February 05, 2004
New Job begins, Free Speech continued

For the past year or so, I've been posting rather infrequently to this here website, which is funny (not funny ha-ha, but funny weird funny) because traffic to my site goes up every month. I guess the less I write, the more popular I become. Or something.

But whereas I had only the lame excuse of "gee, I'm busy" to keep me from posting here, I now have a more coherent reason for my relative silence. I've started work at a new employer.

When I was first getting to know him, a friend of mine named Allen claimed to be so bored one day that he read through my entire website. He found it odd and interesting that he had to read an awful lot before discovering any mention of my wife (let alone her name), and he was also curious as to whether I was still working for my previous employer (I was not) because my blog has generally only hinted at my employment situation, as well.

I wrote an essay a while back about the conflicting interests that surround freedom of speech. My contention was (and still is) that, while we enjoy the freedom to say what we will, we also are obliged to deal with any consequences that may result -- and that there are often consequences.

My primary concern in that essay was about the annoying (to me) error of referring to consequences as censorship, or even more strongly put, McCarthyism. The Dixie Chicks certainly have a right to say they don't like the current President of the United States. Radio stations in the Bible Belt, likewise, have a right to not play Dixie Chicks records. Both the Chicks and the radio stations are making a point about what they believe or what they are against. But the radio stations are not censoring the Chicks. They are, rather, selecting their own messages just as carefully as the Chicks did.

In a more recent example, Janet Jackson's choices regarding her freedom of expression (which, while not Constitutionally guaranteed, is considered by the Supreme Court to be Constitutionally implied) have led to her being uninvited to be a presenter at the Grammy Awards later this year. Is CBS censoring her? Or are they choosing, instead, to select performers with a public image that is more copacetic for their intended audience?

On the other hand, is the FCC censoring CBS and/or Miss Jackson by threatening and/or imposing fines for what happened during the Super Bowl half-time show this year? Arguably, yes, they are. Censorship is pressure brought to bear by the government regarding what one says or how one expresses it.

Now, then, what does this have to do with me having a wife or changing employers?

Quite a bit.

Paulette, my wife, has a life and a set of interests of her own. She tends to not be as public with her stories as I tend to be with mine. I believe she prefers I not say too much about her in such a public forum as my web site, for fear that I might say something that she'd be uncomfortable having broadcast.

I have a choice, of course. I can put everything out there for the world to view, or I can just shut up about anything that concerns Paulette. Or I can walk a tightrope somewhere in between. Alas, since we are married, and our lives are so interconnected, there are very few things that are a part of my life that aren't also a part of hers.

Is this a case of censorship? Hardly. But anything I say can and will be used against me.

It's reasonable for Paulette to want her privacy. It's reasonable for me to want to share my stories with the world. It's also reasonable for me to respect her privacy. So I do what I can to say what I want to say without pulling her out on display with me too much.

Our son, Alexander, is another matter. My preference is to say enough to tantalize those parties who are interested -- maybe even give a photo or two -- but not say so much as to have Child Protective Services pay us a visit for being bad parents.

Likewise, there has rarely been much for me to say, nor any benefit in saying it, about changes in my employment situation. Usually, all the interesting stuff happens during one's employment, not afterward. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

Shortly, I'll be posting the story of how I came to get my current job -- it was most unusual, even by my standards -- but, for the time being, I'm simply too busy during the day actually *doing* my job to tell *stories* about it, and I'm generally too tired in the evening to even look at the computer.

I'm sure to post it soon, however. I don't want the server to break down under the strain of all the increased traffic I'll get if I *don't* post. :-)

Posted by at 01:45 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits II | Comments (2)
 February 06, 2004
Learning to Quit

One of my character traits that has been dogging me for years is that of tending toward overcommitment. I'm not what some people refer to as a "joiner" -- I don't go around joining clubs just so that I'll be a member of a lot of clubs. Rather, I'll commit myself to performing various tasks or roles to the point where I don't have the time to do them all.

[In case any of my new co-workers are reading this: this negative trait of mine is only in my personal life, and it doesn't apply to my work habits. At work I'm very careful not to overextend mysel-- wait a minute. That doesn't sound too good, either. Hmmmm.]

Overcommitment a different kind of insanity from being a joiner, but not by much. These days, I've got a monthly open mike (open mic?) night at a local coffee shop that I emcee, I'm on my homeowners' association board, I'm webmaster for a couple of non-profits, there's writing workshops and critique groups, trying to be active in my local political party of choice, and never mind regular (and firm) commitments with Alexander (doctor's visits, lessons, playgroups) and the daily commitment to my employer.

Additionally, I have writing goals I'm trying to make and chores around the house that require regular attention. And so on, and so on.

Some of these commitments come about out of necessity, but many come about either because I'm passionate about it (writing; public performance) or because I have some sense of "should" about it (civic participation, and taking a shower *at least* once a week).

Then there's watching ER on Thursday nights, which isn't a formal commitment, but it just works out that way.

I frequently entertain the (false) notion that I used to not be overcommitted -- that I used to live up to all of my obligations. If I were to be honest with myself (it happens, but only rarely), I'd acknowledge that I've been overcommitted since at least elementary school. Cello practice? Who has the time!? Yearbook staff meeting? I'm too busy to make it!

I used to think that I wanted to "be a writer", until I finally wised up to the fact that what I really wanted was to have written. I didn't want to write a novel; I wanted to have written one. Well, I wised up, and decided to become a writer, and then I wrote a novel.

A lot of my commitments are going south because many of them are things I want to have accomplished, rather than because they are things I want to do. Worse, there are a number of things I *should* accomplish that I'm not doing because I'm spending so much time on commitments that I neither should nor want to do anymore. I have stuck out of a sense of duty rather than out of any real need or desire.

If I learn how to quit some of these commitments -- just walk away from them -- then I can take the newfound free time and... blow off my other commitments with less anxiety.

A few months ago, in a rare moment of insight (and free time), I wrote in my private journal that I needed to quit a few of my commitments. I chanced to pick up my journal again recently, and noticed that from that long list of expendable commitments, I'd released myself from exactly one of them. How pathetic.

Clearly, I'm not committed to quitting my commitments.

So, what do I do? When I commit myself to quitting, the first commitment I quit is the commitment to quit commitments. Ack!

I believe there's some organization like a "joiners anonymous." Although, by its very nature, wouldn't all the members really just be posers? I mean, by joining such an organization, aren't you defeating the whole point of getting that joining monkey off your back? So, by extension, there's probably no *valid* sort of "overcommitters anonymous", because the very idea of going to meetings regularly would defeat the purpose of trying not to commit any more.


I should just be committed.

Posted by at 01:25 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Humor , Tidbits | Comments (0)
 February 26, 2004
Presidential Procedures

It's gotta be tough to be the President.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, somebody is going to hate you. Our society has developed a culture that encourages vocal dissent -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing -- which means that no matter where the President is, you will find protesters (protestors?) near at hand, shouting their disapproval of one thing or the other.

It doesn't matter which political party the President claims as his own, and it doesn't matter how decorated or how dubious his record before or while in office. He's going to be protested everywhere he travels, and he's going to be protested right outside his domicile when he stays home.

And so, he must travel in isolation from the people. Secret Service agents must sweep the area long before the President can be allowed to arrive; he must travel in motorcades and private aircraft.

Much the same can be said for so many other elected officials. The more visible the position, the more the office holder must isolate him or herself from the protesters and, at the same time, *all* of their constituents.

I'm reminded of all of this right now because today I've been working in a building across the street from where the President came in to give a talk at a fund-raising lunch. Traffic -- human, car, and air -- had to be rerouted and local businesses saw huge swings (some up, some down) in their activity levels. I wasn't much affected, which is fine by me. But I noticed that even as the Secret Service began to make their presence known in the area last night, so, too, did the protesters this morning.

I'm not sure, since I couldn't read their signs from up here on the fifteenth floor of the office building where I'm working today, but I think the issue for these particular protesters had to do with employment. I'm sure the President traveled to other events today as well, where he may well have been greeting by protesters concerned about marriage rights or world trade or the Middle East.

Anyone who signs up for the job at the Oval Office is taking on the bad with the good, and that's just the way it goes. But these willy-nilly protests are a bother that have the unintended consequence of isolating the leaders from the general population.

What can we do about this?

We should streamline the haphazard means of expressing our discontent. The first and most obvious change that we simply must pursue is institutionalizing and formalizing our petitions for redress.

First: we must initiate impeachment proceedings the day after each new President is sworn into office. Make this a formal, standing arrangement. If the impeachment should fail, the next impeachment process should be initiated two weeks later, thereby allowing all parties to enjoy a brief vacation before work resumes. This should be codified in the Constitution.

Second: encourage the development of a permanent, professional protester corps. Disaffected Americans can register their complaints with the professional protesters, who will picket and shout on behalf of the population following established rules of protesting etiquette. This should help to reduce the impact of Presidential visits upon local businesses and residents, and free up ad hoc protesters to pursue their daily business with minimal discomfort.

And, while I propose these two actions with tongue firmly planted in cheek, don't be surprised when, fifty years from now, what I have proposed has come to pass.

Posted by at 02:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (8)

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