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Archive for November, 2011

Aren’t we just full of opinions? As a friend of mine wrote in her book: “[While} having  so  many  ways  to  bring  our  opinions  into  public discussion has been, on the whole, a terrific development… not all ideas are equal―equally valid, equally worthy, equally verifiable.” In a related article, she noted:the opportunity to comment doesn’t mean we’re required to put in our two cents, notwithstanding our collective compulsion to do so.” However, she also recognized that the horse is out of the barn (or maybe the train has left the station; you get the drift) when it comes to opinionating—many of us are likely to grab any and every opportunity to opine–the least we can do is make every attempt to make an expressed opinion as informed as possible.

My name is Nikki Stern and I approve this message. Okay, I wrote this message, in my book Because I Say So and in an article called “IMHO I bring this up because I’ve found myself this fall throwing opinions all over the place: on my blog, on Facebook, on the website I publish (Does This Make Sense) and, most recently, in the New York Times.

Opining on the Times website isn’t like opining on AOL. By and large, the commenters are smart, well-read and restrained in their responses (of course the Times screens the comments before publishing them, so perhaps I’m just not seeing the “!%$&@)%(*^*” versions that come into the editors’ inboxes. What this means is that if I have an impulse to comment, I know I’d better make sense. In part, it’s my ego at work: I don’t want appear to be a complete idiot. On the other hand, who’s going to remember commenter #49 on the recent Charles Blow or Frank Bruni op-ed? Exactly: no one. Still, I feel a certain responsibility to sound intelligent—to be intelligent.

Of course I’d like to attract a little attention on behalf of whatever I’m promoting (a book, a blog) before my comment scrolls by and disappears into the ethos. This can be achieved by obtaining “recommendations” which are garnered when the reader hits a little button at the end of the comment and which means said comment may be highlighted on the site. Gad, everything’s a competition these days!

The situation causes me to hesitate before I comment (a good thing), and then, if I decide to post my thoughts, I will write out and carefully proof them before I hit “send” (an even better thing). Sometimes, thanks to the unpredictability of the keyboard and the undeniable fact that my brain works faster than my fingers, I may end up with a typo. But my thoughts are nearly always clear.

I also read other comments on the post where I’ve left my comment but also on other pieces I find provocative (or pieces I don’t understand). If Paul Krugman tells me why the Euro is a terrible idea, I want to read what more knowledgeable people have to say on the subject. Granted, Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and some of the commenters don’t know the difference between a derivative and a derivation but I’m frequently surprised about the level of thought and intelligence that goes into the replies. At the very least, I get more background and more history.

I also read letters to the editor for my favorite magazines. Sometimes I try to read comments and letters in magazines I don’t care for,  like Reason Magazine (I don’t really dislike the magazine, but some of the articles in Reason–which purports to be a libertarian magazine–are pompous in the extreme); or letters in magazines I don’t care about. I love reading the letters section in New York Magazine because they aren’t simply letters but blog postings, tweets, passing comments—all reactions to the often provocative stories within. Like Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, the magazine makes a big deal out of noticing and promoting and replying to and arguing with the people who are noticing and replying to and arguing about something they read (which means they’re promoting it, of course).

Everyone has an opinion; no doubt about it. And everyone wants their opinions to count. One way to do that is to use your opinion as a way to start a conversation or encourage a response; to learn something from other opinionators; to practice writing clearly and concisely; to get better at framing an argument; to think, to review your own feelings about a topic, to get in the game. We might not all end up as recommended picks or one step closer to our own op-ed column, but we’ll be smarter commentators. And that means we’ll be smarter citizens.

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There’s something about those boys from New Jersey, right?

A little bit naughty, a little bit wild, and a whole lot of that special something that makes you want to stay close, even though you suspect he’s nothing but trouble. Even when you see where this is all going, even when you recognize how wrong he is and how foolish you are, you can’t let go.

I’m not talking about Bruce or Bon Jovi or even Frank: these are our icons. As for the swaggering beach bums, hot-shot lawyers and wanna-be Manhattan power-brokers, a smart Jersey girl knows what is what.  But then along comes one or two of these fellas, promising the moon–and you believe it. Or at least I did.

I guess that’s how these guys get elected.

Governor McGreevey–Jim–was a real charmer, with his ebullient manner and boyish grin. He’s just gotten married to a striking but reserved woman; had a baby daughter, and then,there he was: the young new governor of New Jersey. I was an emotionally roiled widow trying to keep busy. Jim offered me the opportunity by making me the Governor’s liaison to the 9/11 families.

Jim and I were once close

Sure, the pay was low, the hours were long and the clientele was demanding. But the perks turned my head: breakfast at the governor’s mansion, calls from his private cell phone, rides in the state limousine—once I was driven from a meeting in Manhattan to one in central New Jersey by state troopers slashing through rush-hour traffic at 100 mph, lights flashing and siren wailing. Turns out our state troopers liked to put the pedal to the metal.

I suspected Jim had a secret life, but I didn’t think it involved massively poor judgment until I learned that it did: he’d hired his male lover at an impressive salary to serve as director of security although the man had little experience save one mandatory stint in the Israeli Army. I watched the press conference, in which he announced he was a “gay American” and ignored the question of public salaries for unqualified friends, with sadness. I wanted him to call. Not long after his press conference, he separated from his wife, Dina. They wrote books, hers and his mortifyingly entitled The Confessionhe moved in with a new friend and studied to be an Episcopalian priest.

He never called again…and that hurt most of all.

Then there was the Senator who would be governor. Jon radiated quiet stability and good intentions.When he decided to run for governor, I was there, squirming at the obscene amounts of money going into the election (could several poor nations be sustained for that kind of cash?), but ever faithful. I was also there for his inaugural, and for  the fancy dress ball, during which time I got another big hug and a whispered admonition to “call and schedule a meeting,” and at his straightforward State of the State address, where he was applauded for his honesty.

Jon could be animated

Jon’s administration, including his communications department, was as closed as Jim’s had been open.  But I still believed in him—for a time.  I still accepted the hugs and got a little tingly when he reminded me that we were going to meet to talk about my working in his administration (I never reminded him that his people were stonewalling me). But I tried not to take it to heart: I knew it was never going to happen. Not that he didn’t need help: his public persona was taking a beating. Not that he didn’t need help: his public persona was taking a beating. He was accused of being indifferent, weak, out of touch and prone to making bad decision. Meanwhile his seatbelt-free accident (another hard-driving state trooper) and his post-divorce relationship with Carla, a powerful union leader and prototype Jersey Girl, were the kinds of incidents that were getting him press.

Carla, #1 Jersey Girl 

I ran into him just before he was soundly defeated in our last election. He seemed resigned to the possibility he might lose and talked about working as an Ambassador. He wanted, he said, to stay in public service.

Speaking of resignation: Jon left public life to return to the private sector that had earned him millions, although apparently not much of a reputation as a smart leader. Last week, following a scandal about missing money at  MF Global, the firm he headed for several years, Jon resigned, forgoing the 12 million dollar golden parachute. Although he is not suspected of misappropriating any funds, he stands accused in business circles of making supremely bad decisions.  Maybe we all did.

Jim, Jon…and don’t get me started on Bob, AKA “The Torch.”  These boys make it so hard to be a Democrat in New Jersey. You know what I’m sayin’.

Maybe that’s why I had my eye on Chris. I was careful; we came from different backgrounds, after all. Still, I warmed to his outgoing nature, I admired his spunk, I was willing to cut the guy some slack and see how he applied his independent spirit and can-do attitude to governing our troubled state. I was, for a brief moment, almost proud of a Jersey boy.

Christie-2Chris  finger-pointing

Shades of Rudy Giuliani! Turns out Chris is more pig-headed than tough; a bully, in fact, who enjoys talking tough and favors a sledgehammer where a paring knife might do. Although he began as a moderate, he’s been side-stepping to the right, more than willing to pander to his national party’s fringes to gain a platform. He also likes to flirt long and hard before letting his supporters down, but by the time he nearly ran as a Presidential primary candidate, I was so over him.

This week, I’ll be interviewing my local Congressman for Does This Make Sense. Rush is smart, compassionate, loyal and progressive.  Everyone around these parts loves him. I’m approaching cuatiously nonetheless. I can’t afford more heartbreak at the hands of another Jersey Boy.

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