What Can You Do To Make Things Better?

I had an enlightening exchange with someone I highly respect. He and I usually have very different views on politics.  Perhaps our discussion will help provide some insight on how differently conservatives and liberals view things.

Th conversation began when he asked me to post a topic on the Critical Thinking in the Real World Facebook discussion page, from The New York Times article, “In Superrich, Clues to What Might Be in Romney’s Returns” by James B. Stewart.

My friend and many others find this piece so very disheartening because they see it as a reflection on where society is going as a whole. It is indeed depressing to consider a world where each person is only out for his or her best interests to the detriment of everyone else.  I also find it sad when members of society (those who are extremely rich as well as those with any means at all) choose not to contribute to society.  But, and here’s a big difference, I don’t see this article reflecting the behavior of the majority of Americans.

I see examples of people’s generosity with their time, talents, resources and money locally and nationally.  That is what I choose to focus on and I believe that is what fuels my optimism. We do not need to wait and we shouldn’t wait to make a difference.  Consider what you can do today to have an immediate and long lasting positive impact.  Could you donate to a local food pantry?  Even a few jars of peanut butter, back to school supplies, gently used clothing, toys and books will have a big impact on a local homeless shelter or charity. Could you help an elderly neighbor by driving him or her to a doctor’s appointment? Would your children be willing to donate some of their latest art projects to a local nursing home or hospital?

There is great need for help all around us and we can make a difference.

Service should be a personal commitment.  Government projects can be effective as well.  We don’t have to wait for government programs or fair tax codes to make a significant positive impact, however.  What can you do today to make things better?

Negative Campaigns Are Here To Stay

With the elections just around the corner, media campaigns are pulling out all the stops.  All too often that means negative campaign advertisements.  It’s nothing new and it’s not necessarily worse than than in the past despite protests to the contrary.

Negative campaign ads are here to stay because they are effective. Many readers will protest that mud slinging ads don’t work and actually turn off voters.  This is also true.  But negative campaign ads are effective with apathetic voters.  Mud slinging succeeds in motivating otherwise disinterested Americans into voting against a certain candidate rather than for another.

New York TimesRoss Douthat wrote about the presidential campaign this week in Mr. Negative vs. Mr. Complacent. He discusses what many have termed the harsh campaign President Obama is running this year. The president is what Douthat terms “Mr. Negative.” Douthat argues his campaign “started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination.”

Both Obama and Romney are guilty of negative campaigning, however.  Romney ads have taken the president’s words out of context on many hot button issues. Nancy Cordes of CBS News reports, “one ad shows Mr. Obama saying when he was seeking the White House the first time, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’ That was actually him quoting something John McCain, his opponent at the time, had said.”

Why negativity effective in engaging Americans?  University of Wisconsin Madison political scientist Kenneth Goldstein wrote a book about it—Campaign Advertising and American Democracy.  In the book, he argues that negative campaigns contribute to a health democracy because they succeed in engaging voters.  Goldstein says that much of the criticism regarding negative advertising is rooted in the incorrect assumption that Americans are easily manipulated. But the reality is that fewer people seem willing to do their own research and really depend upon ads to inform.

It may be hard to believe, but studies show negative ads help win political campaigns. Refraining from negativity speaks volumes about character, however. How will voters respond this election? Critical thinkers must see through these tactics, do their own research and vote of the facts.

Are You in Denial About Your Weight?

In the past few weeks, I’ve been on a new fitness plan and I’m more interested in articles about nutrition and fitness.  A recent New York Times piece, Are Most People in Denial About Their Weight? really caught my attention because it seemed to speak directly to me.

Given the ever-increasing obesity problem in the U.S., researchers have done many studies on the topic of weight.  Their findings don’t shock me.  “Because our bodies change over time, the brain must constantly adjust its perception. Scientists believe that this internal calibration system can sometimes go haywire, notably for sufferers of anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, and possibly for obese people too.”

A Duke Univeristy study found that 1 in 4 overweight or obese people don’t believe they have a problem.  Dr. Gary Bennett focuses his work on preventing obesity and said, “It’s often said that the first step in improving a problem is believing that you have one. That’s particularly true for obesity.”

Have you ever been shocked by your appearance in a photo?  Perhaps that has motivated your to start your own fitness and diet regimen.  I finally came to the realization that my clothes weren’t shrinking, each photo couldn’t be taken from a bad angle and my thyroid condition wasn’t to blame for everything. Once I got serious about making a change, I dusted off my Insanity DVDs and began the ambitious 60-day workout challenge.  Three weeks into the program I began to really enjoy the intense cardio workouts, but realized exercise wasn’t enough and started to change my eating habits.

I had always balked at the the idea of keeping a food journal because it seemed way too time consuming and unnecessary, but even taking a much more critical look at everything I ate seemed to provide a serious benefit.  While making breakfast for my children, I’d often eat the remaining half bagel my youngest daughter didn’t finish and when my son ate all but the last third of his sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, I’d just finish that too as part of my cleaning up routine.  Now I realize that doesn’t sound like a lot, but then consider the rest of the day.  Preparing their lunches for school, I’d eat a handful of grapes as I was putting it in their lunch bags.  Since several of the Oreo cookies were broken, I’d normally eat those too instead of including them in the lunches.  How many calories had I consumed before 7:30 am and before I even technically ate breakfast? This morning examination was eye-opening for me.  Mindless eating is a big part of my problem, but I’m no longer in denial.

Now I am eating mindfully.  I’m doing a low carb diet, have cut out most sugar and I’m counting my calories.  This is not exactly fun.  In fact, it’s downright difficult.  I know it’ll be worth it, however.

Have you ever been in denial about your weight?  What motivated you to change?  How did you do it?  What helped you the most?

Is Stay at Home Parenting a Career?

The recent controversy surrounding a statement made by democratic strategist Hilary Rosen on CNN last night regarding Ann Romney’s lack of work experience reignited a discussion about a current issue and enduring questions.  Ann Romney responded to Rosen’s comment that “she never worked a day in her life” on Twitter.  She wrote, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work.” This exchange may have begun in a political campaign setting, but the questions raised are not limited to a specific party, demographic, race or gender.

Is stay at home parenting really work?  Can it be considered a career choice?

This is an issue with which I am most personally familiar and I’ve asked myself these questions numerous times.  As a mother of three, I spend the majority of my time caring for my family.  I am also a part time college instructor, freelance writer and host an active Facebook discussion page.  Each year as tax day arrives, I am painfully reminded that most of my work does not pay.  This fact makes me feel inadequate in many ways.  Our society places a huge emphasis on monetary contributions.  Money is evidence of work.  What happens then if the bulk of your work is unpaid?

There is tremendous value in stay at home parenting and it is absolutely work.  Children and the parents benefit from it, but the sacrifice is also huge.  I entered into this with my eyes wide open and waited to have children until my early thirties.  When I became pregnant, I researched daycares and contemplated going back to my full time faculty position.  But I knew I always wanted to be a stay at home mother, so I carefully considered ways to keep myself engaged in the work I love while being able to be at home.  My education and work experience helped afford me opportunities to teach part time in the evenings and online while accepting occasional writing projects to supplement daily parenting life.  This provides me with a way to contribute to our family monetarily and it also gives me some much appreciated intellectual stimulation. The choice to stay home is not one available to all parents and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.  Despite the difficulties and drawbacks, it is my choice and one I continue to think works best for me and my family. I don’t consider it my career, however.  In some ways, using that word seems to cheapen the work in my opinion.

The level of continual self sacrifice it takes to be a stay at home parent is daunting.  It is tough not to be envious of those earning both increasing financial compensation and personal enrichment in their full time careers. The work of a stay at home parent is constant.  There are no evenings off, breaks over the holidays and it can be messy as well as physically and emotionally exhausting.  The joys are tremendous too.  I see all my children’s highs and lows.  I am there to pick them up when there a stomach virus strikes while they are at school and I don’t have to cancel a meeting to do it.  I can and do volunteer in the classroom.  Our family’s schedule is more relaxed than it would be if I worked full time and I appreciate that very much.

One of the reasons I don’t consider stay at home parenting to be a career is that it seems to have a natural expiration date.  I don’t intend to be a stay at home mother forever and as much as I enjoy this time in my life, I look forward to the next chapter when I do pursue full time employment again. When I do go back to work full time, I will have more skills.  In addition to becoming a better teacher and writer, I’ve learned how to be an excellent multitasker and negotiator.  I am more patient too.  That is all because of the work I do as a stay at home mother.

Critical thinkers know that stay at home parenting is a valuable, it is work and we should never marginalize anyone who embraces this job.

A Lack of a Clear GOP Front-Runner Might Lead to a Contested or a Brokered Convention

The GOP presidential nomination fight has lasted several months and now talk of a contested or a brokered convention is being taken more seriously.  Most Americans are not familiar with these terms, so what do they mean?

For the first time since 1976, the Republican presidential nominee might be decided at the national convention rather than on the campaign trail. A contested convention occurs when no candidate has the required 1,444 delegates to win the nomination. The Associated Press keeps a running tally of the current delegate count and here’s where it stands now:

 

Mitt Romney has 563

Rick Santorum has 263

Newt Gingrich has 135

Ron Paul has 50

 

When the GOP convention is held this August in Tampa, it is possible that no candidate will have the clear majority and then the delegates (people chosen to represent each state at the convention) will vote again.  This is when a convention is considered to be contested. The delegates vote on the convention floor.  It may take a ballot or two to determine a majority and then the convention would proceed as normal with the nominee for president.

The last GOP contested convention was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan challenged the incumbent President Gerald Ford.

That is not the only scenario, however.  If the delegates can’t agree, someone new could be brought into the field.  Some possible names being discussed include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and even Former Governor of Florida Jeb BushThis would be a brokered convention.  Brokered conventions are rare and only occur when no candidate has a pre-existing majority at its nominating convention.  The last winning presidential nominee from a brokered convention was Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) in 1932.

A brokered convention in 2012 would certainly be exciting.

 

It’s a Mistake to Run Graphic Anti-Abortion Ads During Super Bowl

According to a Business Insider article, an anti-abortion activist will run a graphic commercial featuring dismembered fetuses during the Super Bowl.  This ad wasn’t subjected to the regular NBC screening which normally filters out objectionable content because federal election laws prohibit such censorship for candidates’ campaign ads. While this ad is certain to garner a great deal of media attention, it’s a mistake to air it.

The gruesome images are designed to shock and then change behavior.  The images will succeed in shocking, but they are not likely to have a significant impact on whether someone decides to have an abortion.

Consider the violent images of mangled cars and horrific accidents shown at high school assemblies throughout the country prior to homecoming dances and proms.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) created assemblies like these to prevent reckless driving and driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  The theory is that by showing the tragic stories, teenagers will make better choices and drive safely. Do they work?  We still see a rise in drunk driving accidents following school campaigns despite more than a 20 year tradition of them. Similarly, have violent images of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or any war prevented loss of life?

Many will be outraged by what will surely be perceived as an assault on the senses.  The Super Bowl audience is a diverse one.  Many small children watch along with their families.  These ads will anger many parents and that will not lend itself to people embracing the pro-life movement.  Instead it will only add fodder to those in the pro-choice movement who choose to vilify pro-life activists as extremists.

The argument that legalized abortion creates such a crisis that subjecting families to extremely gruesome images like the ones in this commercial are justified is a faulty one.  Valuing human life and family values requires taking a higher road.  The merit of the argument is cheapened when disturbing imagery is used. Sanctity of life should be preserved in all areas. We don’t want to see dead babies, accident victims or soldiers.

Instead, pro-life activists should take a different approach entirely and many are doing just that.  Consider the Time magazine cover story from 2007.  Providing medical information and assistance in a calm and kind manner is a far more effective way to positively influence behavior.  Visual arguments can still to used to persuade people to reconsider abortion, however.  Isn’t the use of ultrasounds a far better way to view a baby?

Will the changes to Mass strengthen our faith?

If it’s been a while since you have attended Catholic Mass and are planning to at Christmas, let me warn you that things have changed a bit.  Change is very difficult and many find to the latest updates to Mass unsettling.  Most Catholics (both the lapsed and those who faithfully attend church each week) could recite the words without thinking.  That will no longer be possible and some argue that is a great thing.

The new English translation of the Roman Missal recited by the priest and congregants dates back to Vatican II, but was only announced by Pope John Paul II in 2000.  Just the mention of the beloved pope’s name in association with these changes makes them more palatable for some.  If he thought it was better for Catholics, then more are willing to embrace these changes.

So what exactly has changed?   While the changes for the congregants are minimal, it will require a more close focus on the words and that will in turn cause us to think more about them. Here are some of the changes:

Greeting: “The Lord be with you.”

Old Response: “And also with you.”

New Response: “And with your spirit.”

That change is tough enough and expect to hear people stumble over that for quite a while.  The toughest for me is “Consubstantial.” This word replaces the term “one in being.” Consubstantial is more accurate, church authorities say since it means of the same substance.

The other one that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue quite yet is the change to the invitation to communion.

Old Response: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

New Response: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

It’s always a challenge to embrace change and is especially so when the words seem imprinted on your very DNA, but I am determined to give it my very best. What do you think of the changes?

School Fundraisers: Just Say No to the Sales Pitch

Let’s be honest. My 6-year-old and 8-year-old don’t need to worry about résumé building.
The school year has just begun and already the children’s backpacks are full of school fundraiser information that presumes my little ones would be effective salespersons.
I understand that schools are in greater need of additional funding today than perhaps at any other time, but I refuse to spend my very rare free time hawking over-priced items I wouldn’t willingly buy on my own.
We are bombarded by pleas to buy products and have our children sell them to benefit PTAs, home and school associations and athletic or social clubs. No one disputes that school programs need additional funding, but acquiring these funds selling overpriced products that people often do not need or want is easygoing extortion. (Not to mention that in the end, I will be the one selling the wrapping paper, cookie dough, pizza, candy and magazines.)

The guilt factor is huge and, really, how many times can you hit up the grandparents, neighbors and family friends before they start to cringe? (Many employers are banning solicitations of all types from the workplace, including fundraisers, so co-workers are no longer easy-target buyers.)

The pressure for children to sell products is even more intense when incentives are offered for the biggest sales. This complicates matters even more for parents who don’t want their children to sell the products. Even if you can convince your child the prizes are of marginal value, school-wide and individual class rewards further entice participation. What if your child’s class doesn’t get the pizza party or the school misses out on pajama day because you haven’t allowed her to participate in the fundraiser? Welcome to peer-group pressure by proxy.
The fundraising industry is a booming business, and car washes and bake sales aren’t cutting it anymore. The most popular fundraisers sell products, many of them of questionable value. Shockingly, schools (and other nonprofits) only get 20 percent to 50 percent of profits from these sales. Most of the money goes to the fundraising company itself, which makes the case that children involved in these efforts benefit from boosted self-esteem, a sense of teamwork, and even an enhanced résumé. Even if that were so, I wouldn’t want the trade-off of seeing my preteens selling goods door-to-door.
I have another plan: Opting out. I will make a cash donation directly to the school and not participate in the fundraisers. For those who want to follow suit, attach a letter to your check explaining that your family opposes the fundraising method but not the cause. With a cash donation, 100 percent of your money goes directly to the source, eliminating the middlemen and all the time wasted on the sale, pickup and delivery of products. It also safeguards important relationships and allows your family to focus on other activities like school work, athletics or just spending time together.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Politics Daily’s Woman Up.

What’s it like to live in one of the 100 best places (according to Money Magazine)?

Money Magazine has ranked Whitefish Bay, WI 65th in its list of 100 of America’s Best Places to Live.  I think it should have ranked higher. The long winters probably accounted for the lower placement.  While winters here can be brutal, the summers are absolutely ideal.  Money has its own criteria for the annual list, but I have to think nearby employment, education and recreational opportunities and well as retail access play a big role in determining what is a great place to live.

 

Today was the type of day I’d like to remember forever because it really was about as close to perfect barring a lottery win.

 

The day began when my husband left for work at Harley-Davidson and since the traffic is so light (read nonexistent compared to what I’m used to having lived in the Washington, DC area for most of my life) his trip to the Milwaukee office takes between 10 to 15 minutes.  That’s a pretty nice commute.

 

My two older children began a week of morning camp offered through our the Whitefish Bay Recreation Department called Secret Agent Lab conducted by the Mad Science staff.  It’s held in the Lydell Community Center and that is just a few blocks from our home.  This afternoon, my children (all three this time) set off on our daily walk.  I often think that we look a bit like a small parade since two of my children ride their scooters and the other rides in the stroller, but there are so many children in our neighborhood that this is a familiar sight.  Today’s destination was the library and then a stop at the Whitefish Bay High School for a few laps around the track.

 

This evening we’ll stop by Dan Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy for candy on our way home from Klode Park.  I’d love to pick up dinner from the new City Market which just opened up, but I’ll be happy with the fresh ground beef, green beans and corn on the cob we bought at Sendik’s.  My husband is going to see a movie with my mom tonight at Fox-Bay Cinema Grill.  I’d go too but I have no desire to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Fox-Bay is a great place and the owner is also a Whitefish Bay resident.  I may have to speak to him about his poor decision not to show The Help, however.

 

Whitefish Bay is a great place to live and I am happy that Money Magazine highlighted it in the recent issue.

 

 

Are You Perpetuating the Culture of Hate?

It’s no secret that Americans are frustrated with the debt ceiling gridlock.  The issue is an economic one being exacerbated by politics. While  a recent poll by the Pew Research Group shows that Americans  seek compromise across party lines, social media sites are filled with attacks, insults and general mean-spiritedness that only perpetuate a culture of hate and further divides our nation.

While it may seem complex at first, the issue concerns raising the federal government’s borrowing authority so it can pay its bills on time to avoid a default. Failing to resolve this issue by the August 2 deadline could result in downgrade in our nation’s credit rating.  As most adults know, credit rating or credit scores are extremely important for individuals and are for the nation as well.  A downgrade could raise borrowing costs for consumers, businesses and government agencies.

Debating how to resolve the issue is a healthy part of democracy.  Using social media to express frustration is just one benefit of our precious freedom of speech.  Twitter is filled with hashtags boasting #GOPisEvil or #DebtofDuh and they do nothing to facilitate consensus.

Why aren’t more people making the connection between hate filled comments and our elected officials’ inability to compromise?  Critical thinkers must use restraint before taking to social media to vent frustration.