by the work of men like Noam Chomsky, but writers and politicians innately understand—it is impossible to argue—that words in general have shifting emotional associations, which influence how people react to arguments.

This is relevant because, while the Supreme Court has deemed the only way to view the individual mandate as constitutional is to view it as a tax, there is a reason President Obama did not present it as a tax in the first place and still insists the mandate is a penalty. 

In the grand scheme, this is all very puzzling, and the linguistic nature of the debate has become most interesting to geeks like me who are in love with the nuances of the English language. 

To expound on that debate, I go to my handy-dandy dictionary.

A tax is 1) a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc., 2) a burdensome charge, obligation, duty, or demand. 

A mandate is a 1) command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative, 2) a command from a superior court or official to a lower one, 3) an authoritative order or command. 

A penalty is 1) a punishment established by law or authority for a crime or offense, 2) something, especially a sum of money, required as a forfeit for an offense, 3) the disadvantage or painful consequences resulting from an action or condition. 

When analyzing Chief Justice Robert’s ruling with these definitions, I can accept that the individual “mandate,” which was never popular with the electorate, is simply a sum of money demanded by the government to support its new healthcare behemoth.  It is a burdensome charge on those who do not buy healthcare but who will use healthcare services.  Therefore, it is a tax on healthcare.

Additionally, I can understand the requirement to pay this tax isn’t a “mandate,” because, according to our Supreme Court, our government cannot within the bounds of the Constitution order or command citizens to buy a private product.

(Yes, friends, there is a difference between “demand” and “command.”)

Additionally, if the “mandate” is then simply a “penalty” instead of a “tax” as President Obama continues to claim, I must assume not buying healthcare is a crime or offense.  This implies the government can “mandate” that all people buy healthcare, which we’ve already determined is unconstitutional at the federal level based on the meaning of “mandate.” 

Perhaps the Obama administration would then use a dictionary to argue with me that the penalty is simply the disadvantage or painful consequence resulting from an action or condition, but one has to engage in a certain amount of Orwellian “double think” to make this case because not buying health insurance is certainly an inaction, and the only condition required of a person on which this penalty is levied is existing. 

Aren’t semantics fun?

Besides, if one wishes to substitute the word “penalty” for “tax,” a Pandora’s box is opened to obfuscate the negative connotations of these words.

For example, if we call the healthcare penalty a “tax,” it is clear to voters that President Obama blatantly broke his promise to not raise taxes on the middle class. 

This is true because people who don’t have healthcare are not normally the folks who make over $200,000 a year.  They also aren’t poor, or they’d qualify for Medicaid.   They are in the middle-income bracket, often young and starting out in life.  Therefore, no matter how you look at it, a lot of people in the middle class will see a hike in their taxes.

President Obama knows this, so whatever he thought about the individual mandate before the ruling, he’s now misleading voters because it’s not politically expedient to accept what he has made is a tax.  

Of course, I must address the assertion that relies on the hope that only a small portion of people will have to pay this tax, so it’s a “half truth” to assert President Obama is doing exactly what he said he wouldn’t do: levying a major tax on people he promised to leave alone.  When it doesn’t impact a lot of people, it’s really more like a penalty levied on folks who should be giving their fair share anyway, right?

Okay.  So let’s go with these parameters when looking at another taxing scenario and see if this logic works politically.

According to the 2012 Index of Dependence on Government, a full half of the American population doesn’t pay any federal income tax.   Therefore, can we agree income taxes are only levied on some citizens, right? 

Well, in that case, let’s substitute the word “tax” with the word “penalty.”  Only half of the people in the United States must pay an “income penalty” to the federal government.  These people pay this penalty because they have been financially successful.  Clearly, these people are being penalized for their financial success. 

Per this logic, I suppose the income penalty payers should aspire to invest less, make less, do less, and avoid punishment from the government in the future.  They should try to fit into that group who doesn’t pay a penalty—yet reaps the benefits of all the programs that income taxes support—because making a good income is an offense in this country.  It’s only fair to make those people have a painful consequence for being productive, right?

Do you see how sometimes a “penalty” is worse than a “tax” regardless of how many people pay it?     Can you see why politicians like to splice meanings to lead you to only their conclusions?  Conversely, the “tax” in the ACA has bad optics.

Now, I won’t lie and say I like the Affordable Care Act, and I would have preferred the ruling go with the dissent that would have killed it. But I can understand how judges much smarter than me were able to conclude that the individual mandate is something other than what it was said to be because a thing is its definition.  I can accept President Obama has levied a new tax. 

You should ask yourself, why can’t Democrats? 

comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet

The Affordable Care Act Ruling: The Chief Justice is not Frankenstein
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
June 28, 2012 03:19 PM | 2827 views | 5 5 comments | 113 113 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I have not gone to law school, and Supreme Court rulings are far above my expertise. However, I am enough of a student of history to know the majority opinion on the Affordable Care Act was destined to be controversial no matter what the verdict.

In fact, if the ruling had gone another way, many people would still be unhappy.

As it stands, forcing an individual to participate in commerce has been ruled beyond the power of the federal government, but this matters naught as the majority of justices have also accepted the argument that the mandate requiring every American citizen to maintain healthcare is actually a tax, which is within the reasonable purview of Congress.

The logic per the ruling is framed within the government’s assertion that “even if Congress lacks the power to direct individuals to buy insurance, the only effect of the individual mandate is to raise taxes on those who do not do so, and thus the law may be upheld as a tax.”

How exactly this tax will be levied on American citizens now seems to me a complex and onerous question because nothing about Obamacare is as it was presented to be to the American people.

Contrary to what Democrats claimed while forcing the bill against popular opinion and into law, the costs of healthcare have not been curbed; a major tax is being levied on American citizens, and guarantees for keeping in tact current coverage for those who like their healthcare plans are viewed by most as empty.

Of course conservative pundits are excoriating Chief Justice John Roberts for his acceptance of the argument that the individual mandate is a tax. The hope was that this heart of the bill would be ripped out and destroyed as unconstitutional. Now the Chief Justice with his unexpected swing vote has acted like Dr. Frankenstein, allowing the monster to live.

While I am an unabashed conservative who feels this signature “accomplishment” of President Obama’s is destructive, I took the time to actually read the logic used in the ruling, which is undergirded with precedents that lend strength to the opinion.

As the ruling states, “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not [the Court’s] role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

I can speculate with these words that Chief Justice Roberts—and even, perhaps, his more liberal peers—sees much in Obamacare is not wise, fair, or desirable for the nation. There are many implications for the economy and the American healthcare system that one can argue are not good. In fact, aspects of Medicaid expansion have been ruled unconstitutional, and this will impact the funding and execution of this law.

But Chief Justice Roberts did not create the Affordable Care Act. His only job was to interpret whether or not contested aspects of the thing could stand under our Constitution. In my opinion, he has not acted unfairly here anymore than he was an “ideologue” when ruling in cases such Citizens United that left liberals calling foul and seeing red. He has simply analyzed the case and expressed his opinion.

Certainly the merits of this ruling can be argued as they are argued in an equally articulate dissent, but I can respect the rationale so succinctly written by the Chief Justice. In fact, I fervently hope that people forming an opinion on this ruling look at the source documents rather than rely exclusively on the talking heads that dominate our media. After all, we must respect rulings by the Supreme Court even when they are not what we expected them to be, and we should try to understand more than sound-bytes.

Besides, while Obamacare’s heart may still be beating, this creature birthed exclusively by Democrats is ugly, hated by a strong majority, and surely doomed to lumber into a life of unexpected consequences that will not increase its popularity. If one really despises this legislation, the way to fight it is in the voting booth. The way to kill it is to elect a Republican President and Republican Senate.

After all, per Chief Justice Robert’s opinion, “The Framers created a Federal Government of limited powers, and assigned to this Court the duty of enforcing those limits…. But the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”

Now let the people speak.

comments (5)
view/post comments
July 03, 2012
I think columns like these need to acknowledge that they are based on a half-truth. Barbara and others like to lead readers into believe that the tax penalty applies to everyone when in fact it will only apply to the small percentage of people who opt not to purchase insurance. So when you say "a major tax is being levied on American citizens" it sound much worse than when you say "A major tax is being levied on American Citizens who refuse to buy health insurance!" See the second one looses much of its teeth because it moves the onus away from the government on onto the person who refuses to buy health insurance. Can we all agree that those wilfully uninsured folk provide the potential and likely risk of raising healthcare cost for the rest of us.

Take Pause on Memorial Day
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
May 28, 2012 09:41 AM | 3263 views | 2 2 comments | 114 114 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

While I have never served in the military, I am the daughter of an Army officer, the granddaughter of a Naval officer, the daughter-in-law of an Air Force officer, the sister of a former Army lieutenant, the sister-in-law of a West Point graduate, the cousin of many others who have served in all the branches of service in all ranks, and the mother of a boy who has had his eyes set on a career in the military since he could walk.

Like most Army brats, I have no illusions about what servicemen and women are asked to sacrifice for their country. I know about long deployments, missed birthdays, and empty seats at holiday tables.

I also know that in addition to the “big” days like high school graduations, soldiers often miss out on those basic family events—those common activities like cheering at football games, attending band recitals, or reading bedtime stories—that we take for granted as part of our daily lives in America.

Rather than being able to quit and move onto a different job when things don’t go in the direction they might have envisioned--when they are ordered to countries they might not know much about or have no desire to visit—those in the military and their families must simply adjust and keep marching forward.

For instance, I recall one year when my brother was stationed in Korea and could not come home for Christmas. My mother left the tinsel-bedecked Christmas tree replete with lights shining in her living room until it was time for her son’s February homecoming. All the brightly wrapped packages were unopened on December 25 because Jim could not join in the joy of the festivities until he was back in Georgia. We wanted to wait for him, and we did.

I remember when I finally picked him up at the airport in Savannah—him beaming and weighted down with the many gifts he couldn’t wait to dole out like a skinny Santa dressed in a camouflaged uniform--I realized we’d missed an entire year of each other’s lives: 365 days gone.

And this all happened long before the increased demands of September 11th.

Now I think with my own mother’s heart about those young men and women in beating sun, biting cold, who choose to stand guard on the front lines of today. So much has been asked of them in the last decade, and the burdens they carry do not get any lighter as withdrawals from war zones come in the face of growing hostilities from other countries like Iran.

I know this must be difficult for all involved, yet how can I really know?


I have never stood in boots. I am not part of the less than one percent who volunteer year after year to stand up for freedom regardless of their politics or the inevitably missed family moments.

So on this Memorial Day Weekend, as many revel at the good sales, Florida beaches and impromptu barbecues, I will stop and think for at least a moment about those many men and women who have not only raised their hands and stepped forward to serve strangers like me, but of those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This is, after all, what this weekend is about. Their spirits are part of our country’s collective family, and they should never be forgotten.

Furthermore, I will further keep vigil every time I say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner at one of those many events we enjoy in the day-to-day that the dead will never attend again.

This is the least that I can do for those who have done so much more for me while asking for nothing in return.

May God always keep them and those they leave behind in the palm of His hand.


comments (2)
view/post comments
Oliver G. Halle
May 28, 2012
I will only add one thought to a very well said, eloquent column. In addition to observing Memorial Day and honoring those who never made it home, we owe it to the wounded veterans to provide them with the best medical treatment available. The politicians who wrap themselves in the flag, particularly those who never wore the uniform, have a moral obligation to provide the necessary funds. Their speeches ring hollow without action on their part, action that includes actively promoting a bill that would appropriate the money.

Unemployment in Unicoi State Park
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
May 22, 2012 02:51 PM | 2572 views | 2 2 comments | 116 116 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

My husband and I went on a guided hike around Helen on Saturday. We joined a small group of delightful strangers from different cities in Georgia who had all traveled north to enjoy the great outdoors. As we eventually ate lunch together on a platform overlooking a waterfall in Unicoi State Park, two things struck me as worthy of note.

First, we are privileged to live in a gorgeous state with incredible natural resources that enhance our quality of life and are worth treasuring and preserving. Second, in an arbitrary party of nine, which included folks in their early twenties to late fifties, three of our hikers had lost their jobs in May.

This latter fact was astonishing to me because according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate in Georgia in April registered at 8.9%. This is slightly higher than the national unemployment rate President Obama touts as falling to 8.1%. Yet the actual unemployment rate amongst our random sampling of Georgia residents was a whopping 33%.

Of course, I realize this number comes from an anecdotal experience. I am no Paul Krugman; this was not a scientific poll, and I don’t even know the detailed circumstances surrounding why three people in different industries had been so recently laid off. (It is always bad form, you see, to drill too deeply into another’s misfortune an hour or two after exchanging names.)

Yet it somehow felt significant that subsequent to crossing a stream and eating turkey sandwiches, three people felt comfortable enough to share the loss of their livelihoods, as if such losses have become so common, they are now a topic of casual conversation, as neutral a discussion as how those Braves are playing.

If this perception is reality, politicians should take note, because it hardly inspires faith in an “improving” economy.

I mean, even in that peaceful setting amidst wild rhododendrons and purple butterflies in the Georgia mountains, 33% of us, at least, were carrying a burden of uncertainty about the future that no statistics spouted on the nightly news have the power to alleviate.

Rather, it should seem as clear as sunshine in this newest election cycle that the one thing that will matter most to an astonishingly large number of voters—whether they keep an R or a D behind their names—will be the path that leads them to a new employer.

comments (2)
view/post comments
ronnie ensley
July 01, 2012
Geez lady..have you never met anyone who has been laid off before.I've been laid off many times in my life and no it is not a life threatening situation.I guess that's why they had the time to come into our mountains as the pesky tourists ya'll are. A guided hike....really...you need a guide to find your way around an overcrowded tourist attraction? How sad...

The Canterbury Tales and Contemporary Politics
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
May 14, 2012 09:23 AM | 4546 views | 5 5 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

My son and I recently went to see a modern adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. This classic work of British literature sparkles with wit as it offers keen insight into the ageless nature of mankind.

After all, while just a commoner, the “father of English poetry” served two kings as a diplomat. As such, he became well versed in the art of discerning the true intent of the human heart.

From what we understand of him, Chaucer was never beguiled by pleasant words or high station. In fact, he used his pen to point out some of the absurdities of his own time, couching scathing criticism for both church and state within his fiction.

Understanding this, I watched with extra interest the retelling of those stories we all read in high school that were staged in a twenty-first century context: the Wife of Bath with a Gucci purse, the Miller coming across as a loud-mouthed football fan, and the Pardoner in his salesman’s suit.

Though it lost some of the nuance found in the original stories--some of the complexity of the ideas explored as well as the intricacies of the prose text--the production did something for me that it surely would have done for Chaucer’s audience in the Middle Ages. It made me think immediately of politics.

For example, naughty but smart, the Wife of Bath is portrayed as using her best assets to assert dominion over her own fate in a time when women had little power and garnered less respect from society.

The recent comments by Hillary Rosen that caused such a broo-ha-ha about the role of women raising children today—their right to voice their opinions on broader issues than child rearing—made me wonder how far the fairer sex has really moved towards not being judged for personal choices… towards having real sovereignty over their own existence.

The Miller with his coarse behavior and lewd story is the blue-collar worker who enjoys a beer on a weekend and laughs at the rest of the world with hearty approbation.

Yet the Miller is too loud for the Reeve who wishes to tear him down with a tale bent on destroying the very thought of him, just as political correctness scorns those men who inhabit the heartland as ignorant and uncultured: a group of people only to be tolerated for inhabiting a sizable voting block as members of labor unions.

Then there is the Pardoner.

In The Canterbury Tales, this is the character most reviled by Chaucer. While his tale is, perhaps, the most polished, the one with the best moral, the parable that one remembers as well as any lauded populist’s stump speech, he is shown in the frame tale as the master manipulator that he is, the snake-oil salesman who pretends to ply his wares in the interest of others while only concerned about himself. He says that greed is bad, which it is, but then he uses guilt and fear for his own profit.

Can we guess which slick talking politician of today who focuses on class warfare, the peddling of ineffective policies, and the power of demagoguery for political points that the Pardoner called directly to my mind?

Well, let me give you a clue. It wasn’t Mitt Romney.

Yes, The Canterbury Tales is a valuable work of art with universal themes that remain timeless and worthy of exploration.

It is good to take lessons from literature.

comments (5)
view/post comments
B. D. Lane
May 18, 2012
Having a person assume that earning two English degrees may mean I've never studied Chaucer closely might be understandable. After all, I have only attended state universities. But assuming I chose the underscoring in my name??? Downright scurrilous, friend! ;) I chose nary a hyphen!

As for my friend the Pardoner...

And thus with feyned flaterye and japes,

He made the person and the peple his apes...

(I'm sure my learned critic can handle Middle English.)

The analogy stands because the President and the Pardoner both sell a false salvation to enhance their own interests. In other words, as societal division and Buffet rules have about as much power to solve the problems that threaten to throw our little country into the abyss, the Pardoner's pig's bones and metal cross are but false relics.

Of course, this IS, as Mister Bill says, too easy. But I thank you very much for reading my thoughts and considering my ideas on their merit before attacking me as illiterate.

AND I am glad that you have read Chaucer. He is rather good.

Carolina Games
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
January 24, 2012 11:31 AM | 2866 views | 1 1 comments | 120 120 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Politics can be important, but this weekend I didn’t pay attention to any of it. Not the debate in which Newt Gingrich got a standing ovation for punching back at the media. Not the pundits who talked about Mitt’s lack of substance on the stump. Not the polls in a state where the governor long ago endorsed the business acumen of Romney, but the people seemed to prefer another option.

I didn’t listen to the broo-ha-ha about Iowa in which a handful of votes has been turned into some sort of landslide upset. I didn’t scan the exit polling that showed the former speaker of the house putting his name on the board, and I definitely didn’t tune into ABC’s airing of that same speaker’s dirty laundry.

While I care passionately about the presidential election, this weekend, I was focused on doing more important things with my time.

You see, my son is a senior in high school. He plays rugby. His team needed chaperones to go on a tournament, and my husband and I volunteered to help out.

In one of two white vans packed tight with equipment, snack food, and rugby players who like to collide into one another on a regular basis for entertainment, we drove up I-85, straight through the Palmetto State in the heat of its primary contest, and into the heart of North Carolina.

For more than four hours one way, I listened to the chatter of testosterone-driven teenagers, which is similar at times to the chatter of the political classes: always passionate and opinionated whether or not anyone’s actually saying anything that moves the conversation forward.

Even so, under strict instructions to not act embarrassing, I bit my tongue when the boys commandeered the radio and blared Eminem at one thousand decibels. My ears had started bleeding, but I laughed out loud when another not-a-slim-shady-fan held his head as if in pain and yelled out to no one in particular, “We get it, Marshall Mathers! You grew up in a trailer park!” Continuing to echo my own silent sentiments about suffering through the classless music, he added, “It’s like I’m in Guantanamo Bay, people!”

But we endured the popular man of the moment until the crowd lost interest again. Oh, I was grateful—and amused--when someone else suggested we go in an entirely different direction and put in the reliably solid sounds of Johnny Cash instead.

So later I stood in the pouring rain and watched my boys in the heat of their contests: scrumming, mauling, driving heads straight into the ground. They had had a couple of great wins the weekend previous, so perhaps they had driven to the Carolinas a bit overconfident. Regardless, hubris turned into humility when their faces got rammed hard into the mud.

Come to think of it, our tournament turned out to be a bit like Romney’s interaction with Dixie voters. Not quite pleasant.

No matter.

Sometimes you lose.

Rugby and politics are not sports for the meek.

In the early stages of the season, it only matters in the long run if you don’t learn from a defeat, if you don’t get back up and charge on.

As the radio got re-cranked--and I endured four more hours in a van with half a rugby team that hadn’t yet showered steaming up the windows—I might have thought a little bit about the Republican primary.

Of course, I wouldn’t have missed watching my kid for any politician’s race, but I’m looking ahead to seeing what will happen in Florida.

It’s anyone’s game, I think, and no one plays rugby on Tuesdays.

comments (1)
view/post comments
Parent and Fan
January 25, 2012
It's great when moms and dads take time out to support their sons and daughters. Your comparisons between sports and politics were right on and interesting. You managed to put a smile on my face with your approach to teenagers and politicians, rugby and the Presidential campaign.

The Mormon Question
by Barbara_Donnelly_Lane
January 17, 2012 10:33 AM | 2956 views | 4 4 comments | 116 116 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

This primary season has changed cocktail party chatter.  Surely to the horror of Emily Post, talk at social events these days is drifting more often into the forbidden territory of politics and religion.  For many, this first topic has always inspired as much fervor as the second.  For others, the second defines one’s appropriate response to the first. 

Regardless of which type of person you are on a Saturday night—political junkie or evangelical Christian--with a man like Mitt Romney making his way onto the top of the Republican ticket, you’re bound to eventually engage in a conversation about what it might mean to have a Mormon as a president. 

After all, if people get a bit ideological about the big D or R on their voter registration cards, they get downright narrow when it comes to questions of salvation.  So in a country with a strong Judeo-Christian foundation, they find comfort in knowing the guy in charge is at least in their same book, if not on the same page. 

Of course, President Obama still isn’t a member of a church.  He has derided people for “clinging” to religion.  Before it hurt him in the polls, he followed the preaching of that Jeremiah Wright fellow who was certainly a radical something.  But Mormonism feels a bit stranger than even a leftist intellectual who at least knows how to look the proper part in the pew he occupies on Easter Sunday.  

You see, everyone knows an Obama type: that run-of-the-mill American man whose acknowledgement of God makes him acceptable to others, even while others understand that same guy will skip a sermon to take in a round of golf whenever he’s landed a good tee time.   He still puts up Christmas lights in December, occasionally takes communion, and can produce photographs of himself standing with his head solemnly bowed at his children’s baptisms. 

So this begs the following questions.

Can journalists even take a picture of Mitt Romney at a Mormon service?  Don’t Mormons stop the rest of us from going inside parts of their churches?  Isn’t there a “veil” of some sort hiding how they worship? 

It’s probably not politically correct to say it, but that sort of secrecy about what is supposed to be a Christian religion feels downright weird to other Christians.  It makes one wonder what Mormons are doing in Temple Square.  The inability to find out gives new meaning to the phrase “lack of transparency.”

But I propose now that, while interesting, those questions are mere diversions.  The one that matters is, can we as a nation believe in the leadership of a Mormon? 

Seeking an answer, I look to see how people have historically addressed uncertainty about the faiths of political candidates.  After all, despite the American tradition that separates church and state—that throws out a religious “litmus test” for leaders—I know questioning a prospective president’s religion is nothing new.

For instance, Thomas Jefferson was maligned as being an atheist. It’s a matter of record that our third president traveled down various roads of belief, including those signposted with deism, which eventually led him to a rather unorthodox Christianity.  (For one thing, he didn’t believe fully in the concept of the trinity.) 

Then there was Abraham Lincoln who was called an “infidel” when running for Congress in 1846.  Our sixteenth president had a complex spiritual existence, which makes the details of his belief difficult to discern, but it is certainly true that the adult Lincoln was never affiliated with a particular faith.  

And then let us not forget JFK because he draws the clearest parallels to Romney.  As a Catholic, Kennedy was accused of being part of a cult.  Enemies said he would become a papal puppet.  At the least, his faith was widely viewed with suspicion. 

Yet religion did not interfere with the administrations of Jefferson, Lincoln or Kennedy.  In actuality, all of these men have almost hagiographic legacies written in American history, and they are widely respected by both political junkies and the religious who take the time to study them. 

Therefore, when waxing philosophical on the question of Romney and religion, I understand I need to look to the man’s policy proposals when deciding whether or not to vote for him.  For my part, I will advise friends at cocktail parties to look to John Locke’s famous axiom: “The care of every man’s soul belongs to himself.” 

As long as any future president honors the same for me, I can lift my glass to him.  

comments (4)
view/post comments
B D Lane
January 24, 2012
I think I managed to annoy people who might have different opinions about administrations traditionally associated with different political parties. Kennedy was a Democrat, and the problem seems to be with how I've reported history has interpretted his record. Reagan was a Republican, and the problem seems to be with how I did not reference him critically. Perhaps this makes my article balanced??? :) Regardless, the thrust of the piece is not ideological. Rather, it is that some voters will have questions about a political candidate's religion, but religion is not a good indicator of how good a president might perform as president. Therefore, religion should not be a factor in the Republican primary.

page 1 .. 2 
.. 4 
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides