Fraysters celebrate Secretary's Day

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April 28 2006 6:18 AM

Does Your Job Suck?

Fraysters celebrate Secretary's Day

Fray Editor, no stranger to clerical and administrative jobs, hasn't seen anything like it. "Keep Your Roses," Melonyce McAfee's cry of rage against Secretary's Day, has brought an avalanche of anecdotes crashing into the Fine Whine Fray. A representative of the IAAP, which sponsors Secretary's Day, writes in to defend the day against widespread attack.Best post of the Fray goes to BKC, for her scathing portrayal of office life for the professional (nonsecretarial) woman in the Neanderthal Age, circa 1980. But, taken as a whole, the Fray presents an encyclopedia of the petty indignities and quiet triumphs that mark American office life today:

I support about 20 people on my team and thankfully all will say thank you after I assist them with anything out of my normal duties. So, I guess that's where I am the lucky one. I got a card today and chocolates from only one person and you know what, I don't feel any different about the great people I work with. Just thankful to have a job! —attdgal

I am a Senior Medical Secretary for two internal medical doctors in a very large practice. I received a nice lunch from a local grocery store and a gift card for a "mini spa". This includes a facial, massage and pedicure. I feel very appreciated. Of course it does help my two doctors are both women and appreciate all the work I do. I stay late on most evenings and put in 40+ plus hours a week. I think Secretary's Day is great but it does cause unnecessary hard feelings.—marie957

I'm a legal administrative assistant. I have two bosses. Yesterday, I uploaded all the National holidays onto their outlooks calendars and set a reminder for today's event. Did I get a lunch out? No. Did I get a Starbucks gift card? No. Did I get a simple "thank you" No. Instead, I got to work through lunch.

I hear my predecessor (that I've been told I'm "10 times better than"), was showered with gifts in her day. I don't know if they just don't feel I qualify, or if they closed the pop up reminders without reading it, but I've been sad all day. —omnijess

I am the Personnel Assistant at a temporary staffing agency. We are the people that send out the temp. administrative professionals where they are needed. There was a party thrown and gifts, massages, etc. given to the temps that came to the party but nothing was done for me. Some of these people work one day every other week, while I'm at our office for 9 hours Mon-Fri. Talk about feeling under appreciated!— jessicablizzard

I was a legal secretary for 30 years. In one job an attorney whom I had worked for a number of years insisted on taking me to lunch on Secretaries Day. The other attorney usually gave me a Border's gift certificate for $75 and a small plant or flowers. Although the lunch wasn't really comfortable for me, it was, however, an extension of his respect and yes, even affection for me. He enjoyed the occasion. This was a man who never left the office at the end of the day without thanking me for my support that day.—kaci

Although I work for a temp agency, I have been in this Admin position at a large universal company for almost 4 years. The company I temp for is very good to me, but there are times (like today) when I feel like Mrs. Cellophane.

There are two ladies I share this position with. They have both been with the company many years. […] I, being the "McAnus" in the middle of these two butt cheeks, have kept my silence, honor, and politeness towards both of them and our boss/bosses (who have done nothing to fix this ridiculous situation). But today was Admin Day and the two ladies I work with received presents in pretty bags with festive paper sticking out. I, Mrs. Cellophane McAnus, nothing.—McAnus

I am a woman working in a male dominated field. I get kudos from my clients on a regular basis. I use this made up holiday as an opportunity to remember I have a team backing me up and I'd be nothing without their supportive attention to detail.—lilysmom

I was an office manager for almost 9 years and always felt like calling in sick on Secretary's Day. My boss's wife, who worked for the company part-time, would send me flowers signed from the two owners and then sometime during the day, one of my bosses would come up to my desk and say, "what's with the flowers? Is it your birthday or something?". I wish they had just given me what I really wanted - a genuine thank you and a raise!—Ricochet

One year my boss gave me a dozen beautiful red roses for secy's day, when the others were given nothing at all or some generic flower mix. He was told by his boss, have jokingly, half seriously, not to do that again because it made the rest of them look bad.—Liz-8

I work in an optometry office. Years ago the dr's wife sent us small bouquets for "secretaries day" even though we aren't really secretaries. I appreciated it and thanked the Dr. he said "it wasn't my idea, it was (wife's name) so I said "nevermind, then." He was really rude about it. So I don't care about it either. Why can't we be appreciative of each other all the time and not just once a year?—lucyloo

My bosses, I have three, give me the same thing every single year without fail. It is a giftcard to a local department store. All three make in the mid 6 figures, but the amount of the card usually toggles around $50-$60. The card is always written in my female supervisor's handwriting and they present it together to me with stern faces as if I am about to be put on punishment. Every year I smile, say thank you, glance over the notecard and smile again as they give me the generic "—msburch

Several years ago I had worked for twin brothers for quite some time and was usually taken to lunch by one of them on Secretary/Administrative Assistant Day. Well, this particular year both were to take me to lunch. To preface this, I had been having trouble with my teenage son at the time and was told by one of my bosses that it was OK to take time off to take care of everything. Unknown to me, one of the girls in the office was complaining because she thought she was having to do my job too often. Also one of the other bosses had just told me that I was a doing great job. The three of us get to the restaurant and order. Then they proceed to tell me what I was doing wrong and that I needed to be at the office as much as possible. It went on and on. I could barely eat lunch and it sure spoiled what could have been a nice time. When I got back, the boss who told me I was doing fine saw me and asked me what was wrong. He was surprised too. They sure lost a lot of admiration from me that day.—Notappreciated

My company just sent all of the secretaries, filers, registration, etc bouquets of flowers. And if they forgot one person the flower person had extra in her delivery truck to make sure everyone got them.—mae

I'm a secretary and I work for two individuals that rip me apart day after day. I catch there bad days, and really don't get much kindness on there good days either. Now, I'm forced to spend my lunch hour with them, I don't really like them, and really don't look forward to spending and hour or so mingling with them. I have nothing in common with them, and its awkward to say the least. I would much rather they ignore me on this day as they do the rest of the year! I think the perfect way to spend this day is to just be given the day off!—BoldlyGoingNowhere

While I was a student at New York University, I worked as an Administrative Asst for a popular woman's magazine. It was a hectic office with lots of competitiveness, back-stabbing and the like. However, I enjoyed a great working relationship with my manager. We respected each other, got along very well and--thankfully--never had any major disagreements.

Every year on Secretary's Day I would arrive and see on my desk a wonderful assortment of gifts--gift checks, fancy chocolates, coffee beans and something to wear. (I must include that maybe my being male made a difference.) My boss--a lady--would then take me out to a fabulous and expensive lunch just for the two of us. I rewarded her with excellent work and loyalty over the years & she spoiled me in return. The other assistants in the area would have an attitude but, then again, THEIR bosses didn't value them as much. In the end, I think, you get rewarded based on your performance, not just because it's a day marked on a calendar!!!—Enrique

At my company they deal with the sticky topic of "who to include" by lumping in the marketing team and including them with the AA staff in all the festivities - the marketing team includes a manager. I guess that should make me happy but my job requires a degree and an AA doesn't at my company....—yadda

I'm Office Mgr for a woman who doesn't have a clue - her "gifts" are so measly as to be offensive. This year? A small cardboard notebook & card. The Office Asst got one with a destroyed cover (where the $1 pricetag came off, probably). Guess I'll scribble "thanks" on a piece of the notebook paper and leave it in her in-box. Maybe she'd have done more if she knew that I'll be leaving as soon as I can...—vals

My boss has no clue who is what here in the office. He is not ashamed to ask for anything. He will ask anyone of the women in the office to make coffee or clean his office if he has important clients coming. I use to think I was above doing these trivial things because I was not hired to do this stuff. You have to look at your cup half full, not half empty. You think about people who's job is to make coffee all day and what they make per hour verses your salary, now don't you get paid pretty well to make that coffee? On Admin. Day my boss does not pick and choose. He is very fair about it. Guys you run the place. "Come on girls, I'm taking you all to dinner." So, yea, he might be a bit of a male chauvinist pig, but he is a fair one.—halseymd

I worked for a large corporation where the Human Resources Dept. had ordered numerous cheap, identical Secretaries Day bouquets delivered to the department secretaries. I happened to be in the hospital giving birth to my first child that day. Instead of sending me flowers to acknowledge my new baby, my cheapskate boss had my Secretaries Day flowers diverted to the hospital. Standing out amid all the cute baby bouquets in my hospital room was a cheap bouquet that read Happy Secretaries Day. The jerk's only comment when I called and told him my baby had been born was, "Who's going to type the Annual Operating Plan?"—Loulu

I got Shari's Berries for Administrative Professional's Day, so yahoo!! I thought at first they were from my boyfriend, and I was wondering what the occasion was, when my boss said "They're from me! It's Administrative Professionals Day!" What a great surprise. =) He's a great boss (I type as he reads over my shoulder ... lol) No he really IS a great boss. =) The best I've had, hands down.—Emz

 I'm a PhD student who refused to live on the slave wages that the grad school offered me for funding. So I found a job with fairly nice people who are willing to work around my school schedule. Sometimes its a little demeaning to make copies for people that are my intellectual and educational equals. I also have a hard time taking the job as seriously as some of my colleagues do. But its an okay gig and this isn't the only thing I'm ever going to do in my life. My attitude about Secretaries Day is simple: I appreciate the fact that my bosses took time to buy me a little something and say that they appreciate the work that I do. They didn't have to do it.—funkgenie

What did I get from the boss? Nothing from her. One of her subordinates, who talks wistfully of the days in which she had secretaries, (note plural) gave me a perennial calendar in a cheap wood frame that comes unbolted from its base every time I change the page. The woman is notorious for giving away items after cleaning out her closets. The calendar should have stayed in the closet.—Splendid_IREny

I work for a large law firm, with lots of Secretaries, Admins and, like me, just general support staff. Instead of leaving it to individuals to celebrate (and cause jealousy) they have a list of prizes, food and sometimes games planned for the week. Mostly a LOT of food. Anyone, including management is invited to eat and participate in games. Everyone but lawyers and upper management are eligible for prizes. In the midst of stuffing ourselves, I doubt anyone notices if "Mary" got a bouquet and they did not. — debbieae

This brought back memories of the year everyone in the secretary pool got a potted plant, a $5 off dinner (for 2 or more) certificate, and the office ordered in a catered lunch. Attendance was mandatory. The following Friday we were "reminded" to adjust our time cards for our long lunch! My present supervisor quietly leaves a thank you note and small box of candy on each of our desks on Secretaries Day, and expects business as usual. I much prefer it.—mgcontrary

I am a receptionist and I have never expected anything for this day and then when I do get something it is a really nice surprise. This year every assistant and administrative worker received some very lovely tiger lilies. Mine are the only ones that are not open yet. Some other people have made comments that I might have gotten screwed out of my flower, but I know different. I try and look at it more optimistically. When everyone else's flowers are dead and dying mine will be in full bloom.—crystalrosebelle

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Come and commiserate in the Fine Whine Fray. GA … 3:20am PST

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Memoriam. As a committed New Urbanist (living in Los Angeles, no less), FrayEditor05 was joined in sadness with other readers over the death of urban planner/activist Jane Jacobs, eulogized in this elegant obituary by Witold Rybczynski.

VIVA_NOLA writes: "I hope that in remembrance of Jane Jacobs we fight to maintain the integrity of New Orleans, a great American city that had the character she wrote about."

In her own words, denverherbie describes Jane Jacob's legacy:

I'm only a few chapters into Death and Life (I mean seriously, she loved sidewalks!) but her vision for cities remains beautiful to this day. Every city planning book since D&L must acknowledge her work, even if they disagree with her.

Her thesis always seemed to hinge on one thing: involvement. Design a street/city/block so that people can be involved... so that people MUST be involved. Our American individualism has drifted to points so extreme, that people can't stand being involved with others... thus sprawl.

And with sprawl comes the disconnect: Why should I bother with "them?" Why should I care? I think that's the saddest part... people have been given permission to move to the suburbs and check out of community participation (voting on acceptable house colors in the HOA doesn't count, rallying your neighbors to help keep your streets safe does).

She called to care about others... to live for things bigger than ourselves... but mostly for beauty, as it expresses itself on your street.

Inspired by Jacobs, BenK offers his own manifesto on "zoning, planning, and city death" here.

Any of your thoughts would be much appreciated over in obit. AC7:03pm PDT

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blogoholism. Sarah Hepola's confessional piece on her recent decision to shut down a long-running blog prompted fraysters to share their own struggles of addiction. synesthesia offers words of solidarity in admitting it happened to me, too. 4cabbage describes the same painful withdrawal symptoms as being like "quitting smoking or drinking."

TheNate discusses the successive stages of his own detox:

My nine months as a blogaholic ended in August. It was a gradual withdrawal that began with accepting a higher media than myself and ended with me carrying the message to others. I went from constantly rereading my own entries and checking a dozen other blogs daily to never visiting mine and only occasionally visiting a few big-name sites. These days I can occasionally check blogs socially without fear of getting addicted again.

But blogging got me in the habit of writing despite all the associated BS. Free from worrying about regular updates, networking through links, flame wars, coming up with snarky commentary, compulsively checking Technorati and my site meter, I had nothing to worry about but my craft. The pressure to produce was gone; only the energy remained.

Writing became fun again. I began to think creatively again, considering ideas outside the confines of blog entries. After spending a few weeks on a literary binge (or "book bender" - when you do nothing but read and read until you forget what day it is) I charted out a new project.

I went back to spending my free time hunched over a laptop, typing away furiously even though it wasn't even connected to the Internet. I continued to research new ideas just as I did while a blogger, except this time I had all the time I wanted to expand on them without "post or you're toast" being my mantra. Before long I had a new project charted out and exchanged the idea of being a blogger for the dream of being an author.

Last night I typed the last word to the first draft of my novel. I couldn't have written it while I blogged, but I wouldn't have written it if I hadn't blogged at all. Maybe someday I'll go back to blogging, but as far as I'm concerned my old blog is a finished work.

Jeff-MC chimes in with this advice: "The worst thing a writer can do is find ways to be a writer. Every ounce of energy you put into becoming a writer, is an ounce you're not using to write."

According to rundeep, here's the real problem with blogging:

1) It causes the untalented to believe themselves writers with something of interest to say, and;

2) He who blogs is often not reading books, so as to develop the ability which might cure 1) above.

Poindexter unleashes a brutal critique on Hepola's auto-eulogy, calling it

emblematic of what is insufferable about so many blogs, even the sometimes insighful ones: Bloggers tend to spend way to much time focusing on themselves and on the act of blogging.
Whether it's Josh Marshall telling us about his nifty new layout that will be upcoming next month, Andrew Sullivan sharing photos of his adorable dogs, or the guy who does Kos letting us know that he will be doing a book signing in Grand Rapids this Saturday, bloggers, IMO, spend way too much time on self referential blather at the expense of substance. Obviously it is a blogger's prerogative to post whatever they fancy, but they do so at their own peril.
And if Hepola's navel gazing Slate obit (one more thing to write before hunkering down on the book, eh?) is any indication of her online edifice, I'm sure the culture will withstand this loss.

barbaricus, on the other hand, points to the value of blogs when you need deep background on a specific subject.

Far from stifling creative impulses, -badkitty- is grateful that this new media form has forced her to start writing again:

When I was younger, I kept a journal...silly little pictures of birds and fairies, along with doggerel, quotes, and my thoughts of the day.

Once I got married, got a job, and started taking care of a family, I didn't have any time for writing, and when I finally went to university, I only had time to write essays and theses. I got so I hated writing...or so I thought.

My blogs are silly and certainly won't shape the thoughts of anyone reading them. And they won't get me published. But they make me feel good - and they've got me writing again. If not for my blogs, I wouldn't be writing at all.

It appears that Belmont University may have the nation's first Bloggers Anonymous Support Group (or at least a referral service). Check out this hilarious site. AC8:11pm PDT

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Friday, April 21, 2006

In his commentary on Moussaoui's defense team's strategy for avoiding the death penalty, Alan M. Dershowitz casts a skeptical eye on using "demographics, socioeconomics, or history" as mitigating factors in the sentencing phase.

JohnLex7 and HLS2003 engage in a robust back-and-forth on the validity of the so-called abuse excuse, with JL7 attacking the very phrase as offensive:

Playing into the "popular" way of phrasing things is NOT a good thing for any lawyer, even as one as renowned and accomplished and famous as Alan Dershowitz. Take, for example, the phrase "the abuse excuse." That is shorthand that prosecutors always use to denigrate the mitigation evidence that a defendant puts on in a capital case. It completely mischaracterizes a) the evidence and b) the jury's role at this phase of the trial.

First, capital sentencing proceedings are designed to allow the jury to know everything about a defendant's life. This is obviously going to include the bad things that the defendant did (killed the victims of this crime, and committed other crimes) and the good things that the defendant did (helping little old ladies across the street). By necessity, it is also going to include evidence of how the defendant became the person he became. No human being arrives at the point of being the defendant in a capital trial after being in a vacuum his or her whole life. To believe that the things that happen to a person when they are young don't affect what they do when they are older is to reject reality. A favorite question of prosecutors to siblings who testify in these trials is "well, you were abused, and you didn't kill anyone, right?" That question is inane because even siblings do not have the same brain chemistry, did not have all the same experiences, and would not necessarily react the same way to the same stimuli. The evidence is not provided to "excuse" any behavior, it is provided to give the jury a complete picture of the person who is then before them, and whose life they now control.

The second problem with the phrase is that it implies that the default penalty that the jury must start with in a capital trial is death, and the only way not to impose death is if they accept some "excuse" for the defendant's actions. This position is completely legally incorrect. When a prosecutor tells the jury that the defendant is raising "the abuse excuse" he is telling the jury that the defendant has not presented sufficient evidence to allow you not to kill him. The burden at a capital sentencing proceeding, as in all other proceedings, is on the prosecution. By using the phrase "the abuse excuse," prosecutors subtly shift the burden to the defendant by implying that they have to show an "excuse" for their behavior in order to avoid a death sentence.

Expanding on Dershowitz's reasoning, HLS2003 writes:

…once you accept poor upbringing as a necessary condition, you also make it a relevant condition for prevention. This is his profiling point. Once you say that a lousy upbringing (or being an Arab, or being poor, or whatever) is a "necessary but not sufficient" condition to the commission of a heinous crime, and is thereby relevant for consideration in culpability, then you have admitted the relevance of necessary conditions as risk factors in crime.

Once you do that, the theoretical rationale against profiling collapses. (There may be prudential reasons against it that still survive, but they are much weaker). The theoretical rationale against profiling is that since being poor, or black, or Arab, or whatever is not a sufficient condition to determine anyone's crime propensity -- evidenced by the vast majority of people with those characteristics who do not commit crimes -- that it should not be permitted to incur suspicion.

JohnLex7 shoots back:

Sentencing decisions are supposed to be individualized. Yes, there may be a number of people who share his same characteristics, and yes, some of those people may not have reacted the same way that Moussaoui did, and some might have. Yes, some who don't look at the whole picture might use this evidence to stigmatize an entire sector of the population. But, the evidence of his upbringing, and yes, even the role that race played in his upbringing, is relevant to the jury's decision whether to sentence him to death, if sentencing is truly individualized. If, as has been stated, that the death penalty is supposed to be for "the worst of the worst" how are we to know if an individual is the worst of the worst without knowing what that individual has experienced throughout life?

Read HLS2003's response here.

mallardsballad thinks Moussaoui's lawyers have overlooked a potentially more compelling line of defense:

To use the abuse excuse on not only a self proclaimed terrorist, but someone who is considered "the other" is not only a desperate tactic on the part of the defense attorneys, but an incompetent one…

The better argument would be, that Moussaoui wants to be a martyr. That's all he has left. Like a lot of these terrorist losers, pride is everything to them.

Take that away from him. To him, execution is a celebrated warrior's death, with promises of those 90 virgins or whatever childish promises were offered to him. Let him rot away in a prison, where there are obviously no female virgins to molest.

… The only satisfaction the victims families would derive from his execution is that the state could have control over exactly when that would be and maybe he suffers a little. That's immediate gratification, but personally I'd like him to suffer a lifetime of the State's control over almost every aspect of his life, with no redemption.

According to jacoxnet,Dershowitz badly misses the point altogether

of Zacharias Moussaoui's defense. His lawyers are not claiming that he should be shown sympathy because he had a "bum childhood" … They are arguing -- and proving, in my view -- that Moussaoui is a delusional schizophrenic whose testimony is not credible. Moussoui's experiences in childhood and young adulthood are just part of the story of the effects of serious mental illness on his life.

In my view, criticism ought to be leveled not at the defense but at the government lawyers. They know as well as the defense that Moussaoui is seriously mentally ill. But they are intentionally misusing Moussaoui's delusions -- and the resulting outrageous statements that Moussaoui has made -- to try to get the jury angry enough at him to impose the death penalty. They are doing so not because Moussaoui really deserves the death penalty -- clearly, he does not -- but because our government wants SOMEONE to be sentenced to death for the September 11 attacks and Moussaoui is all they have.

Finally, Arlington2 asks a more sociological question:

Why not explore what type of people are recruited by extremist movements, and how they're brainwashed into believing all people not like themselves are evil?

Terrorist organizations appear to function like cults, looking for people who are insecure and looking for "the answer." They isolate their recruits and pound them with propaganda, making them believe outrageous things. The Hale Bopp comet will transport us to heaven. We must drink poisoned Kool Aid to save our souls. We get 81 virgins if we blow ourselves to bits.

The best defense might be to call in a couple FBI profilers to give the jury a picture of what kind of person Moussaoui really is.

Unaddressed thus far is what Dershowitz should have called the "remorse recourse": Would Moussaoui be best served by saying sorry? Contribute your thoughts here. AC12:10pm

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

In "The Gerrymander That Ate America," Juliet Eilperin proposes a new system for drawing electoral maps. Under Eilperin's proposal, a nonpartisan mapmaking czar, supported by a bipartisan panel of viziers, would assume complete responsibility for drawing state legislative districts. This proposition has spurred a cyber-civic debate in the Fray of uncommon creativity and depth—illustrating how important the issue of gerrymandering is to American citizens today.

Many readers find the prospect of investing so much power in one person quease-making. The best description of this concern is stated by k_chandrasekar:

Mr. Hersch's proposal is too dangerous in my opinion for the sole reason that it vests absolute power in the hands of one man. Trusting to a man's impartiality, incorruptibility, and resistance to inevitable pressures, both fair and foul, in such situations is probably utopian.

Where can one turn to find an honest broker in this day and age? A surprisingly popular option appears to be turning over legislative mapmaking to a computer program—"making the process purely mechanical rather than political," as Gilker_Kimmel eloquently puts it. Fray Editor suspects, based on the Diebold example, that this would just transfer suspicion from the politicians to the programmers. rundeep nominates the common man as a neutral decision-maker, advocating that election maps be approved by referendum. In defense of the status quo, 20yearsfromnow finds politicians to be the best-suited decision-makers: "[D]espite the illogic that sometimes seems to prevail in the defining of districts, the process [is] a fine example of the art of politics and compromise that is the heart of our republic."

Rules that would limit the potential for maps based on self-serving goals are another promising angle of approach. Several posters suggest geometry as a limiting principle. Trebuchet advocates applying a "fractal index" to see if districts are too complex. Auros4 goes furthest in developing actual language to state the rule:

Each district shall have no more than six edges. An edge shall be a continuous segment of a pre-existing, generally-acknowledged boundary, either physical (river, coastline, uninhabitable mountain ridge, numbered non-residential highway), or political (city, county, or state lines). If using political lines, these lines must have been in place for at least 20 years prior to the current redistricting effort.

This rule would allow for a long snaky district if, for example, that district was captured between a mountain ridge and the coast; such a district might well represent a community of common interest, with residents at either end interacting more with each other than with residents of towns on the other side of the ridge that are closer (as the crow flies) but not actually as accessible.

A similar line of proposals focus on preserving representation of local interests. RealMassLibertarian would prohibit breaking communities across districts: "each town or city should be part of a single district if not a district itself." seed_drill would use counties as the benchmark but also advances a proposal that would create smaller districts—adding more representatives to the House:

I believe a new representative should be added for every 500,000 people, which would both curb that issue and address the problem with districts getting too large for meaningful representation.

Heading off in the other direction, many posters advocate abolishing districts entirely. fozzy would simply create a single statewide Congressional district with proportional voting:

Geographic voting boundaries are rooted largely in a past that is, well, long past. Geographic mobility is so great, and districts now have so many voters (due to a cap on congressional seats), that their character has changed vastly. They no longer represent relatively cohesive populations.

Writing in from Switzerland, andreas offers a firsthand endorsement of such a system.

Not everyone finds fault with the maps. gaoxiaen blames the gatekeepers of the ballot—a party system with too much control over who is allowed to run at all.

Tom_Tildrum despairs that the problem of gerrymandering can ever be solved:

The reason gerrymandering is insoluble is because the goals of fairness are irremediably contradictory. […] These goals interfere with one another. Fostering competition and managing geographical compactness work against ensuring minority representation. Limiting redistricting to once a decade works against reflecting the state's overall balance. And so on.

After surveying the discussion, Fray Editor feels optimistic that, with enough thoughtful attention and careful deliberation of this kind, some kind of acceptable solution or workable compromise should be within reach. It's not too late to add your voice to the debate in our Politics Fray. GA ... 3:40am PST

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Slate's Easter week coverage tracks the full range of the Passion narrative, for those wishing to contemplate the Christian faith on its holiest of days. Christopher Hitchens discusses the theology of betrayal in "Judas Saves." Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Epsicopalian minister, reflects upon the significance of the missing body of Christ in "Jesus' Bones." Mark Oppenheimer's obituary of radical Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. injects an element of Christian death, while Troy Patterson's review of TV's God or the Girl touches upon the struggles of Christian life. To cap matters off, Richard Wightman Fox surveys the debate about Christ's divinity within humanity.

Religion is a perennial favorite topic among many of our readers. Our Faith-Based Fray might be a world-record contender for "most heterodox Bible study." Evangelical atheists, secular Protestants, and pagan apologists exchange ideas in a bazaar of beliefs that would shock the stockings off any grand inquisitor.

In response to "Judas Saves," janeR tries to make sense of the sinner's paradox behind Jesus' crucifixion:

The big glitch in the whole crucifixion story for me is that if anyone had acted with basic human kindness and mercy, Jesus would never have been killed. And evidently, from the Bible's perspective, everyone would have been damned to hell for an act of goodness.

Fritz_Gerlich celebrates the disappearance of the divine in a meditation upon the anti-sacrament of Holy Saturday:

The one day of the Christian liturgical year that still has resonance for me is Holy Saturday. On this day, Catholic churches are stripped of all decoration, images are covered with purple cloth, the tabernacle on the altar is emptied and the door left standing open. There is no mass.

As a boy (an altar boy, no less), I loved Holy Saturday. For one day, I felt the church was being real. Christmas and Easter, with their predictable Technicolor® and Movietone® excesses, always underwhelmed, which is only what you should expect when people try to work themselves up on cue. But Holy Saturday almost tried to slink by unnoticed. The church turned you out—vomited you out of its mouth, one might say. Go home. Nothing to see here. Jesus is in the morgue. The apostles ran away. God hasn't said a word. Go home. Can't help you.

Holy Saturday, not Easter Sunday, is life as we actually live it. Triumph on cue is nothing but bad screenwriting. Living in quiet desperation is, as each of us knows quite well in the dark corners of his mind, very much the real thing. It is the most fundamental of all human competencies, for we owe our survival to it. Such joy as may penetrate from time to time does not come because you, or some mental idol of yours, or some priest, pushes a button. Joy, like the wind, bloweth as it listeth. And that very fact is a source of human despair. For it apportioneth not the same to every man. From him who hath little, even the little that he hath shall be taken away. Now there is a text for Holy Saturday.

Among many eloquent celebrations of the resurrected flesh, HLS2003's contribution stands out:

What Breyer leaves out— perhaps indicating that her willingness to accept the miracle of the Resurrection is not complete —is the fact that Jesus is the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." I Cor. 15:12. Christ's Resurrection proves to all Christ's followers that death is not the end. Christ, by his sacrifice, has obtained victory over death itself, for himself and for those who trust him. This is the hope that Christ provides. […]

Christianity is not easy. It calls for sacrifices—giving away money, forgiving enemies, controlling lusts and appetites, spending time in worship, fellowshipping with people we may not like, being honest, not cheating in business, etc. In Paul's day, it also meant chains and risking death. […]

The Resurrection gives proof that there is hope beyond death. Death is inevitable, and yet it is still unknown and scary. The German philosopher Franz Rosenzweig said that all religion responded to man's anxiety in the face of death. Christ's real, physical resurrection is the central fact of Christianity that soothes our fears by telling us that Christ defeated death. "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." I Cor. 15:22. What we think of as "the human condition" includes death; the Resurrection proves that Christ has changed "the human condition" for the better.

This, even more than the reasons of fellowship and forgiveness and ethical behavior cited by Breyer, is the key reason for the Resurrection's importance. At Easter, we see Christ risen from the dead, and hear the promise that since he has risen, since his destiny has not ended with death, so too his people will rise, and their destiny does not end with death. There is no greater or more universal hope. Jesus Christ's Resurrection allows us to say that "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." I Cor. 15:54-57.

In refreshing contrast to stereotypes of secularists, irreligious Frayster Jeff-MC is unsettled by religious-themed reality TV:

I'm not even religious, and all these religious reality shows worry me. What does it say about the state of American society that what we claim to be our most sacred and meaningful traditions are becoming public entertainment?

It seems to me that the best aspects of organized religion are the building of community, the desire to do good and make the world a better place, and the focus on internal truths and worth, instead of value based on external treasure.

Amen to that. Readers willing to trade spiritual insights should set up a stand in the Faith-Based Fray. GA ... 11:30pm PST

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Friday, April 14, 2006

It is perhaps a symptom of the current cultural obsession with real estate that Seth Stevenson's Ad Report Card on Century 21's spot of a woman cajoling her reluctant husband into the purchase of a new home (aka "the Nasty Wife Ad") generated the most prolific output that FrayEditor05 has seen in his tenure.

A lot of the commentary focused on the gender roles and stereotypes depicted in this fictional scenario. gracey_newstead criticizes the dark and offensive tone, particularly its portrayal of "a nagging wife and ball-busting real estate agent." BrandiB makes a bizarre but impassioned plea to preserve masculinity in American culture against the "power-female" ideology typified by the husband-wife exchange. Mimi5 wonders if the ad is creepy, or just comfortably realistic:

There's a lot of tension and anxiety behind her apparent bitchiness. Her unusually unattractive (esp. for a TV commercial) presentation of her emotions is the discomfiting issue; for some this colors their interpretation of the whole husband-wife conflict and the fictional marriage (ugly assertive woman = evil man basher). Maybe it hits just a little too close to home, especially for guys who'd prefer to watch a "Desperate Housewife" over someone closer to their wifely reality.

Echoing this view, Dolores thinks the gender roles are "a step back into the patirarchial 1950s":

When I saw the Century 21 commercial, my reaction was disgust at the wife having to beg the husband to buy the house, because ultimately it was the "husband's" decision. The realtor only served to back up the wife's begging.

Jospry declares C21's spot a complete flop: "It flattered no one. The wife comes off as a nagging shrew. The husband looks like a wimp and the realtor, ugh!---what a greedy bottom feeder! No one will be able to identify with anyone in this commercial because they will not want to see themselves as any of these horrible steriotypes.

On the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, bottomsup is the rare defender, rating the commercial "one of the better ones from this company":

If you put yourself in the characters shoes you'll probably come off the same way the way the wife did. It was a real Ad, pertaining to real life choices and that's what advertising is all about. If you think about it, they did exactly what they intended to. They got our attention because if they didn't we wouldn't be on this forum talking about it.

perkybabette connects the general aversion to this ad to a broader phenomenon of "real estate agent bashing" which has "gone too far." (Presumably, she is referring to Sirocco1's lengthy diatribe.) Read her defense here. In this adjacent post, originalalaskadaisy also fights back against anti-realtor sentiment. As "a Licensed Real Estate Appraiser who also has Sales License," joeymush has a thing or two to say about the article's misrepresentations of the agent's role.

As further anecdotal evidence of the ad's attention-grabbing appeal, lsparksmith admits that the ad has literally become a subject of debate at her family Sunday dinner. Her intelligent take on the emotional dynamic between husband and wife is worth reading, as are the many other provocative posts in Ad Report Card not featured here. AC5:41pm

Adam Christian is co-editor of the Fray.

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