Book Review: Parlor Politics by Catherine Allgor

In her book Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, Catherine Allgor does exactly what the reader expects her to do. She goes through several examples, the most detailed of which is Dolly Madison, of women who were equally as influential in Washington D.C. and its evolution of the city Americans see as their capitol today. Allgor limits her study of the women of Washington to the white, upper class in order to more accurately describe a certain, powerful section of the private sphere. Catherine Allgor points out that those working behind the scenes in Washington, the wives of the men with the power, were just as integral to the development of the city and the government as the men they were married to.

Allgor does a lovely job of describing how un-lovely Washington D.C. was in its earliest days. People who were traveling into the city often asked where it was when in fact they were standing at the heart of it. It was up to both the men and women of Washington society to create the society the city is now famous for as well as to create the base of what would be an incredibly strong government. The gender role reversal that Allgor describes is what allowed this to happen. She argues that the ones doing all of the political work was the women, while the men maintained the image of disinterestedness and attempted to avoid corruption. The women were the ones forming the groups and campaigning on behalf of their husbands or brothers attempting to gain them positions of power. They often hosted lavish dinner parties and social gatherings and passed them off as such instead of the political escapades that they really were.

One of the biggest aspects of Allgor’s argument is that gender as a societal construction functioned as an ideology. It “can be manipulated and shifted to help shift mechanisms of power” (http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5033). Seeing it as an ideology allows gender to be a driving force behind the development of Washington as a hot bed of political gossip, power and ideas. Due to the actions of the women of Washington and their lobby groups and their use of the private and public sphere to manipulate American politics, the politics of the city became based upon networking and allegiance to certain people. The women that Allgor describes use their domestic role in the home and the nature of their role in society to establish a culture in American politics that remains even to this day.

Allgor’s argument is very well supported. Not only has she analyzed the women who have always been thought of as politically influential, first ladies Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison but sisters of politicians and women such as Margaret Bayard Smith, who while not the wife of any president, got swept up in the whirlwind that was the structure of Washington society. She explains in the first chapter, how important the relationships in Washington were and how politics and ideas were constantly the talk of the town. She describes how, despite its unfinished architecture and small town feeling, Washington was charming in its own way and had the beauty of an old European city. Allgor provides a plethora of evidence to support her story and her argument. She provides detailed diaries of the women that she profiles as well as detailed accounts of the parties that they hosted at their homes. She sorts through the tedious accounts of the lives of the women constantly portrayed in the shadow of their historically famous husbands. She does this in order to get to the bottom of their influence over Washington and how they managed to acquire such an amount of indirect power.

I am quite convinced by Allgor’s argument. Based upon her evidence and her examples of influential women presented as part of the argument, I do not feel that Washington could have prospered into the flowering political center of American culture without their feminine touch. I believe that if the men were expected to keep up the persona of being disinterested in politics and keeping up this appearance in the public sphere, then it was only natural that the women took over in the private sphere and managed to reach their influence into the public sphere as well. However, while the book is well researched and well supported, Allgor does not try particularly hard to stay objective. She clearly supports the women and appreciates the fact that they challenged their typical small town domestic role. They were afforded the opportunity presented by the unique development of the nation’s capitol to express their opinions to one another and put their ideas into practice via the influence they had over their husbands.

Allgor’s presentation of a different outlook on the development of political life in Washington allows for a much deeper understanding of the Founding Fathers. For example, while John Adams was an influential man on his own and in his own right, in accordance with Allgor’s argument, Abigail Adams was a huge influence over his political behavior and was as much a presence in his presidency as he was. Allgor does a great job of exploring different presidents from different eras of early America. She enables a student of early American history to examine how Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams, Peggy Eaton affected Washington politics, both for the better and for worse. While Louisa Catherine Adams and Dolly Madison were a political force in the betterment of Washington, Peggy Eaton, while she was in a position to take on a position of power in Washington, fell prey to the other women of Washington. She was judged by society of Washington for acting as a femme fatale; she was in the position to take on most of the feminine power in Washington, due to the widowed state of the President. The Washington gossip circles engulfed her and called her such names as a tart and other insults not commonly used in civilized society.

Allgor presents a compelling argument that as important as the founding fathers were to the development of Washington politics, their wives and the other women of the Washington lobbying circles, were equally important. Some of the most prominent women making a difference in the newborn capitol were Dolly Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams and Peggy Eaton. However, the women on the sidelines of politics were equally important. Their actions surrounding politics enabled their husbands to maintain the public demeanor of disinterestedness in politics, while they promoted their husbands through indirect political actions and appearing as politically supportive wives to the most powerful men in the country. “Remember the ladies” Abigail Adams remarks, and Allgor allows the reader to understand not only that they should be remembered but what they are to be remembered for.

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Hiatus…Sorry About That!

Hey readers! Sorry about that ridiculously long hiatus I accidentally went on! I received a full time employment position and needed to learn how to balance that out with everything else in my life including a side part time job teaching dance! But fear not friends, I am still here and I intend to continue blogging! If you have been following my twitter or instagram, you can see that I have been plenty active in the Disney Parks community! I will be giving the world a blog dedicated purely to my Disney adventures shortly! Thanks for hanging in there if you did and if you didn’t I totally understand! I shall be posting a book review of a book I read ages ago later tonite, so stay tuned and keep Sifting Through Shelves!

Remember Remember the 5th of November…is actually a British Holiday…

This is the one day of the year where every person who has seen V for Vendetta thinks they know about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot…and most people I speak to..don’t.

So…let me explain.

The Gunpowder Plot took place in 1605 when a group of 13 Catholics led by a man by the name of Robert Catesby, decided that James I was treating the Catholic people of England no better than the previous monarch, Elizabeth I, who persecuted Catholics. So naturally these 13 men decided that an act of terrorism would definitely be the way to go to get their point across. They didn’t like being persecuted so…why not blow up Parliament and the King as well? Well…that escalated quickly…

To carry out their plan, the conspirators got their hands on 36 barrels of gunpowder…hence the name Gunpowder Plot. They stored it in a cellar just under the House of Lords and were planning to ignite it…blowing up the building as they did. However one way or another (some suggest that the King’s officials knew about the plot already and some others say that one of the conspirators sent a letter to a member of the House of Lords) Unfortunately for our friend Guy Fawkes, who was one of the conspirators, he was the one standing in the cellar with the gunpowder when the King’s officially stormed in and found him. He was captured, tortured to give up the names of the other traitors as well as his own confession and later killed by being hung, drawn and quartered in the Tower of London.

Despite the fact that the traitors’ attempt to blow Parliament sky high was foiled by the royal authorities…the reigning monarch in the Great Britain only enters Parliament once per year, during the opening ceremony, and when they do, the building is thoroughly searched before hand.

November 5 has since become known as Bonfire Night in the Great Britain. It is often asked with a tongue in cheek attitude, whether the people of the Great Britain are celebrating the failure of the plot or the attempt itself. The citizens of Great Britain have huge bonfires where they burn “Guys” meant to look like Guy Fawkes to celebrate the failure of the plot. Fireworks displays are also common.

So..as you can see, the connection to V for Vendetta (the loose comic book film adaptation) is loose if that. Basically V, the main character wear a Guy Fawkes mask in order to remain anonymous in his attempt to overthrow the fascist government that has over taken 2020s UK. He uses Guy Fawkes as a face to attach his idea to that the government must be overthrown…by violence. He explains his plot by saying “Remember Remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot, I can think of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” People tend to cling to the idea of the movie and of the holiday without remembering that the main character believes that blowing up buildings full of people is the way to get what you want. Following in the footsteps or brainwaves of V or of Guy Fawkes is very dangerous. While V may have been inspired by Guy, he hides behind the identity of a failed terrorist and allows his followers to do the same. The anonymous movement on the internet has also occasionally used the mask as their symbol. Don’t don the mask if you don’t know what it represents. I agree that V for Vendetta is an excellent and thought provoking film, even if its connection to the real historical event is a bit loose. The terrorists of 1605 weren’t anonymous and they were terribly punished for their treason. If you watch the film knowing the context of the mask, they are really quite different. One inspired the other but that’s really all. Enjoy the movie though! I will be celebrating Bonfire night with a Sparkler bath bomb from the originally British company Lush, the bath bomb was inspired by the bonfires that are set on 11/5. Happy Guy Fawkes day everyone! I’ve posted some informational links below!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_for_Vendetta_(film)

http://www.bonfirenight.net/gunpowder.php

Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom of Action: What the First Amendment Actually Means

So, as student of history and hence a student of the US Constitution, one of the things that literally makes me hate the education that children are receiving and truly believe that people have lost the ability to synthesize information is the defense of a stupid or hateful comment with the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.gkVkgFxQ.dpuf

IMG_0023The first amendment is by far the most far reaching amendment and the most widely incorrectly cited. You can’t just say something awful and say “It’s free speech.” when someone tells you you’re being a moron. Free speech does not actually mean that you can say whatever you want without consequence. It means you have the right to say it, but it does not excuse you from the repercussions of that statement. For instance, the first amendment does not entitle you to say something racist at work and not be fired for it. Your employer has the right to fire you for slander of either the person you said it about or the company itself.

The first amendment also protects the rights of the press. Journalists who report the truth. The “press” should not really encompass the people who are ruining the lives of actors and artists for their own public gain. Just because the story makes money for your magazine, doesn’t mean it should be published. Do you think the founding fathers of America believed that the internet would be a thing when they were sitting in Independence Hall screaming at one another in the hot Philadelphia summer? Do you think they felt that it was necessary to ask themselves “How does this right work IMG_1819for the press when they want to slander the lives of famous people?” NO! BECAUSE NO ONE CARED! They, unlike people of today, realized that artists, politicians, and “famous” people are…people, fellow human beings. I’m not saying that people in the public eye should not be held accountable for their actions. EVERYONE SHOULD BE! AND IT’S NOT HAPPENING! Rights from the Constitution and its amendments can be employed in as much as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. I would say publishing nude photos of actresses because you hacked into their computer (whether in the cloud or otherwise) is infringing on their right to the pursuit of happiness, their right to privacy and is theft of their private property. I realize that the internet has truly changed the world and questions the rules in play. Just as I have the right to write this blog, someone has the right to say that I’m wrong if they think I am. We have the right to have the discussion but if that discussion leads to illegal action, that’s where we run into a serious problem.

I think the internet and social media have blurred the line between freedom of speech and freedom of action (which is not a fundamental right, you cannot simply do whatever you want, that would lead to anarchy and things like the Purge…tread carefully). Continuing with the use of the nude photo leak example, if you went to someone’s house and stole nude photos of them and published them in a magazine, that’s not freedom of the press, that’s theft and that journalist would be arrested for stealing and trespassing onto private property. So…what’s the difference between that and committing the same crime digitally. Just because it’s there and you want it, does not entitle you to take it. And with free speech, just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it. You can, that’s a right provided to you by the government, AND ONLY THE GOVERNMENT, but it doesn’t protect you from the response and reactions of others.

IMG_1810I think this age of individualism is actually really dangerous and the internet has given us a mask to hide behind, our keyboards. You can do a lot of damage from behind those keyboards. You can spread hate and that’s not the intent of the right to free speech. The right to free speech should be used for good and to protect yourself and your ideas. Also, remember that private entities, not owned by the government, do actually have the ability to restrict what you say. For example, if you are found out to be sending hate mail on a website like tumblr, youtube, Facebook and twitter, your account can be deleted and you will be reported. We seem to have, as a culture, lost the ability to care about the greater good and are only out for the private good and not the public good. This is VERY BAD! While there are amazing organizations that are doing the right thing and joining together to promote the public good, there are a lot of stupid people who are only looking out for the interests of themselves as individuals. Where is that going to lead us?! It’s going to lead us down a seriously dangerous path and we will lose the collaborative spirit that made this country amazing in it’s early years. Look back in history, amazing things happen when people come together for the good of the public and sometimes that means sacrificing a small private want in order to accomplish something much more amazing.

Think before you open your mouth to speak or hit the keys on your keyboard, take five seconds to make sure that you are saying something worth saying. Don’t just speak to speak, say something with purpose. Say something educated and intelligent. Make sure you aren’t saying something inaccurate and stupid. Sometimes ranting in cathartic, sometimes it’s dangerous and inaccurate driven only by misunderstanding, hatred and anger. Just something to think about…keep sifting through shelves.

A Response to John Green’s “I Hate Batman” video

 

So this is where I say…he’s right you know. And he is, Batman/Bruce Wayne is a fundamentally bad billionaire. I’m not going to repeat the entirety of the content of the video, you can watch it yourself.

I would like to point out that the origin story of Batman is where it all starts to go downhill for Batman. I’ve seen Batman Begins and I’ve read a lot of comics, Gotham is a seriously damaged city and the Wayne Family uses their money to try to help fix that damage, clearly not well enough though because the very crime that they are doing so much to stop at its core is what ends up killing the Wayne parental units in the first place. This makes Batman a seriously sad and damaged person. This is understandable, seeing ones parents shot dead in front of them would do bad things to a person psychologically. This is when therapy should have been an order. Seriously…MAD BAT PHOBIA…but I digress. There are all sorts of psychological problems in Gotham and mob affiliations and this is clearly leading to the crime ridden state that Gotham has found itself in. If the city took a turn toward ultimate decay after the Wayne parents were killed…the city had problems bigger than were being addressed. Meanwhile, Batman is using his new found wealth as an adult to go off an become a martial arts master, which was probably very therapeutic, clearly not therapeutic enough but still. He also could have definitely done this within the United States and did not need to fly to Asia for it.

Basically, as John said, what makes Batman a bad villain is that he uses his money to make himself technologically superior to others when he could be putting that money into the good of the city. Taking the entire crime ridden state of a city on on your own is never going to fix the city. You have to fix the problems that cause the crime and the psychosis in the city, not just punish the bad guys. You can’t just fight it, you have to fix it. The people of Gotham are clearly incredibly weak and damaged if they are willing to follow people like the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin. Some of the other villains are just silly, but most are psychologically disturbed. He’s a bad hero. I’m not saying that Batman never did anything for charity, but he didn’t do quite enough. He’s a damaged individual with a grudge and nothing particularly special about him, except his wealth. He does a poor job of living up to his parents’ legacy. Is it his fault that in the years required for him to grow up, Gotham took a turn for the worst and turned into a crime ridden city of urban decay? Obviously not. But…he didn’t fix the problem when he definitely could have. Did the mob infiltration of the government of Gotham put it past the point of no return? Maybe it did. But…had Bruce Wayne gone to school for law and become involved in the politics of Gotham, he could have done significantly more good than he did as a vigilante. His last name was incredibly powerful and he essentially didn’t use that to his advantage.

I do want to elaborate on John’s contradiction to himself, Iron Man. In the beginning of his journey, Iron Man is only slightly better than Batman. His power stems from a device he uses to stay alive and he chooses to do mostly good with it. He shares it with the public within reason, once it begins being used for bad, that’s where Tony has a problem with sharing his technology. He does allow it to be used for the good of the public, but again within his control. The government basically employs Tony’s technology, at benefit to Tony’s bank account and the city of New York. He uses the Iron Man Suit to increase the power of the core and do good for the public. The public that Iron Man is protecting is also fundamentally different from the public of Gotham. The public of the Marvel Iron Man universe is not broken almost past the point of repair. It’s not full of completely off the handle psychos that can’t be stopped in their rampage of pointlessly killing people for fun. Most of Tony Stark’s villains are out to get Tony, not the public. I understand that some of Batman’s villains are out to get Batman himself, they do a lot of damage to Gotham itself in the process and some Marvel villains do the same. John Green points out that the greatest good comes from collaboration. In the case of the Iron Man saga, this is totally true. When a greater evil than Iron Man can handle attacks the people of Earth, collaboration of the members of the Avengers is what saves the world, not any one of the heroes on their own. (I should add that I do know that Batman joins the Justice League, though I’m not as familiar with his Justice League story). I realize that this is only the beginning of a long and complicated conversation about the root of evil action and how to combat that evil. Please, discuss among yourselves. I will keep the conversation going as I think the correlation between entertainment and why people like it is important. I think if we think of Batman as an ultimate good, we are a seriously misled people. Keep on sifting through shelves.

Aldi Food Markets

So this morning when I realized that it had been quite some time since I had gone food shopping and my cupboards were quite empty, I decided to make a financially savvy decision and head to my “local” Aldi Food Market. I say “local” because it’s almost 20 minutes away from my apartment as opposed to the Publix which is about 3 minutes away.

I arrived at Aldi and realized that due to the fact that I don’t carry cash on my person, I did not have the quarter necessary to rent a cart…so I had to carry all the things I was intending on purchasing, which made for a very sad looking version of myself constantly dropping things. But I thought to myself, “hey, live and learn, bring a quarter next time”. By about 30 minutes in, I had acquired enough food that I needed to check out or I was literally going to drop everything and look like a fool. So I approach the checkout and I got everything on the belt and scanned and the gentleman at the checkout asked how I wanted to pay, as I wasn’t getting paid until Thursday and this was a Tuesday, I said credit. He said they could only take debit or cash…this is where I kinda mentally lost it. I had driven out of my way to go to a store marketed to people on a budget and I couldn’t use my credit card. This was baffling to me. I later found out it was because of credit card fees charged to the store for each credit transaction but I was still seriously frustrated and “hangry” (a term for being angry because you are hungry, a symptom of my low blood sugar). What made me even more annoyed was that if I had attempted to use food stamps, which I am not on, I could have paid with those… I have good enough credit to have a credit card but I can’t use it because I’m on a tight budget. The paradox was just too much for me to handle in my hypoglycemic rage. He asked if I had a debit card. I said, “Yes I do, but I need the money to pay my rent this month. I guess I will be going to Publix after all.” And with that I left the store empty handed. I said I knew I had used a card there before, it must have been my debit card, I guess. Now I know part of my irritated state at the store was caused by the fact that it had been too long since I had eaten, but none the less, I was annoyed. I did end up going to Publix, “where shopping is a pleasure”. And it was, the people were all very nice and the manager walked me and my groceries out to my car, but I still ended up spending 2x as much as I had wanted to in order to fill my cabinets. I was majorly conflicted. I guess now I know that I can’t use a credit card at Aldi and I have to bring a quarter in order to use a cart and I have to have my own bags if I don’t want to pay for them. (This I agree with, as I think people use WAY too much plastic to transport their groceries and I usually have my own bags anyway, the quarter for the cart is to keep them out of the parking lot, which I also understand now, I just wish I had known). I just wanted to make all of this known to other people who are on a tight budget so that the next time you go to Aldi, you don’t get caught off guard like I was and have the same terribly unpleasant experience.

Was this a serious case of first world problems just piling up to make for a bad experience? Yes, but nonetheless, I was annoyed. Next time you go to Aldi, you better go with the knowledge that with the cheap prices, comes providing your own bag, temporarily paying for your cart and using cash or debit. I’ll step down from my soapbox now and put my life back in perspective, I was able to get food and eat that day, so in the grand scheme of things, I’m doing just fine.  Keep sifting through shelves!

It’s a Small World

 

Sun collage It's a small world

I will always defend the truth in this song. It was written by the Sherman brothers for the 1964 World’s Fair and it rings with truth now as it did then. The world is, if it could be, smaller now than it was then. Social media has made connection with everyone who uses it instantaneous. The distance between myself and friends in the UK is nothing with Twitter, Instagram and Skype. The oceans only divide us physically and everyone sees the same sun, moon and stars, but what makes people amazing is how we can all see the same thing so differently. This point is made fabulously in the It’s a Small World attraction by showing a different representation of the sun in every area of the world that your boat goes through. With every day the world gets smaller. It was massive when we had to travel it on foot, it was huge when we had to travel it by train, carriage, car and boat. Now that there are planes and the internet, we can get anywhere we want in as little as the time it takes to Skype a friend, turn on a Youtube video, log in to Twitter or Facebook or the length of a plane ride. I could hop on a plane now and be in Japan by tomorrow if I wanted to. This used to be impossible less than a century ago. Think about that for a second. The world is a paradox, it’s so big that some of us only hope we get to see a fraction of it, yet it’s so small in that we can travel it in an instant from the comfort of our own homes. As the Sherman brothers said, this song is a prayer for peace. It’s a small world, and it gets smaller every day, coexistence and peace and harmony are crucial and yet still seem to evade us. I can only hope that eventually, the prayer for peace is answered with harmony between the people of this very small and ever shrinking world.

“It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears

It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.

There’s so much that we share

That it’s time we’re aware

It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all (3x)

It’s a small, small world

There is just one moon and one golden sun

And a smile means friendship to everyone

Though the mountains are wide

And the oceans divide

It’s a small world after all…”

Keep sifting through shelves, it’s one of the best ways to explore the small world, after all.