Monthly Archives: April 2016

What’s your CSI?

Do you know what I’m really tired of? Besides, shortfalls in education budgets, short-sighted environmental policy, political bickering, hyperbole, and demagoguery.

I’m tired of acronyms.

The intention of an acronym is to reduce space in writing.  Once a long name,acronym thebacksofmyeyelidsblogspot like the Association for the Proliferation of Acronyms, has been established in a document, the writer can save space by using AFPOA from then on.  Makes sense.  All the reader has to do if they forget what AFPOA stands for is jog back in the article to where the name was first used.

It comes as no surprise that such shorthand would find its way into advertising and promotion.  We all know that PETA, for example, is an organization that defends animal rights, but who remembers that it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?  No need to; having “PET” in the shortened name makes it even better.  Even PETA doesn’t use their full title in their own materials.

NATO is NATO whenever it’s referred to. It is really the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Except in France where it is OTAN:  The Organization of Treaty for the Atlantic North.  French acronyms, it appears, are simply English ones in reverse.

And maybe those are two easy ones that most people do recognize for their full titles, but acronyms have nevertheless transcended from written pages to spoken language. The idea of saving time trumps all other forms of communication, but there is a virus within the body of shortcut language:  When you don’t know what the acronym stands for, not only is time lost, but so is understanding.

There is nothing new about Acronym-mania.  The AFL-CIO has been using theirs for over 60 years.  And to be honest, saying “The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a mouthful.  But do we really need to know their full title to understand that AFL-CIO is a labor union?  No.

I belong to SAG and AFTRA (since merged to SAG-AFTRA), but again, knowing that they are labor organizations in the entertainment industry is enough without spelling out Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists every time.

These are cases that illustrate exactly why acronyms became popular, even necessary.  My issue here is when they replace language as part of language itself when, in fact, they are not.

In my advertising career we throw around ROI, DMS, SPAM, BR, ASP, CR, CRM, CPL and MOM and expect everyone to understand what we mean as clearly as “Pass the salt.”  The other day an employee came up to mean to say: “I didn’t know what AGI meant for 2 years.  All I knew was that I was responsible for some of it.”

In health care we are always talking about HMO’s, MCO’s, the NIC, HIPPA and HHR. It is assumed that if you are at a meeting within any discipline that you have taken a course in that industry’s Abbreviation Program and will use these letters just as you would call the family dog.

“That’s a good, HIPPA!”

No one wants to appear uninformed, and in fact, the truly informed love to show how informed they are by using the acronym vernacular.  As a result, very few people will ever volunteer: “Could you explain what you meant when you said ‘The ACU challenged the ACLU responding to the DCCC regarding the CBO assessment of the ECU analysis of the GNP’?”

The trend to abbreviate isn’t going to change; it satisfies too many of our instincts.  One is to shorten everything, another is to make ourselves exclusive whenever possible.  There is a satisfaction that is realized when we speak an esoteric tongue understood only by those “in the know.”

This little essay isn’t a reprimand with even the slightest hope that Acronym Fever will ever subside, but it is a caution.   In our progression to abbreviate language, we can also abbreviate understanding.  In the effort to save time, we can lose time.

How’s that for a PSTMOT? Oh….that’s a pithy statement to make one think.

Monica Vernon for Congress

When I was running for Congress I was running against two other Democrats in the primary for the nomination.  Naturally, the political stump is competitive as it is essential to differentiate ourselves so that voters can make a decision, but, my strategy from the beginning was to clarify myself, rather than define the other two.

“I’m not running against anyone,” was my opening salvo.  “I am running for the office.”

The truth was that three accomplished, informed, and credible candidates were running for Iowa’s First District. We were also three very different people.  I include myself in that assessment, at the risk of sounding braggadocios, but I would not have run if I didn’t feel that I was qualified.

FB_IMG_1453821273631I left that race, however, when a series of debates that I was counting on for media attention were cancelled.  The viability of a path to victory was greatly diminished.  I immediately (and enthusiastically) entered a race for the State House, leaving the two other candidates to vie for the Congressional nomination.

Also, upon leaving the race I endorsed Monica Vernon. I learned firsthand throughout the campaign, from other Democrats and from my own observation, that Monica Vernon has the right combination of skills, connections, experiences, and passion to help working families in Iowa, prioritize education, to promote equality and justice for all, and to continue improving health care, forward environmental concerns, and to grow Iowa businesses.

How we arrive in life at the place where we stand is personal, and the sincerity of our journey should be judged by what we do moving forward and so I do not question the progressive integrity of either candidate. Both are good Democrats. They are passionate about public service, have done great things with their lives and want to take their experiences to Washington to serve Iowans.  Most of the progressive principles at stake are issues that all 3 of us shared, with only variations in terms of prioritizing and some policy specifics.

Monica Vernon’s personal story as a mother, a businessperson and member of the20160425_155100 Cedar Rapids City Council, have given her insights that are unique toward building Iowa’s infrastructure with an unyielding commitment to Quality of Life.

Her rhetoric has remained positive and compassionate, and those are principles of character that I look for when making an important decision.

What struck me most was that she was willing to listen, and not simply dictate her views.  She regards her relationship with Iowans as a partnership and she is eager to listen and to elicit our ideas.  That is how it should be and that is a rare quality for a politician.  And it’s the one that sealed the deal for me.  She is a person before a politician.

Again, I am not against anyone.  I stand for certain qualities and principles and I believe that Iowa Democrats have great candidates up and down the ticket in district after Monica_Vernondistrict.  And I am on record to say: “I enthusiastically endorse Monica Vernon for the United States Congress from Iowa’s First District.”


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Historical Histrionics

stopStop!  The claims being made on both sides, Republican and Democrat, regarding historical triumphs are flawed!  The political parties do not represent consistent ideologies throughout their histories.  The essential ideological arguments today are (and always have been) between Conservatism and Liberalism, and not Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans, for example, can make a legitimate claim to being highly instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but conservatism cannot.  It was from an eloquent presentation by a Republican senator who said, “This is a bill whose time has come” and enough Republicans (not the majority of Republicans), led by Everett Dirksen, overcame the bloc of Southern Democrats (not the majority of Democrats) and got it passed.

Richard Russell, a Democratic Senator from Georgia, launched a filibuster to prevent its passage saying, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states.”

Russell was a Democrat but not a liberal.  In fact, he was the founder of the Conservative Coalition that brought Southern Democrats and Republicans together to wrest control of Congress. Southern Democrats largely became Republicans in 1964 due to their anger over the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Even within the larger philosophical movements of Liberalism and Conservatism, there are different societal and economic contexts.  Republicans in Lincoln’s time were not exclusively the party of conservative values as they have become.

Lincoln considered himself a conservative Constitutionalist, and was supported by Republicans (primarily from the North), but in assuming all powers not delegated in the Constitution, including the power to suspend Habeas Corpus, he took more liberty with constitutional authority than perhaps any President in history.

He also became socially liberal in his interpretation of the natural rights the Constitution upholds. While the Republican Party was literally founded by anti-slavery activists (the abolitionists) in 1854, “emancipation” was the result of Liberalism to counter Conservatism.

The claims of either political party, however, for creating huge ideological shifts in America is nonsense. One side may harbor a majority of those who hold a particular philosophical position over the other, but political party affiliations are merely a skiff deployed from that larger vessel.

John Locke who is often credited for the creation of “liberalism” defined the concept of each of us having “natural rights” and the “right to life, liberty and property.” The root definition of “liberalism” is liberty; Latin for “free.” Not today’s interpretation among anti-liberals as meaning “excessive” (as in a liberal application of suntan oil).

Conservatism, which is defined as “reluctance to accept change” actually has its roots with the Tories or the “Loyalists” who wished to remain loyal to England and the monarchy.

Take the conservative position toward women’s suffrage in the early 20th century. Life Magazine in 1905 offered this (edited here) as an argument to the more liberal North American Review which had just offered its support of the movement.

“The primary objection to woman suffrage is that it would add an enormous army of unqualified voters to the huge mass of them that vote now…There is nothing the average American woman wants that the average American man will not give her if he can get it…The average woman thinks the same… for our part, we are old fogy, and hope that it will never need to happen. Not in our time, kind Fate; not in our time, anyhow.”

The article above was not written to support the repression of women, it was intended to be a rational and reasoned argument to reflect the beliefs of many Americans at the time. It was a position to maintain the status quo and to protect what it saw as America’s best interests.

That article is clearly not the position of modern Republicans, but it is historically consistent with conservative philosophy .  What is illustrated is how the conservative status quo must be pushed by a consistent progressive movement.  We can glean from history that radical voices are required at times to unite in opposition to the status quo when conservatism denies natural human, and civil rights.

That has primarily been the course of the liberal movement and why I, personally, align myself to the left; it is the choice I make between different philosophies to fulfill what I view as my responsibility as an American.

I understand what it means to “conserve” and to be cautious; I understand why it’s important to protect that which protects us.  I also understand what it means to respect differences and to allow for new ideas. The latter sometimes has to challenge the former in order to bring about a better progression toward Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

While it may be true that modern conservatives align more with the Republican Party and liberals with Democrats, if the discussion can gravitate away from partisan bias and toward a more genuine understanding of Conservatism and Liberalism…maybe this could become a more civil political climate….and beyond that, maybe we can start to get better things done in the interest of all Americans.

Continue reading Historical Histrionics