All posts by drJ

Twitterspeak

We, meaning people who would generally consider things like compassion and empathy more important than power and privilege, need to talk more to each other, and talk more fully, not limiting our conversations to chunks of 140 characters and pleas donations and signing petitions.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any mode we choose, but just that they shouldn’t be limits, that the conversation must go much deeper.

Words, words, words, what’s the matter with words? We need more of words, many more words.  Ah, but who will read them?

 

 

 

Ironic, isn’t it?

As a child, I dreamed of being an old man.  I think lots of kids had dreams like that, fantasies, even reveries.  I think of the first character I played on stage was Giles Corey (an old man who’s a victim of the witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). I think of “altacocker,” the Yiddish word I remember hearing my father say and “Der Alte,” what they called the German politician Konrad Adenauer.

Now, as I get older, I dream of being that kid again, of being that kid who dreamed of being an old man.

Also: Added new thought on learning lines/music from actor/musician’s perspective.

 

American Democracy at the Crossroads

American Democracy at the Crossroads

When I was in college many decades ago, I remember being struck by what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about what had emerged as the United States’ “experiment” in democracy. He saw in the U.S. governmental structure an interpretation of “majority rules” that frightened him. He saw the possibility that an electoral majority might so dominate that it could do whatever it wanted. An electoral majority could then abrogate nearly all rights and needs of everyone else.  He foresaw that the “winner take all” aspect of our system could have drastic consequences to those who lost key electoral battles, so that a relatively small electoral majority — a problem amplified yet further by the separation of electors from the popular vote — could so dominate governance that the people as a whole could be largely disenfranchised and a small elite could run roughshod over the needs of the many.

The Constitution attempts to ameliorate this danger with two key elements: The doctrine of the separation of powers, embodied in the three branches of government, and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.  Recent events, beginning with the overall domination of the Republican Party over such a long stretch of time that the Supreme Court is only marginally an “independent” force, gerrymandering has all but guaranteed control of the House of Representatives, and the removal of all fetters on the ability of wealth to determine electoral power, has left vast numbers of people who live in the United States with nearly no control over the  governmental decisions that most crucially shape their lives.

Decades of struggle for the rights of women, for racial equality, for worker unification in unions, for humane reactions to those whose political and economic necessities have driven them to immigrate without government approval, for liberalization of draconian drug laws, for quality education regardless of wealth, for health care as a human right — all this and much more has been either driven back or is more threatened today than ever before. Some causes have fared better than others, but overall, we, the people, are less free, less able to control our own destinies, have less confidence that our children will have greater opportunities than we had, and on and on, all because of the ability of a small group to leverage its wealth and power into utterly dominating the masses of people.  As bad as this has been for the majority of the American populace, it has been yet more devastating to the most vulnerable members of our society.

Much as people who consider themselves progressives, including me, focus their fear and outrage on Donald Trump. This is, I would say, appropriate, as he is more than merely a symptom of how far our “democracy” has sunk. Each day, he strikes out against all who stand in his way. He goes beyond exploiting a narrow-minded worldview, but actively incites hateful attitudes toward women, towards immigrants, toward environmentalists, towards “liberals,” toward poorer countries of the world as though they were the cause of every person’s miseries.

This is not the democracy “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” but increasingly an oligarchy of extremely wealthy people. Sadly, a very large percentage of the most privileged seem to measure their wealth by increasing the gap of wealth and privilege.  Our democracy becomes still more of a “corpocracy” where the magnates of corporations maneuver to control everything from abortion rights to gun laws to immigration.

The struggle is not over. People of good will continue to fight for human dignity. No, it’s not just about Trump — though he certainly epitomizes and leads the charge for the value system that puts accumulation of wealth and privilege (including the “privilege” to disparage others) first and everything else cast aside. It’s about trying to make U.S. democracy truly democratic.

We all have a lot of work to do.

 

Opposing Saliva Testing in routine police stops for pot in Vermont – H.237

I am upset to see Vermont’s recent legalization of marijuana is being used to justify a giant step backward in terms of personal rights.

I am afraid, I admit, that a deal was struck: that all along, some said, “Yeh, I’ll vote for this, but I’ll also let you dig another step deeper into my life.

The ACLU has voiced their objection to the currently discussed bill  (H.237) .

My first attempt at writing on this appeared in VTDigger yesterday.  Here it is (link at bottom of page):

Legalization of Marijuana Does Not Justify Saliva testing
Legalization of marijuana is a significant shift in the state government’s role in “regulating” cannabis use. In Vermont, the first state to legalize marijuana by legislation as opposed to referendum, the major change is in mentality: shifting marijuana use from a governmental concern to one of personal choice. Moving from decriminalization to legalization, however, is not at all certain to significantly change the actual consumption of marijuana. Marijuana, legal or not, has been widely available for decades.  Visions of the state being overrun by the drug-crazed is an assumption that ignores the fact that cannabis use is widespread not only in Vermont, but throughout the country.

Unfortunately, legalization is being used by some to argue for far more aggressive state police policies, specifically taking saliva swabs and, potentially, blood samples. This turns a law enacted to free citizens from governmental interference into a rationale to seriously limit the liberties of all, since even those who have never used cannabis could be detained and tested. 

Under the proposed legislation (H. 237), officers who “reasonably” believe that a person may be under the influence of marijuana are authorized to begin a series of steps similar to those used for alcohol, but more invasive in both length of time being detained and in deprivation of personal privacy.

Saliva-testing for cannabis is not at all the same as a breathalyzer testing for alcohol.  On what objective standard is an officer’s judgment based that a person may have consumed marijuana? At a sobriety checkpoint, for example, the driver may have given no indication in impaired driving and may have no signs in their breath or demeanor. But if the officer doesn’t like the look of the person’s eyes, or the “normality” of the person’s responses to questions, the officer can then detain the subject until the proscribed tests have been administered.

No one, including the manufacturers of the saliva or blood tests themselves, even attempts to argue that the tests can accurately determine the recency of use or amount of ingestion, let alone the degree of impairment.  Thus a person who is “presumed innocent” may be held, have their saliva checked, be vulnerable to the abuse of such a test to collect DNA, and, then, if THC is found (as would be expected, for example, in anyone using marijuana for medicinal purposes), further held until a blood test is taken. Even testing advocates acknowledge that neither test can be considered “evidentiary.”  Neither test can distinguish a person who is seriously impaired from a person who legally ingested many hours or even days before sitting behind the wheel of a car. When a person is held to be tested by an assessment that has no validity, one’s liberty is being encroached for no reason that would hold up in a court of law.  The fact that some other states enforce such a parody of justice is no justification for its use in Vermont.

I was pleased to see the ACLU  has taken the stance, based largely on similar arguments, that saliva testing based on an officer’s subjective judgment of cannabis use is unacceptable. It is my sincere hope that the Vermont legislators who were insightful enough to see the value of legalization will also be insightful enough to see that validating a deprivation of everyone’s rights to be a poor “balance” to the change from decriminalization to legalization.


Jonathan Mack, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Psychology of the State University of New York, is the former Chair of the Selectboard of Newfane, VT.  He currently manages the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery in Brattleboro.

 

link: https://vtdigger.org/2018/02/07/jonathan-mack-saliva-testing-unjustified/link

A few snapshots from Amsterdam-Bruges-Paris

When I’m not worrying about the state of the world we live in, there’s a lot to appreciate…

Democracy at the crossroads

Perhaps it’s just always been true that democracy in a very fragile thing. All too easy to be turned into something very undemocratic, into oligarchy and autocracy.

I always remember what I read in college by a Frenchman (de Tocqueville) who visited in the early days of an independent United States. He worried about the American experiment in democracy: An electoral majority could trample everyone else’s lives if it chose. Democracy could an autocracy that could do what it wants, hampered only by fighting within itself, oblivious to the populace as a whole. This would be the diametric opposite of the democracy core principle: everyone has an equal say in what is to happen and it’s corollary: everyone’s needs and beliefs are equal.

I believe we are at this crossroads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Added Essay on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

For the past two months, I’ve been putting together an essay on the Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was also chosen by the New York Times as one the best books of the year. This is the first time I’ve chosen to devote my writing energies to the task of unraveling issues raised by a work of fiction, so certainly I was strongly affected by it.

If you outright loved the work, you may be disconcerted by my questioning a key psychological and philosophical underpinning of the novel. If you haven’t read the book,  I hope you’ll find enough description of it to be engaged by the argument I raise here.

If you’re a student of contemporary literature or psychology, I hope you’ll find the discussion useful, though of course you would be well advised not to cut and paste.

Yellow Bird – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

 

 

 

For the Legalization of Marijuana

There is no reason why anyone should be considered a criminal for the simple fact of possession. Production and distribution should be made straightforward, without being made commercial, big business. This is the really challenging part.

The big question everyone asks but no one can truly answer is whether more teens will smoke pot once it is legalized.  There’s more than a little doubt that illegality is what stops teens from smoking it,  For many teens, the forbidden is what allures,  I agree that pot is not what teenagers need.  The teen years are tumultuous enough that adding pot into the mix can wreck havoc.

But putting people in threat of being arrested isn’t the solution. Prohibition of marijuana has not resolved this any better than the prohibition of alcohol helped a century ago.

It’s time for more reasonable approaches to emerge and legalization is the right direction.