Things to Do Instead of Watching the Inauguration

 

Wondering what to do this Friday? Here are some thoughtful suggestions:

1.) Read a good book (Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, for instance).

2.) Find someone who needs help and show that person a little kindness.

3.) Write something in more than 140 characters.

4.) Learn about a religion, philosophy, or culture other than your own.

5.) Engage in a conversation that doesn’t require a screen.

6.) Say something reasonable, honest, and true.

7.) Sit in a quiet room and see how long you can keep two opposing thoughts in your head … or three if you dare!

#THINGSTODOINSTEADOFWATCHINGINAUGURATION

 

Impolite Conversations

Gene Twaronite's The Absurd LifeIt seems that whenever we set out on a family visit, my wife takes me aside and reminds me about not discussing certain topics. “What good does it do?” she’ll say. “You can’t change people’s opinions. You’ll just get all hot under the collar. Just relax and be sociable.”

“So what should I talk about?”

“You know! No politics, religion, environment or health stuff.”

“Can I at least talk about philosophy or economics?”

“Hell no. You start talking about the meaning of life and the nature of good and evil, and people get uncomfortable. And you know where any talk about economics will lead. It’s capitalism versus socialism, the 1% and the 99%. You want to start a war?”

The only things left are sports and TV, and even those can lead to trouble. “What’s with their left baseman? He’s got dreads down to his knees. And their catcher’s wearing a prayer shawl and a yarmulke. What are you, some kind of bigot? Speaking of bigots, did you see the Donald last night? Man, what a buffoon! Hey, don’t knock Donald. He makes a lot of sense. I don’t see you making billions of dollars.”

You can always talk about the weather. “Say, wasn’t that some storm last night? My house is underwater, and they say all of Florida will be soon. Well, at least it put out the wildfires. Do you think all these things have anything to do with …? Don’t say it! Say what? You were going to bring up climate change, weren’t you? Actually, I was going to say that it might signal the apocalypse, as revealed in Revelations.”

Maybe I’m being nostalgic, but wasn’t there a time when we could simply talk about things without risking the total meltdown of civilization? Today, there is no real desire to listen and consider anyone’s opinion but one’s own. We launch our talking points like missiles, hoping to score points. “Oh, that was a good one. She got you there.” Instead of trying to digest what people say, we’re too busy thinking about our next clever retort. We ask questions only to embarrass or put off guard anyone who dares to challenge our cherished beliefs. We push our opponents’ buttons and laugh as they get flustered.

Have to admit, I’m not always a polite conversationalist. I grow impatient with small talk. I want to suck the marrow out of you, to know what it is you think and feel down to your bones. As far as I’m concerned, the only topics worth talking about are those which inspire, ignite, or anger us, which may explain why I don’t receive a lot of dinner invitations.

I miss some of the family dinner discussions we had growing up. Not that they were always civil. I do recall a lot of yelling, but no hitting, biting, or scratching. There would be something in the news about some politician, labor strike, or cultural fad, and we were off. The conversation might veer toward diets, as for instance the time my younger sister became a vegetarian. I remember pummeling her with questions. “What’s the matter with meat? Eating meat is natural. What are those canines for, if not to tear flesh? You have to kill something. How is killing a carrot more ethical than killing a cow?” There was much laughter around the dinner table, at my poor sister’s expense. As I look back on it, though, beneath the sarcastic veneer, there was a desire to know and understand her reasons. She must have got through to me. It was not long before I, too, became a vegetarian.

Our family was fortunate to have an official discussion referee. Whenever things got too hot in the dining room, my mother, holding a plate of steaming pot roast, would enter and give us all that look. In a grim voice, she would say, “Nutilk!”—the Lithuanian word for “shut up.” Then she would smile and tell us to eat.

In her quiet, no nonsense way, my mother was telling us that we were still a family and to put away our differences. For her, la famiglia always came first. She saw the dangers of a divided house. Our country is not a family, of course, but as citizens we do, or should, all share a common allegiance to our nation—a nation of many voices, voices that have become increasingly shrill and unyielding. There comes a time when we need to stop shouting at each other and listen for a change. Sit down and break bread. Raise a glass of wine as you toast your differences. And remember to laugh. In the immortal words of both Lincoln and Jesus, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

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Party Animals

These days, when branding is so important to any major enterprise, political parties need to be more thoughtful in their choice of mascots.Yet all we get are donkeys and elephants.

For this we have to blame political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who first popularized the negative qualities of these animals in portraying the two parties. Today, though Democrats and Republicans try to stress the more positive qualities of their mascots, they are still slaves to the past. We need some new animals.

Considering the diverse range of animal species on the planet, both parties need to align their core principles with mascots that more accurately reflect their message to the public.

Republicans, for example, generally like to view themselves as more conservative than Democrats. Thus they might well choose a tortoise. It is estimated that desert tortoises have been in existence for 15-20 million years, far longer than we humans. Their plodding, low-energy lifestyle is the epitome of conservative. And they make sure to get plenty of rest during winter and summer months, just like members of Congress. What better way to show that your party is still going to be around in the future? And except for Cliven Bundy, who doesn’t like a cute desert tortoise?

Or maybe the GOP could choose a lone wolf to stress the party’s rugged individual, go-it-alone philosophy. Then again, maybe not, since wolves are none too popular these days in many GOP-controlled states. On the other hand, a wolverine—one of the most solitary animals on earth—would be perfect. And when it comes to the Republican hard stance on military issues and projecting world might, well, you just don’t mess with a wolverine.

Democrats, on the other hand, generally consider themselves more liberal. If by liberal we mean a certain broadminded and unorthodox view of things, then there’s probably no more liberal animal Dems could choose than a green sea slug. Actually it’s considered part animal, part plant, since the progressive little creature has found a way to use some of the chloroplasts from the algae it consumes to make its own energy just like a green plant. I can think of no other animal that would typify the Democratic Party’s emphasis both on seeking new sources of alternative energy and welcoming under its tent creatures of every stripe. Sea slugs can be quite colorful and would fit right in at any party gathering. I suspect some Democrats might object, however, claiming that a sea slug just doesn’t have the right cachet.

The Dems might also consider the African meerkat, whose altruistic behavior and complex social interactions could symbolize the party’s historic emphasis on community responsibility and the well-being of the group. Again, there may be some objections to choosing such a weird-looking critter, especially when a group of them is often referred to as a “mob” or “gang.”

Even the Libertarians have chosen a mascot, more or less. Some are now favoring the peaceful, don’t mess with me porcupine as their symbol. Other folks have toyed with the idea of adopting the penguin. Adopting such cute little animals could backfire on the party, however, since it’s hard to take a porcupine or penguin seriously. Personally I don’t think Libertarians as a group will ever go for limiting themselves to one animal. The loss of individual liberty would be too great.

And what about the “Tea Party?” I’m not sure they’ve officially chosen a mascot, though Sarah Palin still seems to be getting a lot of attention. Tea Party folks do seem to like the Gadsden flag, which shows a nice coiled rattlesnake. There is the matter, however, of the snake’s generally unfavorable image throughout history as a symbol of Satan, sex, and all that’s evil. So they might want to find another animal.

Considering the less centralized nature of the Tea Party, I would suggest a starfish as the perfect mascot. Lacking any head or brain, the starfish’s arms still manage to function well, and will even generate a whole new starfish from a severed limb.

Mascots proposed for the Green Party include the turtle, frog, otter, and even the bee. I do think they’re on the right track with the bee, though I’d suggest a dung beetle instead. What other creature better epitomizes the party’s respect for diversity and ecological sustainability? Without dung beetles the earth would soon be covered in feces. Just one dung beetle can bury hundreds of times its own weight each day. Or how about an earthworm? Just like the Green Party, the worm may be lacking in visibility, but it’s a real mover and shaker of the underground. Talk about grassroots democracy.

As for the Independents, what’s the point? They’re not exactly party animals. Even if they did go to the trouble of choosing some possible mascots and putting them up for a vote, there’s no guarantee Independents would show up.

Note: This is a slightly longer version of an op-ed essay originally published by the Arizona Republic. You can read their interactive version, complete with animal photos here:   http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2014/05/20/political-party-mascot-animal/9338853/