Political Architecture vs. the Architects of Politics

It was an interesting weekend. First, I watched The Post, a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It’s about the Washington Post’s release of the Pentagon Papers, which proved that several presidential administrations had lied to the American people about the Vietnam war. It was also about the risk that our country’s first female newspaper publisher took to get that information out there, and how it sparked a landmark lawsuit that reinforced freedom of the press. I highly recommend this movie. It’s kind of a precursor to All the President’s Men.

But to say it reinforced my bitterness toward this nation’s politically corrupt shenanigans is putting it mildly. Politicians suck, man. No question about that in my mind. We need some serious political reform in this country. But the rich people will never let us have it.

So there I am, in that mindset, when we decided to take a road trip down to Olympia, the state capitol of Washington.

For starters, let’s get something straight for all the readers from other countries, and for all the readers living on the east coast. Washington is a state. Really, it is. It’s not the same as Washington DC. They’re two distinct places, about 2,700 miles apart. I know. Hard to believe. But there you have it.

Okay, so now that you’re in the right place, let’s get back to the capitol, Olympia. I’d never been there before. It’s a pretty little town, right on the southern tip of Puget Sound. It’s definitely worth a visit, if only to take a tour of the legislative building on the state capitol campus, which we did.

It looks like your typical capitol building. Classical style. Pillars. A dome, rising up 287 feet. Carved sandstone. Granite. Marble. Masonry. Ornately painted plaster. A big fountain out front. Bronze statues. Lots and lots of flags and official seals.

It took 500 master craftsmen 5 years to build it, and it was finished in 1928. It’s overflowing with Tiffany lighting, and one chandelier weighs 5 tons and has 200 lightbulbs.

There’s an ornate reception room on the third floor, where they have the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, which the public can attend, if you can afford the price of the ticket and the formal wear you’d be expected to sport. In essence, publicly, democratically open. If you have the money.

It was really interesting to see the Senate and House chambers as well. They were not in session at the time, but you got a strong sense of the seriousness of the place. The mahogany and walnut desks alone must be worth a fortune.

That’s the thing about political architecture. It’s designed to inspire awe. It made me want to speak in a whisper. I felt funny walking amongst all that marble in my tourist wear. It’s truly a gorgeous building. I’m glad I went.

But I also struggled, because the ostentatiousness of the place really annoyed me when this state has such a homeless problem. And The Post was still fresh in my mind, with all its political corruption.

We’d like to think that We, the People are who these people are serving, but really? Why the need for so much flashiness? Does that much pomp fit our circumstance?

There is political architecture, which is usually stunning, and there are the architects of our politics, and they can be quite ugly. That juxtaposition of this beautiful building housing what can be, at its worst, a pit of vipers, makes it possible to feel pride and disgust at the same time. And that’s a confusing combination.

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Steps in the Right Direction

I saw an interesting bit of performance art the other day on the Seattle waterfront. Four people, dressed in black, wearing the masks that Anonymous has made famous, were all silently holding screens that had streaming videos on them. Upon closer inspection, those videos were of slaughterhouses, and they made me squirm.

Members of the group Anonymous for the Voiceless were working the crowd, handing out cards with more information about animal cruelty. I left there feeling horrible that I had just had fish for dinner. I hate animal cruelty. I really do. But am I a vegan? No, I am not.

However, I am proud of the fact that I eat about one tenth the amount of meat that I ate when I was growing up. I do love my veggies, and there are just so many delicious meatless options out there nowadays that meat is not nearly as necessary as it used to seem to me.

I went home and tried watching some of the videos that they mentioned in their literature. Some were too disturbing for me to sit through. Others were a bit too radical for me to take seriously, like the one that said that the domestication of animals was tantamount to slavery. (That one made me look at my rescue dog and ask him if he was happy. He gave me a big old sloppy kiss and went back to chewing his butt.)

Here’s the thing (and yes, there’s always a thing): I agree with most of what these people were trying to say. I just take exception to the way they were saying it.

Implying that anything but perfect behavior is utter failure is nothing but emotional abuse. Because none of us are perfect. None of us.

I may not subscribe to your religion, but that does not mean I’m going to hell. I may not eat what you want me to, but that doesn’t make me incurably evil. Life is not black and white. It’s shades of grey.

I do believe it’s important that we know where our food comes from, and the environmental impact its production causes. I do believe that there are a lot of moral incentives to going vegan.

I just think making me walk away feeling like sh** about myself is not the best way to convert me to your cause. We should all be praised for the positive efforts we make in any and all walks of life. Steps in the right direction are just that: steps in the right direction.

Maybe stop focusing on the ultimate destination and appreciate the well-considered journey. Baby steps are important. Not everyone is going to reach your finish line, but all efforts theretoward are praise-worthy.

anonymous

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Let’s Do Away with Political Parties

“Impeach the president!” everyone shouts. Well, heaven knows there are plenty of reasons to do so. But it seems as though many Americans have no idea what impeachment truly means.

Here’s what it does not mean: bye-bye Trump. Nope. Impeachment is what the House of Representatives does to bring charges against a federal employee. It’s like being indicted by a grand jury. Bill Clinton was impeached. But he remained president. Nixon, on the other hand, was never actually impeached. He resigned before the house voted.

Once impeached, the person remains in office. The next step is the trial. That’s conducted by the Senate. The Senate at the time did not find Clinton guilty, and the majority republican Senate today would not find Trump guilty. I guarantee it.

Because, you see, elected officials rarely vote on the facts or their conscience. They vote along party lines. It’s really rather disgusting when you think about it. The truth has nothing to do with it. Morality has nothing to do with it. For example, I’d like to assume that every human being would be against pedophilia. But political pedophiles are given a pass all the time.

The crux of the problem with our political system is that we allow political parties. They’re like gangs. You have to pick a side. You are either with us or against us. There’s no compromise.

There’s more strength in numbers. There’s more money in numbers. It’s easier to intimidate your fellow gang members to do what you want them to do in numbers. It’s easier to label someone as a friend or an enemy.

But what if everyone had to be an independent? What if all political funding came from the people, and there was a cap on the amount a politician could raise from an individual, and also in total? What if that cap were 10 percent of what is spent now? What kinds of people would then run for office? Not these rich fools who have absolutely no idea how most Americans live or what they care about. And once elected, they could actually focus on the task at hand, rather than desperately fundraising.

What if you had to judge a person not by their party but by their actions and the content of their character? What if it were a little less obvious who you should not work with, politically? What if you had to work on bills only with people who agree with you on that particular cause? What if there were no aisles to cross? What if there were no minority or majority leaders who were bullying you to vote a certain way?

Something to think about.

By the way, I also long for unicorns to roam our forests. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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What Is a Typical American?

During a recent commute, I was thinking about the fact that people from all over the world read this blog. I’m rather proud of that. I’d like to think that my random musings give people some insight into the fact that not all Americans fit into the current stereotype.

If you’ve never been to the United States, and formed your opinion about this country based on presidential tweets or the news cycle on any given day in the past several years, I’d be rather ashamed at the conclusions you might be drawing about us as people.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all our news is fake. In fact, I think that most of it is not. But like news everywhere, it tends to focus on the extreme, the lunatic fringe, the dramatic, negative, headline-grabbing insanity that sells subscriptions and gains followers.

The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not our politicians, just as you probably don’t always agree with your own political figures much of the time. The insanity that comes out of our capitol these days is not reflective of the vast majority of us.

Most of us actually believe that our current gun situation is insane and needs some form of regulation. Most of us believe that we incarcerate way, way, way too many people. Most of us really do know that global warming exists, and we desperately want to do something about it. Most of us think that our health care system is cruel and unjust. Most of us do not agree with the way we currently treat immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill in this country.

This nation’s political stance on all of the above is a source of shame and outrage. I wish I could say that our system was actually democratic and reflective of we, the people, but it is, in fact, rigged for the rich and powerful, and they have no one’s best interests at heart but their own. That’s a source of shame, too.

I wish there were some way you could get to know an individual American. Most of us would never think to chant, “lock her up” or “send her back”. The average American doesn’t have a violent bone in his or her body. 99.9999 percent of us would never use an automatic weapon in a school. While we are not perfect (who is?) we are, I truly believe, mostly very compassionate, and willing to help people in need, rather than hurt them or separate them from their families.

While we do have quite a bit of work to do in terms of racial bias, I sincerely believe that people who lead with hate do not represent the vast majority of us. We feel that selfishness is an ugly trait, as is greed. Just about everyone I know is entirely too busy trying to live his or her own life to interfere in the lives of others.

It’s true that there’s no such thing as a typical American, just as there’s no such thing as a typical Italian or a typical Nigerian or a typical Korean. We may come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but I think that most human beings have this in common: we struggle to take good care of our loved ones, and do the best that we can to be the best people that we can be.

So please don’t judge us too harshly. We have limited control over our country’s reputation, and that hurts us as much as it probably horrifies you. Just try to remember that on an individual basis, kindness and love still exist here. They really do.

They just rarely get tweeted about.

Diversity

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Make the Planet Great Again

I think “Make America Great Again” is a short-sighted, narrow-minded, insular, and selfish mindset. The America First attitude implies that our greatness can only come at the expense of others. It implies that we want to make this country greater than others, and to hell with everyone else.

People who buy into that type of rhetoric tend to view this as a dog eat dog world. They think that the only way to rise up is by climbing over the top of others, and the more extreme adherents prefer to wear cleats while doing so. Much better traction that way.

I don’t want to live in such a world.

I sincerely believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We are all in this together. Having traveled internationally, I tend to have a more global worldview.

For example, I think if we want to reduce the number of people who seek asylum in this country, we need to help our neighbors fix the problems that are causing their countrymen to seek refuge with us in the first place.

I also think that if we don’t join our fellow earthlings in trying to reduce carbon emissions, we’re not going to have anything left to make great.

I don’t think giving everyone equal rights will somehow reduce my own.

I don’t think giving everyone a living wage would reduce my own, either.

I think our pollution becomes their pollution. I think our greed becomes their deprivation.

I believe with all my heart that war benefits no one when all is said and done, and that no profits are worth the death of even one human being. If we sunk as much time, money, and effort into promoting peace as we do in propping up war, this would be an amazing big blue marble, indeed.

Watch out for whose neck you’re stepping on, folks, because yours is right there under your noggin, just waiting to be squashed, too.

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Dirty Tricks

On the day I wrote this, I was driving to work, and as I exited the interstate I observed a white guy in a dark grey Infiniti who had pulled off the side of the road and was pulling up the yard sign of a controversial woman who is running for election to Seattle city council. When he saw me on the exit ramp, he pulled away.

As I followed him down the street, I saw him circle back to get another one. I gave him a dirty look, and later reported it to the Facebook page for the campaign. I wish I’d gotten his license plate number, as this is illegal as well as immoral. Are dirty dealings how you got your Infiniti, man? Shame on you.

I’m not a resident of Seattle, so I won’t be voting for or against this councilwoman. I have no skin in the game, so to speak. It’s just that these types of political dirty tricks make me really angry.

If the only way your candidate can win an election is through lies, criminality, or dirty tricks, then you may want to rethink your support of that person. Clearly under those circumstances, the only motivation is greed and power for that individual, and that won’t do a thing for you in the end.

I know I’m being idealistic, but I’d like to vote for people who bring integrity and dedication to the public to the table. I’d like to vote for the person I feel has the most moral fiber. It would be nice to believe that there were candidates that ran a clean race and had nothing to be held accountable for.

Just me wishing for unicorns again.

political sign

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Those Pesky Pedestals

I’ve always admired the Dalai Lama. For me, he seemed like the epitome of enlightenment. He’s dignified. He’s compassionate. He remains calm in the face of grave injustice in the form of China stealing Tibet. He doesn’t even seem bitter about the fact that no country is willing to step in to correct this outrage. He’s all about love and acceptance. He doesn’t judge.

But it seems that he’s also just a man of his generation. And that breaks my heart. Because as a man, he’s inherently flawed.

According to this article, he has said on more than one occasion that if a woman succeeds him, she should be attractive. Because if she’s not, no one will want to look at that face. Even when he is told that this comment offends people, he sticks by it.

This enlightened man just doesn’t get it.

You’d think that someone who has seen his country go through what it has gone through would understand that it’s wrong to require that someone’s most important quality be something that is so completely out of her control. It’s wrong to place hurdles in front of one group of people that you don’t place in front of another. It’s an incredible waste to completely overlook someone’s vast inner value based upon the arbitrary yardstick that you use to give a seal of approval to their outer shell.

It makes me sad to now see the Dalai Lama as an old man with occasionally outmoded, wrong-headed ideas.

But perhaps that has more to do with the rickety pedestal I have placed him upon than it has to do with the man himself. What right do I have to expect perfection? Just because he has failed to meet my standards, that doesn’t mean his inherent value as a public figure has changed.

Let’s try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as he seems so willing to do. But give me a minute to mourn the fact that I am having to lower my expectations, here. I, too, am only human.

Dalai Lama

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