Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Colorful People Needed!

There are people in this world who we often refer to as "nuts", more as a term of endearment than an insult. We all know who the nuts are in our own communities and lives, and I started to think today about just how much less colorful our existence would be without them. There's a lady here in Middlesboro who fits that description. Her name is Angela Jackson, and Angela has become a friend of mine over the past year or so. I normally wouldn't mention somebody by name in a blog, but I know Angela won't mind if I tell her story, because I respect her and her personality.

Angela is one of those characters who'll cause you to stare, and upon first meeting her, you'll likely shake your head and roll your eyes. She's loud and opinionated, and she doesn't care who her vernacular may offend. Angela tells it like it is, and frankly, she doesn't care if that bothers you or not. When she adopts a cause as her own, she fights for it loudly and proudly. I first encountered Angela at a Middlesboro City Council meeting, where she stood up to speak out against the "pigeon schiavicki" gathering in the top floors of vacant buildings in downtown. I'll readily admit that, upon first hearing her speak, I though she was crazy. A week later, she showed up at one of our Discover Downtown Middlesboro Board meetings, with the same complaints about the "pigeon schiavicki". I kindly explained that we were a group of concerned citizens working toward revitalization in downtown, that we had no authoritative powers, and that we took the honey-attracts-more-flies-than-vinegar approach to working with downtown property owners. At that point, I was more convinced than ever that she was a nut.

Over the next few months, though, I got to know Angela a little bit better, and I watched her work, albeit from a distance. I realized that, while she had lived somewhere else for a few years and only recently returned to town, she has a deep love for Middlesboro and the people (well, most of the people) who live here. I realized that, while her methods are unconventional at best, there's a method to her madness. I watched as she worked with people I know she doesn't like, in order to get many necessary things accomplished. Angela attends almost every City Council meeting, and she always has something to say. I don't always agree with her, but I've come to admire her reckless abandon when she is fighting for her various causes.

The thing about Angela is, if she thinks you are a "lying bastard", she's going to tell you to your face. If she doesn't like you, she's going to tell you where to go, and exactly how to get there. While she comes across as coarse and even vulgar at times, she speaks her mind and doesn't sugar-coat anything. In the short time I've known her, I've never seen her behave selfishly, and she seems to have become Middlesboro's own patron saint of forgotten causes. Even if you disagree with her methods, it is hard to fault her (or anybody else for that matter) for standing up for something that would be of no personal benefit to her but would be of great benefit to others.

Many people will simply judge Angela Jackson, and those like her, without ever getting to know them as individuals. Because they do not conform to the norms of society, it is easy to dismiss them outright, without ever actually hearing them out. However, I'd encourage anybody to get to know characters like Angela. Mixed in with the colorful language, loud delivery and off-color comments, she actually has some good ideas. The fact is, although she may be tactless in the delivery of her message, we need people like her in our society. In addition to keeping the rest of us honest and on our toes, they make life much more colorful.

Today at lunch, I ran into Angela. I asked for her vote in the upcoming City Council election, and she said she would not only vote for me, but that I could put one of my signs in her yard. Coming from her, that is an enormous compliment. Typical politicians may scoff at the support of a "nut" like Angela, but I'm proud to have it, because I think we need more people like Angela Jackson in the world.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where's The Middle?

It's no secret that I have some very solid and deep-rooted political opinions. I'm a conservative, and I make no bones about it. Knowing that, picture me having an espresso with a friend who happens to be a liberal. Picture us debating an issue about which we have very differing views (in this case, mountaintop removal coal mining). In today's society, one might imagine that our conversation would become heated. Strong words might be exchanged, and there's little doubt feelings might get hurt. One might imagine a result like that because as a society, we've learned to use noise and command to make our political points. We have learned to make our points in this way by following the example set by our political leaders (from both parties), but I wonder how many of us can honestly say we've thought it through and believe America is well-served by this modus operandi.

Our society has become more polarized recently than it has been at any time since the Civil War. That sounds like a bit of a stretch, I know, but when you give it some thought, you realize that now, more than ever, there aren't a lot of people out there interested in finding common ground with people on the "other side". I have a number of theories about why we've reached this point as a Nation, but I think the bottom line is that, somewhere along the way, we've lost the ability to be civil with our adversaries. Especially in the last few years, our political leaders seem to have adopted an "all or nothing" approach to governing, and I believe the United States has suffered as a result.

I think few of us honestly believe we are on the right track as a nation, no matter what our political beliefs may be. The question is, what do we do to change our course and address the very real problems we face? I don't claim to have all the answers, but I have a very good idea about how we can start to find them. The scenario I described in the first paragraph happened just a few days ago, so it isn't hypothetical. In fact, I often discuss politics with the friend in question, but never once have our discussions become heated or terse. Why? It certainly isn't because neither of us are passionate about the issues we discuss. We are. However, we value each other as intelligent individuals, and while we may disagree about a number of things, we realize that there's give and take when it comes to any given issue, and only by debating in a civil manner and finding common ground can we ever hope to reach a solution that will better our society.

In today's United States, especially in Congress, we have taken what I believe to be an inside-out approach to solving problems. The Republicans are on the right, the Democrats are on the left, and both sides are throwing proverbial rocks toward each other. Anybody who takes up a position between the two is likely to get hit with rocks from both sides. I suppose the logic is that they'll keep throwing rocks at each other until one side gives up, but we all know that neither side is going to surrender. The result? We've seen it a lot in recent months: nothing is accomplished. In my humble opinion, we face obstacles so great that we simply can't afford many more months of this sort of stupid behavior by our elected officials. While this sort of stone-throwing approach will likely help each side get re-elected, it will do nothing to move the United States forward.

The solution, in my opinion, is to stop the rock-throwing and partisan bickering, and do something profound: meet in the middle, figure out what we agree on, then work our way out from there. Whether we are discussing health care reform or economic relief or any other issue, there are no doubt things both parties can agree on. If we abandon the selfish all-or-nothing approach, we stand a chance of at least doing some good, even if we aren't able to accomplish everything we want. I keep waiting for some brave soul to call time-out and point out to BOTH parties that the American people are suffering and demand solutions. Even those who've long considered themselves Republicans or Democrats are becoming tired of the game our representatives continue to play, and I believe groups like the Tea Party movement who aren't necessarily aligned with any specific party will only become more prevalent.

When I debate an issue with my liberal friend, we always find some common ground, even on issues that can be emotional. It never fails that while we won't agree on everything, we DO agree on SOMETHING. While Congress is a bit more formal than two friends getting together for espresso, the fact remains that if our representatives would cool off, stop yelling, deflate their egos and be civil, there's no doubt that the two parties could find some common ground on any given issue. This common ground should be the basis for good legislation, and while neither side will get everything they want, the American people might actually get something they need.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Welcome

Somebody suggested to me last week that I should start a blog, and my initial reaction was simply to say "huh?". Why, I thought, would anybody want to read what I have to say? I'm certainly not egomaniacal enough to think that I have something so worthwhile to say that folks would log on to a blog to read it. However, my wheels started turning, albeit very slowly.

These days, you hear about bloggers all the time. In fact, they've become so mainstream that the President of the United States holds special press conferences with them. It seems that everybody has a blog these days, from politicians and celebrities to average folks who have something to say and need somewhere to say it. In fact, they even have blogger conferences. Just doing some simple Google research to figure out what sort of people blog was enough to make my head spin. Yet, here I am, adding one more blog to the stack. The way I see it, people who represent the lunatic fringe blog, and have tens of thousands of followers. If the nuts can attract readers to their blogs by the thousands, surely perhaps a few dozen people might stumble upon my blog and have a slight bit of interest in what I might have to say. So, let's give it a shot and see where it goes. For the record, though, I think "blog" is a funny name, so after using it eight times in this first entry, I promise to use it sparingly from here forward.

If I can summon the discipline to write here on a regular basis, I have no doubt I'll be writing about politics, since that seems to be the most popular subject in the "blogosphere", and it's a subject I'm passionate about. Along the way, I'm betting I'll also share my thoughts on other subjects, such as what it means to be a gentleman, and the general downward slide I think our society has taken over the past 50 years or so. So stay tuned...