A year ago today- July 9, 2006 I began writing pieces for “The Alligator”. I was never quite sure why I started. I think originally it was a way for me to impart some of my views with friends and family but not force it upon them through emails. Writing a blog seemed somewhat less “in your face” since someone who might wish to read something would have to actively go to my blog rather than be confronted with my viewpoint in their in-box. It seemed good manners.
That might have been the initial impetus, but it is not why I blog now. It is clear to me that my blog is more an internal process for me than it is an external process focused on “talking” to others. That might sound odd since inherent to blogging is that whatever you write is accessible to everyone in the world with access to the internet and is hardly the same as a hand written diary that is latched, locked and hidden in a personal drawer.
Some of my earlier blog pieces were more snarky editorials than thoughtful policy analysis- but I think that the blog has evolved over the year. “The Alligator” has turned into an excuse for me to research issues that have piqued my interest. There have been a few primary inspirations that get my mind going and inspire me to find out as much as I can about an issue and a few things I don’t want this blog to be.
One thing that I don’t want to do is to spout off about things just for the sake of spouting off (admitedly -some of my earlier pieces were in the vein). But nothing irritates me more than people who hold a political view and cannot tell you why or cannot defend it with anything but propaganda that has been doled out by some group or party (liberal or conservative). There are a couple of my family members who invariably drive me up wall in this regard. I remember having a “discussion” about Hillary Clinton with one of them (he happens to be a Republican). I mentioned to him that I have no idea who I will support for President in 2008 but Hillary Clinton interested me and she was not off my list. His response was “She’s a disaster!” “Why do you think she is a disaster?” I asked. “She’s a disaster,” he reiterated without any further explanation.
This is the sort of politics I cannot stand. If he had said that he disagreed with her views on the war or health care or he wasn’t happy with her as a New York Senator or he hated the health initiative she developed under President Clinton’s administration- I would have respected that. But to just not like her- because- well- she is Hillary, just seemed inane and not what I think political discourse should be.
Too often on blogs I see people spouting off about a politician or an issue where they have swallowed someone else’s language- a political party, a talk radio personality or a pundit – but they haven’t come to the conclusion based on their own research into the issue or the politician. I have no patience with this, just like I had no patience with my relative who described Senator Clinton as a “disaster” without ever being able to explain what that meant.
I won’t say that I come to an issue with a blank slate. I usually have a preconceived position on the issue but I want to see if the real facts hold up my position. I try and look for information on issues from unbiased sources and I have an internal agreement with myself that if my research doesn’t hold up my initial position, than the position needs to be re-examined. Therefore the positions that are taken here are based, I believe, on some sound research and analysis.
So writing these blog pieces have been an exercise in crafting my own views on policy and politics- giving me the arsenal to back up the positions that I take. As a political junkie and an unrepentant policy wonk- research and analysis is fun and gives me joy.
I am not writing to hear the sound of my own voice nor so others listen to me drone on about my point of view. Quite frankly I hope I never get to the level of arrogance where I think people should change their view because it is different than mine. I am writing to codify my thoughts and develop my positions based on more than just being a bloviating windbag. Ideally if others are interested in the research and my analysis of the facts that I have found along the way- that’s wonderful. But “The Alligator” is about personal learning and growth. My blog has been a way for me to learn, to exercise my brain muscle, and to challenge the “truth” as pontificated by the punditry by teasing out the reality of the rhetoric.
True sometimes I reflect on an issues such as hate speech or about faith in the political arena that are opinion pieces rather than academic examination of an issue like my piece on immigration. But as I write my opinion pieces I still explore the issue with academic research so the opinion is backed by some concrete historical or scientific facts. In my piece where I posited that morality and ethics should inform politics and not faith, I went as far as exploring the etymology of the word “faith” and what that has meant in modern history in order to frame the issue cogently rather than to just add some fuel to an already incendiary issue. I want to see the issue in that fire, not the flames around it.
For my own edification I want to get into the meat of an issue. Sometimes researching one thing will raise questions for me elsewhere. This excites me. I will not hold a position just because my party or my friends or my family think it is the right position. I also will not take a position just because it sounds right- I want to know that it IS right based on some facts that I can back it up. That is really all I wish to accomplish with this blog. If others find my research and analysis useful in their own thinking- whether or not the agree with me- than that is a bonus. Some of my writing might seem provactive- but it is meant to provoke my own brain. Some of it can sound emotional- especially about the war and about the President- and it is, but I try to take that emotion and harness it with some thinking. Emotion is good in politics as a catalyst not as a finale.
How I get to writing a piece is an interesting process but probably not any different than most writers of policy opinion pieces. I will be talking to my partner about some conversation I had or an article in the New York Times or one of the other publications I read – “The New Yorker”, “Atlantic Monthly”, “The New Republic” and occasionally my local paper “The San Francisco Chronicle”- will seep into my brain and I will think about it and eventually want to know more.
And quite often friends with differing politics will say something or write something in an email that will get me going. I have a couple of friends that I disagree with a lot about politics, but I respect them both a great deal and I think that they are good, caring and very compassionate people. Every once in a while one of them will say something that just seems incongruous with what “I assume” the position of a caring and good person “should” be. Because I love these two women like sisters they turn my own preconceived notions on their heads. Invariably this leads me to needing to know more about the issue and why they might hold a position so contrary to my own. Admittedly, my research rarely supports their views 100% but it does often give me insight as to why these caring and compassionate people might hold a view point that is antithetical to mine and which I historicially would have dismissed as reactionary, uncaring and lacking compassion.
I know that good people can disagree about important issues- but in this highly partisan world, we often forget that. My two friends have reminded me about this and inspired me to really dive into an issue where I know we disagree.
Blogging has been an interesting journey for me. It has been an intensely personal journey in a very public setting. My blogging has given me clarity on my own positions while also giving me more respect for views that are counter to my own. Moreover- I have found some of the responses to my blog pieces that have been posted here to be provocative and they have made me think my positions and opinions even more- always further defining my own my mind.
Over the past year, I have posted tens of thousands of words in 83 articles (including this one) and have had more than 70 comments posted from various readers- some supportive of my views, others that aren’t and some that are quasi-supportive. There have been over 7,100 hits and I think that the article with the most readership has been Hate Speech and Prejudice in America: The Famous and the Media- Hypocrisy, Hype and Nothing Accomplished with well over 500 readers of that specific piece. I have no real expectations for developiong a regular readership, but I am honored that I have developed some tiny group of folks who regularly read my writing on this site.
Occasionally I have ventured into topics that are not political- such as opera and (shocking to those who know me) World Cup Soccer! A few posts were in my area of expertise of HIV/AIDS issues and a few were personal reflections stemming from my own life. But by in large- issues that have been covered in the news media are the central focus on this blog.
I hope that The Alligator has been able to be provocative for those that visit the site. I know that for me- it has been and continues to be an exercise in developing my own viewpoints and exercising my brain and providing me the sense of grounded decision making regarding my own politics.