Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Every 28 hours


There was a time when I thought that there needed to be a web site by this name. I'm not quite sure what is needed now, and today's post is going to be about why.

Trayvon Martin's death had a powerful effect upon me, but it feels like Mike Brown's death is politicizing me a lot more, or maybe that is something that would have happened anyway.

The thing is there were so many other deaths happening so closely together. Some of the names probably sound familiar - Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford - but they kept coming.

It was disturbing enough that they kept coming, but there were also things about how the media handled it that were concerns, and I started to wonder if there was some central repository where you could see them all and really get the full scope.

I searched and asked a little, but there didn't seem to be one, and I imagined a web site, Every 28 Hours, that would fill that need.

There were a few problems. One is that I could not just make it happen. I don't have site management skills or know-how for the running of it. I also didn't know what all it would take to be able to reliably collect that information, but I knew that it could get demoralizing very quickly.

I also had questions about the name. I did find some information disputing the numbers, but apparently at one point the statement had been made that an unarmed black man is killed by the police every 28 hours, and the number was wrong because not all of them were unarmed. Focusing on that number might not be the best choice.

Those were all reasons why I didn't pursue it, but the issue didn't fade from my mind, and it just became more complicated. There can be so much to it.

First of all, there were many deaths that were not by the police. Back to Trayvon Martin, he was not killed by the police. The initial hesitance to press charges certainly made it feel like the police weren't helpful, but that's a different thing. Renisha McBride and Jordan Davis were not shot by the police, but that their shooters were so quick to take black lives seems like it could be related to the issues that play into the police shootings. Do you track all shootings? All murders?

For those shot who were armed, there is usually an assumption that they had it coming, and it had nothing to do with race, but there have been many dangerous white felons whom the police were able to take in alive, despite them being armed. Do you have to track everyone who doesn't get shot?

There is also the question of media coverage. The New York Times obituary for Michael Brown focused on how he was no angel, and referred to his love of rap as part of that, but they used a love of rap as a way to humanize the Tsarnaev Brothers, who actually killed and maimed multiple people.

Of course the media is trying to stir interest and sell papers or acquire page hits, so their motivations are commercial, and I get that, but it often seems like the reporting is trying to justify why some deaths are acceptable. They're not.

I remember reading one story about a death that sounded like funeral attendees started fighting and one person ended up dead, and so you could just think, well, these are trashy people. Sometimes they kill each other.

That wasn't what happened. The funeral-goers were gathered at an American Legion Post. This was new to me but apparently a lot of halls and lodges also have bar type areas or even dance areas, where it functions like a club. One man who was not part of the funeral party kept hitting on a woman in the funeral party all night, and she kept refusing him, and he attacked her and killed her.

Maybe things could have been done differently there. I don't know if there would have been a way to evict him, or if it seemed like he was just a nuisance right up until he pulled out the gun, but none of that is clear from the initial reports, and later reports indicate no one knows if he has been charged, which seems like a bad sign. They caught him, there were witnesses; shouldn't the media be all over that?

There were a lot of people arguing that Jordan Davis's death was his own fault for goofing off with the gun and not complying with police orders, but if you have seen the video footage then you know that he wasn't pointing it, and there was no time to comply with the orders. The media also reported that the original 911 call came from a former Marine, and that is what helped some people be sure that he accurately assessed the threat, because Marines know their stuff. They do, but this guy was not a Marine. Those things came out, but I'm sure there are a lot of people who think that Davis got himself killed.

It becomes a very complicated thing, when you have people who are sure that there is not a problem, to find a way to show them that there is a problem. There are no answers in this post; I don't have them yet.

I guess my biggest thing is that I read a lot. I read books and news and magazines, and things fit together. Any one incident could be an aberration, but if you know enough incidents then it's not. And I totally get not having time to take in and study everything. That's why we really need media and politicians to be getting it right, because that's their job, but if they don't, then what?

So those are the things I am always thinking about at the back of my mind, these past couple of weeks. I seem to have offended someone, but I kind of don't care. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, it should. We should not feel comfortable with the way people are discounted due skin color and gender and economic status.

If you can demonstrate that your political and economic policies aren't harmful, and that they do not favor those who already have money and power over those who don't, great. You may find something that I've missed.

I am trying to find my way to be more helpful, and what I can contribute. That being said, while these thoughts are swirling in my head, and they sound very anti-rich, I am trying really hard to make more money, and not only because it would allow me to contribute more. I will write more about that next week.

For now, though I still have so many thoughts about sexism and economics and incarceration, I need to write about other things for a bit. So probably some writing about writing, some comics, and then I start writing about the very long reading list. As always, Thursday and Friday will be music reviews. The Lemonheads tomorrow will be my 187th band!



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scary and Dangerous


Yesterday's post was obviously written a bit humorously, though that doesn't really make anything that I said untrue.

I started thinking about it while reading The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 by Philipp Blom. In addition to describing financially better off people who were very neurotic, he described social unrest and some of the places where it came from.

This is from the diary of a middle-class Russian woman:

I do not have the preparation, the zeal, or the perseverance for serious study. And now I am old it is too late. You do not begin studying at twenty-five. I have neither the talent nor the calling for independent artistic creation. I am unmusical and understand nothing about it. As for painting, I have done no more than study a few years as a schoolgirl. And literature? I have never written a thing except for this diary. So only civic activity remains. But what kind? Fashionable philanthropy which is held up to ridicule in all the satirical journals? Establishing cheap dining rooms? That's like trying to patch up a piece of crumbling, rotting flesh. Opening up literacy schools when it is universities that we need? I myself have jeered at these attempts to empty the sea with a teaspoon. Or perhaps I should turn to revolution? But to do that, one has to believe. I have no faith, no direction, no spiritual energy. What is left for me to do?

Again, that is the ennui of someone who doesn't have to work. It reminds me of "the problem with no name" as described in The Feminine Mystique.

Around the same time period you had factory girls in England, and women who were having to support families, and in addition to being empowering, it opened their eyes to the problems in the system. Suffragists had been around for years, but now there were more people who understood why women should have the vote (thought it still took some time).

People with money could be conservative, but people who were struggling could not. The people on the bottom have a much different view than the people on the top.

That's always been the case, but it was interesting to me that part of the change in the movement was brought about by women going to work. Going back to The Feminine Mystique, the push to get women more in the home and less involved anywhere else seemed to be largely a reaction to World War II, where women had filled in many jobs, and gotten different experiences there, which seemed to threaten the men.

I'm tying together a few disparate threads here for that overall question of how do you effect change? How do you make the world a better place?

I know that my sisters and I are considerably more dynamic and independent than many of our peers from school days. I believe at least part of that was due to us starting to work early. Suddenly you have responsibilities that you fill, you are interacting with adults who are not relations, you have money of your own, and while there are downsides there are definite perks.

So imagine it happening with a bunch of young women at once, and it is happening because there are changes already going on in society that make their labor necessary. That can have a big effect, and at this same time they start seeing all of the ways in which the structure is flawed. They don't have children yet, they are still relatively young and energetic, and they are too young to be really set in their ways, even if their lives weren't changing radically already.

Thinking about that led to me thinking about other groups where movements tend to start. College students often organize and campaign. They are young, energetic, and being exposed to new people and ideas. Unions work together and create better conditions. Maybe they are older, but by banding together they gain the skills and power they need. And over and over again, as women get more power and more money it doesn't just improve their lives, or the lives of their families, but goes beyond that affecting their communities and countries. (Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn is a good starting point if you are interested in more on that.)

So, what does our society do?

Unions were aggressively attacked and weakened, especially during the Reagan years, from which they have not recovered. With that working conditions and wages have declined. People may cite other factors, but other countries with strong unions manage and living wages manage.

College has become a worse and worse bargain for students. The prices go up, the value for when you enter the workforce has gone down, and while young people are deciding whether or not to saddle themselves with debt, it's very hard to avoid being saddled with fear. That independence that they should be having now, and that energy, has been seriously hampered.

And what do we do with women? A girl who advocates for education in Pakistan gets shot in the head, girls studying in Nigeria get kidnapped , and sure, that's other countries but here a woman whose primary offense is pointing out that a lot of the common imagery in video games is misogynistic gets death threats, rape threats, and has to move from her home.

Remember, when the women do well it benefits the entire country. And some people still can't stand it.

But some girls have escaped Boko Haram. Malala survived and is a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Anita may have canceled her Utah State address, but she is still speaking out.

When you care about such things, there is a lot of frustration, but I'll take what good news I can get. For now, I think the larger point, and a good question to ask, is why we make some of the choices we make. Why do we think corporate welfare is more important than higher education? Why do we think obscene corporate profits and people who work full-time on food stamps is preferable to moderate corporate profits and employees making living wages.

If you idealize the '50s as early '60s as good times of strong families and peaceful communities, well, you are probably overlooking some things, but it was a time when there were strong unions, education was affordable and expanding, and one job could support a family. Why did we let that go?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creating Conservatives


There is one other political ad that I have been paying attention to. It talks about the low approval rating congress has, and the issues with gridlock, and so it encourages you to vote out the incumbent.

It grabs my attention because it is asking us to replace a Democrat with a Republican, as if the GOP is not more complicit in the issues in Washington, what with the obstructionism and continually blocking other bills so they can vote once more to repeal Obamacare.

I'll concede that a Republican majority might accomplish more, but I think things are already dystopian enough; I don't feel a need to accelerate that.

The frustration in this is that there are things that conservatives could do better if they were willing. I would be grateful to find a conservative that I could vote for, and feel good voting for. It's been a while.

I have mentioned before the War on Drugs not only failing to curtail drug use but also being socially and economically destructive. Democrats can see this, but they tend not to touch it because then they are fulfilling the stereotypes of soft-on-crime pinkos. If only Nixon could go to China, well, I'm trying to think of a Republican who not only could do it but also would.

I know that there are also many conservatives who are dismayed by the trend for so many to vote for said pinkos. However, I know where our common ground can be found.

I vote liberal because I don't hate people enough to actively support policies that make life worse for everyone. I want things to be better for people. Like, if working one full-time job meant that you could afford to live in conditions better than squalor, get your medical and emotional needs met, and maybe even have a family, that's what I'd like to see.

It's not that you can have everything you want, because that's not necessarily good either, but that you can have some things you want. Maybe you want to travel, or have a cool car, or have a maid because you hate housework, or you like having lots of clothes. Rich people can have all of that and more, but that even regular working class people could get one of those seems fair.

Support me in my desire, conservatives, and you will notice a remarkable thing happening. People will become more conservative.

It's true. When people have more comfort, they are more invested in the system. They are more likely to shun change. Even people who seem completely radical now will settle down with a higher quality of life. They will start looking askance at people who complain about the fat cats. They will be offended by protesters. They will find treasure conformity. Sure, some people are already there now, but you don't have enough is the problem.

Look, conservatives have made some heroic efforts in voter suppression, but it is a very flawed strategy. No, I don't mean the inherent Constitutional conflict, because you can make surprising inroads there. The problem is that it is too "in your face". People notice, they complain, they get publicity, and then it is not something that holds up to scrutiny.

You can have a solid, fact-based approach, or you can have something less solid and fact-based that no one looks at too closely, but trying to combine the two is increasingly complicated in this media-saturated world. Weakening the educational system may eventually ease the way, but trying to combine the two is, frankly, overly ambitious.

The genius of working to give people a better life is that it is so sneaky! People will be so grateful that they won't question your motives. With that kind of complacency, you don't even need to destroy the educational system.

I know that increased access to healthcare still stings, and you've fought off the minimum wage increase and school funding for so long that giving up will feel like the rankest betrayal. But I'm telling you, it's for the cause.

Take on this unholy alliance, and watch the ranks of conservatives grow!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Band Review: High Pressure Flash


I have been listening to High Pressure Flash this week, a four-person rock band out of Sandy, Utah, and their album My Sanctity. I have had two main thoughts.

One is that they remind me of Torche. They aren't really sludge; most of the influences they list are more along the lines of alternative and grunge, and that makes sense. "Red" especially seems to show at least the Seattle influence for that music. Still, there is that reminder of Torche, in terms of the force with which the music is delivered. This is good listening and decidedly rock.

(I also get a little flash of Archers of Loaf, but I'm pretty sure that one's not logical.)

The other thought that comes is specifically for another track, "Away From Here", and it feels so familiar. At first I thought it might be a cover, but I can't find any indication that it is. Somehow it just strikes a familiar chord emotionally, that hits home and doesn't need time to grow on you. It is a beautiful song, and one that resonated immediately. So, that's a pretty cool trick.







Thursday, October 23, 2014

Band Review: Cartesian Jetstream


Cartesian Jetstream is a post-psychedelic band from the Isle of Man. They also reference post-punk.

You may find that hard to picture. There is amazing use of language, common in a lot of punk, but in this case it might make you think more of the Doors. However, it is not just unusual language, but is also full of religious references, both Christian and pagan, as well as references to folklore, including the title of the latest EP, More Songs About Lizards and Fairies.

In that way, they kind of feel like what The Waterboys would be like if they were psychedelic, plus if they were more sarcastic than earnest, because Cartesian Jetstream does not feel terribly serious. (And Mike Scott does.)

That being said, going by the music alone it feels more punk than psychedelic, and I say that while firmly believing that I heard a sitar on some of the tracks, including "Fit For Nothing". However, the first track on Sleep Over, "My Captain" feels like it was meant for dancing at the beach.

A lot of the psychedelia comes through more in the videos. They effectively use toys and costumes to create a mood. I don't know if raves are popular on the Isle of Man, but the horse and the bear both feel like they would fit in there.

I don't love the Christian references, which feel pretty flip, but it goes along with the hippie feel, and the music is good listening.





Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Priorities


One thing that I didn't really get into with yesterday's post, though it is implied, is that you have to make decisions about what is important and where you allocate resources. Part of why I have been thinking about that is due to some ads supporting Ballot Measure 91, in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.

The ads take an interesting angle, with people from law enforcement and courtroom backgrounds talking about all the wasted resources that go into enforcing these laws, when they could better use their time solving murders.

The ad tactics make sense. My first thought might have been that there would be a lot on benefits of smoking pot, or comparisons to alcohol, or something like that, but I think most people probably already have heard as much as they are willing to hear on that. Anyone who is going to be swayed by those arguments is probably already there, but you might be able to convince some people who despise potheads that this really is a law and order move. A lot of libertarians are already pro-legalization, and a lot of people who are registered Republican lean libertarian, so that's the ground you might be able to gain.

I can appreciate the logic of that, but what goes through my head is the thought that a lot of priorities are set by revenue. Traffic patrols do matter, because that people generally obey the laws of the road makes being out on the road safer for everyone. It is still really common for people to assume that when they are pulled over that the officer is trying to make a quota.

Are there really quotas? For motivation to obey traffic laws, fines do make sense, but it can't possibly be good for that to be a needed source of revenue. Many of the articles we have seen about Ferguson show a very abusive relationship that essentially funds city hall, but that has also led people from other areas to talk about inaccessible city halls that play scheduling games and it becomes an important source of revenue.

We put a lot of money into the war on drugs. Without stopping drug use, it has filled the prison systems, kept down communities, justified harassment, and led to the militarization of the police. That is not good. Legalizing marijuana won't help much with that.

That's not about this specific ballot measure. Mass incarceration is a problem, and prison privatization is a problem, but also other issues frequently come up. It does take having an actual goal.

If the purpose of the prison system is to protect the public from criminals, is it doing that well? Do the people who are dangerous end up off the streets? Do people go into the prison system and come out more or less dangerous? Are there more effective ways to keep the public safe? For example, could we do early investment to keep people from becoming dangerous instead of warehousing them after they're dangerous? And "which one is cheaper" is a reasonable question to ask for that, but it is not the only question to ask.

Is the purpose of the whole system to punish bad people for being bad? If so, are we comfortable with that purpose? Is it working the way it's supposed to? Does it only punish or does it do other things? If it only punishes, what is the effect of that on society?

I mention this because I don't think we realize how often some things come about and stay in place merely because of tradition, and those traditions often started in bad practices. Are we content with that?

And maybe, if the system works for you, you are content, but there are people for whom that system really sucks. It may be uncomfortable to be caught in the currents of change, but those changes matter, and to get good changes it takes thinking. It takes open eyes and open minds, and it takes open hearts.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Job creators


I'd recently heard a reference to the 47% again, and while that one did really get to me (http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2012/10/100-wrong-about-47.html), lately I have been thinking more about something else Romney said.

It came up because it was related to things he said during the presidential race, but apparently this quote came from his failed Senate campaign in 1994. Maybe that's why it didn't draw too much attention, being older.

"This is a different world than it was in the 1960s when I was growing up, when you used to have Mom at home and Dad at work. Now Mom and Dad both have jobs to work whether they want to or not, and usually one of them has two jobs."

I am still surprised that this, and his more recent comments about even mothers of young children needing to work didn't get more attention. I think I know why, and that is the people who supported him imagined he was referring to single mothers who don't work at all. If you were against Romney he said so many horrible things that you need to prioritize, but I think this merits some discussion. Why are we willing to accept that it might take three jobs to support a family?

This isn't about lazy people - one job can drain you pretty well, and he is saying it takes more. That is saying that even in a two parent home, at least one parent might be working 60-80 hours a week, with the other working 40.

Maybe it bothers me more since the death of Maria Fernandes.

Her name may not be familiar to you, but you have probably heard the story of the woman who was working three jobs, and died napping in the parking lot of one job.


Okay, she was working part-time, low-wage jobs, but does anyone doubt that she was a hard worker? Does anyone doubt that if she could have found one job to pay all of her bills that she would have taken it?

There are a lot of things that could be said here about minimum wage and heartless corporations and a devaluation of human life that is sociopathic but supported by people who should know better, but instead I want to talk about Henry Ford for a moment.

Yes, his innovation of the assembly line was clever, but something else really cool that came out of there was letting his employees have a higher wage and Saturdays off. It wasn't a philanthropic move - he wanted his employees to be able to have the means and the motivation to buy his cars - but it changed the standard.

As long as Ford Motors was taking job applications, then other employers in the area had to have similar offerings. That meant even more people who could then afford cars and have time to drive places, so it continued to benefit Ford, but it was also great for the workers in the area, and it did not kill the other employers.

During that brief period when I was an Intel employee, I had phenomenal wages and pretty good benefits. When I came back as a contractor the benefits were not as good, but they compensated with more money. That wasn't out of the goodness of their hearts, but at the time there were a lot of good jobs out there, and employers had to be competitive. The economy did great. No one's stock fell because they paid good wages. If the rising tide didn't raise all the boats, it raised a lot.

Favoring employers can be helpful when they are already hiring, but it doesn't make them hire anyone. It didn't in Kansas, and they gave it a harder shot than anyone else:


Somehow it doesn't seem to matter how many times you can go back and show that raising the minimum wage doesn't cause inflation, or point out that most people receiving benefits also work, or that Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $6.2 Billion in aid to workers, but gets $1.2 Billion in tax breaks, some people just don't want to hear it.


Right now we need both more and better jobs. It is not going to happen with tax cuts. It can happen with mandated higher wages. Even if it doesn't create new jobs, if some of the people who are working multiple jobs can afford to go down to one, then the extra jobs they relinquish are new openings. That can be three jobs, and better quality of life for all three workers.

More jobs will not automatically be created by raising corporate taxes, but if those funds are used to create jobs, it will still have a valuable impact on the economy. There are plenty of things that need to be done. Have childcare workers affiliated with employment centers. That could have been good for Shanesha Taylor. Do road maintenance. Do job training.

Often those who are against raising the minimum wage will point out that people should not be staying in minimum wage jobs, ignoring the fact that employers will not pay more than they have to, whether it be due to legislation or competition. Well, if the government is hiring people at living wages with good benefits, than private employers will have to offer those things.

This isn't even choosing between alleviating human suffering versus doing good things for the economy. This is about both. Anything aligned with supply-side economic policies will do neither.

Ask Kansas.