Friday, February 26, 2010

The Tea Party -- and I by Denise Zito

Let’s talk about those Tea Partiers. When I see their boisterous antics, I’m reminded of my younger days when some of my friends were causing the older generation heartburn by their rowdy and disruptive protesting. During the Vietnam War, these protesters used a variety of outrageous stunts to get peoples’ attention and focus it on what the protesters saw as issues vital to the country. The Tea Party is doing the same in shouting at our representatives during the Health Debate Town Hall meetings and mounting other lively protests against the bank bailouts.

Today the Tea Party views itself the way the Sixties Protesters did way back when---they’re angry and they want us and our representatives to know it. They are generating a lot of press and making plenty of people nervous.

I’d say this is democracy in action.

The question will be whether the Tea Party can sustain their protests over healthcare, taxes and bailouts and gather enough members to force a change in the political climate. The Vietnam protesters had a clear goal—stop the war. For now, it’s not clear exactly what the Tea Party wants in terms of healthcare reform, or at least they haven’t yet articulated what they are in favor of when it comes to fixing our system.

The Sixties Protestors wanted the War stopped and the troops brought home. They found the argument that we were saving ourselves and the rest of the planet from a communist takeover via a bunch of falling dominoes to be, well, just not true. Ultimately, the country agreed and turned against the war. And in retrospect, nearly every thoughtful observer from both political parties, has said that the protesters were correct.

But right now, every major economist, liberal and conservative, says that as distasteful as the bank bailout was, the alternative would most likely have been 25% unemployment and a general economic collapse rather than the 10% unemployment and slow recovery we have now.

I remember my fifth grade lessons on the Depression—you can’t let the banks fail. I’d like to hear from the Tea Party how they think that alternative—bank failure-- would be useful. Maybe it would have taught those disgraceful bankers a lesson, but it would have brought the rest of the economy down with them. I believe that it was the repeal of banking regulation that led to this fiasco and that the better course is to put those banking regulations back in force, so that this doesn’t happen again.

But back to the Tea Party. I doubt that shear anger, without proposing viable alternatives will turn their movement into a substantial political force, but I’m always glad to see people who have never participated in government, get out there and do so.

                  --Denise Zito lives in Free Union.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Locked Up on Liberty Street by Harvey Yoder

In our land of the free an astonishing 2.3 million of our citizens are behind bars, more than in any other country in the world, including China.

Our local Harrisonbug jail houses a crowded 300 men and women inmates, and is efficiently managed by a dedicated and overworked staff. But should we be asking why, and whether, we should have four times as many Virginians in prison today than just 25 years ago?

As a teacher of parenting classes I stress the importance of time outs as a good consequence for misbehaving children. Incarceration could be thought of as a humane kind of “time out” for misbehaving adults, certainly preferable to public stocks, floggings and other past forms of torture and humiliation.

But as with any good consequences, a first word to keep in mind is Reasonable. The most effective punishment is not necessarily the longest or harshest. For example, if a three month sentence is good for a given offender, a year in the same steel cage is not likely to be four times better. The law of diminishing returns sets in at a point where the resentment an offender feels outweighs the learning value of the consequence.

I am not in favor of pampering prisoners, but one might also question the reasonableness of charging local inmates $1 an ounce for coffee, 75¢ for a styrofoam coffee cup, and 10¢ for a plastic stirring spoon. Maybe offenders should be glad for any coffee, period, no matter how expensive. But it’s usually innocent family members who have to pick up the tab. Our jail is among the few in the state that charges $1 a day for room and board fee as permitted by Virginia law. Until that is paid, inmates can’t purchase a single canteen item, not even a pricey 11¢ packet of ketchup for a hamburger. The result is families either having to pay a $365 annual levy, plus cash for the steeply priced canteen items, or having their inmates doing without things as basic as deodorant. Is that reasonable?

A second word associated with good consequences is Respectful. To humiliate either a disobedient child or a lawbreaking adult is not a good way to get positive results. At our local jail, simple respect might mean inmates not having to be in handcuffs and wearing blaze orange prison suits when brought into the visitor booth--one with no escape exit and where inmates and guests are separated by a wall of solid concrete, steel and glass. Even state penitentiaries don’t impose this kind of indignity.

A third R of good consequences is Restorative. A Department of Corrections should seek to rehabilitate and correct rather than simply punish, and should see to it that offenders make full restitution for their wrongs. This means more nonviolent prisoners being under house arrest, in jail work-release programs, or on well supervised parole or probation, and regularly undergoing drug testing while being required to work  to support themselves and their families and otherwise pay off their debt to society.

At noon this Monday, February 22, a panel consisting of a retired judge, the local sheriff, our commonwealth’s attorney, a defense attorney and an authority on restorative justice will discuss the topic, “Better Strategies Against Crime” at Clementine Cafe in Harrisonburg. We invite you to come and contribute your ideas on how to make our system of correction more reasonable, respectful and restorative, plus saving us taxpayers a bundle in the process.

                    - Harvey Yoder is  a licensed counselor and  member of the Harrisonburg chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Covered in snow . . .

So sorry, no new Civic Soapbox this week. Too much snow between essayist and editor. MW

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mardi Gras by Brad Lovelace

When I returned from Mardi Gras I proudly showed off my 20+ lbs of multi-colored beads, my Zulu coconut and my Orpheus doubloon heroically snatched from mid-air, as if they were treasures from the Orient; Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. I was met with blank stares, or I could see people thought I was a mad man. And yet that box of cheap beads means a lot to me.

I never made it to Mardi Gras as a youth and as a supposedly responsible parent it had no appeal. So it was with some trepidation that my wife and I informed some friends and coworkers that we were taking our children to Mardi Gras on the spur of the moment. We left Saturday and drove all night. I waited on the street for the Sunday night parade as my family rested in our hotel room.

The first float came into view. The actor Val Kilmer as King Bacchus was waving to the adoring crowd. Behind that float was another band, then another float. This was the Bacchus Parade: 31 floats, over 1200 Krewe members and 31 bands. I stood on Canal Street, where the parade route makes a turn, and looked down St. Charles Ave. A float with a huge head of Bacchus on its front came down the streets. Illuminated by the streetlights, a constant stream of beads flew from its sides into the upraised arms of the screaming crowd. The Bacchus head made the turn onto Canal Street. Along its side dozens of Krewe members threw beads.

The enthusiasm was infectious. I raised my arms. I shouted for beads.

Thus began days of riotous fun and the pure pleasure of participating in a gifting ritual with ancient roots going far back into the primordial consciousness.

They say the origins of Carnival are with the Roman festival of Lupercalis. Lupercalis was so ancient though, that not even the Romans were sure of its origin. Beads also have an ancient significance. We find them in religions, from the Catholic Rosary to the Hindu Mala. They have been found in archeological sites dating back over 30,000 years. Even the Neanderthals made and wore beads. So the delighting in and wearing of beads is perhaps one of the oldest human luxuries.

I called my son at the hotel. He was ready to go. I went back to get him. We shouted and caught beads and throws for hours. I think the parade lasted three. This went on for days. The Krewes of Proteus, Orpheus, Comus, Zulu and Rex. All unique parades with different themes.

It all culminates in the truck parade, a seemingly endless line of tractor trailers loaded with informals Krewes and recycled throws from previous years. This parade was an absolute deluge of stuffed animals and beads. We stood there for 100 trucks, arms up, shouting and catching with thousands of other people shouting and catching as the horns blared.

As I tell my story to people, they become more interested in my treasures. I have become a kind of Mardi Gras Missionary. There’s something healing in shouting for beads and wearing beads. The ancients were wiser than we know. The Neanderthals were wiser than we know. The people of New Orleans are wiser than we know.

Make one’s life revolve around festivals, not festivals around one’s life. One has to experience it to really understand it. Plan on going. You won’t regret the experience.


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I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .