John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Inadvertent Cruelty

I’m not talking about deliberate and demented cruelty. Like torturing little animals. I’m talking about accidental and unintended actions that lead to an unplanned cruel outcome.

Today I decided to drive into a car dealership to look at some cars….mostly to kill time. I pulled in and as I pulled toward the door I saw three sales reps waiting to greet me. So I turned left and was going to park but saw two more sales reps standing near the parking space. So I turned left again and pulled into what looked like a “sales rep free zone” but as I looked out my side window there were two other sales reps standing casually nearby waiting for me to get out and look at a car.

I was psyching myself up to get out of the car and thinking of nice ways of saying, “I’m just looking” but before I could my wife texted me. And I texted back.

jyb_musingsThere was palpable tension anyone watching could sense and each of the seven sales reps were curiously waiting to see which direction I’d walk when I got out of my car.

So, to buy time, I texted my wife something totally irrelevant and we texted back and forth about it for about two minutes. By this time several of the sales reps were getting concerned and wondering what I was up to. A few looked like they were ready to write me off as crazy. One looked like he may have to call the cops if I didn’t get out of my car soon and start negotiating pricing on a new car.

I then felt stuck. I wasn’t texting any more but pretended like I was. One sales rep walked close enough to see that I wasn’t crazy but looked really fed up with my seeming to toy with him …if not torture him.

Once I realized I had crossed over into an inadvertent kind of torture of people I had no reason to dislike or harm in any way, I got nervous, restarted my car, backed up and drove off.

And swore I’d never do anything that cruel to car sales reps ever again.

Julie Rath: How to Buy an Overcoat

Men's Image Consultant: Overcoat

If you’re still rocking that North Face parka over your suit jacket, it’s time for an upgrade.

Nothing ruins a great look faster than a not-so-great coat. For some reason outerwear often seems to be at the end of peoples’ priority lists, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for your coat or jacket to be up to par with the rest of your outfit. Think about it: you walk into a restaurant to meet a date. Before you take your coat off, she’s already formed an impression of you. The same goes for your office elevator. People tell me all the time that they sneak in to their office building in junk clothes/shoes and change once they’re there, but if you’re riding up in the elevator with people in your office, the damage is done. So, have I convinced you of the merits of a good overcoat yet? Good! Here are my suggestions on how to choose one.

Fit: I see too many people around in oversized, too long overcoats – such a disappointing look! It makes me think of a little kid playing dress-up. Ideally, your overcoat should fit comfortably over a suit but still be slim enough to look stylish with just a shirt and pants. The best, most versatile length for a modern but still classic look is around your knee. It should hit anywhere from mid/low-knee to just above it, depending on how modern you want the look to be (the shorter you go, the younger the look). A good-fitting overcoat should make you look taller, leaner and broader across the shoulders.

Sizing: An overcoat is meant to fit on top of your suit, so when buying off-the-rack, start by going up one size from your suit. Try it on with a suit jacket or blazer and be sure it can close. The sleeves should cover your suit and shirt sleeves.

Men's Personal Shopper: Overcoat

Buttons – Make sure it buttons to a location on your body that you’re comfortable with. I like this houndstooth check coat above from Balenciaga, but notice how low it buttons on the model’s body. If it’s too low, and you get cold easily, you might want to choose a coat that buttons a little higher. Remember that you’ll likely be wearing a scarf with it on very cold days which will give you additional coverage. What about the number of buttons? Most people will need 3 buttons for a classic single-breasted style, but if you’re very tall (over 6’ 3”), you should get 4.

Men's Personal Stylist: Overcoat

Style: A single-breasted notch lapel creates a more conservative/traditional look, whereas a double-breasted peak lapel is more dressy, and also warmer due to the fuller coverage and double layer of fabric over your chest. Overcoats also come with a wide choice of different pocket options for you to consider: straight/horizontal, flap/slit, ticket/no ticket, breast pocket/no breast pocket. And make sure to consider whether you want a center vent in back or no vent at all. Don’t get locked in to the first coat you see just because it’s convenient. Look around to find the one that resonates best with you. Perhaps you wouldn’t have considered one with a leather collar like the above from Burberry Prorsum until you saw it in person. There’s a world of options!

Men's Personal Shopper: Chesterfield CoatColor/Patterns – The most classic colors are navy, camel and grey (in that order), but you might also consider getting a pattern if you’re into that sort of thing. If you do go for a pattern, make sure to keep the rest of your outfit subtle. I’m anxiously awaiting this brown herrringbone which I ordered custom as a chesterfield (with a velvet collar) for a client.

Fabrics: There’s a huge range, from camel hair, to wool, to cashmere to blends. Do some research on the different weights that you’re choosing from and figure out how warm you need your overcoat to be before taking the plunge. I’ve seen people buy very heavy overcoats that they never wear because they’re just too warm. Know yourself and the climate you’re in (or that you travel to) and factor that in.

Investment: Remember when you purchase a high quality overcoat that it’s a classic piece which should last you at least 10-15 years. This is one place in your wardrobe where it makes sense to invest.

Where to buy: You can either go off-the-rack or custom. For the former, try department stores like Saks, Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s, along with specific brand boutiques like Hugo Boss or Prada. If you live somewhere without access to a lot of stores, you can look online. Websites like Mr. Porter and Suit Supply are good go-to’s. If you decide to go custom, check Yelp and local listings (like nymag.com here in NYC) for highly-rated clothiers or ask well-dressed friends/acquaintances where they go.

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Are you shopping for an overcoat this season? I’d love to know what you’re considering! Leave me a comment below.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Back Seat

I am writing this entreaty from the back seat of my wife’s mini van. My daughter is sitting in the font seat and controlling the music and music volume (keeping it turned up just slightly higher than she knows I want it to be) and my wife is driving and the two of them are chatting away (somehow) over the music and seem to be laughing and enjoying each others company.

I, as always, am alone in the back seat. I feel like a refugee from another country who can’t speak the language and who doesn’t understand the cultural customs.

I sometimes feel the loud music is to keep me muted. I can’t engage in the conversation anyway because 1) I can’t hear well enough to understand it (even without music blaring); 2) I don’t understand it even when I can hear it, 3) I make really “stupid” comments even when I can hear and understand what is being said.

I am worried it won’t be long until I am asked to move to the trunk part of the minivan when we go out to eat—the part behind the final row of seats and the rear hatch. It is really cold back there in the winter and even lonelier than where I am sitting now. But only by a little. (Although I suspect, on the positive side, the music won’t seem as loud)

jyb_musingsI am writing because I, frankly, don’t know how this situation happened. It wasn’t long ago that I confidently strode to the front passenger seat every time my wife drove the family out to eat. And I didn’t even have to run to get to the front seat first. At first it was an inconvenience but it was still clear (to me, at least) who the head of the household was. But it wasn’t long –maybe two weeks or less–before that sinking confidence that I was still head of the household turned into spiraling self-doubt about my status in the family— to the current state of near obsolescence. If it wasn’t for the annoying contributions I made to family outings, my wife and daughter may not even think to acknowledge me at all.

I’ve tried to turn things around by playing to my current strengths and being even more annoying than usual but that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I thought about offering to drive but I have a smallish compact car that the family never wants to drive in anywhere –even to circle the driveway. I’m now out of plans to reassert myself to a position in my family, not of dominance, but simply relevance. I am much more realistic now. I don’t have to actually matter…just as long as family members would be willing to pretend like I “could matter.”

Is that asking for too much? Or should I start dressing more warmly and placing pillows around the flooring and sides between the hatch and back seats, where I seemed destined to find myself any night we next go out for dinner?

 

The Secret, Sordid History of Thanksgivukkah

Over the past few weeks, politicians, comedians, and the lamestream media have joined in what can only be referred to as The Shandah of the 21st Century:  the trenchant desecration of the sacred holy day of Thansgivukkah.

In case you missed the Stephen Colbert satire, the Bostonian turkey-shaped menorah, or even the Presidential shout-out; millions of Americans have been exposed to the rare and historic confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukkah with snide laughter and tweeted snarkery, treating Thanksgivukkah as just some ironic day of mock-celebration — akin to The O.C.‘s lame interfaith mashup, “Christmukkah,” or the brilliant, yet secular Frank Costanza inspiration of “Festivus.”

Indeed, while Thanksgivukkah has been only celebrated formally twice before in our nation’s history — in those extraordinarily rare cases in which a late November fourth Thursday coincided with an early winter Hebrew lunar calendar — the holiday once served as an integral thread that wove together the Jewish and American fabrics.

And yet, there is a dark, forgotten undercurrent to this Festival of Turkey Light.

I’m here to set the record straight and remind my fellow Jews and my fellow Americans of the secret, sordid history of the holiday of Thanksgivukkah:

NOVEMBER 1621

Shecky Howard

In a global conspiracy rivaled only by the fake Moon landing, the coverup of Paul McCartney’s death and the transparently fabricated long-form birth certificate of our Kenyan-born President, the anti-Semitic textbook industry has scrubbed all records of America’s first Jewish citizen, Shecky Howard.

Escaping religious persecution as a Jew in late 16th century Europe, Shecky pretended to convert to Christianity, and chose the faith with which he seemed most comfortable — the big black hats, mother-inspired guilt-trips, and  victimization of Separatist Puritanism.

OK, not a great choice for a guy fleeing religious persecution…

But Shecky made the best of a bad situation.  And after serving as the mohel, pediatrist and the stand-up entertainer on the Mayflower (Sample joke:  “Take my wife’s apron…please!), Shecky was primarily responsible for the early peaceful entente reached among the Pilgrims and Native Americans in Plymouth, after he quietly confided to the Indian leadership that he too was a Member of the Tribe.  Perhaps most poignantly, the Puri-Jew Shecky convinced both sides that turkey was the appropriate protein of choice (and carved the first bird with his circumcision tools), by arguing that pork chops would be inappropriate…because…uh…well…applesauce hadn’t been invented yet.

NOVEMBER 1863

The official American holiday of Thanksgiving was first declared in 1862 by our first Jew-ish President, Abraham Lincoln.

(OK, I said Jew-ish, not Jewish.  Read the difference here and consider his black hat and beard, his über-protective wife, his passion for minority civil rights, his Kentucky birthplace (we’re all Jewish here), and most of all, HIS NAME WAS ABRAHAM, FOR MOSES’ SAKE!)

It’s no wonder, then, when the second official Thanksgiving coincided with Chanukkah, Lincoln invited Shecky Howard’s great-great-great grandson Mordechai to officiate the very first Thanksgivukkah ceremony at the White House.

And it was then that the Thanksgiving dinner as we now know it took formal shape — a family event loaded with Jewish influence — mothers insisting that their children eat every last morsel of food (THINK OF THE STARVING CHILDREN IN AFRICA!); participants guilted to travel long distances to spend agonizing hours in cramped quarters with their neurotic extended families; even the dreaded cardboard folding Kids’ Tables, a remnant of overcrowded Passover seders.

The Black Friday shopping tradition arose from the rush to purchase Chanukkah gifts before the Jewish Sabbath began that evening. And most significantly, the modern mythical ethic of Thanksgiving — the Pilgrims’ supposed quest for religious freedom — was lifted by one of Rand Paul’s ancestors directly from the story of Chanukkah’s brave Maccabees:  Archeological evidence recently revealed that the Mayflower was actually a Gilligan-esque three hour boat tour gone horribly, horribly wrong.

NOVEMBER 1899

The most recent Thanksgivukkah occurred on the eve of the 20th century, when an elderly Mordechai Howard took the invitation of President William McKinley to introduce merged holiday themes at their White House celebration:  turkeys stuffed with sweet potato latkes, jelly doughnuts filled with pumpkin sauce, hora dances circling piles of green bean casserole.

But alas, the ceremony went totally, awfully awry.  Mordechai’s three toddler grandsons were playing a robust — some say vicious — game of Spin the Pilgrim Dreidel.  After losing all of his cranberry sauce-flavored gelt, the oldest son poked the youngest in the eyes, then banged him on the head with a Star of David engraved musket, accidentally knocking over the brown gravy-fueled menorah, setting fire to the White House curtains, and ultimately killing Vice President Garret Hobart.

The Howard children

With the pogroms furiously raging in Eastern Europe, and the wave of Jewish immigrants desperately finding refuge at Ellis Island, an anti-Semitic backlash was rearing its ugly head, and the notorious Thanksgivukkah fire added (brown gravy) fuel to the hatred.  A multifaceted coverup ensued; even the history books were altered to claim that Vice President Hobart died of “ill-health.”  (Look it up here.)  No one knows what happened to the three Howard children, although one colorized picture of them remains and is posted here.

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So alas, we come to today, as we celebrate Thanksgivukkah for the last time apparently until the year 79,811.   I urge my fellow Americans — particularly my fellow Jews  — to refrain from the easy jokes, and instead honor the great Howard family…Shecky, Mordechai, even the three clownish grandsons..and remember what this holiday is truly about:  religious freedom, family togetherness, delicious food, and most soi-tenly, the miracle of laughter.

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If you like this piece, please read How Adam Sandler’s Chanukkah Song Saved the Jews and The Five Most Jew-ish Gentiles in Pop Culture.

Josh Bowen: 12 Steps to Holiday Survival

 

Holidays present a nutritional nightmare for everyone, including yours truly. Cakes, egg nog, cookies, alcohol, etc. are served at every dinner party, work gathering and family get-together. You can’t ignore it, it’s the holidays and regardless of religious beliefs high sugar foods will be there. So to combat your holiday cravings, I compiled a list of strategies to help you throughout this holiday season. Here are my top 12 strategies to surviving the holidays and keeping your body in tact.

1. Know what types of foods will be where you are going and what you are going to choose to eat.

2. Don’t go to the table saying “you are going to eat healthy,” Don’t draw attention to it. The host will be mad if you are not sampling the food.
Fill the plate with veggies, fruits and lower fat fare. Start eating these foods first so you are not so hungry. Satiety.

3. Don’t say yes to every basket or cookie someone puts in front of you. Say no to Egg Nog!

josh4. Do not nibble throughout the day. All those bites add up.

5. If you are not cooking offer to bring a healthy alternative with you. Eat something healthy to fill you up sooner.

6. Have a healthy snack before the meal, that way you are not as hungry when you eat for real

7. Control stress. Stress makes everything worse.

8. Focus on weight maintenance vs. weight loss during the holidays. If you are currently overweight and want to lose weight, this is not the time to do it. Maintenance of your present weight is a big enough challenge during the holiday season. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making unrealistic goals for yourself.

9. Plan on NOT dieting after the New Year. Anticipation of food restriction sets you up for binge-type eating over the holidays (“after all, if I’m never going let myself eat this again after Jan. 1st, I might as well eat as much as possible now!”) Besides, restrictive diets don’t work in the long run. They increase your loss of lean body mass vs. fat, slow down your metabolism, increase anxiety, depression, food preoccupation, and binge eating, and make weight re-gain more likely.

10. Be physically active every day. Often, students’ busy holiday schedules (or lack of structured schedules) bump them off their exercise routines. Physical activity, especially aerobic activities (like brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, roller blading, and swimming) can help relieve stress, regulate appetite, and burn up extra calories from holiday eating.

11. Choose your beverages wisely. Alcohol is high in calories. Liquors, sweet wines and sweet mixed drinks contain 150-450 calories per glass. By contrast, water and diet sodas are calorie-free. If you choose to drink, select light wines and beers, and use non-alcoholic mixers such as water and diet soda. Limit your intake to 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks per occasion. And, watch out for calories in soda, fruit punch, and egg nog as well.

12. Enjoy good friends and family. Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a time to reunite with good friends and family, to share laughter and cheer, to celebrate and to give thanks. Focus more on these other holiday pleasures, in addition to the tastes of holiday foods. The important thing to remember is balance and moderation. It’s OK to eat too much once in a while. Just relax, enjoy the holidays, and remember what the season is all about.

Maintain perspective: Overeating one day won’t make or break your eating plan. And it certainly won’t make you gain weight! It takes days and days of overeating to gain weight. If you over-indulge at a holiday meal, put it behind you. Return to your usual eating plan the next day without guilt or despair.

Jason Atkinson: Where the Buffalo, Jackalopes and Presidents Roam

All right, I’ll admit it: I’ve always wondered what’s the deal with Wall Drug. Green stickers with old-fashioned white lettering stuck on muddy Subaru wagons and rusty Suburbans in ski area parking lots all across the Rocky Mountains and the Northwest.

Driving from Pierce, S.D., west a few days ago, having been forewarned by hundreds of billboards lining the last hundred miles, just off the freeway, I was greeted by Wall’s 80-foot-long, concrete two-tone giant dinosaur, staring at me with its white light bulb eyes, entering the Wall Drug store vortex. Nickel coffee, touristy stuffed jackalopes and enough key chains and tee shirts to satisfy the most thirsty tchotchke devotee, alas, Wall Drug. The town of Wall, S.D., is the gateway to the Badlands National Park, which I’ve always wanted to see at sunset, and here I was, en route, driving my rent-a-wreck to Mt. Rushmore at the perfect time of day.

Neither disappointed, sunset or the next morning coffee with the presidents. In fact, in person, Mt. Rushmore is so much more touching, emotionally, than that picture in Encyclopedia Britannica I grew up looking at. Patriotism wrapped in the natural environment of a perfectly run National Park. The four grand leaders of our country (George, Tom, Abe and “T.R.,” among friends) are much bigger in person than I expected. Maybe that picture and my childhood View-Master limited my expectations. Even the size of the rubble pile was captivating. That rubble being its own monument to the years of invested lives, determination and dynamite liberating these figures from the mountainside. They loom large in the pages of history and literally tower at Mr. Rushmore.

All 50 states and territories are represented there, with their flags and dates admitted to the U.S. etched in stone. I grinned a little wider finding Oregon’s name in marble, telling myself how much better my state’s placement was than the other 49. Donning my Teddy Roosevelt hat with the pride of a child wearing mouse ears to Disneyland, I had my picture taken and posted it to Facebook, where my little grandmother in Sacramento gushed about me as if I were still a young boy and shared her pleasure in seeing Mt. Rushmore, even though she’s never been there herself. And isn’t that what protected lands provide Americans: the security that public parks and monuments are open, that our forests and rangelands are well-managed, even if you never get a chance to visit?

Driving around Custer State Park looking for buffalo, which is downright exotic to a Northwesterner, I was trying to decipher how this year’s dwindling pheasant population is hurting South Dakota’s economy. I’ve chased wild pheasants all over Oregon, fulfilling the employment act to the retrievers who live with me, and on this trip, I was privileged to hunt with the Governor Daugaard and a smiling, deaf English Springer, aptly named “Hunter.” Sadly, this year in the Great Plains, the Governor had to call state leaders together to grapple with the effects of an unusually low wild bird population, and, therefore, unusually low out-of-state-hunter-tourist population. Well, at least they have one of the crown jewels in the National Park system.

AtkinsonJasonNewHeadshotI understand politics. The Legislative shortens a budget; the Executive finds something to scare and make the public feel the pain. For Newt, it was school lunches; for Boehner, it was National Parks a few weeks ago. Closing National Parks was a partisan blunder that instilled even greater fear into western states as to whether or not the federal government can manage federal lands — no small concern, considering that the U.S. government is the largest landowner in the west.  In today’s budget environment it’s an easy step to think national parks should be turned over to the states, removing the threat of Congressional politics.  In South Dakota, the state runs at a budget surplus, but could you imagine California’s legislators considering selling off parts of Yosemite to balance their budget?  National parks, monuments, and the like belong to all of us.  T.R. had it right: federal policy can protect places from short-term pressures, whether it is hunting species to near collapse or today’s partisan budget battles, be that state or Congressional.

A recent report, “Protected Lands: A Government-lite Approach,” is trying to reframe the issue and its economics. The policy’s premise is that keeping American’s public lands and National Parks open must be consistent with the long-term health of the parks and public land and be founded on a strong working relationship with local communities, as well. No more winners vs. losers, left vs. right, environmental vs. the communities near that environment. The theory is to create federal policy with sustainable economic benefits in both “gateway” communities and the nation as a whole, while preserving America’s natural heritage.

I’m not too sure Wall Drug is the sort of gateway argued for, but Rapid City certainly is. As an Oregonian playing tourist, I was impressed how vibrant Rapid City is — hotels, restaurants, and full-scale Cabalas stores filled with out-of-state license plates. National parks are wonderful, and for many visitors, the only time they ever experience the natural United States. The concept of “government-lite” extends beyond just parks. I like to apply the concept to areas of our country where the public lands debate is still couched in terms of who has a job and who votes against local police levies.

In Oregon, Forest Service and BLM ground was teased back and forth to the logging industry during the spotted owl wars of the 1980s. As a result, several counties are on the brink of bankruptcy today because their budgets were built on a federal payment for not harvesting trees. Oregonians in those counties know the short shrift of trusting their federal government and the all too familiar pain of living in hurting communities.  There is a balance that has not been struck.

Read the rest of…
Jason Atkinson: Where the Buffalo, Jackalopes and Presidents Roam

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Conversations with my Dog

Winston is a several month old Ocherese weighing all of 2 1/2 pounds but with lots of confidence and spunk–and an annoying habit of making a 6:30am donation in my home office beside my work chair.

Me: (Le…aving for work.) “Hey Sweetie. Good morning.”

Winston (tail wagging and prancing outside my home office): “Check it out. I did it again.” (With evil puppy grin)

Me: “Come on, man. That’s not cool.”

Winston: “What?”;Laughing in mischievous way to self “Oh, yeah. That. Sorry. You gonna pet me?”

jyb_musingsMe: “What if I did this to you every morning in your little pin? It would get old and you’d eventually stop licking me so much, right?”

Winston: “John, C’mon…I am a puppy. What do you expect?” Adding, “Pet me. Or I’ll do it again when you’re gone.” (Laughs mischeviously to self again and barks)

Me: “Whatever” as I reach down to pet Winston goodbye.

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ. I work for a New York state assemblyman who has consistent turnover of attractive female staffers in the office. I recently heard that one reason behind the turnover is that he has slept with more than one of them. At least he’s not married, I guess. Even though it’s not exactly ideal, do you think it is problematic enough that I should leave, or does it sort of come with the territory in politics?
—No name or initials, obviously, New York City 

Is this kind of thing more pervasive in politics than elsewhere? Perhaps; as Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” But that doesn’t make it right. If he’s slept with multiple members of his staff who have then quit or been fired, then yes, this is problematic enough for you to leave.

Do people in supervisory positions occasionally fall in love with subordinates? Sure, and yes, it can be complicated. But if it’s happened multiple times and caused “consistent” turnover (your words), then it’s not a fairy tale connection between principal and aide. It’s a pattern, and one with which you should avoid any association, because politicians (or bosses in any field) whose offices have patterns remotely like this don’t typically have bright futures (see: Filner, Bob).

Q. I work in a charter school in New York City and believe in the mutually beneficial relationship between a public school and its community, though in the charter world that’s hard: We are often treated as outsiders and insurgents. Relatedly, I am very concerned with what happened in the mayoral campaign around charter schools. Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy, with a few other schools, held a rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was obvious from the media coverage and the way it was discussed internally that the intent was to warn one of the mayoral candidates that opposition to charter schools would be dangerous. My concern, shared by many of my colleagues, is whether such a protest is unethical—or even worse. The organizers seem to have made a point to keep the rally from [using] obvious campaign rhetoric, but it seems that a rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating. The twist, perhaps, is that charter employees are not government employees, unlike district schools’ staff. Our schools’ budgets rely on public funds, yet the workforce is made up of private individuals. The call to action was done during work time; thus, while we were being paid with public dollars, flyers sent home to parents were printed on a copier paid for with tax dollars. I’m curious what you think about both the legality and the ethics of such an action. 
—Concerned, New York CityThe narrow legal question is whether the protest organizers acted inappropriately. By using taxpayer resources to engage in political activity during work hours, the answer appears to be yes. (I am not a lawyer, and—for the uninitiated—I violated election law myself a decade ago.)

The broader question relates to this assertion: “[A] rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating.”

I completely disagree. Even if charter school employees were government employees, lots of public employees have interests that are “inescapably political” around which they organize during election season. Have you ever heard of AFGE (a union of federal government workers) or AFSCME (state and local government employees)? Their members don’t take vacations from political organizing because it’s election season. Quite to the contrary, election season finds them at their most active; elections focus the attention of voters, journalists and candidates, so timely activism is savvy. No one—unless their job specifically requires them to refrain from partisan political activity—should be precluded from participating in political activity during election time or any other time. And charter schools in particular—whose very existence hinges upon state law and local regulation—may find employee (and family) mobilization critical to their survival.

Lauren Mayer: Politics as Performance Art

Politics and show business make interesting but strange bedfellows – and one could say that’s both a metaphor and a literal statement (Jerry Brown & Linda Ronstadt, anyone?)  For starters, there is substantial cross-over betwee the two fields – elections often seem more about show-biz glitz than issues, while actors complain about the ‘politics’ of casting. Plus celebrities frequently endorse candidates, who in turn may solicit those endorsements, or quote from plays and songs (or in the case of Herman Cain, lyrics from a Pokemon movie).

My career has been a hybrid of both, starting when I was a child trying to decide if my goal was to be a concert classical pianist or the first female president.  (Yeah, I was an unambitious kid.)  I wavered between going to law school or becoming a starving artist, and while I settled on the latter, I never lost my interest in politics.  So it’s been great fun to combine both issues in these weekly videos, which has let me weigh in on current issues without having to mount a campaign.  (I opted out of politics because of my thin skin and propensity to burst into tears at everything from Kodak commercials to being put on hold, not because of any skeletons in my closet – I have an embarrassingly unembarrasing past!)

But every now and then, a politician comes along whose entire career seems too theatrical to take seriously – sort of like the presidential campaigns of either Pat Paulsen (if you’re old enough to remember him) or Stephen Colbert (for everyone else).   And we’ve had some doozies in this country – I’ve particularly enjoyed the hypocrites like Larry Craig, with his ‘I wasn’t playing footsie in an airport bathroom, I just have a really wide stance,’ or anti-gay activist George Rekers with his ‘rent-a-boy’ travel companion.  However, nothing compares to Toronto’s Rob Ford – from denying he smoked crack to claiming he didn’t lie because reporters didn’t ask the right questions, to insisting that if bike riders get killed by cars, it’s their fault.  In fact, more than a few people have wondered if his antics are just a giant performance art piece. – and I’m sure Anthony Weiner is wishing he’d run for mayor in Toronto, where his measly texted crotch shots would be child’s play.  Meanwhile, Ford is defiantly staying in the public eye, despite being stripped of most of his authority and despite the additional allegations that come forward daily (from arrests for domestic violence to the checkered records of his driver and gym trainer).  (And yes, “Rob Ford’s Gym Trainer” does seem like an incredible oxymoron.)

Rob Ford is larger than life, both literally and figuratively, and someone really should write a song about him.  So I did.

Josh Bowen’s New Fitness Book — A SNEAK PREVIEW

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