Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Leading up to last night's Democratic caucus in New Paltz, I read so many polemics that I had to look the word it up make sure it really meant what I thought it did.  It did.  These attacks were lobbed at candidates I support, candidates I don't support, candidates I don't give a hoot about either way, and anyone perceived as having an opinion about anything, which could be inferred by as small an action as clicking a "like" button on Facebook.

This kind of communication accomplishes nothing of real value, of course.  In a community of this size, the people attacked regularly run into their attackers at My Market or Health-Carrot-Nutrition, making for awkward avoidance schemes.  Even if your candidates of choice win in an election, the wounds fester and lead to vengeance candidates being launched against them.

I am irritated to the point of ranting about this sort of thing, which any thoughtful person knows is a sure sign that I am as guilty as any of those there idiots.  It's irritating mostly because the people launching the attacks are desperate to shunt others into, well, "the other."  Two years ago some guy from Gardiner decided, based on my party registration alone, that I am a tool of planet-destroying evil, and still has no clue that I am a dirt-worshiping environmentalist who cares more about the environment than the majority of the present New Paltz Town Council.  He had to make me into the "other" because recognizing that people are complex makes polemics, and politics, harder.

What I'm waiting for is to be labeled part of the "Jason West cult" because I have, twice now, ripped into village board members known and unknown for nasty attacks.  Anyone who has mentioned the man's name around me in the last two years would quickly be disabused of that notion, or would be if their attack-mode brains could process more options than "yes" and "no."

I'm not the only target, and really I'm one of the least targets, but I'm an expert on me, so I'm the best example I have.  Of course, I spend less time pondering the impact of my words on others, so right now I'm going to rattle off a few thoughts that are decidedly not attacks.

  • Tom Nyquist has busted his butt making the bird sanctuary a gem.  If you haven't visited, you should.
  • I met Steve Auerbach for the first time last night.  He is thoughtful, well-spoken, and polite.
  • Bill Mulcahy draws political cartoons better than anyone in New Paltz, and expresses his views brilliantly in that format.  The New Paltz Times should pay him to do so.
  • If ever there is a serious threat to the environment, Susan Zimet is the kind of person I want in the trenches, because when there are battles and enemies and someone else calling the shots, no one can compare.
  • Jason West's knowledge of history and law should be cherished for the treasure they are.
  • Hector Rodriguez is an excellent parliamentarian.
Maybe we make out our neighbors to be pure evil because we feel bad voting against them otherwise, but we're grown-ups, and we live together.  Lying and polarizing is a short-term solution that makes for long-term problems.  Gossip and whisper campaigns are just as bad.  We need to recognize that all of our neighbors add something good to our community, and we need to be willing to look those neighbors in the eye and acknowledge when we don't agree.  

On Facebook, in the letters column, we are willing to speak our minds, but then we pretend that these aren't real life, and that those opinions we share have no impact.  They do.  If we would not say something to a person directly, we should not be typing it in a private email, or a public posting, or saying it to other people while clustered in the corner of our favorite wine bar.

New Paltz is a microcosm of this great nation of ours.  Let's try to remember that our community is filled with good, and that writing polemics is the very core of evil.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mayor West discloses he's bipolar . . . but to whom?

An article in the Times Herald-Record sports the ambiguous headline West discloses he suffers from bipolar disorder, which has caused several reactions of heartwarming support for his courageous admission around social media.  However, things are not what they seem.  The article states:

West sent an email to Village Board members Thursday, saying that he was diagnosed with the disorder in 2011.

He did not send an email to reporter Jeremiah Horrigan, nor did he post this information to Facebook, nor did he write a letter to the New Paltz Times.  What he did was explain to village board members why he was taking a leave of absence.

And somebody on that board shared the email with a reporter.

My feuds with Jason West are by no means private; he has been a real jerk to me without good reason, and he and I will never, ever be friends.  But this was a very low blow, and it offends me to the core.  I may not like the guy, but I like injustice a whole lot less.  That's why I scolded the village board for cutting his salary, even though I was offended by his raise.  That's why, when trustee Sally Rhoads whispered to me before that village board meeting that West had worked against my wife and I getting our sewer back, I dismissed it as the petty politics it was.  (I'm actually sure she was telling the truth, but Mrs. Rhoads is a strong woman, and if she'd cared about my family's welfare rather than its value as a political pawn, she could have overcome his resistance.)

We live in an purportedly enlightened society, but not so enlightened that some board member didn't think that the mayor having a mental illness would be news.  Point of fact, it's none of our damned business what the man struggles with; he can either do the job or he can't, and we get once chance every four years to evaluate our opinion on the matter.

As someone who has struggled with clinical depression for most of my life, I know that people are going to look at him differently.  He will see it, even if the people doing it don't.  We have a tendency to overcompensate when we don't understand a disability, which any chronic illness is, and it's even worse if that disability is invisible.

Bipolar disorder can well explain someone being a mind-blowingly rude jerk, just like depression can.  I've certainly ostracized my share of people when my chemistry is out of whack, but it's still my responsibility, and if I want to mend those bridges, I still need to do it the hard way.  Being bipolar doesn't excuse West for bad behavior, but it sure as hell isn't an excuse to treat him like crap, either.

I sincerely hope I didn't vote for the lowlife who told the press about this, but with my voting record, I probably did.