lobby day: planting seeds in the statehouse

One day every summer, ordinary citizens overrun the basement of the statehouse. Stickers, buttons and t-shirts proclaim the issues they’re passionate about, the ideas worth meandering through Trenton’s streets for, parallel parking on a side street faraway, running out to re-feed the meter every two hours.

The state legislators, they’re here too. And they listen.

I’ve never been more excited about grassroots activism until today. Granted, I don’t know how it works inside the Big House on the Beltway, but it sure works in Trenton, in a powerful way.

The partisan divide in this country might be historically wide, but you couldn’t tell that based on the conversations I overheard between politicians and their constituents.

It was a give and take. People didn’t win all the battles, but they chipped away. If President Trump (who ran as a far-right candidate), can be persuaded to change his mind on climate change and the Paris Agreement, anything is possible with these politicians.

They planted seeds! Supporters of the Sierra Club warned one Republican assemblyman how dangerous it would be for firefighters to quell forest burns in the Pinelands, if a flammable gas pipeline ran through it. Another conservative assemblywoman thanked a rep from Clean Water Action for letting her know that a new bill on the table, one she initially thought was “harmless”, effectively weakened ethics laws to approve a pending pipeline.

What was amazing was, while yes, most groups had their full-time paid “lobbyists” or non-profit directors, leading the discussion, constituents spoke up. And the legislators listened. They debated. They changed each other’s minds. It was the most human, most democratic thing I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t just public comment, one side yelling at the other, the cold echo of microphones between them, a long formal line of people fidgeting to speak. It was informative, conversational and at times, a compassionate but fragile human compromise.

So this is how lobbying in a democracy is supposed to work. It’s for the public. It’s been for us this whole time.

in defense of lobby groups

Without lobbyists, politicians would be lost.

“At first glance, I didn’t think it was a big deal. But now that I’ve heard your points, I’m willing to give you my vote against that,” said Congressmen Holly Schepisi (R) on A4849, an assembly bill to weaken ethics laws so county commissioners could vote, even if they had conflict of interest. This bill is directly linked to pending approval for the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

This is where your money is going when you donate to Environment New Jersey. We go to the statehouse for you, to find your representatives and talk one-on-one, to make sure they don’t vote for leaky pipelines or pass laws that weaken the integrity of environmental decisions.

To be frank, there’s a lot on a politician’s plate. Yes, they have legislative digests prepared by their aides and unpaid college interns, and they even do their own research — Assemblywoman Schepisi mentioned that she spent fifteen minutes on the internet last night researching duckweed, trying to understand what local environmentalists were so worried about — but it’s hard to stay educated on so many issues when new laws are proposed left and right, and you’ve got your own political agenda to pursue for your constituents. For better or worse, things move fast in the New Jersey statehouse.

That’s where we come in. We persuade legislators to support the environmental issues that matter most, the ones in your backyard, the ones that big polluters try to push through right under your nose, and the ones that promise a cleaner and healthier future for every resident.

As the state with the most toxic superfund sites in the country, we have to care about these EPA budget cuts. We must stay vigilant against any laws, national or local, that strip away our right to defend the land we love, the place we call home. With your membership, we can keep up the good fight.




Trump’s “evolving” views on climate

Why did President Donald Trump go to the G-7 summit?

“He came here to learn. He came here to get smarter… he feels much more knowledgeable on the topic and learned how important it is for the United States to show leadership.” — National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, according to The Post.

Fine, but educate yourself before you decide to run for the single most powerful elected office in America.

Though I guess it’s true. The average climate denier probably doesn’t know much about the Paris Climate Agreement except that it’ll “kill trade and growth, no more jobs for hard working Americans #sad #bigfail.”

Could the Trump presidency be a macrocosm for what is happening in the microcosm of struggling towns across the country? Like votes for like and Trump has their eyes and ears. If they see him changing his mind on the topic, could they, too? President Trump is far from the “hero” this country deserves, but maybe he’s the one we need, to mend the bitter political fight on climate change in this country.

OR he could just be a big ig’nant fellow with a fake toupee and the petulance of a toddler, who only knows “green” as the grass on a sprawling golf course.


tempo of a first draft

the tempo of a first draft: keys flying. a dozen open tabs. highlight, copy, paste, rephrase.

i lose minutes in a single sentence,

“to start with a clause or a subject?”

i lose minutes in a single phrase.

soon an hour flies by. i feel my brain whirring. creating.

re-read, re-write, re-think the whole thing–

delete, delete, delete.



Para-Academia and the Public’s Right to Know

Para-academics fill the void of slow-to-print but rigorous academic research , the gold standard for peer-reviewed work. Media outlets are joining think tanks to attract readers by analyzing the news, not just reporting on it.

Operating outside the ivory tower of academia, journalists and policy analysts have many advantages to informing the public, first.

  1. Its faster to churn out
  2. It relates to current events
  3. Its simplified and easier to understand
  4. Journalists and think tank analysts are often more personable on screen than awkward academics (think smiling politician vs. wonky lab rat).

But if the public accepts these para-academic findings without a bigger grain of salt… what are the implications?

  1. Its not held to the same rigorous standards of peer-review
  2. The methods might be iffy (small sample, research bias, etc.)

What can journalists do to minimize these “risks” of misinterpretation and possibly misinformation (the dreaded CORRECTION)?

  1. Be more transparent to readers about limitations of analysis
  2. Address any potential counter arguments
  3. Reach out to multiple academic experts in that field and ask them to briefly look over the analysis before publication (or offer them a chance to write an op-ed for the next day’s paper).


Your Liberal Arts Major Does Matter

Headed into my last semester at Middlebury College, I’m an anthropology major with no interest in graduate school. I’ve applied to more internships and fellowships. I’ve thrown in resumes for consulting jobs. I’ve written clichéd letters to big banks.

It’s often reported that [[employers rank critical thinking, creativity and oral communication]] among the most hireable skills — hallmarks of a liberal arts education. My collection of rejection letters tells a different story.

In every application, I’ve had to justify my anthropology major, to spin my decision into something both relevant and profound. Still unemployed, I can’t help but think, what if – what if I knew how to code on computers? What if I crunched numbers in Stata? What if I had picked a more traditional major?

Most Middlebury students [[declare their major]] by the end of sophomore year. By the end of my sophomore year, I declared I was confused. Most days, I flip-flopped between anthropology and neuroscience. I liked the former; my parents loved the latter. When it flurried, I considered economics. When that turned to sleet, the idea of studying money depressed me.

I soon woke up to a ticking clock. Done with distribution requirements but nowhere close to finishing a major, extra classes meant student loans I knew I couldn’t afford. I ran to my de-facto advisor, an anthropology professor from my first-year seminar. I unloaded my anxieties, the pressure I felt from my parents, my hot-to-cold passion for most subjects. He smiled.

“Why so much worry? It’s a B.A., no matter what,” he said. He compared a liberal arts degree to an ice cream cone, with majors as different flavors. “You can debate over chocolate or vanilla, but at the end of the day, employers call it ice cream and it’s all tasty.” I declared anthropology that afternoon. I called home to share the news.

My parents panicked, begging me to pick anything (“Anything!”) besides that. They said I’d never get hired unless I went to grad school (“And who’s going to pay?”). Even then, they worried I’d end up broke in academia or worse, unemployed. I hung up. They called backup.

My godmother e-mailed me: “If you’re not quite sure what you want, but want to keep your options open, major in economics.” She warned that she, too, ignored her parents’ advice and majored in music management at New York University. Upon graduating, she found her applications to entry-level jobs outside the music industry— the ones that might pay for rent, food and utilities—often didn’t get a second glance. She ended up listing her SAT scores on her resume, just so recruiters wouldn’t assume she was “stupid.”

My sister sent me a [[“Planet Money” podcast that analyzed wages]] of recent college graduates. For a guaranteed paycheck, it told me to study petroleum engineering – a degree that Middlebury doesn’t even offer.

As the stubborn baby in my family, of course I ignored them all. I liked the intimacy of a small department and our heated class debates. I liked the books professors assigned and their passionate lectures about them. Whether we were studying cultural appropriation or segregated cities, everything seemed so applicable, more relevant to my life than say, how many bromide molecules it takes to make bromic acid (just one). Anthropology was far from my dream career, but it was a delicious flavor for a liberal arts degree. I stuck with it.

Fast forward two years, and I’m no longer so sure of my decision. Despite the well-rounded nature of a liberal arts degree, even graduates at colleges like Middlebury, it seems, land jobs tied to their majors; according to [[an interactive graphic]] analyzing the industries in which Williams College alumni end up, recent graduates in biology and chemistry went on the study medicine. Economics majors were best represented in banking and consulting. Of those who worked in government, a sizable chunk studied political science.

Anthropology majors were lumped under “Cultural Studies.” I clicked. Most worked in law or education, likely in an office with a framed piece of paper: J.D. or Ph.D. I guess my parents told me so.

I still remember what it felt like as a college sophomore, slumped in the seat across from my adviser, torn between disciplines with no interest in grad school. Looking back on his advice, I can only say this: though no major can determine my career path, it might have narrowed the road to my first job. Also, my tuition cost more than an ice cream cone.

I glance at the interactive chart, again. I spy a faint orange line from Cultural Studies to Writing/Communications. Though the road to journalism isn’t well-paved, at least it’s not completely blocked off.

The Freak Out Over “Frederick Douglass”

Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t know Frederick Douglass is dead, and has been for over 120 years.

But this isn’t a scandal.

We already expected Trump and his administration to be publicly ignorant of any American who isn’t white, christian or conservative. Just look at his cabinet picks: Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos. Why is this a surprise?

The media continues to obsess over “Frederick Douglass” like it’s Watergate. Readers are spreading it like it’s the next sign of the apocalypse (as if Trump’s election wasn’t telling enough).

Though fueled by understandable outrage, the loud uproar is just noise.The charades over “Frederick Douglass”, the cynical jokes and nervous laughter, is entirely self-serving: “We knew it. He’s a racist idiot. See, see?”

Us liberals are still bitter that we were so wrong about the election, so clueless of working-class America, so misled by our left-wing media outlets, that we grab on to every “wrong” word uttered from our President’s mouth, whether it has any political consequence or not. But this isn’t part of Trump’s presidency; it’s his reality show and we’re subscribing.

We make fun of Trump’s thin skin and enormous ego getting in the way of making decisions and enacting policy. For example, his twitter feud last week with the national park service over how many people showed up to his inauguration, and whether that was more than Obama’s in 2013. Petty and immature, yet we’re guilty of the same.

Wasting our energy freaking out about the “Frederick Douglass” comments only distracts from the real political threats posed by the Trump administration: his executive order on immigration, his alt-right cabinet nominees, his plan to start a trade war with Mexico. The pillars of our democracy — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL Americans — is under fire, and we’re hiding in the trench, nursing our egos.







Big Beer Mondays at Mister Up’s

On Monday nights, five dollars can get you 25 oz. of any Vermont brew at Mister Up’s, a local restaurant and pub in Middlebury. There are about a dozen local beer selections, from dark and creamy pours like Otter Creek’s Oatmeal Stout to Burlington’s Queen City Hefenweizer, a light, citrusy ale that tickles the lips.

Ordering one “big beer” is a given. Ordering two isn’t unheard of. Ordering three… well, good luck.

By 9:30 P.M., the booths are packed in both dining rooms, with locals and college students alike. This is nothing like the Thursday bar night at Two Brother’s Tavern, where sweaty collared shirts and silky tops dominate the downstairs lounge.

At Mister Up’s, there’s no loud music, no dancing, no strobe lights. No one appears hammered. People often keep their scarves on – the cozy charm of questionable heating. Sometimes, there are board games. Often, it’s just cards.

The bar stools are taken, minus the occasional lone seat between parties of two and three. Rachel, the bartender, frantically fills oversized mugs with beer, sometimes clamping down on two taps at a time, serving up one after another. I marvel at her speed, her coordination. She hands me a “big beer.” I clutch it with two hands; it’s always heavier than it looks. I glance at her forearms in awe.

Rachel is the gem of the joint. Though tucked away on Bakery Lane, there’s no baker in sight. And besides the occasional burger or taco assembly, the chef doesn’t seem to do much besides stick frozen food in the oven. Sometimes, the fryer. Don’t be fooled by the exotic adjectives on the menu, like “Cajun” in front of the word “salad” or “sandwich”; it’s all standard American fare. You might as well have brought your own seasoning to sprinkle on yourself. It’d be less salty. You might actually taste the spice.

Hungry students usually order “fingers and toes”, a benign plate of chicken fingers and fries. It’s a college favorite, only because the rest of the menu is a crapshoot. Even 0rdering nachos can be risky. Will all the cheese be melted? Will half the chips be burnt?

The cookie skillet “a la mode” is admittedly delicious, but it’s a dish that’s hard to screw up. Think vanilla ice cream melting into the warm, molten nooks of a chocolate chip cookie, sizzling with crisp buttery edges that hide a soft, doughy inside. For sober pals and underage buddies, this dessert is a nice alternative to the classic “big beer.” It’s also reasonably priced at $6 per skillet that’s big enough to share.

If you’re 21, stick to the $5 deal on great beer. And make sure to tip Rachel. If you’re underage, stick to Proctor. Microwave a cookie and put a scoop of vanilla on top. Granted, the white ceramic plates aren’t cast-iron skillets, but it’s satisfying enough. Save yourself the trek down College Street and instead, spend those $6 on a squealer of Drop-In (recommended: “Fetchez la Vache!”). Sip with friends on a chill Monday night. Casual college drinking, it’s never too young to start.

Film Review: “Everything Is Copy”

Nora Ephron. For most college students, the name rings like a faint hourly bell, dull and distant, just frequent enough to take notice. The screenwriter behind “When Harry Met Sally”? The author of Heartburn? Yes, and yes. The feared and revered literary icon, the unabashedly honest feminist, the self-proclaimed “relationship expert”? I had no idea.

The documentary opens with Nora Ephron reading an essay on an important family mantra, one recited by generations of Ephron women. A running ribbon throughout her wildly public life and puzzlingly private death, it’s also the title of this film: “Everything Is Copy.”

Using Nora’s life as “copy” for the script, Director Noah Bernstein take a page from her family book. It’s fitting. He’s her son.

We hear Bernstein’s voice in the narration; we see him on the screen. A journalist by training, he initially admits his discomfort with putting himself in the story.

Maybe he shouldn’t have admitted it so early on, right after the opening credits, because the early interview scenes, him sitting across the couch from Delia Ephron, appear forced and awkward. It’s as if his admitted uneasiness of putting himself in the film is contagious. Every time I heard him ask a question, I squirmed. Every time he appeared on screen, I cringed. When the camera finally cut from the couch to Delia’s face, I sighed in relief.

But maybe that was the point. This film isn’t just about Nora Ephron as the writer, sister, friend and wife, but about a son coming to terms with his mother’s sudden death. Ephron suffered from a blood disorder that she kept secret from him (and most of the world) for many years, before succumbing to leukemia in 2008.

This 90-minute reel unspools like a scrapbook of Nora’s life: her sisters and close friends provide voice-overs for old photographs, modern female icons like Lena Dunham read funny, biting snippets from her early essays, an interview with ex-husband, THE Carl Bernstein, reveals his take on their marriage as tabloid shots of their tumultuous divorce flicker on screen.

The film embeds short television clips from Nora’s interviews throughout the years. Though the older segments are sometimes grainy, the zing of her witty one-liners and abrasive, yet hilarious views remain fresh.

Like many 20-something women, I saw and loved “When Harry Met Sally.” Unlike most romantic comedies, the heroine is ambitious and confident, flawed but effortlessly funny.

After watching “Everything Is Copy,” it all makes sense. She wrote incredible screenplays because she was an incredible woman. This tribute to Nora Ephron is not just for writers and it’s not just for feminists. As young millennials trying to make our own marks, we could take notes from Ephron’s character and drive.