Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Chew 'em Down

Chew ‘em Down.

Written by Jeramee Sikorski
Edited by Janet Rosenberg

     Gather ‘round folks. I’m about to tell a painfully embarrassing story from my younger days.  It’s about a time when, in a fit of ignorance, I stuck my foot in my mouth.   It still embarrasses me to this day.  Of course, I’ll be telling it from my vantage point.  It might not seem as awful to you as it feels to me, but in my memory it still stings .

     At the end of my freshman year in college, in the spring of ‘94, I was a member of my residence hall council.   It was like an extended version of high school student council, but it was also a way to meet people and make friends.  (It is also how our culture teaches civics and leadership.)  Towards the end of the academic year, the council was planning an end-of-the-year party.  Since it was the end of the year, our budget was running low and we were struggling to stretch the cash we had to cover this event.

     As a meeting was ending, someone was talking to one of our assistant directors (AD) about the problems he was having finding a DJ.   He simply didn’t have the money that they were asking for.  I casually commented that he should just try to “jew ‘em down.”

Yep. I said that.

Yep, it was a damned ignorant thing to say.

     The AD’s jaw dropped – literally.  That’s when I realized I had said something pretty bad, though I still wasn’t quite sure why it was bad.  Now, if y'all could wait a moment before demanding my crucifixion, I’d like to explain.

     I’d guess that I’d heard this phrase a dozen times or so during my life up to that point.   I was raised Catholic on a farm outside a small, predominantly Polish town during the 80’s.  All of this was well after Vatican II ended in 1965 with an official decree from the Pope that, though the Jews present before Pontius Pilate called for Jesus’ death, it was incorrect to blame all the Jews at that time for his death, and was certainly wrong to assume that the blame would carry over to currently living Jews.  So, really, I never should have heard the phrase to begin with.  I guess my uncle and some of my dad’s cousins, who were born in the ‘50’s or earlier, had probably grown up hearing the phrase and just didn’t get the message.  To be fair, the original Vatican decree absolving Jews of deicide (god murdering) was only a single, densely-worded sentence in the entire book that resulted from Vatican IIi.

     Growing up in the ‘80’s, I had no experience with Jewish folks.  We were all taught that Jesus was Jewish in Catholic school religion class, but that’s about all I knew about Judaism.  That, and they ate unleavened bread for some reason.  I knew that the Holocaust had occurred during WWII, but I didn’t know about the long and sordid history of antisemitism in Christendom. ii

     In fact, I knew so little about Jewish people that, the few times that I heard that phrase, I thought they were saying “chew.”  After all, why on Earth would anyone say “Jew ‘em down?”  That made no sense when you had never been exposed to antisemitism or even Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice.”  I didn’t know that Christians had banned Jews in Europe from engaging in most trades, so that banking (aka money-lending) was one of the few professions available to them.  Even history class gave us no real in-depth details on the Holocaust or WWII.  It was focused on the dates of key battles and not the story of what the war was about.  People will “chew the fat” when they have a leisurely chat, though, so, to my mind, it made sense that one might “chew down” a price over the course of a negotiation.

     Additionally, as I learned when I studied linguistics for ESL teaching, the “ch” and “j” sounds are the same, but “j” has the addition of a being ‘voiced’.  If you place you hand over your throat while you make the two sounds, you’ll notice that your mouth makes the same sound.  The difference is that your vocal chords also vibrate when you make the “j” sound.  I’m certain I actually said “chew ‘em down,” but the AD, who grew up in Detroit and was a bit more worldly and knew the phrase, heard “jew ‘em down.”  What mattered, though, was not what was said, but what was heard.

     I never intended to cause offense with that remark, even though I did.  I’m just glad that I said it before the advent of the smartphone so there’s no record of it, except my own embarrassment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  This story was certainly unpleasant for me, but, given our intolerant times, it seems that it needed to be told.  If you think it helps to shed a little perspective, then please feel free to share.  There are social media buttons up top for your convenience.  You can also follow the blog (blue button to the right), or like our page on facebook (button in the upper right).   Lastly, we've linked a few of our satire pieces below, so you can end your visit with a chuckle or two.  Thanks and have a great day!


Oklahoma Legislators to Propose New Teacher Employer Rights Bill


Monday, November 5, 2018

The 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship, and the Ignoble Sunset of Trumpism

An editor recently came across this analysis by attorney and candidate for Connecticut Attorney General Peter Goselin concerning Trump's claim that he could rescind birthright citizenship with an executive order. This is a nice, concise analysis. Mr. Goselin may be reached at Goselin4AG.org.

Our thanks for letting us publicize the analysis, and Good Luck with the campaign!

November 3, 2018
Written by Peter Goselin, JD.


I have been a little concerned at the comments by some legal experts and talking heads suggesting that Trump would *not* issue an executive order on this [ending birthright citizenship by executive order] because, after all, it is clearly unconstitutional.  I believe it's quite possible he will carry out his threat to do so and I think we have to be prepared for that possibility.

And although I know that fact will sound threatening to some liberals, as a leftist (and a lawyer) I believe that if Trump chooses that route he may very well dislodge the rock that decisively crushes the anti-immigrant right.

First, let me be clear about this. The Constitution itself is a document written by white male slaveholders, merchants, and bankers. They did not represent the American people then any more than their ilk would today. I have no qualms about interpreting it and applying it to provide the greatest possible protection to human rights, and I believe anyone who claims that the Constitution must be interpreted solely according to the will of the so-called Founding Fathers is merely protecting a system that was founded in white supremacist ideology.

The 14th Amendment, on the other hand, came into being three quarters of a century after the Constitution and the original Bill of Rights. Being generated by Congress of course it does not reflect a single point of view. But it came into being at a time when the capitalist concept of free contract was still (at times) a progressive social force. And so it is here, declaring first that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States" are citizens and then that, as citizens, these persons cannot have their "privileges or immunities" infringed upon or their "life, liberty, or property" taken by any state except with due process of law.

From the perspective of legal thinkers of that time, the significance of the language of the 14th Amendment is its radical declaration that it confers on "all persons" the kind of rights that in many parts of Europe at that time still were enjoyed only by burghers and landowners. In the US this moment in history is the height of progressive nationalism, effectively giving every person born in the US the right to enter into contracts, purchase property, access the courts, and do all those things that at one time had been the right of only a small minority of the population of any nation.

It would have been incredible for the drafters of the 14th Amendment to have decided, in this historic moment, to exclude from this new kind of citizenship persons who were born in the US but whose parents were not citizens. The very nature and purpose of the 14th Amendment was to draw into the circle of capitalist legality those persons who had previously been excluded, especially African Americans and the growing ranks of white industrial workers.

But even if one were to produce an argument that the Congress that wrote the Reconstruction Amendments and drafted the statutes that first conferred civil rights* also intended to exclude people born in the US to non-citizens (*42 U.S. Code Section 1981 giving all persons the same right to contract "as is enjoyed by white citizens" is still relied on in legal claims challenging race-based discrimination) that doesn't answer the question whether we, in 2018, should interpret the 14th Amendment so narrowly.

In only the last decade, the language of journalism and public policy has all but universally abandoned the ugly and ungrammatical phrase "illegal alien" to describe people who are present in the US without proper authorization. Although unsuccessful to date, it's clear that Congressional drafters of immigration reform legislation understand the need to provide some meaningful "path to citizenship" to some or all of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Attacks on undocumented immigrants, like Trump's Muslim ban, his Border Wall, and his disastrous policy of separating families at the border have evoked broad, popular outrage. There is certainly no basis to conclude that it reflects the wishes of the people of the US to change a longstanding interpretation of the Constitution that confers citizenship on any person born within US borders.

To the contrary, Trump's attempt to cram that interpretation down the throats of the majority of people who reject his narrow nationalism could be politically disastrous for him and for the anti-immigrant right as a whole. More clearly than any previous debate, a discussion about birthright citizenship would force the people of this country to confront the problem of 19th century nationalism in the 21st century. To embrace the end of birthright citizenship requires that we decide, as a people, to actively deprive people who live and work alongside us from the protection of those rights we associate not only with being citizens but with being humans.

An executive order to terminate birthright citizenship would be a nasty, racially-motivated endeavor to protect the "whiteness" of the United States. It is disgusting to imagine that the President of the United States would issue such an order. But it would not be the first act by this president to evoke the disgust of the American people. And I am confident that if Trump chooses to fight that battle, it will only raise the political opposition to his reign to a higher level and generate greater solidarity between citizens and non-citizens in the US than we have seen before.


Editor's note

People forget that the SCOTUS is the weakest branch partly because it attempts to be apolitical.  That also creates a weakness. During times of great political stress, the court tends to retract its oversight role, which allowed for horrible decisions like Plessy v Ferguson and the Korematsu case that approved of the Japanese internment camps.

If Trump were to do try repealing the 14th amendment right now, then he'd unleash a maelstrom against his party.  That's right now, though. Naomi Klein talks about this in her book The Shock Doctrine.  What Trump is doing with this is sending up a test balloon. He's getting people riled up over and over and trying to give us outrage fatigue.  He will then splatter more of his awful ideas at us and, just like a day trader that makes money on the momentary ups and downs in the market, he slips in something that would have dominated all media coverage for weeks and would have cost him dearly in normal times.  Just like a day trader will monitor a bunch of different stocks, the Trump admin is playing on the momentary lapses in oversight caused by his relentless lying to slip in regulatory changes in all regulatory agencies that would have been condemned universally in normal times.

That's exactly what he Trump did with his Muslim ban.  The first three iterations were blatantly bigoted and unconstitutional.  The last version got the approval of SCOTUS with barely a mention because everyone is so busy with the dozens of other problems he makes every day. While we can be assured, at this moment, that this bigoted plan is going nowhere, that may change very soon. That's why it's crucial to understand both the issues and candidate's values to ensure that we leave a better nation to our children than what we have inherited.

If you're from Connecticut, then you also need to check out Mr. Goselin, at Goselin4AG.org, and ask if his values will enable you to leave a better world to your children than we have now.

Friday, August 10, 2018

In or out of the box?

In or out of the box?
** Deciding Whether to Give or Take Space **

5 August 2018
Written by Jeramee Sikorski
Edited by Lisa Frank

     In “It Works,” posted earlier, we showed how to use questions as a conversational skill for persuasive and productive political discussion.  Just as an encounter with a random person can turn into a fight, a political discussion can quickly become confrontational as well.  The best martial artists that I’ve had the fortune to train under also teach students to think about the space of a confrontation.  It doesn’t matter how hard someone wants to punch you, if you can stay just a few feet away, they can never hurt you.  Get a few miles away, and they might never think of you again.  Control the space and you control the fight, or even prevent it.

     This concept of space can apply to political conversations also.  When we are in the midst of a heated debate, we often experience the same things that we feel in a physical confrontation: anger, our heartbeat pounding in our ears, and maybe even a little heat as adrenaline dumps into our bloodstream.  Often, as a debate devolves to a quarrel, we feel like the only way to cope is complete disengagement.  That is a way to create space, but it surrenders the debate due to an emotional response instead of the other person having a good argument.

     In “It Works,” we applied the concept of space in two ways.  First, we brought in an article from a trusted source 1 to build a framework around the discussion.  This let’s us set limits similar to how the walls of a coffee shop keep out the harsher elements of nature so we may converse in relative peace.  Alternatively, if the discussion is heated, the framework acts as the steel cage where we’ll do rhetorical combat. 2

     It must be understood, though, that the limits placed around the conversation are there to keep us anchored to reality and not isolated in a media bubble.  If the person with whom we are engaging has different facts available, then they are welcome to introduce those facts, either from personal experience or from another credible source.  In turn, we are always free to dispute those facts, which is another benefit of using an article from a reputable source.  We do not have firsthand experience for most issues with which we deal, so a source with a reputation of credibility provides justification to believe the reported facts, which we then use to justify our beliefs.  If a person brings in facts from a bad source with a history of extreme bias or misreporting the facts, then we are justified in rejecting that source. 3  Requiring that the conversation remain rooted in reality helps control the space around the conversation.

     The second way that we control the space is by giving space within a discussion, and we do it for a couple of reasons.  We used our questioning technique with a friend with whom we want to maintain our friendship.  Just as we wouldn’t physically push a friend around until they feel compelled to lash out, we can use questions to keep the discussion going while giving the other person enough space to not feel threatened.  Within the safety of that space, we give them questions that allow them to reflect and connect the values in their hearts with their beliefs.  Additionally, creating that space for reflection also gives us a little emotional distance from the conflict situation.  This helps us to control our emotions too and allows us to come away with a mutual appreciation of shared values and beliefs.

Note: Don’t get down on yourself if your emotions get the best of you during one of these tense conversations.  These ideas sound extremely simple here because we are presenting the culmination of years spent studying and practicing both logic and debate.  This takes practice, and you should expect to screw up sometimes.  Take heart, though.  In “It Works,” we point out several of our own mistakes and places where, in hindsight, we could have structured a better conversation.  Despite those mistakes, that conversation was a success. Do not let perfection be the enemy of the good.  Just keep trying.

Articles in this series.

In or Out of the Box? (the one you are reading now.)

Get in the Ring -- Basic Techniques for Troll Boxing (Coming Soon)

Troll Boxing (Coming Soon)


     There are times, however, that it just isn’t possible to give that space and have anything resembling a civil conversation.  The constant deflection by some media entities and personalities has infected our nation’s ability to have civil discussions.  Dealing with people like this feels like being in a tornado with all that debris swirling and battering you.  Their chaotic thoughts create an onslaught of foolish ideas that will litter the space around when they fade away.  This type of argument* doesn’t actually damage your argument but rather lays waste to everything around and in its path.  What small pieces of rational argument that they do throw at you are left to litter the ground as they focus on the next piece of havoc they will wreak.

(*Note: In this series, we will use argument in the debate sense: a series of propositions intended to support and prove a conclusion.  We’ll use quarrel to refer to a heated or angry exchange.)

     With this type of person, the strategy of giving space does not work.  This kind of person spins facts and bad ideas just as quickly as the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes whirls around.  The only time the Taz isn’t spinning through a path of destruction is when he’s in a box or being outsmarted by Bugs.  (By the way, you’re Bugs Bunny in this analogy).  You cannot give people like this space, or they will chew through everything around them and leave a disaster in their wake.  They will only use it to create destruction and chaos.  For people like this, you must confine their space and box them in like the Taz when he’s in a shipping crate.

For people unfamiliar with the Taz, we’ve linked a couple of his iconic cartoons for you here.

Ducking the devil:

Bill of Hare:


     One last caveat before we take a look at rules and strategies to box in these devils.  During an argument, whether on or off social media, it is uncommon that we will actually change the other’s beliefs.  My friend in “It Works” began the conversation by saying she was “on the fence.”  She didn’t so much change her beliefs as she took the time to reflect upon her values and decided which side of the fence reflected her beliefs.  For people with morally repugnant beliefs, such as thinking that locking refugee children in cages is a good thing, we assume that we won’t change their beliefs.  So, why bother?

     With Taz-like Trump supporters, our goal is not to change their beliefs.  Just like a panel debate on TV news, the proponents of either side will not walk away with their beliefs changed, but that was never the reason they engaged in the debate to begin with.  For people like this, we engage and debate them to show other people observing the argument the difference between the two sides.  Our goal is to demonstrate our values in the clearest way possible.  

     If you’re like us, you also have friends who are somewhere in the middle.   Our goal is to show them or anyone else who may observe the debate that we can coherently combine reason and compassion, uniting heart and mind.  We understand that morality relates to promoting the well-being of other human beings 4 and not blindly following the cruel dictates of an authoritarian.  Doing that also makes the other side's argument resemble a manure spreader spraying crap everywhere rather than a series of real thoughts.

Actual photo of Trump supporter making his “argument” in a recent encounter.

Next: We will give a brief overview of some of the rules and techniques we use with Trump supporter for a better understanding of how to deal with such a creature when discovered lurking in its natural habitat.

Thank you for coming to engage with our ideas.  
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If Trump's cruelty is getting a little too heavy, you can take a look at some of our recent satire pieces below.



1 One of our articles, “The Traffic Stop,” was used inIt Works” because it was written to help the average American walk a mile in a refugee’s shoes and covered most of the major arguments that someone might make in support of that unnecessarily and intentionally cruel Republican policy.
2 We are building up from easy to difficult conversations in this series so there will be more of that in future installments.
3 We ’ll explore that more in the next installment.
4 The focus on promoting well-being can be applied to all sentient creatures, which would also include animals, for those who recognize that they can feel many of the same emotions that we do.