Argo and My Eclectic Friends

I have awesome friends. Regular readers will be familiar with Ashley, my partner in crime, but I am so blessed to have a plethora (how many piñatas would you say I have?) of dear friends. They come from different walks of life, but they have one thing in common — they all put up with me.

My teenage friend Madeline came to visit me in Boston this past weekend. She’s the daughter of lovely Hillary, and is a girl wonder. She’s visiting me from Dartmouth, where she’s currently studying French, humanities, and economics. I told you she was a girl wonder.

With the lovely Madeline

I’ve known Madeline since she was twelve, as my friend’s daughter and one of my kids’ favorite babysitters. I’ve loved watching her grow up, and now I consider her a friend of mine in her own right.

Meanwhile, I have this other good friend Justin. He’s a decade-plus older than me, male, and Mormon. I know, by all accounts, it doesn’t make sense, but for some reason we click as friends and work really well together as colleagues. He and I are both in Boston for Romney right now — he crunches numbers and I write about them. Basically.

I’ve talked to Madeline and Justin about each other, but they’ve never met, because why would they have? They live in different parts of the country and have nothing in common but me. Which brings us to this past weekend in Boston.

Justin and I took Madeline to dinner at The Melting Pot, because we both remember what it was like to be a poor college student and how NICE it was to be taken out for non-dorm food. She was instructed to pay it forward someday. Thankfully it was a much better experience than my 29th birthday party, and no knuckle hair was singed by the flambé.

Leif tries to steal my friends. *tries*

We also saw Argo, which I’ll talk about in a minute, but I have to comment on my sweet friends first. Justin walked us back to my apartment, because it was late and dark, and he’s a gentleman. Madeline and I said goodbye, and as soon as he was out of earshot, she said, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE Justin! I totally get it now — he’s awesome!”

Meanwhile, Justin texted me, “Oh my gosh, Madeline is amazing! So bright and beautiful and always beaming … I totally get it now!”

My response to both — “I know, right??”

I may have an eclectic mix of friends, but they make me happy, and I’m so glad when they get to mix and mingle and end up liking each other.

So now back to this movie. If you get a chance, y’all should go see Argo. It’s the story of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, and if you’re informed about politics in the Middle East, just put your hands over your ears and close your eyes for the first five minutes and rest assure that the narrator gives the Hollywood-ized version of events leading up to the capture of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and dozens of Americans who were held hostage for over a year.

But whatever. If we boycotted every movie that glossed over complicated political situations (especially when it might be Jimmy Carter’s fault), we’d have nothing to watch.

During the riot in which the Iranians took over the embassy, six Americans escaped and hid out with the Canadians for a while. This super smart CIA rescuer guy, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) came up with this insane plot to rescue them and get them back to America — by pretending to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a new movie called Argo.

I’m sure lots of liberty was taken in the retelling, but it was a good nail-biting adventure, and the end will make you feel all gooey and sappy for America.

So … I Went to Mormon Church.

There's a basketball court in there. No joke.

I figured what with a Mormon on his way to the White House and all, it might be an interesting and hopefully insightful experience to visit a worship service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So I did what I usually do when I have a Mormon-y question, and asked Justin to take me.

So last Sunday we set out for an LDS sacrament meeting. That’s apparently what it’s called – not worship service. No big, just vernacular so far.

Mormons are nice, y’all. I know we’re not supposed to lump groups of people together and label them, but I’ve never come across a not-nice Mormon. Like most religions, there’s a good mix of young, old, white, black (and everything in between), tall, short, fat, thin, smart and not so smart … but they’re all freaking nice.

Oh, and they have a lot of kids, too. You have heard about the five Romney boys and the 18 Romney grandkids, right? It’s a stereotype for a reason, people.

Since Mormons are so nice, I met several people before the service meeting even started. A lot of college and grad students at the Cambridge ward (I think that’s the word for congregation?) in Massachusetts.

Before I forget, I’ll add a side note: While we walking to church, we passed a Starbucks and decided we were hungry. Neither of us had coffee. Justin had apple cider or something because Mormons don’t drink coffee, and I had my usual chai tea latte – no wait – I had a skinny salted caramel mocha. Never mind. I was going to say I was well on my way to the full Mormon experience of no coffee, but no. Move along, nothing to see here …

Photographic Evidence

Back to the church part – I met lots of nice people. The sanctuary (meeting room?) had pews a lot like ours. There was a big indoor basketball court in the middle of the building. Justin told me every ward (stake? Which one is the building and which one is the congregation?) has one.

The meeting was called to order, there was a prayer, and we sang a song out of the hymnal. I was pleased to discover it was just as abysmal as some of the ones in our Psalter. Loooong and in a key no one but Justin and a couple others could hit. Dude can sing. I mouthed the words. Everyone there silently thanked me without knowing it.

Then there was communion. I had asked ahead on the procedure for that, because at my church, you have to get permission from the elders before service if you’re not a member. In the United Reformed Church, you may only take communion if you’re a member of a gospel-preaching church and under the spiritual care of church leadership. Some churches leave this up to the individual’s conscience, but our particular congregation asks you to talk to someone first.

Anyway, Justin had said it was fine, but I felt weird about it because it’s such a sacred thing at our church, so I passed. But I’ll tell you about it anyway, because if you’ve read this far, you’re probably as fascinated by the LDS church as I am and are dying to know more.

First- the kids take communion. Justin says it doesn’t mean anything until they’re eight and baptized. All Mormons get baptized at eight in the way that babies are baptized in Calvinism and Baptists when they make a profession of faith. I got to go to a Mormon baptism once when one of Thing 1’s friends invited us to attend hers, and it was super cool. Maybe I’ll tell you about it some time.

Second- they passed it around and everyone sat in their seats and partook immediately rather than waiting and doing it together as a congregation.

Third- most, if not all reformed churches I’ve been to offer grape juice as an alternative to the wine. I figured that would be the case. Nope! It was water. Jesus turned the water to wine and the Mormons turned it back again. Go figure.

After communion, there were three “talks” that definitely weren’t sermons. And two of them were given by WOMEN. Soooooo weird for me to see women up at the podium, addressing the congregation at a Sunday worship service sacrament meeting. That does not happen in the URC. Not even a little bit.

Now let’s discuss these talks, mmmkay? They were really great. Super motivational, well thought out, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Totally not sermons. “When do you do exegesis??” I whispered to Justin.

“Exe-what-us?”

“Exegesis! When the pastor takes a section of scripture and interprets it…”

Totally forgot that Mormons don’t have pastors in the way that evangelicals think of pastors. We only stayed for the first hour, and apparently Sunday School is where scripture study comes in, so I may have to go back sometime just to see what it’s like.

The other thing about the talks: I felt kinda like I was at a motivational conference. I wanted to clap for the speakers when they were finished, and I half expected them to take a bow. Like I said, they were definitely not sermons in the sense that I think of them.

Overall, I’m glad I went. Justin likes to tease me that he’ll make a Mormon out of me yet. That’s usually right before I punch him in the neck and tell him I’d get kicked out so fast it would be the shortest-lived Mormon membership in LDS history. I don’t know if y’all know this, but I really enjoy wine. Plus that whole continuing revelation thing that I don’t believe in.

I might will never be a Mormon. But they’re not scary. They don’t worship weird things, they don’t judge others (as a group, at least … I can’t account for every individual church member), and they are welcoming and friendly. They’re family oriented, but don’t disallow divorce. They honor mothers that stay home with the kids and the ones that work outside the home with equal regard.

They’re good people, y’all.

I gotta say one more thing before I leave this subject alone for the moment: MORMONISM IS NOT A CULT. I’d encourage anyone considering not voting for Mitt Romney because of his Mormon faith to go check out an LDS service meeting.

And try not to be as ginormous a dork as me telling everyone, “This is my first time!”

Oh, and if you ever want to check out a reformed church to see what my typical Sunday morning consists of, drop me a line and I’ll find you one in your area. We serve wine for communion. Just saying.

The Time I Met Matthew Broderick

I’m in New York City for the first time in my entire life, and I’m loving it. I was trying to describe it to Leif over the phone, and it pretty much came out in one big breath, “Ohmygosh I love it! There’s so much to see and do and there are so many interesting people to watch, and there are smells of food and flowers, and everything buzzes with noise and life and you’d absolutely hate it.”

It’s true. He really would. He doesn’t like crowds and he’s allergic to flowers. Sometimes opposites attract, ok?

Anyway. I’m in the city sans Leif for the Personal Democracy Forum, which is a conference about technology in politics. Totally up my alley. But this post is not about technology or politics, or even my husband’s environmental tastes and preferences, it’s about Matthew Broderick and the most uncomfortable celebrity photo in the history of cameras.

I was walking through the theater district with my friend Justin Hart, looking for someplace to eat, when he slowed down and hissed, “Look!” There was a couple taking a photo, but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Jenny, look!” Ok, fine, I gave a second glance, because Justin was really very much way too excited about these people posing for pictures.

Oh, hello. That’s Ferris Bueller. Except way older. It happens to the best of us Matthew, don’t sweat it. He also didn’t look like he was too pleased to be taking the picture with the pretty girl posing with him, so I was content to just pass him by.

“Hi Matthew! What’s happening? Would you mind stopping for one more picture with my friend Jenny?” I know Justin might deny this, but I swear he shoved me into Mr. Broderick’s personal space as he pulled his camera out.

“Uh, hi …” What was I supposed to say? I’m sorry my friend made you do this, and don’t worry because I will probably punch him in the neck later for making my face turn the same color as my very red dress?

Then to make matters worse, my celebrity photo mate made his displeasure known by rolling his eyes and saying, “Fine. It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

I look like I want to cry. Or murder Justin. One or the other.

“Oh come on, she’s a pretty girl, posing for a picture with her can’t be that bad!” Yup. ‘Physically harm Justin’ was rapidly moving to the top of my to-do list. Because he totally said that. To the man married to Sarah Jessica Parker.

Le sigh.

At least I got this picture out of it, which I have fondly titled, In Which Matthew Broderick and I Are Incredibly Annoyed at Justin Hart.

 

Politics in Action at the 2012 AAPC Pollie Awards

I was in Austin for a few days, attending the 2012 American Association of Political Consultants Pollie Awards and annual conference. Remember a few weeks ago when I went to San Francisco and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to talk with the California Republican Party (CRP) ‘establishment’?

Yeah, that was a walk in the park in terms of comfort zones compared to this shindig. This is the kind of event that honors James Carville. In fact, it’s the exact kind of event that honors James Carville, because the Ragin’ Cajun was inducted into the AAPC Hall of Fame, alongside Paul Begoda and Karl Rove. Eclectic group, huh?

At grassroots/activist events, the conference goers are all on fire for America, because … the Constitution! I love these people. They are my homeys. At the CRP thing in San Francisco, I mostly saw the same sort of the thing, just with titles like ‘GOP County Chair’ instead of ‘Beginner Blogger.’ I won’t pretend to equate that with all CRP things, and I especially can’t speak for GOP events in other states. I’m guessing the GOP varies greatly from California to Texas to New York to Vermont.

Republicans in Vermont. *snort*

Anyway. This was a whole new ballgame. These were … political consultants. What the heck do political consultants do? They help candidates win. Well, the good ones do, anyway.

It would be awesome if elections and campaigns were all about the message, the integrity of the candidate, and doing what’s best for our communities and country as a whole. The reality is, as my friend Brittany Cohan likes to say, is that politics is a game.

Only one thing wins elections – votes. Elections are number games. How many registered voters are in the constituency? How many voters intend to vote this cycle? How have they voted in the past? Can their vote be counted on? What’s it going to take to win the votes? It doesn’t matter if you’re the second coming yourself, if you don’t get the votes, you don’t win the election.

If politics is a game, and the candidate is the starting pitcher or the star quarterback, then the consultant is the coach. That’s a pretty loose analogy, especially given my (extremely) limited knowledge of sports, but it’s just something to give you a little bit of a picture of what happens in campaigns.

Maybe the candidate is the team owner … someone is going to have to help me out with my sports analogies…

The consultants analyze the numbers and come up with a strategy to win the votes. That’s why Karl Rove is always going on Fox News with his whiteboard and talking numbers. I’ve always understood that this is how it works, but it was cool to watch the really real professionals at work.

Because I was in Austin, Ashley Sewell drove in from Fort Worth. Because, duh, it’s Jenny and Ashley. Since Ms. Sewell and I were together in Texas, our favorite former Texas Railroad Commissioner and current congressional candidate Michael Williams met us for drinks. Since I was in Austin in the first place because Justin Hart brought me out to do some social media stuff and meet with some people, he joined up with us too. Then Justin’s CEO Ravi Singh stopped by to say hello, and he got to talking to Michael about his campaign.

Ravi’s company, ElectionMall, does this really cool Campaign Cloud thing. They got together with Microsoft to create this service that organizes campaign tools (social media, blast emails, donor lists, etc.), and makes them accessible through one login. They pretty much rule when it comes to managing campaign technology.

The conversation went something like this:

“Tell me about the race – what’s the seat?”

“U.S. Congress. District 33.”

“What’s the breakdown?”

“New seat. One of the four that Texas picked up in the census. The area voted for McCain in 2008.”

“How many candidates?”

“Eleven.”

“Ouch.”

“I know.”

“Ok, well how many votes do you need to win?”

Then they talked about some different strategies to get the vote out, how they could win over the independents, and how they could get sometimes voters to commit to going to the polls on Election Day. It was totally fascinating to watch, and a good reminder that if we want to win races and send conservative politicians to Washington, we have to play the game.

We need more than solid candidates. We need effective strategies and tools to gain supporters and get them to the polls on Election Day. That’s how we win.

Jenny Erikson Radio Show – Episode 0020

In which I talk to new media political guru Justin Hart and Florida law chick Sarah Rumpf.