Learning to care for and support the people I love, not control them

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Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

She’s beautiful.

Those were the first words that popped into my mind when I saw Angela* sitting on the barstool, on our first date at Cornerstone in Berkeley. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, and she didn’t color the middle-aged silver in her hair, which communicated a self-confidence I found sexy. She had “liked” my long-neglected profiles on multiple dating sites, which had caught my attention. Drawn in by the smile in her pictures, I had been the first one to write.

Those online exchanges had been terse, and on that first date, she still seemed to be withholding a lot about herself. She raised questions in my mind that needed answering. …

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President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965

I’ve been working on an annotated bibliography about social and political polarization for a foundation and the Greater Good Science Center. I was surprised to discover, in a stack of political-science papers, a lesson from the Department of Unintended Consequences: You can trace today’s polarized society to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Tucked within that lesson is one about September 11.

A reminder (you might skip this paragraph): The Voting Rights Act empowered the federal government to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution on a local level. Before that, it was incredibly difficult for African Americans to participate in Southern electoral politics. Legally, they faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and bureaucratic restrictions; extralegally, voting was just dangerous — going to a polling station could get you fired from your job or even killed. As a result, few Southern blacks were registered voters and they had almost no representation in the South or nationally. It took a huge, diverse national movement to get the Act passed. When it did pass, many of the bureaucratic hurdles vanished, almost overnight. The federal government sent examiners and federal agents to the South to put eyes on registration and voting. Southern jurisdictions needed permission from the courts or the U.S. Attorney General for any new procedures. And so on — there were a lot of other changes, adding up to the most significant infringement on states’ rights since Reconstruction. …

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Five years ago today, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That day, I sat down at my computer and wrote this piece for my now-defunct blog, Daddy Dialectic.

I want to write about violence.

I want to write about violence but I don’t want to say anything stupid. I don’t want to say violence is bad. I don’t want to say guns are bad. I don’t want to say anything is bad. Because we all know it’s bad.

I want to write about violence because of the school shootings today in Connecticut. …

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Source: San Jose Public Library

Moved by the Angriest Librarian’s Twitter rant against the suggestion of a right-wing journalist to close all public libraries, I had this to share:

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Black bloc in Berkeley’s MLK Park on Sunday, August 27, 2017. Photo by author.

Ten interrelated, thinking-aloud thoughts about political violence. Yes, I’m thinking about you, Black Bloc/Antifa.

1. The writer Steven Barnes had an essay on martial arts and violence that I wasn’t able to track down. The gist of it, in my memory, is this: When you are violent, you are unleashing the beast, but martial arts are not primarily about turning you into a more effective beast. It’s not about the cool moves you see in movies. Martial arts are about containing the beast, focusing in the beast, and then putting the beast back in its cage. In martial arts, violence is linked to mindfulness and self-awareness; that is its great innovation. Because real life — civilized life — is not about split-seconds of violence, those few-and-far-between times when you need the beast. It’s about keeping the beast in its place so that real, civilized life can go on. You don’t glorify the beast, in my own view. …

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Protesters in Durham, North Carolina toppled a Confederate statue outside of the city’s courthouse. Good for them. Credit: Associated Press.

Over the past few days, thanks to Charlottesville, I’ve read rather a lot about the history of confederate monuments as well as the process of how monuments to historic evil have been shaped. I am learning.

One of my conclusions is that it is representatives of the descendants of slaves who should be given control of the narrative of slavery, the confederacy, and Jim Crow, just as Jews were given control (in Germany) of the Holocaust narrative. (There are some nuances and complications in that story that I won’t delve into here.) …

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Robert Downey, Jr. has hot minimalist sex in Robert Altman’s 1993 adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short stories.
  1. From “Fat”

When your husband climbs on top of you, imagine that you are fat, so fat that your husband is a tiny thing and hardly there at all. This will change your life.

2. From “They’re Not Your Husband”

But no matter how fat she gets, don’t tell your wife to go on a diet.

3. From “Neighbors”

When you enter the apartment of your neighbors to feed their cat, open the medicine chest. Read the labels and steal some pills. Sip their Chivas Regal and sniff the celery. Don’t forget to feed the cat. Now make love with your husband. The sex will change your life. …

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Illustration by N. Steven Harris for Rad Dad

I originally wrote this piece two years ago for Rad Dad magazine, and it now appears in the new anthology Rad Families, edited by my dear friend Tomas Moniz. I hope you’ll check it out!

From time to time my ten-year-old asks me what superpower I’d like to have. I always say the ability to multiply myself. That way, I tell him, I could do everything I need to do — volunteer at his school, clean the house, see my friends. …

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Students from Berkeley High and UC Berkeley at the foot of the Campanile on November 9, registering their opinion of the millions of Americans who voted for the president-elect.

Today, I picked up my son Liko at his school, Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle, home of the Edible Schoolyard, the environmental/gardening/food program launched by Alice Waters. While hanging about waiting for Liko to finish his socializing, I eavesdropped on the middle schoolers. A lot of the talk was about the inauguration; the kids were hyped about the protests this weekend, and many were going with their parents. Later, we hit two bookstores, and I snapped some pictures of my own books when I saw them. …

Dear Liko,

Last night, you were worried that Trump would win. You were also worried about school, me, your mother, everything.

This morning, I found out that Trump won. He will be president for the rest of your middle-school years, and possibly beyond.

I’ve been debating what to tell you. Here’s the truth, as I see it: Last night, fear and hatred won. Racism won. Sexism won. Donald Trump appealed to the ugliest, nastiest parts of human nature, and he won with that.

But fear and hatred don’t always win. I have seen fear and hatred lose, and it loses because people like you and me stand up against it. You’ll choose your own path, but this is one I want you to consider: For the rest of your life, I hope, you’ll fight against the ugly impulses Trump embodies. Fight against racism. …


Jeremy Adam Smith

Editor of Greater Good Magazine,journalist covering education & science, author of The Daddy Shift, former Knight fellow. Contact: jeremysmith (at) berkeley.edu

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