Archive - Jan 2011

January 11th

Honoring Christina Green

Note: Like other areas in this blog, in this post, I am talking about politics and my job. I work for a 501(c)3 which cannot and does not support or oppose specific candidates. The political opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the organization I work for.

Christina Green was a few weeks older than my daughter, Fiona. Like Fiona, Christina was interested in politics and went to hear her congresswoman at a local meet and greet. Fiona has over heard a little bit about the terrible tragedy that happened in Arizona but still plays with her puppy before heading off to see her friends at school.

Tears come to my eyes as I think about Christina and her family. I do not know how I could handle such grief. I listen to the news and hear reports of conservative talk radio hosts saying that their vitriol has nothing to do with the tragedy and criticizing liberals for trying to use this event to shut up conservatives. They say that it wasn’t their vitriol that caused this tragedy, it was the act of a sick and deranged young man. As I listen to them and think about Christina and think about Fiona, they sound pretty sick and deranged themselves.

The only sense I can make of it is that they are so impotent and their arguments so weak that they cannot express themselves or gather support without resorting to violent vitriol. Perhaps we have reached our generations’ Joseph Welch moment. On June 9th, 1954, Joseph Welch issued his famous line, “Have you no sense of decency sir”. I only hope so.

So, how do we handle grief? We continue on with our daily lives. The news reports say that Christina Green wanted to grow up to help other people. She will not have that opportunity now, so we must take a little more of that on ourselves.

I am blessed. My job is to help others. I am the social media manager for a Community Health Center. Yesterday, I received emails from a person in our Nurturing Families Program with pictures of their most recent graduation and celebration.

I then posted on the CHC Facebook wall

Nurturing Connection is recruiting volunteers to mentor and support first time moms in the Meriden and Wallingford area. Volunteers are asked to mentor a new parent by telephone once a week for a period of three to six months. Ongoing training with the Nurturing Connections Coordinator is offered to each volunteer for support and guidance as a mentor. Please contact Alejandra Godaire at (203) 237-2229 ext 6035.

Can you help first time moms raise children as wonderful as Christina or Fiona? If so, for Christina’s sake, please volunteer.

I also spent some time working on the CHC Community HealthCorps Facebook page. Community HealthCorps is part of AmeriCorps. Volunteers spend a year helping at health center. CHC has some GREAT AmeriCorps volunteers, and it has been wonderful to get to know them, to share information about what they have been doing, and to encourage others to also volunteer with AmeriCorps, and particularly with CHC Community HealthCorps.

I also spent time talking with people at Domus and at Rushford, two other groups that CHC interacts with, about how we can all work together to help make our world a better place.

I still grieve for Christina. I pray for her and her family. I pray for those who seem incapable of working for good without spewing worlds of hatred and violence. I pray for Fiona that our world may become a little safer. I pray for the Nurturing Families volunteers and the CHC Community HealthCorps volunteers, past, present and future, that they may all find ways to live the dream of Christina. Join me in my grieving and prayers.

January 10th

Music Mondays - Americana

Friday night, I went to see Harpeth Rising at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT. I first learned of Harpeth Rising from their Sonicbids submission to Orient Lodge. It was a wonderful show, and my regard for Harpeth Rising increased greatly. They identified themselves as Americana in their submission, which is as good a category as any for them.

Of the sixty-seven submissions to this round of reviews, twelve identified themselves as Americana. I’ve listened to nine of them, and I want to highlight a couple.

The first group I want to highlight is Harvey Branch String Band. Maybe I just have a thing for Americana bands named after rivers and featuring female banjo players. I also like it that the instrumentation lists a kazoo as one of the instruments. The Harvey Branch String Band is just plain fun. I also like it that they played at the Special Olympics Winter Fest in Indiana on Sunday.

The second group I want to highlight is the Twangtown Paramours. They actually submitted their music in the last round, and I really liked them. I almost selected them that time, but there were several other good groups and I just couldn’t work it into my schedule. So, this time, I’m glad to highlight them. They are polished and have great lyrics. Perhaps some of this is because “Mike T. Lewis has played guitar for a million and a half years, and bass for about half that long.” He also “had a #1 pop hit in South Korea on Yang Pa’s first album called ‘A Heartbeat Away’. It sold over 800,000 units”. I should try to find a recording of that some day.

Mostly, they are playing around Tennessee, with trips into Virginia and West Virginia. They seem like a band that would be fun to go hear at a coffee shop some day.

They don’t have much of a presence on Twitter, but they are listed as musicians contributing to the Acoustic for Autism project. Gotta like em for that.

They do have some videos up on YouTube, and so perhaps the best way to illustrate who they are is to feature this video:

Happy Music Monday, everyone.

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January 9th

Further Reflections on Blame, Responsibility and Accountability

Earlier today, I wrote a blog post, Blame, Responsibility and Accountability where I mentioned a couple people that appeared to me to be justifying violent rhetoric in their posts online. I am having had a hard time trying to understand these views.

In that blog post, I wrote,

I retweeted what I thought was the best of the messages, only to receive comments from @AGNewHaven saying, “Shame on you for retweeting garbage like that” and “I am not sure where the line is-but foaming at the mouth calling people traitors and terrorists probably isnt it.”

Those messages have subsequently been deleted. He also added a couple comments to my blog. His first comment started off saying, “You retweeted something that called tea party members terrorists?” Actually, what I tweeted was “RT @mhelfenbein Tea Party = Terrorist Extreme Aggressive Party.” I did not say that members of the tea party are terrorists. Instead, I was repeating a theme that linked the rhetoric of some people held dear by members of the tea party to what I consider domestic terrorism.

Later, he writes, “What I object to is somehow suggesting that every member (of which I am NOT) every member of the Tea Party is a terrorist". Suggesting that a person should be shot, suggesting ‘second amendment remedies’, suggesting that you should make opponents afraid to come out in public, I believe constitutes terrorism. That does not say that members of the TEA party are terrorist, any more than it says that members of the GOP are grand or old.

He goes on to say, “People kill terrorists-are you suggesting people should kill tea party members?” As an opponent of the death penalty, I wouldn’t even say people should kill terrorists.

His next comment was that I “choice to misrepresent” him. I do not believe that I have misrepresented him. I certainly did not make any choice to misrepresent him. As I stated at the top of my blog post, I am having had a hard time trying to understand his view, as well as the view of the person on Facebook that appeared to be defending violent rhetoric.

In my attempt to make sense of his messages on Twitter I wrote, “While Mr. Cunneen may want to coddle criminals and stand with the shooter. I do not.” As a person that takes words very seriously, I want to reiterate what I said. I do not know what Mr. Cunneen wants to do. I still don’t, but presenting and exploring a possible hypothesis is not misrepresentation.

That said, Mr. Cunneen did send me a private email as well. Given that it is a private email, I’ll refrain from going into details. However, I will make a few general comments. I am a strong believer in our democratic process. I believe in open discussions. I believe that the best method of bringing about change is at the ballot box. However, I also recognize the importance of direct actions, including sit-ins, picket lines, boycotts, and other non-violent methods of exerting pressures on those in power to bring about change. To me, there is a very significant difference between a boycott and a shooting.

As such, I believe we should be boycotting those that broadcast or defend violent rhetoric. Mr. Cunneen’s responses on Twitter sounded to me as if he were defending violent rhetoric. In his private email to me, he presents a different view and I no longer believe that he is defending violent rhetoric. As such, I no longer see a reason to boycott his businesses.

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Blame, Responsibility and Accountability

Quickly after a young white man shot at a congresswoman in Arizona, the political rhetoric heated up. Everyone started pointing to the map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC which included Congresswoman’s Gabrielle Giffords district in the crosshairs. They pointed to Senator McCain’s defense of the use of language of gun violence in ‘targeting’ Rep. Giffords saying the it is common political speak to talk of battleground states and targeting districts. They retweeted messages from Palin about ‘reloading’.

I retweeted what I thought was the best of the messages, only to receive comments from @AGNewHaven saying, “Shame on you for retweeting garbage like that” and “I am not sure where the line is-but foaming at the mouth calling people traitors and terrorists probably isnt it.” They unfollowed me, and I unfollowed them, including a tweet encouraging people not to use AlphaGraphics in New Haven or Cunneen Fundraising.

While Mr. Cunneen may want to coddle criminals and stand with the shooter. I do not. Instead, I stand with Speaker Boehner who said, "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve".

We need to stand up and say that shooting members of Congress, nine year old children and Federal Judges is wrong. We also need to look seriously at a political system that would encourage someone like the shooter to take the action he did.

The most obvious person to criticize is Sarah Palin. It is easy to demonize her. Her words are the most blatant, wide spread, and offensive, but she is simply a symptom of the problem. There are many that have suggested ‘Second Amendment Remedies’. It is a sad commentary on our country that this has become a part of the current political lexicon.

Yet even an effort to start talking about curtailing the dangerous rhetoric brings the red herring about “not playing the blame game”. My wife wrote on Facebook

Tired of people saying "blame isn't productive". We need to stop saying that and start holding people accountable. There are some actions that are not acceptable and where blame is indeed appropriate.

I was surprised to see a response saying

The shooter was doing his best to hold people accountable. Do we want to emulate that method?

I suggested that there is something wrong with those who believe shooting public officials is an acceptable way of trying to hold people accountable.

I went into a long discussion about how I hope that all of us should seek to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare".

I touched briefly on two Supreme Court Cases, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) that give guidance about acceptable speech and ended off with

Now, on to the specific topic of blame. defines the verb blame as "to hold responsible; find fault with; censure". To me, holding people responsible for their actions is a core part of our civic responsibility. it is essential to insuring domestic tranquility.

In terms of detrimental behavior, the first step, is for a person to recognize their own failings, in short to be be held accountable or responsible and accept blame for what they have done.

Based on this understanding of personal growth, I would suggest that people saying "blame isn't productive" are using self defenses to avoid looking seriously at any failings in their own lives that are impeding our common goal of a more perfect union.

Yet even with this, the red herring about “blame” reflects a deeper problem. We live in a society that focuses on freedoms, but not responsibilities. We see politicians seeking protect free speech, but allowing large corporate donors to remain anonymous. We live in a political landscape that eschews blame, responsibility and accountability. It is not surprising that things have spun so far out of control.

January 8th

What Do You Expect?

I remember when my daughters were in preschool, I would sometimes drop them off. As I expected, they would run into their classroom, eager to see their teachers and classmates. I would sometimes watch as other children wept, clinging to their mothers, not wanting to go to school. I often thought that my children, and these other children, were simply living up to expectations.

It is easy to believe that children sense what their parents expect, and try to live up to these expectations, but does the same apply to adults? Perhaps. All of us are likely to fall back on behaviors from our childhood. If this is true, what does this say about our expectations of the people around us?

Do we expect people to treat us with respect? Do we expect the people around us to be friendly and act intelligently? Do we expect this, even if they come from different groups than us, if they are of a different race, religion, or socioeconomic stratum?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in terms of my recent blog posts about ‘The Face of God’. Do we expect those around us to exhibit godliness? What might happen if we tried to change our expectations?

It is easy to take this down the path of prosperity preachers and the law of attraction. If we expect to be blessed, we may attract prosperity. Yet I have real problems with the way a lot of people seem to approach this. To many people seem to confuse prosperity with wealth and material possessions, and need to remember that the love of money is the root of all evil and that you cannot serve both God and money.

Yet it seems like expecting to see the face of God in the people around us could change our experiences.

Note: I started composing this in the morning. I was going to talk a little bit about hearing Harpeth Rising last night, which was a wonderful experience. Then, everything changed with the shooting in Arizona. I’m posting this as is, and may have more comments later.