Friday, September 30, 2011

Mary Harris Jones (a.k.a. “Mother Jones”)

After reading Mother Jones magazine for the first time, I became interest in its namesake and did a little research. I learned that “Mother Jones” (the woman) had a fascinating perspective, which in many ways is actually quite apropos to the focus of this blog.

Mary Harris Jones lived a long life from 1837 until 1930.

Mary Harris was originally from Cork County, Ireland. Her family were Catholics. They were tenant farmers in Ireland. She immigrated to North America with her family as a teenager.

Miss Harris received a Catholic education in Toronto, Canada. She later worked as a teacher in a convent. Eventually, she moved south to the United States and married George E. Jones of Memphis, Tennessee. He was active in an iron molders’ union.
Early in her adult life, Mrs. Jones tragically lost her husband and all her children in a yellow fever outbreak. She had had four children. They were all under the age of five when they died. What an unimaginable loss for someone to bear.

However, Mrs. Jones apparently did not wallow in her grief. Instead, she turned her sorrow into productive outlets by pouring her considerable energies into labor organizing. “Mother Jones,” as she became known, was active in helping to form unions and was affiliated with the Socialist Party of America. She is particularly remembered for her leadership in fighting against the exploitation of child labor.

Mother Jones was apparently an effective labor leader in part because she was such a gifted orator. She was famous for using humor and spirited rhetoric to inspire audiences. Some of her more famous quotes include:

“I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser.”

“If they want to hang me, let them. And on the scaffold I will shout ‘Freedom for the working class!’”

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

“Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit!”

“Injustice boils in men's hearts as does steel in its cauldron, ready to pour forth, white hot, in the fullness of time”

“Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front. The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me.”

Interesting quotes.

Mother Jones is remembered as a passionate fighter for workers’ rights. Many modern people think of her as a godless communist. However, in reality, she had pretty traditional beliefs. Indeed, in many respects one might say she was a “conservative.” For example, Mother Jones was outspoken against female suffrage. She was famous for having said:

“working men deserved a wage that would allow women to stay home to care for their kids.”

I also read that Mother Jones blamed neglectful mothering as the root cause of juvenile delinquency.

As I understand her biography, if she was a radical leftist, it was simply due to class-based, economic concerns. She was not consistently left-wing on all issues. Other famous Mother Jones quotes include:

“I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don't need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”

“I preferred sewing to bossing little children.”

“That is, the wife must care for what the husband cares for if he is to remain resolute.”

In light of all this, Mary Harris Jones seems like a rather curious inspiration for the modern magazine bearing her nickname.

Deuteronomy 8:17

If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mother Jones Magazine

In the 1970s, an underground magazine took the name “Mother Jones.” Over the years, the magazine became more prominent and was no longer underground. For a period in the 1980s, Michael Moore (now known for his films) was affiliated with the magazine.

The magazine touts itself as a beacon of investigative journalism, a type of journalism I think we need more of these days. There is some investigative work in the magazine, but some of it is not very thorough. Much of it is heavily tinged with ideology, which makes the articles less than ideal in my opinion.

Nonetheless, I appreciate Mother Jones magazine. I may not always agree with its ideology or perspective. But despite what the right says, there aren’t really a lot of left wing voices in the media. With the rise of Fox News Channel and talk radio, I think that countervailing voices are important.

Unlike talk radio and FNC, which make lots of money, Mother Jones magazine is produced by a non-profit, the Foundation for American Progress. The magazine accepts donations to support its existence.

Deuteronomy 24:19

When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don't go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don't go back over the branches and strip them bare—what's left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don't take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Don't ever forget that you were a slave in Egypt. I command you: Do what I'm telling you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“Political Lying” Article by Rick Perlstein

In the May/June 2011 copy of Mother Jones, which my mother shared with me, there was an article addressing some of the same themes I’ve been describing in recent blog posts. The article is called “Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation: From Nixon's plumbers to James O'Keefe's video smears: How political lying became normal.” You can read it at the link below.

The article isn’t necessarily a piece of objective investigative journalism, but I thought the author had some good food for thought.

Proverbs 14:1

Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Texas Democrats

I have always heard of Mother Jones magazine, but never actually read it until recently. In my next post, I am going to recommend an article from that magazine. It is an article that seems pertinent to the recent thread of posts to this blog. But in the meantime, it is sort of interesting how I even came to read an issue for the first time.

I tease my mom that if you look up “flaming liberal” in the dictionary, one might find her picture. This is funny to me for a number of reasons, one of which is the fact that she lives in Texas. My home state doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the home of flaming liberals.

Indeed, when I was practicing law in Texas, I was a semi-closeted Democrat. With regard to non-GOP political affiliations, within my social circle, things were generally on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” basis. Everyone assumed everyone else was a Republican, and you didn’t volunteer your political tilt if you were not.
In our family, there is an infamous anecdote that exemplifies this experience. At a neighborhood cocktail party in early 2001, my husband mentioned in passing that I had voted for Al Gore. I still question how that fact was at all relevant to anything that had come up in the conversation. And I have always been unsure why he only mentioned the person for whom I had voted. Indeed, my husband had also voted for Mr. Gore. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, my husband innocently and naively spilled the beans—inadvertently outting me at the neighborhood cocktail party.

When he did so, I was several yards away chatting with some other neighbors. It was like one of those old E.F. Hutton commercials from the 70s. Everyone in the room stopped and looked at me with dropped jaws. One gentleman was sincerely flabbergasted and asked in a loud, puzzled tone, “Claudine, why would you have done such a thing?” He just couldn’t fathom. And from then on, the neighbors seemed to think I was a nice but misguided woman.

Interestingly, during the same time and up to the present, while in the same state, my mom surrounded herself with senior citizen women with a decidedly progressive bent. That just astounds me. When we lived in Texas, we only knew a couple other Democrats. Indeed, there were so few in our community that on one primary day, I showed up at the Democratic polling place and the election workers were so delighted to just have someone come to vote. It was almost closing time and they had only had a handful of Democrat primary voters all day. It had apparently been a boring day.

After I voted, they asked if I wanted to sign up for the local Democratic Party distribution list. They were going to have a potluck so folks could meet one another. My gosh, there were so few of us that we apparently would all fit in one family’s living room!

Anyhow, my mom must have a sixth sense for finding Democrats because she has quite a few friends who are openly progressive. They are sweet ladies who do volunteer work with the homeless, participate in walks to raise money to fight hunger, sew quilts to donate to soldiers’ families, and went to hear Bill Clinton when he came to town for a lecture.

On a recent visit to our home in Arizona, my mom brought me a stack of magazines she had finished reading. She included a copy of Mother Jones with the address label of a friend of hers. The friend is apparently a subscriber. I had heard of the magazine, but did not know much about it and had never seen it on sale anywhere. I just had this vague sense that it was an ultra-left wing periodical that was probably only read by people who wear clothing made from hemp, are into composting, and bake their own granola. As a result, it surprised me that I first received a copy of the magazine via a straight-laced senior citizen who lives in suburban Texas. That should teach me to not think in such stereotypes!

2 Chronicles 1:10

Give me wisdom and knowledge so I can lead this people, because no one can govern this great people of yours without your help.”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Prayer On 9/11

Dear Lord,

Thank you.

Thank you for our lives.

Thank you for the privilege and blessing of being able to live in this country.

Thank you for the sacrifices our forbearers made to establish and preserve a representative form of government. Thank you for the abundant natural resources and natural beauty of our land. We live a life of relative bounty compared to our brothers and sisters around the world. We also have more input in the governing of our nation than most in human history. We thank you for our material blessings and our good fortune to not live in a nation of tyranny. We thank you for entrusting us with the responsibility of living in a democratic nation.

Lord, thank you also for the diversity of our people. Thank you for the various cultures that have made their home in this land. Thank you for the native peoples, the people who came here in hopes of creating a better life, and the people who were kidnapped and brutally forced to work the land to the enrichment of greedy men. I thank you for the sacrifices all of these people have made, the endurance they have shown, and the brilliant contributions they have made to create a country like no other in the world. When I have traveled in other countries I have been particularly cognizant of the richness our multicultural heritage has given us. We take it for granted when we see faces with different shades of melanin in a single family or in a school or a battalion of soldiers. We take it for granted when we hear different languages spoken in the same community. Jazz and Country & Western. Dim Sum and Creole. Ballet Folklorico and Clogging. Our diversity sets us apart from other natiosn and makes us infinitely richer. Thank you.

Lord, thank you for the people who lost their lives on 9/11. We thank you for the time they had on this earth, and we thank you for welcoming them with open arms to the eternal reward of being reunited with you. We thank you for their bravery and heroism. The firefighters who ran into burning buildings so that others might find safety. The police who tried to instill order when chaos reigned. The school teachers who guided their young students to safety, risking their own lives and bringing comfort to scared children’s hearts. The ordinary people on Flight 93 who stood up to violence and hatred, refusing to be victims and giving us all amazing examples of democracy and heroism. We thank you for the many less known acts of bravery and compassion in New York, the D.C. area, St. John’s and countless places across this land on 9/11 when our nation was in the chaos of a surprise attack and we weren’t sure where the next act of terrorism would occur. Thank you for the courageous voices after 9/11 who preached peace and counseled against pointless acts of violence as a response to the unspeakable evil we had encountered.

Thank you, Lord, for the wondrous plans you have for our nation and its people. I thank you for the courage, wisdom and guidance you bestow on us to carry out your plans. Help us to stay faithful to you and become the people that you intend. Help us to be good stewards of the riches you have entrusted.

In your name we pray. Amen

1 Chronicles 29:11-13

To you, LORD,
belong greatness and power,
honor, splendor, and majesty,
because everything in heaven
and on earth belongs to you.
Yours, LORD, is the kingship,
and you are honored as head of all.
You are the source of wealth and honor,
and you rule over all.
In your hand are strength and might,
and it is in your power to magnify
and strengthen all.
And now, our God, we thank you
and praise your glorious name.

Jeremiah 29:11

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Is There Bias in the Mainstream Media?

Many political and social conservatives decry an alleged liberal bias in the so-called “mainstream media.” Concerns of such bias have led to a backlash that has led to the success of conservative talk radio and Fox News Channel.

To a point, I understand and agree there is a bias in the mainstream media. As someone who runs in a variety of different social circles—from conservative Christians to liberal idealists to pro-business capitalists—I actually think about this point quite a lot and have for a long time.

Many of my friends and acquaintances believe adamantly that there is a left-tilt in the mainstream media and it ticks them off. I also have plenty of friends who completely relate to the cultural perspectives shared by many mainline journalists, so it would never occur to them that there is anything wrong with the mainstream media’s worldview. As a consumer of such media who is fairly sensitive to each of these perspectives, I personally have for years had my antennae up listening and reading for evidence of such liberal bias.

In my observation, most journalists in the mainstream media seem to come from fairly homogenous backgrounds culturally. They seem to be college educated. Many are from the East Coast (but rarely from the South). Religion does not seem to be of much importance to them. And they seem to think they’re pretty clever.

I pick all this up from a plethora of fairly subtle things. NPR stations encourage listeners to contribute to support the “intelligent talk radio” on NPR. Such statements seem to be code for: “Yes, we are technically a type of ‘talk radio’ but we’re not blathering idiots like Rush, Glenn and their ilk.” I get the sense the point they’re trying to express is that Terry Gross and Diane Reem are qualitatively superior to the right wing windbags.

In mainstream media reporting, I’ve also noticed that acceptance of the Theory of Evolution is a given; no sane person would admit to Creationist sympathies. The unspoken assumption seems to be: “We are well-educated and smart; well-educated, smart people are always Darwinists.”

When religion is covered in various stories by the mainstream media, I often get the impression the people reporting are really thinking “WTF? Can you believe such crazy people exist?” Sometimes it is the tone of the reporting. But a lot of my impression is based simply on the type of stories that are chosen. We always seem to hear the stories of the religious bigots who are burning someone else’s scripture, or folks who are believing in something that defies scientific or other logical proof. It gives one the impression that if you run into these journalists at a cocktail party, it might be wise to not come out of the closet as a Christian.

I think that homogeneity in the culture of American journalism and perceived cultural bias is likely why Dan Rather (a native Texan) played up his regional accent and even added flaky colloquial phrases later in his career. I don’t know that for sure. That is just my gut reaction. But frankly why else would he start using those odd colloquialisms?

Indeed, some of those little witticisms were so darned wacky, I was truly embarrassed as a fellow Texan. (Classics: “Bush has run through Dixie like a big wheel through a cotton field.” “If [Gore] doesn’t carry Florida, Slim will have left town.”)

Clearly, Dan had not spent a lot of time in the Lone Star State in recent years. I don’t know anyone these days who talks like that. It was like a 40 year old stereotype of how Texans express themselves. But when he was still on the air, my assumption was that Dan spoke like that to appeal to the “common folk” and appear less of a New York liberal. I don’t know who he thought he was fooling, but I guess he thought it was worth a shot. For those who are unfamiliar, the link below has an article from 2000 about Dan’s “down-home witticisms.”

So, yes, Virginia, I do believe the mainstream media has certain biases. I think all of us do. If I’ve learned nothing else as a lawyer over the past decade plus, I’ve learned that human objectivity is a myth. We are all shaped by our life experiences and the attitudes we’ve been exposed to. We should try to be objective if we are lawyers or journalists. But we should also be aware that subjectivity is always going to seep into anything we do. We should be aware of that tendency so we can fight against it as best we can. If we’re not even aware, then we won’t be successful in that struggle.

Frankly, I think it also helps to listen to different perspectives. I always encourage my students to listen open-mindedly to different opinions and points of view. We learn and grow that way. But hearing other perspectives also helps us to realize the biases that we carry around.

I imagine the newsroom of most mainstream media outlets to be composed of people from roughly similar backgrounds and values. They seem to have group think a lot of time. They don’t seem to realize many people in this country have different life experiences and belief systems that (gasp!) may be valid or at least deserving of equal respect. (See the November 19, 2009 post to this blog for some discussion of the media’s reaction to Jimmy Carter’s expression of his Christian faith in the 1976 election.) I think such work environments could benefit from less group think and more diversity of opinion. I’m not saying CBS and CNN should just hire a bunch more registered Republicans. That is too simplistic. Instead, I think that a real diversity of life experience and perspective would add a lot.

Now I want to make clear that even though I do believe there is a sort of cultural bias in the mainstream media, in my long-time, critical observation, I don’t necessarily perceive political bias in the stories that are typically reported. Even though I think that the mainstream media is likely dominated by secular, college-educated Northeasterners, I don’t typically notice that the mainstream media is more supportive of Democratic politicians and policies than Republican politicians and policies.

Indeed, the backlash against alleged media bias really ticks me off. For a long time, I have perceived the media to be rather meek and tepid to ask the hard questions. (See the May 18, 2011 post to this blog for a discussion of the media’s interaction with Lee Atwater.)

This kind of spinelessness has gone on for a long time, but the culmination, in my opinion, was the way the media essentially became George W. Bush’s cheerleaders after 9/11 and refused to ask tough questions in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.

Our country is about to observe the tenth anniversary of the horrific tragedy of 9/11. Many of us have not gotten over the shock and anguish of that awful day. Honestly, it is just impossible to get our minds around it fully even so long after the fact. The events of that day were just unimaginably agonizing.

You cannot make sense of such evil and such resultant human suffering. People who did nothing wrong and were just going about their business died unexpectedly in unthinkable ways. But you and I are still here. We cannot bring back the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but I think we have a duty to honor their memory. In my opinion, one way we do that is by keeping our democracy strong. Part of that involves challenging those in authority, asking inconvenient questions and holding our leaders accountable. If we fail to do that, we become no better than a totalitarian state.

Mark 3:27

No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burglarized.

Friday, September 2, 2011

“The Objectivity Bias”

I’ve mentioned before in this blog my admiration for the radio program On the Media, and I wanted to mention a report they did this past summer. It was called “The Objectivity Bias” and was aired on July 29, 2011. It is available at the link below.

The report involved modern American journalists’ strong fears of being perceived by the public as biased and partisan. The report examined how that fear impacts journalists’ ability to do their job. Specifically, the fear is that the public will think the media is biased toward the Democrats and are overly critical of the Republicans. It was a very thought-provoking report.

James 3:17 (King James Version)

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.