No rest for the wicked or the innocent alike

In Judeo-Christian tradition, three days are set aside for the dead to find their way to heaven.  This is also a time for the families of the departed to grieve, but to grieve knowing that members of their family or community are guarding them against prying eyes or other grave-robbers in their moment of vulnerability while they deal with the tragedy that has befallen them.  The impulse is to put on a brave face for the public, to try to keep it together, as if one should be able to shrug off such a horrible loss with nothing more than a mannerly tear or two.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, and the generalized addiction America has to outrage, this period of grief has been streamlined to about three minutes.

Earlier today, a terrible tragedy befell a town in Connecticut.  A young man, for reasons unknown, stormed into an elementary school in Newtown and viciously murdered 26 people – twenty of those small children, none more than ten.  This is a monstrous act, and one that we may never be able to understand.  I want to make clear that my thoughts and prayers go out to all the families touched by this horrible act – whether their children lost there lives, or merely their innocence.

Within hours of the shooting, I received emails from two different political organizations asking for my help in using the tragedy to push through laws favoring strong gun control – and donations were more than welcome.  I also received email from an organization opposing gun control, asking for similar assistance.  I have no reason to believe this is the last I will hear of these requests, but the fact that they were sent out before the dead had even all been positively identified – that their deaths were being politicized even before their bodies had gone fully cold – is also a monstrous, ghoulish act.  Less than six hours after the shootings, Mark Kelly, who is familiar with tragedy, being the husband to former Congresswoman and shooting victim Gabby Giffords, issued a statement offering condolences to the families who lost children, and in the same breath calling for gun control hearings, saying “This can no longer wait.”

Forgive me for disagreeing with you, Mr. Kelly, but I think it could have waited at least a day.  I think it could have waited until the parents of the children that were lost had time to draw a breath that didn’t immediately catch in their throat.  I think it could have waited until the children who survived finished crying themselves to sleep.

I think it could have waited until the families had a little time to mourn.

We’ve become addicted to sensationalism – we’re obsessed with more, with bigger, with better.  This is the culture that produces interviews like WTNH’s Erin Logan interviewing a young girl who survived unharmed, asking her what it was like – and when the answer wasn’t as sensational as she wanted, as we have come to expect, prodded her further and asking if everyone was “…crying, scared, wanting their parents to come get them?”

Pardon the vulgarity, but what the hell do YOU think? Is it really good journalism to poke at a victim clearly in emotional shock, and demand to know just HOW freaked out everyone was? Do you really need to push a small child into making a horrible, terrible tragedy worse by recounting the screams and cries of terrified children?  Is it truly newsworthy that children in danger will be upset?

There’s a difference between reporting the news, and manufacturing the news – and inappropriate questions like that plainly cross the line.  It’s obvious that the children were terrified – what next, shall we ask for direct quotes of the screams?  Recordings of the crying?

When does it cross the line?  As far as I can see, that’s long past.  Let them react on their own schedule, Ms. Logan.  Don’t pry the gory details out of a child.  Don’t pick at the scab before it’s even started to form.


Rolling Jubilee

Recently, I read about the Rolling Jubilee – an offshoot of the OWS organization that focuses on buying up debt and forgiving it entirely – giving random Americans in crisis a surprise that could spell the difference between prosperity and a lifetime of poverty.  (News article here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9666748/Occupy-Wall-Street-campaigners-buy-up-debt-to-abolish-it.html , read more about the organization here http://rollingjubilee.org/ .)  An idea struck that by attaching a significant tax benefit to this, we could encourage wealthy Americans to invest a small amount of their resources in America itself by helping its most financially vulnerable citizens on the road to solvency.  Rolling Jubilee estimates that with $50,000, they can buy up one million dollars of debt and forgive it, no strings attached.  That is a remarkable return on investment.  If the IRS considered debt forgiveness of this nature a charitable donation valued at the full value of the debt being forgiven, that would give debt forgiveness a compelling tax incentive for those in a position to donate.  To this end, I have sent the following letter to my Senators and Representatives, and to those entering office:


Recently, I read about the Rolling Jubilee project ( http://rollingjubilee.org/ ) - an effort by citizens to buy up debt of Americans in crisis for pennies on the dollar, and forgive it - giving a much-needed hand up to Americans working hard to maintain solvency.  This is a bailout of the people by the people - and it’s not costing Uncle Sam one dime.

I have a proposal that could make this charitable option very attractive for those Americans blessed with more disposable income than most - categorizing no-strings debt cancellation as a charitable donation for tax purposes, valued at the full value of the debt, not the price paid to purchase it.  This would allow wealthy Americans to see an immediate tax benefit to voluntarily sharing their wealth to assist those less fortunate, at a much greater return on investment than traditional charitable donations.

This would, of course, represent less tax revenue for the federal government over the short term.  However, the assistance this would provide to Americans in financial crisis would allow them to step out of poverty and rely less on government-funded social programs and community-funded charities, and perhaps allow them to use their resources to become small business owners - thus decreasing the cost of social programs, and increasing tax revenue overall in the long term.

I urge you to consider proposing legislation that would give wealthy Americans a strong tax incentive to cancelling debt.  It benefits the wealthy, it benefits those less fortunate, and it benefits America.




If you think this is good for America, I strongly urge you to send a letter (feel free to use the above) to your Senators and Representatives asking them to please consider it.  This could benefit us all.

If you need help finding out who your Senators or Representatives are, visit http://www.senate.gov/index.htm and click the Find Your Senators area in the upper right of the page.  For Congresspersons, visit http://www.house.gov/ and type your ZIP code into the ‘Find Your Representative’ area in the upper right of the page.


Inherent Race Privilege in American Culture: An Overview

If, like me, you're a white person in America, you have certain privileges that are afforded to you simply by virtue of your skin tone, whether or not you want to admit it. Those privileges also don't stop at simple, direct benefits like a lack of police profiling or more success at job interviews; there are more profound differences that change the very way we move in society that are harder to see - and these are the differences that are at the very heart of the institutionalized racism that haunts America, and will take a concerted societal effort to overcome.

Let's start at the very beginning - according to the CDC, if you are white, you have only half the risk of low birth weight (defined as less than 2.5 kg) - a condition associated with chronic health issues and significantly increased risk of infant mortality - as black people(1). Assuming you make it out of the hospital, your white parents' combined income (which necessarily affects the quality of your home, food, healthcare, etc) is going to be about 1.6 times the family income of a black family(2). As a result, as a white family instead of a black family, your home is more likely to be owned instead of rented(3) (and therefore more stable) and significantly less likely to be foreclosed upon in the event of financial trouble(4).

Your access to healthcare is also significantly more likely as a white person - more black people are uninsured than white people by a rate of approximately 3 to 2.(5) Once you get to school, whether as a result of less lead paint in your home(6), better childhood nutrition(7)(8), or the inherent racial bias in IQ tests(9), you are going to score better on tests than black children(10).

You're more likely to finish high school(11), more likely to enter college(12), and more likely to complete a degree(13). You'll get a higher income as you enter the job market - which puts us nicely at the beginning of the cycle started above, if you'd like to re-check the data. If you stay out of trouble, you are less likely to be a victim of violent crime(14), but if you engage in a healthy amount of disregard for the law, you're less likely to be arrested(15), and less likely to be sent to prison if you are(16).

This is, of course, entirely skipping the issue of racial profiling by police and other law enforcement officers(17), the racial disparity in unemployment rates(18), the racial disparity in military leadership(19), the list goes on and on and on in any category you care to name.

I haven't bothered debunking the myth that Affirmative Action is 'reverse racism', nor have I gone into great detail on the mind-boggling racial bias in our justice system. These topics deserve more than a two-sentence callout in this brief essay, and I will likely delve into them soon. You may also notice that the citations and footnotes comprise a good half of the text of this article - this is intentional. It is very, very easy to assume racism exists only in the sense of obvious acts of bias such as hate crime, bias in hiring and promotion rates, and other plainly visible venues. It is also very easy to handwave more subtle aspects of institutionalized cultural racism as 'no big deal' when in fact, the less obvious aspects of racism in American culture are not simply secondary effects of the more obvious racial inequalities, but in fact are the very foundation of racism in America. The overwhelming amount of data and evidence provided is merely what I, as a white person and therefore by nature oblivious (to an extent) to racism in America, could think of off the top of my head in an afternoon.

Racism isn't over just because we elected (and re-elected) a black President - and in fact, claiming it is makes the issue worse because it gives your average white American a reason to stop caring about racial injustice. This is a fight that is far, far from over.


1 Health, United States, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus11.pdf

2 Income, Expenditures, Poverty, & Wealth, table 697: Money Income of Families - Median Income by Race and Hispanic Origin in Current and Constant (2009) Dollars: 1990 to 2009. US Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0697.pdf

3 Fact Sheet: Own-Rent Analysis, Key Findings. Fannie Mae. http://www.fanniemae.com/resources/file/research/ownrent/pdf/Own-Rent-Analysis-Fact-Sheet-121610.pdf

4 Foreclosures by Race and Ethnicity: The Demographics of a Crisis. Center for Responsible Lending. http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/research-analysis/foreclosures-by-race-and-ethnicity.pdf

5 Early Release of Selected Estimates Based on Data From the January-March 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/earlyrelease201209_01.pdf

6 Lead Neurotoxicity and Socioeconomic Status: Conceptual and Analytical Issues. David C. Bellinger. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2574977/

7 Influence of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture on Childhood Obesity: Implications for Prevention and Treatment. Sonia Capro et al. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2571048/

8 Childhood Overweight and Academic Performance: National Study of Kindergartners and First-Graders, Ashlesha Datar, Roland Sturm, Jennifer L. Magnabosco. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2004.9/full

9 Psychoeducational Assessment of Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups: Professional Implications. Santa Gregory, Sandra Lee. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1986.tb01026.x/abstract

10 Achievement Gaps: How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Alan Vanneman, Linda Hamilton, Janet Baldwin Anderson, Taslima Rahman. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2009455.asp

11 Digest of Education Statistics, Table 116. Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by sex and race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1960 through 2010. National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_116.asp

12 Digest of Education Statistics, Table 213. Enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds in degree-granting institutions, by level of institution and sex and race/ethnicity of student: 1967 through 2010. National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_213.asp

13 The Condition of Education. Table A-45-3. Percentage of students seeking a certificate or associate's degree at 2-year institutions who completed a certificate or associate's degree within 150 percent of the normal time required to do so, by race/ethnicity, control of institution, and sex: Starting cohort years 2000 and 2007. National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-pgr-3.asp

14 Violent Victimization and Race, 1993-98. Callie Marie Rennison, Ph. D. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=594

15 Crime in the United States 2010: Table 43a, Arrests by Race 2010. Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/table-43/10tbl43a.xls adjusted per capita with data from The 2012 Statistical Abstract, Population: Estimates and Projections by Age, Sex, Race/Ethnicity. United States Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0010.pdf

16 Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin: Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006. William J Sabol, Ph. D., Todd Minton, Paige M Harrison. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/pjim06.pdf

17 The Three Faces of Racial Profiling. American Civil Liberties Union. http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/racial-profiling

18 Economic News Release. Table A-2. Employment status of the civilian population by race, sex, and age. US Dept of Labor. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t02.htm

19 Military Academy Gender and Racial Disparities. US General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/assets/160/154159.pdf


Time For A New Dream

Here's the thing.

The American Dream has been twisted around and built up and made so impossible that not only is it something that can never really happen for most Americans, but it also lends itself to poisoning our sense of community.  After all, if 'you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it' is true, then those less fortunate must not have tried, right? If the only thing required for reward is ambition, then the homeless must just be lazy.  The jobless must not want to work, and the working poor must find it easier to complain about their lot in life than try to improve it.  This is all self-evident from the 'effort equals reward' concept that lies at the core of the current American Dream.

And that dream is bull.

We simply don't live in a world where all efforts are rewarded, where you can do anything you want in life if you want it badly enough and try your best, where we have fairytale endings.  We just don't.  We live in a world where you can study hard, throw yourself into your education, and finish the first in your class - but still accomplish nothing because you're not able to get enough scholarships to cover college expenses and your parents are working-class citizens who simply don't have the resources to help.  We live in a world where you can refine your craft and be the hardest worker in your field, and still never be taken seriously because you're a woman in tech.  We live in a world where you can do years of soul-searching to find out who you really are, find that one special someone who makes you feel complete, and still not be able to marry them because your state doesn't think gay people deserve rights.  We live in a world of random chance, bigotry, and institutionalized injustice.  We live in a world where the original American Dream can only come true for you if you are either born rich and white, or born very, very lucky.

We need a new dream.  We need to admit to ourselves that sometimes effort does not equal reward (though reward does still require effort), that the world is not a fair place, and that only a few dozen people will ever be astronauts, and chances are one of them isn't going to be you.  We need to admit to ourselves that the less fortunate didn't do anything to cause or deserve their situation in the vast majority of cases.  We need to admit that many who lose themselves in alcohol or drug abuse don't choose their lives, they wind up there either through mental illness or the entirely understandable desire to just escape for a few minutes, and never realizing until it is too late the lasting cost of their escape.  We need to understand that the woman selling her body to afford food and shelter for her child needs options, not a sex offender rap (Thanks, CA Prop 35).  We need to finally admit to ourselves and to our next generation that sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you want to succeed, sometimes it isn't going to happen, and that it is not a personal failure.  It's just how it is sometimes.

We need to make our American Dream a little more real if we want to pass it on to future generations without setting them up for failure and misery.  We need to reach out to those less fortunate instead of shunning them for imagined offenses.  We need to remember that we are members of a society, and that we all benefit when 'yucky' problems like fiscal injustice and worker exploitation are fixed.  We need to remind ourselves that not everybody needs to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman.  After all, someone's got to be the sanitation worker or the electrician, and these are also worthy careers - and in fact pay pretty darn well if you have the skill and drive.  And as long as you are succeeding by whatever ambitious but realistic goals you set for yourself, and you're being a helpful member of your community by helping who you can, how you can - well that sounds like something worth dreaming about.


a reminder as to why rick santorum should never, ever be allowed to be in charge of anything

Rick Santorum would require rape victims to bring their babies to term because after all, the baby is a gift from God and not at all a face they will look at every day and see the face of the person who brutalized them. Oh and by the way, if that rape victim is poor / ethnic / disabled enough to be on medicaid? No pregnancy coverage because after all, medicaid is fascist discrimination against the rich. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/rick-santorum-social-welfare-programs-fascism_n_1183514.html

On The Wrong LePage

(in response to the article found at http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/23/maine-governor-orders-labor-mural-takedown/ )

I grew up in Maine, and though we do have a few tall buildings, it is by no means a 'city' sort of state. You will not find the concrete jungles of New York, nor will you find the miles and miles and miles of sprawling city that California is so proud of, nor will you find the home offices of international powerhouses of finance or industry.

What you will find is about 1.3 million regular folks (roughly the population of San Diego spread over approximately 95 times the space), trying to get by as best they can in an area known for not a whole hell of a lot. Maine's biggest exports are blueberries, toothpicks, and Stephen King novels. Common activities involve cursing Mother Nature, enjoying the outdoors, and working your fingers to the f*#$ing bone.

Much - perhaps even most - of Maine's economy is labor-intensive. Fishing and logging, two of the most labor-intensive and dangerous jobs in the world, are responsible for a lot of the money made and spent there. Shipbuilding, leatherworking, agriculture - you name it, if it's a pain in the ass to do and doesn't pay near as well as it should, it's probably responsible for the economic survival of at least two dozen towns and villages in Maine. The point I am trying to make here is that the vast bulk of folks from Maine fall solidly in the 'labor' camp and not that of 'management'.

Enter Paul LePage, the new Republican governor whose politics are fairly typical of the post "oh crap those Tea Party guys are SERIOUS" Republican Party.

If there's one thing the Maine government has fairly consistently gotten right, it is appreciation - or at least lip service - for the thousands and thousands of people who bust their humps from dawn to midnight, day after day, to keep the state working. The headquarters of the Department of Labor, for instance, has a gorgeous mural, spanning eleven panels and 36 feet, telling the history of the labor movement in Maine and some of its many conflicts. Students of labor history might remember reading of the massive strikes in 1937 at shoe mills sparked by ridiculously unsafe working practices and discriminatory management, or the strike in 1987 at the paper mill caused, among other reasons, by International Paper's refusal to address environmental concerns and its attempt to eliminate the only holiday the mills granted its workers.

Furthermore, many of its conference rooms are named after heroes of the labor movement from all over, like the César Chávez room (if you don't recognize that name immediately, you are doing yourself a great disservice by continuing to read this instead of Googling him), the Frances Perkins room (the Secretary of Labor under Franklin D Roosevelt - and the first woman to hold a department head position in the Federal government), and the William Looney room (a local boy from Portland who grew up to be the chairman of the House Committee on Labor and sponsored a bill limiting working hours for women and children in factories in the late 1800’s).

Governor LePage, however, has forgotten the thousands and thousands of people he attained his position on the very backs of, and is ordering the mural removed and the conference rooms renamed. It's not as friendly to businesses as it should be, you see. Gives the message that Maine cares more about workers than it does about businesses, after all, and we can't have that.

LePage, even though I no longer live in Maine, I grew up there and spent around two decades in it. I am still enough of a Mainiac to deliver this message to you without the slightest hesitation:

Get the hell out of our state.

For someone who cares so much about business, you certainly have none attempting to quiet the contributions of millions of hard working citizens who built this state from a blank forest to the burgeoning economy it is. You would not have your job if not for the hard working people in the Great State of Maine. The very house you live in, the Blaine House, was built by an old ship's captain - someone who needed to really understand the delicate balance between labor and management, or risk being chucked overboard by the crew. How do you sleep at night within those walls, given how little you care for the people that put you there? Granted, nobody's going to be tossing you over the side of a ship anytime soon, but you may find yourself woefully short of friends the next time the ballot boxes come out.

If there is one thing I learned after growing up in Maine, it is never, ever, ever anger someone - much less an entire population - near the tail end of a long, cold winter. Cabin Fever and other frustrations are at their peak, and folks from Maine have long memories. This won't be forgotten for a long time, and 2015 is not as far off as you think. For that matter, we haven't tossed a governor out early yet, but since you see no need to hold fast to history and tradition, why should we?

Article also found on Dreamwidth, DailyKos, my personal blog, my Wordpress.com site, my Google site, and my IWW blog. Syndicated to LinkedIn.

Professional Courtesy


My wife, Mimi, had been in communication with a recruiter for some job up in Connecticut, and the topic of salary came up. She was countering his offer with a request for a higher wage, because after all, as she put it, 'a girl's gotta eat'.

His response was a picture of a half-naked anorexic girl - anorexic to the point where her abdomen was hideously deformed and the contour of her organs were visible. He apparently thought this was funny.

After she finished her immediate reaction (shock and horror, to be precise), she called the company's front desk to get to HR. It was shortly after 5PM, however, so they were closed. She replied to the email he sent with a request to have his supervisor call or email.

Within moments, her phone rang. It was the person who had sent the email, trying to talk her out of getting him in trouble because hey, it was just a joke, right?

I'm not sure exactly what he said, but it must have been good, because Mimi decided to leave it at that provided he didn't contact her anymore. She also commented that she was no longer interested in the position, as if that were not obvious enough.

What sort of person thinks sending an image like that in professional communication is acceptable in any way? Unfortunately, this happens all the time: Far more often than any statistics will tell you, women and minorities are harassed, marginalized, and oppressed in 'professional' environments all over the place. Let's analyze the event and really see what it COMMUNICATES from a psychological perspective.

The context of the event is a discussion of salary for a potential new job. The recruiter has made a salary offer, the potential employee is countering with a request for a slightly higher salary, with the lighthearted comment 'A girl's gotta eat'. The recruiter responds, agreeing to the higher salary, attaching the aforementioned image. The image is not referenced in the body of the email. The potential employee responds, asking what the image was about, and he replied "You said a girl's gotta eat, the one below doesn't look she has to eat" [sic] . One assumes he meant to say that the girl did not look like she had to eat.

At best, at absolute best, he is being sarcastic and was trying to indicate that she would not starve on the wage. However, even if we assume the best, we are still faced with the fact that we are dealing with a person who thinks that a crippling disorder is funny. We are still faced with someone who looks at the plight of young girls driven to mental illness by the culture of misogyny, whose illness manifests in literally starving themselves to death for fear of being fat and therefore 'unpersoned' by our culture - a person who looks at that and finds it amusing, and sees nothing wrong with referencing that in professional communication with a woman.

I want to be clear here that there is nothing wrong with having a peculiar sense of humor - myself, I have a very dark sense of humor. I laugh at things that many people find broadly offensive, and that's fine, because I am not forcing my idea of what's funny on people in a professional environment. There is a certain level of etiquette that is expected in the workplace - and discussing the particulars of a potential job with a recruiter counts as 'the workplace' - that is expected to be followed. This isn't even merely an issue of politesse, this is federal law.

Furthermore, the fact that the recruiter called her directly instead of putting her in touch with his supervisor is also questionable - when a line has been crossed like that, you forfeit your right to make it better on your own. When you are the problem, and have offended someone that profoundly, you must not make it worse by inflicting yourself on them any longer. Even if you suddenly understand your offense, and are granted a moment of clarity so you are certain you will not be offensive again, your mere presence in the conversation can be seen as oppressive or offensive by the person you offended. If I punch you in the face, and then tell you that I'm very sorry and promise not to do it again, you're still going to be paying more attention to what I am doing with my hands than what I am saying with my mouth. So it is with offensive communication: If I confront you with an offensive image, and then apologize for it, you're going to be thinking more about the offense I committed than what I am saying.

As it stands, Mimi is no longer considering employment with that firm. If she had been put in touch with the supervisor as she requested, the recruiter would definitely have been called onto the carpet for his actions, sure. But having a third party to discuss her concerns with may have allowed Mimi to regain some comfort, and not only soothed the damage, but also saved the business deal. For the recruiter to smooth things over himself saved his own skin, but sacrificed the business deal. It also subconsciously reinforces to the recruiter that his actions were acceptable, and that Mimi overreacted. Because after all, if he talked her down, that means everything's okay, right? Perhaps getting disciplined by his human resources department - or undergoing mandatory sexual harassment sensitivity training - would have given the recruiter a much needed wake up call, and forced him to reconsider such actions in the future. I guess we'll never know.

This isn't the first or even the hundredth time I've been shown evidence that professional courtesy is anything but, but the sheer audacity of it was surprising. I can only hope the recruiter had simply started drinking a little early, and this was a result of temporarily impaired judgment instead of chronically impaired judgment.

It's pretty sad when your best case scenario involves likely alcoholism.

Article also found on Dreamwidth, DailyKos, my personal blog, my Wordpress.com site, my Google site, and my IWW blog. Syndicated to LinkedIn.

There but for the grace of somebody

[crossposted from facebook]
The other day, I was out shopping with my wife and son - my father had sent him some bookstore gift cards for Christmas, so we were taking advantage of post-holiday sales. On our way in to the store, an older guy in a beat-up Army jacket got my attention and asked if I knew where the local homeless shelter was. I gave him directions to the PORT program down by the shipyard, and he thanked me profusely and said that he'd been asking for hours, and I was the first person who had even bothered to reply. We talked a little while, I gave him a visa giftcard I had left over from the holidays that had five or ten bucks left on it, and told him where he could pick up a bus to the shelter.

While we were talking, a number of people passed by and gave me a look of... annoyed sympathy? 'You're not supposed to talk to those people, and I'm sorry you got roped into it', that sort of thing. It was being made clear to me that I had broken the social contract by acknowledging someone that is supposed to be invisible - especially near a 'nice' shopping area where poor people aren't supposed to exist at all.

Despite all our claims that America is a land of equal rights and freedom for all, despite all our grandstanding about how caste systems in other cultures are Bad and Evil, there are very clear lines between Us and Them in American culture. The dark side of the American Dream - 'You can do anything if you try' - is the assumption that those who can't do something as simple as feed and shelter themselves just isn't trying. The assumption is made that they WANT to live under a bridge and eat out of a dumpster. We justify ignoring them and not sparing them some change by convincing ourselves that they'd just spend it on drugs or booze and not food or shelter.

The problem with homeless people is that lingering second word there - 'people'. Despite all our handwaving about how they're a bunch of violent drug addicts who will follow you home and rob you blind if you give them the change from your frappucino, despite all the election-season hollering by politicians promising to 'get those homeless OUT of our fair city', despite Hollywood painting them alternately as schizophrenics or Magical Negroes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_negro), homeless people are just that - people. Sure, some are drug addicts, but most aren't. Sure, some are violent, but most aren't. Sure, some are homeless by choice, but the VAST MAJORITY are not. The vast majority of homeless people are far, far more similar to you and me than we are comfortable with. Just regular folks who had something happen - got laid off perhaps, got thrown out by a partner or a family member, got hurt and lost everything to medical bills - and now they can't afford their basic needs. Yes, there are shelters and soup kitchens, but they are woefully underfunded and undermanned. I have yet to find a single place in America where the number of beds in homeless shelters exceeds or even matches the number of homeless people who need them.

I'm not asking you to donate your time and money to homeless programs in your area (though it would be nice). I'm not asking you to donate money to homeless people directly (though that, again, would be nice, and if you're worried about it being used for drugs or booze, keep a couple $5 gift cards to grocery stores in your wallet for this purpose). All I'm asking is for you to stop treating people as invisible because their existence is threatening to your worldview.

That right there, that simple change in your outlook, will go further toward 'solving the homeless problem' than you'd expect. It's a lot harder to treat someone like garbage when you actually see them as a person.

Article also found on Dreamwidth, DailyKos, my personal blog, my Wordpress.com site, my Google site, and my IWW blog. Syndicated to LinkedIn.

(no subject)

 Some ratfucker stole one of my hubcaps overnight! ARGH

I mean I can see it if it's a new car or if they're really fancy because you can resell them, but this is a 1988 Mercury Tracer with stock hubcaps.  Hell, one of them was already missing to begin with.  Who the fuck steals a hubcap off an elderly econobox that's already missing one?  If I ever find who did this shit I am going to use their face as an undergarment.

Fear and Loathing for Sanity

Driving to our nation's capital from Southern Virginia, you pass by a whole lot of military and governmental installations: Belvoir, Quantico, Alexandria, and others. I was driving near Richmond, looking at the fog collecting over the swamps by the side of the interstate, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing about finding America. I had expected to write a pithy piece about how the Rally to Restore Sanity would show Washington that the loose assortment of hipsters, internet geeks, and slacktivists that they had previously largely ignored (with few notable exceptions) had suddenly become the Next Big Voting Pool, and write a message of hope for the future and an admonishment to not lose the momentum.

In the interests of covering all my bases, however, I came equipped with a flask of bourbon, a packet of cigars, a cell phone with still and video camera, and my trusty laptop. I'd forgotten the condoms, but was otherwise perfectly equipped to commit acts of journalism. A good friend had suggested I leave my ever-present knife at home, so I stashed it in the car. Sanity and all that, and besides, this wasn't expected to be too bonkers.

Over the next twelve hours, I was proven wrong in more ways than I could have ever imagined, and a couple times I mourned the absence of the knife.

I generally wear a three-day shave, a Hulk Hogan moustache, dark glasses, a purple paisley do-rag, and a Popeye squint when out in public because that way the sort of people who aren't worth talking to will leave you the hell alone on the subway. I immediately fell into a discussion on labor unions with a photojournalist, his wife, and a guy who looked like the love child of Steve Buscemi and Vinnie Barbarino. When the immensely crowded train lurched to a halt at L'Enfant Plaza and issued forth its passengers, we were directed toward the Mall by cheerful, lucid volunteers. I began to wonder if maybe my suspicions of madness were unfounded, and then I turned a corner to see a guy holding a sign demanding no amnesty or guest worker visas for immigrants, and immediate deportation of anyone found here illegally. I asked him what exactly he meant by that, and he replied in heavily accented English that if you weren't born here, you shouldn't be here. I asked him where his ancestors were from and he didn't seem to understand the relevance of the question. The point that basically everybody but Native Americans were immigrants to America, and we were pretty uniformly dicks to those guys sailed straight over his head, and he stopped paying attention to me at that point.

Over the next few hours, I was vomited on twice by people I assumed to be unrelated, witnessed an old man in wizard robes lick the back of a policeman's hat (the policeman was distracted by screaming at a very stoned young man who had climbed one of the trees in the Mall), listened to a surprising assortment of excellent musical acts, had my phone stolen a couple times (luckily everyone was immobilized by the crowd so retrieval was a simple matter of snatching it back and threatening the thief with anatomically unlikely retribution), and witnessed unholy anarchy as the local cellular networks were completely destroyed by sheer force of numbers and everyone tried their calls, text messages, and Qik uploads over… and over… and over again. AT&T never had a chance.

By the time the rally was over, the National Mall east of 7th and every possible surface for a couple blocks in every direction was UTTERLY jammed with a seething mass of humanity. On my way out, I saw people had climbed the portable toilets - some looking for their comrades, others jeering and preaching to the crowd, and a couple folks doing jumping jacks. The toilets, including the impromptu exercise yard, were still in constant use despite the rapidly disintegrating roofs. I can only imagine some poor jerk trying to answer nature's call got a surprise.

Discarded signs, flyers, food wrappers and water bottles, assorted effluvia and bodily fluids, and the occasional demolished cell phone littered the ground, and the word on the street was WHAT'S NEXT - afterparties, pub crawls, and the never-ending quest for illicit substances. However, just as much as that was chatter about the midterm elections - who was secretly or not-so-secretly a tea party stooge, who was trying to do the right thing but bogged down by the politics game, who was a pretty good incumbent but should step down to make room for a rising star with some good ideas and enough political capital to make them happen.

My God, I thought, maybe I was right all along and this WAS the slacktivist voter pool captured in the act of becoming. Its birth - or perhaps baptism - was just a little dirtier than most. I kept those particular stars in my eyes right up to the point where I finally punched my way onto the exiting subway, and an unknown but very friendly gentleman in his twenties squeezed my genitals, along with the genitals of several other folks on the subway, before somehow wriggling through the crowded train and escaping the wrath of the groped.

I love Washington.

Article also found on Dreamwidth, DailyKos, my personal blog, my Wordpress.com site, my Google site, and my IWW blog. Syndicated to LinkedIn.