Friday, December 27, 2013

Pavlov's Bitch-mas

I'm idling in front of a McDonald's while Greg and Henry play inside.  Oliver is sleeping in his carseat and I'm - oh, so quietly - munching on some popcorn I just picked up while braving Target.

Okay, he's awake.  We can go inside and do a "proper" bloggy-blog now...

Double Cheeseburger
Small Fries

If you're scoring at home, I've just named two places that I'm shunning - Target and McDonald's - and one food I've decided not to eat anymore - cheeseburger.  Two words: gift cards.  And the meat is being phased out.  After the new year.  And our meeting with the nutritionist isn't until February, so we've got time to work it out a bit (so there). 

I have also named one place I recommend people stay away from this time of year - any retail establishment.  I recommend this, not just for the sake of the shopper, but for the sake of the clerks, as well.  December 26th through the new year is known by the Ramenista class as Returns/Gift Card season.  Or, to appropriate the word my dear friend Kate just coined: Bitchmas. 

And there's blame to go around for the high stress of this season.  For every one returns horror story you might have, we cashiers and service managers have at least a hundred more stories of unreasonable, belligerent customers with unrealistic expectations of the world.  I've had my share of situations I wish I could go back and do differently, of policies from Corporate that make our lives unnecessarily stressful, but if I'm going to be perfectly honest... you people are awful. 

Okay, I know, I know - it's not everybody...  It may not even be most.  But it's enough of you.

Some of you are inherently jerks in any situation, some of you are well-meaning but just thoughtless.  But the overarching problem comes from the average customer's social conditioning.  People have been told that low-wage workers are just kids - immature slack-offs.  Disposable.  Otherwise they would have a better job.  And as much as I love Kevin Smith, movies like "Clerks" only reinforce those negative stereotypes.  People are not taught to treat the people in the polo shirts with pinned-on names as fellow adults deserving of respect.

And then there is the original sin of customer service... 

I'm not an inherently violent person, but I would dearly like to punch that person who first said, "The customer is always right," right in the face.  With those five words they entitled the biggest douche-bags of human society and unleashed a torrent of undeserved disrespect upon the American worker.  The "customer is always right" mantra enables any person to be as abusive and disrespectful as they want and then be rewarded for it.  In other words, instead of being accountable for their actions, that policy turns them into another one of Pavlov's Bitches.

These perceptions infuse the customer-clerk relationship.  I cannot defend every jerk behind the counter - and many of them buy into the advertised role and treat their job as just as disposable as they are perceived to be.  But my experience is that the attitude is not the norm, nor is it entirely unfounded when it's there.  Since I spent so many years developing my customer service skills, I get a little extra rankled when I receive legitimately bad customer service.

The best advice I ever had from a manager was, "The customer is not always right, but the customer is always a customer."  I could write way more than any of you guys want to read about what good customer service - and good customer behavior - should look like.  For now, let me just leave you with a few tips for the season...

- Be patient.
- Mind the line.  It's fine to have a conversation as you wait, or to play games on your phone, but be aware of your surroundings and keep the line moving.
- Don't converse with others when you're at the counter - and that goes for cashiers too.  Don't start a conversation you can't drop as soon as you have to interact with another person, and tell the person on the phone that you're at the counter now.  Let them wait or call them back.
- If you don't have the receipt or didn't know the return policy, expect nothing.  My personal policy as a manager was that exceptions should be made for exceptional situations.
- Be contrite and polite, because most stores are trying to find a way to make you happy, especially this time of year.
- Be mindful.  Take a moment to think about what the person behind the counter experiences every day as part of their job.  Consider what amount of control they have over the situation, and if you have to take your matter to the manager or the corporate offices, try to acknowledge that you understand the limits of power of the person in front of you.
 - And if the person behind the counter is being a douche, you don't have to get nasty about it in response.  Nor should you just take it.  Just follow-up with the appropriate higher-up in a calm and assertive manner.  After all, how else are they to learn about the bad behavior - or misinformed behavior - if they never hear about it from the people who are experiencing it?

This time of year is also known as, "And I'd like a tax receipt..." season for those working the donations departments out there.  So, on Greg's behalf, if you're heading to Goodwill or wherever, and especially if you're going to ask for a tax receipt, please do not:

- Donate trash, especially items contaminated with fecal matter.
- Hand over three separate bags with a single shirt in each so you can claim, "three bags of clothes," on your taxes.
- Ask that your receipt can be back-dated if you show up after the new year.
- Ask them to unload the 40 pounds of books right away so you can have the box back.
- Set your donations on the ground for them to lift up again.  They are lifting and carrying and contorting all day.  Just wait your turn and hand it over so they do not have to put more strain on their backs.
- And if you are donating "as is" items or items to be recycled (like your bulky old TV now that you've gotten that new spiffy flatscreen for Christmas), just don't ask for a receipt.

If you really, really wanted something and didn't get exactly what you wanted, remember that it's no one's responsibility to get you anything.  You can take responsibility for that desire and work to get it for yourself.  And try to keep in mind that if you have received something that you ultimately don't like, you have still been given the opportunity to make someone else happy by passing on what you have been given for free.

Friday, December 20, 2013

When love delayed is a good thing.

Downtown Grounds
12oz Soy Milky Way Mocha
Maple(?) Muffin

Let's talk love.  Again.  And baby love.  And depression.

I had heard enough stories of postpartum depression to know that I should not expect some cosmic maternal bliss to hit me as soon as I held my firstborn in my arms.  I knew that I would love him because I already did.  But there is so much nostalgia and romance surrounding that moment of childbirth and first meeting, it is a really novel thought in our society to not expect deep, astounding, irrevocable love immediately.  Too many women feel like there is something deeply wrong with them after they have experienced the long (long, long, long) awaited birth of their child and don't feel the warm fuzzy rainbow glory of maternal love wash over them.

This is a great article about one mother's experience.  I highly recommend you all give it a read -  Just Show Up: A Love Story - if you have not seen it already.

I think I'm lucky to have heard so many honest stories ("I felt like I was babysitting at first...") before I gave birth, because I might have been alarmed at the unexpected feelings I had.  Like I said, I knew I would love him - even if I couldn't feel it.  It was like a tulip bulb in winter - a bright flower that I knew would bloom once the snows had melted.  Unlike the mother in the story above, I trusted that that love was there from the beginning, though even I was surprised at how deep and insulated it was.

What I did feel immediately (other than complete physical and mental exhaustion and pain) was an all-consuming protectiveness.  You kind of know you're going to worry and fret and want to protect your child more than you have ever experienced before.  But the force of that feeling is really astounding...  Just because you grew up with Southern California's Santa Ana winds wrecking some havoc every autumn, that doesn't mean you have a clue what it is to have a Kansas tornado hurl you to Oz.

I have my own theory for why we parents feel this way - because fathers also experience hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth.  The more involved they are with the whole process, the more they are affected and the faster and deeper they bond with their newborn.  But in a pre-industrial state of nature, without the intervention of prenatal care and antibiotics and other life-saving procedures, the sad truth is that we lose a lot of babies.  Our brains and bodies are designed, both for that deep emotional attachment, as well as for more frequent loss than we experience nowadays (though we are not without loss now, and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a child).

It seems very logical to me that we should feel that overwhelming need to protect our vulnerable newborn, but also that our love is allowed to grow over time, to give some protection to our heart and mind should we lose that child in its infancy.

The obvious caveat here is that there is a limit to that sense of detachment, and every parent should be aware of the signs of serious mental health concerns.  But the point is to keep perspective on what your emotional expectations should be, because failing to feel what society expects you to feel after giving birth can drive you into, or deeper into, serious depression or anxiety.


While all that preamble directly pertains to parents, it also relates back, a little bit, to my previous rantings about our "soulmate fetish."  Our society's relationship to love is so whacked out I think we are still centuries from having a healthy understanding of it in all its forms.  But one lesson I have learned - the hard way - is about trusting love to grow.  Not exactly the same way it does with a child, but still...

As a child of divorce, I had a lot of anxiety about commitment.  And when I have looked back, I have seen how I have withdrawn too quickly from love that still had a chance because I was protecting myself from possible hurt.  I found reasons - not invalid ones - to shut down the relationship when there was a crossroads, or when I was too absorbed in my own baggage.  (Apologies go out through the Universe to Dave... to Auden... and so on...).

Fortunately for my husband, I had learned some of this about myself by the time we met.  I had learned that if I put an official designation on us too soon, I would freak out on some level that we didn't deserve to be at that point in our relationship.  It had more to do with my mindset about my feelings than about the depth of my feelings.  It's also probably fortunate that we had an entire country between us for almost a year, so that my mind could settle into our relationship before we were close enough to complicate it too much.

For us, that has proved the winning formula.  He may not have needed it, but I did.  And instead of following that stereotypical storyline of wonderful romance at the beginning that declines and settles into the marathon of maintaining a long-term relationship, our love-line ascends.  Like my love for our children, which surprises me how it grows and grows, so my love for my husband grows every day.  Like a tree growing from seed to sapling to a towering redwood or sweet apple tree, love accumulates, ring after ring.

My metaphors are getting too sappy for me.  (See what I did there?).  Time to go.  And to you all I say (as a racier Leonard Nimoy might put it):

Love long, and perspire...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Five degrees.

The (dinning room/office/toy vehicle race track) Table
Some kind of Christmasy Tea
Roll of Everything Ritz Crackers

We got snowed in last night (Friday, December 6th), so there was no official mom-escape to a coffee shop to write today.  With 53 minutes left in the day, we'll see what happens...

Five degrees.  Fahrenheit.  That's the projected overnight low here.  There's also half a foot of freshly fallen snow that ain't going anywhere.  We're pretty warm and toasty in here (though my tea has gone cold after Henry resurfaced for a cup of milk and one more storybook before we dragged his butt back to bed).  And even though we weren't able to go to the mall to get our picture with Santa, this is one of those days when I don't bitch about the weather, because my first thought when I saw that forecast was for all the homeless people in this town.

There are a lot of them here, loitering downtown, holding cardboard signs by busy roadsides.  They often have companions - other transients, an adorable cat or imposing dog, children.  I watched one woman go from begging for her growing belly, to begging for the tiny bundle in her arms.  I figure the baby is not quite a month old yet.  Mother and child will most likely have found their way to a shelter, as many others will, too.  Others will have a sympathetic friend of some sort who will let them stay on their couch, or at least take shelter in the garage or shed.  More will break into cars or homes or offices.  And those are just the ones we see, who wear the trappings of homelessness on their backs and their disintegrating clothes.

But shelter is scarce in this town, and almost nothing is open late for people to find a temporary haven of warmth.  How many will be out there in the elements with whatever paltry shelter they can drag around?  How can they possibly keep warm enough on a night like tonight?

My first reaction when I saw that number - 5 degrees - was that I wanted to go out and buy a bunch of those $5 throw blankets from Rite Aid, and just drop a pile of those cheap blankets in the middle of the downtown plaza where the homeless tend to congregate.

Oh, look SNL is on...

...and it's Monday!

Still snowed in.  At least, I haven't yet been forced to put my chains on and shovel the rest of our parking lot to get my car out.  Yet.  Time to make myself some more tea and finish this...  Hopefully.

Nope!  Tues - no, Wednesday.

...or, Saturday...

My usual Out Day, but I'm blogging from home again.  Today I had some running around to do and a Hobbit movie to see (very Empire... that's all I'm gonna say...).  But I am going to finish this!  Damn it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Kettlecorn (on which I have made myself sick)

Tonight, it's a balmy, sauna-like 31 degrees Fahrenheit.  It's still damn cold.  I did end up buying some of those cheap blankets - 4 of them.  They're now in my car.  I'm not sure what to do with them now, but I figured in the store that I already spend too much money on coffee outings, and the occasional Hobbit movie, so why not go further into debt for something more useful.  I imagine I'll just hand them out as I see somebody who seems to need one.  Or I'll find some kind of non-profit or church or something.

I should have gotten socks, too.  Because aren't wet socks the most annoying fucking thing in the world when you're already pissed off at something important, like being homeless in the winter... or ever?

Okay, it's Sunday.  Clearly, I am not good at working at home.  I literally fell asleep at my computer last night.

Peppermint Tea
Pretzel Sticks

Since I've completely lost the plot at this point, I'm going to just go somewhere else and see if it meets back up with me along the way.

I got into an internet conversation recently with a conservative (or two).  I would consider this particular person more thoughtful and intelligent than many, though he did throw in a number of Fox "News" specific bullet points, which were mostly ludicrous by nature.  We were discussing the minimum wage and the fast food workers striking to get their base pay raised to $15/hr.  The discourse brought to mind a phrase: compassionate classism.  It's like hateless racism - because you don't have to hate black people to throw around the n-word. So, too, with classism.

The argument was approximately that, yeah, it would be nice to raise wages, but that would raise the cost of labor too much and force those same people to be laid off or replaced by automation.  (Also, another person thought that these jobs need to be low and unlivable to motivate these workers to better themselves and move on to other jobs... 'cause it's only lazy, unmotivated people who stay in a law-wage job... Yeah, that's what would hold us back - too much money).  So the "compassionate" view would be to keep wages down low so people don't lose their jobs - AND so that "job-creators" can utilize all the capital they need so badly to innovate and create new jobs for those people who will eventually be replaced by automation.

That's a convenient opinion if you're not one of those people working minimum wage.  It's also not a capitalist society if almost none of the people in that society cannot utilize capital.

Whatever validity  there might be to that argument in some contexts, we are way, way beyond those bounds.  I have argued all these economical points before (you know, customers are the job-creators, too, you don't need THAT much capital, innovation can come from anyone, etc).  But what allows these policies and stereotypes to persist, is that those who are espousing them aren't feeling the 5 degree temperatures outside.  Many of them are in a completely different climate altogether.

There's a difference between sympathy and empathy.  Your heart can go out to the poor starving kids on TV, to the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, to the Haitian people who are still devastated by that years-old earthquake.  Yet you somehow talk yourself out of doing anything about it.  It's overwhelming, you've got your own kids to take care of, etc.  When you're warm indoors you feel bad for people living in the cold.  But when you are feeling the bone-biting chill yourself, and seeing ice form on the inside of your windows (not condensation, not frost - fricken ice!), you feel them.  Even if it's just an extrapolated experience, it becomes real, present.  You no longer have to argue yourself into doing something - you have to justify not doing something.

There's a Rumi quote I came across just the other day: "Every story is us."  This may be my next wrist tattoo.  It sums up so beautifully my core belief that a person is a person is a person, and on some level it can be said that there is no such thing as "others."

Ideas that keep you from seeing or treating some people as your human equals - markets know best, poor people are poor for a reason, minimum wage can't be raised - those dangerous ideas are the electric blanket that smothers your humanity and keeps you from feeling the five degrees of separation between us.

And it's Monday.  Nighty-night.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Organic, hippy, non-GMO, vegetarian crap.

Mix Sweet Shop
16oz Soy Chai

Forgive me, guys, if I'm a little terse today.  I seem to have my grump on.  Perhaps it's the insane shopping weekend that's causing all the crazy traffic.  And on that note, might I just add: Blessed are the pedestrians who use the damn crosswalk.

So.  Part of my facebook spam around turkey day was a headline that factory farmed turkeys are crawling with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Yum!  For my part, I was expecting to go to a pot luck that never materialized so we ended up having lentils and mashed potatoes before (and after) our pumpkin pie.  So whether or not we were eating "conventional" or organic turkey meat was a non-issue.  But the awareness is moving me closer to the idea of just becoming a vegetarian.

I know my veggie friends are fist-pumping and shouting, "Yay!  Do it!" at their screens (which is probably making for some awkward social situations if you're in public).  And most of my non-veggie friends are going, "Wait - I thought you were a vegetarian?"  I certainly seem to give off that vibe.  It's my hippy roots showing. 

For the record, I do not believe there is something inherently immoral about an animal eating another animal.  I do, however, believe that knowingly causing any animal suffering - not just pain, but a deplorable, tortuous existence - is pretty sadistic.  And by eating conventional meat, I am, sadly, contributing to a sadistic system.  My only explanation is that we are (putting it mildly) short on the cash.  And I worry about all of us getting adequate protein.  I'm already taking an iron supplement, so the more I can get through diet, the better.

Then why not just get organic meat?  Well, we do when we can.  But the options are scarce and the prices are high.  No, dudes - really high.  Especially to feed a family of four.  And given that there are millions of vegetarians out there living long, healthy lives, I'm sure that it's entirely possible for me to figure it out.  Meat protein is just giving me an easy out for now.  I just need to get in touch with my inner sous chef and learn what the hell to do with those beans and lentils (I am not a well-domesticated animal).  Besides, an anti-inflammatory vegetarian diet would probably be best for my fibromyalgia (and all my other health conditions).

There's another argument for vegetarianism to be considered: climate change.  Producing livestock for human consumption generates more global warming pollutants than producing the equivalent vegetarian diet does.  So I hear.  And every once in a while I get reminded that climate change is neither a hoax nor an abstract idea and the only way for the individual to do anything about it is to commit to all the small changes it will require to lessen the damage.

But I'm not stopping at vegetarian - I want to get as close to completely organic as we can possibly afford.  It's not just about reducing the amount of known carcinogens we ingest anymore.  Now it's about avoiding all the hidden GMO ingredients that we can.

Now, don't start groaning at me about the GMO stuff...  People are trying to make it out like anti-GMO advocates are as irrational as birthers and as annoying as vegans (you know I love you guys). 

The problem with GMOs is what we don't know about them.  The FDA has not verified that they are safe.  The FDA - which is loaded with former GMO-company people, as a point of interest - just decided that genetically modified food would be classified as if it was generally considered to be safe.  That's literally like the category name for its designation.  And by what logic do they make that determination?  There has not been a pre-standing scientific consensus about bio-engineered food.  For one thing, the technology has only been around for so long. 

And not all GMOs are created equally.  I read a little article deriding the anti-GMO camp, saying that genetic modification is merely the technology being used to produce this food, and that it's like criticizing a farmer for using a tractor instead of an ox and plow.  That is a false analogy.  The result is the same for the farmer whichever method he uses - the soil is tilled (or whatever).  GMOs, on the other hand, are organisms that cannot exist in nature without laboratory intervention.  It is not the equivalent of a farmer cultivating a hybrid, or grafting an apple seed to a stick in order to produce the same kind of apple.  Genes of completely different species - animals - are mixed with these plants (or animals).  And by mixed, I mean that the cell wall has to be breached artificially (using, like, ebola and stuff) in order to get the alien genes through.  Nature cannot achieve that.

Genetically modified corn produces its own pesticide.  That ain't right, people.  Corn is a great example of a plant that has been modified by humans, using nature, over centuries.  But jumping to a completely new type of corn, with no historical presence of these properties - that is completely new territory.  And there is no way we could adequately assess the consequences of even a small change once it has been introduced into the environment in so short a time.  But our environment is being radically altered with the introduction of numerous crops - big ones, like corn and soy - that have been tweaked and skewed.  Some may may be benign, some may have only mildly adverse effects (like the increased gluten-sensitivity from hybridized wheat), and some could be catastrophic.

We just don't know.

We do know that more pesticide is being sprayed due to pesticide resistant seed (sold by the same company), and that is fouling our water supplies.  It also appears that one of the major factors in the declining bee populations is the overuse of certain pesticides.  It has also been suggested that GM crops do not produce more yield than natural crops, contradicting the "feeding world hunger" claim.

Okay, even I'm sick of this topic now.  Let's wrap it up.

I like to call myself a lapsed hippy.  I'd really like to be better about all the diet and environmental concerns.  I have just succumbed to the overwhelming stresses of poverty and children and all that jazz.  But it's never too late to try to be better.  And better safe than sick with an antibiotic-resistant illness.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Soulmates are like Zombies.

Evo's Coffee Lounge
12oz Soy Soma Mocha
Heart-shaped Biscuit
(and a hot cocoa for my co-writer)

This will probably be brief and distracted since I have my little astronaut with me.  So let's jump right to it and see how far we get.

I have said before that soulmates are like zombies: Even though I know they're not real they still haunt my dreams. 

I really should have had a lot more supervision when I was a kid because I never should have been watching those horror flicks.  When you're that little, your brain believes everything no matter how much you tell it something isn't real.  As you grow up, you can only correct those childhood illusions so much.  It takes a long damn time and your efforts never quite erase what you've experienced.  After all, the experiences and information you receive as a child shapes the architecture of your brain for the rest of your life.  Think of remodeling a house.  How easy - how costly - is it to tear up the foundation?  Most of us are lucky if we can afford to replace the linoleum in the kitchen.

But no amount of supervision could have spared me the horrors of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and every other damn story about The One True Epic Love.  We have a cultural fixation on the idea of soulmates.  The narrative goes that there is one person out there that you are meant for, that you will know them when you meet them, and that you will only really, truly, for-reals be happy with that one person.  Any other person will fall short.  You will always be incomplete and never quite happy unless you are with The One.  Even if you thought you were happy and were engaged to someone already, once The One comes along, you just have to be brave enough to leave the person you had thought you could be happy with for the rest of your life.

There's another confounding factor in globalization.  We are so easily connected to everyone that it's not inconceivable that our One True Love could be halfway around the world.  So, we must be vigilant and scour every glimpse or scrap of media that passes before us, just in case we see The One in a graphic in a reposted story about the effects of sea level rise in lowland Asian countries.

This is a far, far cry from how we evolved.  Until the Industrial Age most people never traveled more than a dozen miles from the place they were born.  That's not a lot of opportunity to meet new people.  In fact, the person you married was almost always someone you knew and had know for most of your life.  (Or, the person your parents arranged for you to marry was someone they had known...). 

In other words, it was way more likely that you married a friend than a stranger.  There was no epic moment of meeting.  You had a relatively small pool of familiar candidates that you had years to evaluate before you eventually took a chance and picked one to form a family with.  Does this mean that people weren't happy when they didn't have as much choice?  No.  Flat out - no.

There have been articles previously about how too much choice can actually make us less happy.  Some choice is nice and everyone is different, but there comes a point when you stop being content with anything you choose because you know there is more out there.  And we are forever being promised that there's a better, new and improved product that will solve all our problems. 

So, between Cinderella and intercontinental travel and Ron Popeil, how can we ever be happy in a relationship?

This soulmate mythos held me back for a long time.  As much as I told myself it's irrational and self-destructive, I couldn't quite rid it from my psyche.  I also had the specter of divorce before me since my parents split when I was very young.  I had this background fear of choosing the wrong person so I held myself back from fully committing to anyone.  The specter of someone better would haunt me, even when I was engaged and really believed I had found the person I wanted to marry.

It took a long time for Cinderella to die, but it finally happened.  Well, maybe she's just in a coma... that no Prince Charming could awaken her from.  Either way, I reached a point where the fear abated and I realized that you can love many people in your life.  No one of them has to be perfect, or even perfect for you, since none of us are perfect and we will, hopefully, continue to change and evolve over our lifetimes.  Some people fit you better, some fit you worse, but the truth is that your odds are actually pretty good that you can find someone to be a great partner, to help you throughout the ups and downs and radical changes of your life.  You don't want to talk yourself into settling if, deep down, you know that it's not a great fit but, at some point, you need to open yourself to the joy that's there beside you.

I'll throw one last bone to the romantics out there... I do believe in intuition.  I do believe that you can have a sense of knowing about a person.  That doesn't happen every time or for every person.  And having that intuition or not having it doesn't make a person your soulmate or not.  With the cultural cloud of the soulmate fetish before our eyes, it's very hard to know what we're really feeling anyway.  Just do your best to be honest with yourself and the one(s) you're with. 

Be honest and be happy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Black Turkey Day

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
12oz Soy Butterscotch Mocha
Breakfast Burrito w/salsa

Last year I began shunning Target.  This is because I suck at boycotting them.  You may be able to point to some good things they do, and they may have had the cheapest diaper wipes, but they crossed a line last year - they crossed the turkey line.

Like WalMart and Toys-R-Us and a few others, Target began their Black Friday on Thanksgiving.  Of all transgressions a company can commit, one that offends me most is exploiting their employees.  Retail employees already do not receive adequate compensation, nor receive adequate time with their families (generally speaking).  So to force already desperate or strained people to work on one of their very few holidays in order to earn a precious little extra is in no way benevolent.  And even if it is officially deemed "optional," most employees will believe - and often, rightly so - that it will count against them if they choose to not work on their holiday.  Even if management doesn't officially count it against them, come review time, the employee's lack of team spirit will be there in the back of their mind, if not the fore.

My husband and I don't have many big arguments but they mainly involve time off, and the lack thereof.  Low wage workers already have so much less opportunity to enjoy and care for their families than their better paid peers.  When I was younger and more itinerant, my schedule around the holidays mattered less to me.  I was often either so far away from family that I couldn't conceive of a holiday trip to visit them, or I was close enough for a quick dinner or overnight stay between my regular shifts.  Now that I have small children, traveling anywhere is an ordeal and cannot be undertaken without a clear swath of time. 

For low wage workers, this is hard to come by ever - especially in the retail environment which is constantly understaffed and cycling through employees who have burnt out or moved on to a more sustainable wage.  But during the holiday season - as early as October through the beginning of January - most retail establishments implement a black out policy.  No time off for anyone because then everybody would take time off during their busiest time of the year.

So if you want to spend time with your loved ones around the holidays, those two traditional days off - Thanksgiving and Christmas Day - are precious.  In a best case scenario, you might have sympathetic management with enough staffing options that you can rearrange your usual days off to get a longer block of time to travel around those, oh, so congested traveling days.  Sometimes, if you have seniority and enough notice, you might even get approved in advance to take an extra day off.  This is the exception, though, for most places.  And now it seems that the special extra time off would be just not working the day that we are all supposed to take to spend with the people most precious to us.

(Here's a tip executives: If you consider your customers to be the people most precious to you, then you give up your holidays with your family and get behind those registers, and let your over-worked staff stay home.  Better yet - everybody stay home!)

So, beginning last holiday season, I began ordering our diapers and wipes elsewhere (and here's a shout-out to, who have always impressed me with their treatment of their customers, their employees, and their special efforts following Hurricane Sandy last year - props!).  I began trying to find other sources for all the miscellaneous things I would pick up when I was at Target.  I have still spent money there over this last year, and almost none at WalMart and Toys-R-Us, but they have lost at least a couple thousand of my dollars in poopy butt supplies.  Not a lot to a big, giant company like them, but I feel better about myself.  And I will continue to seek out businesses that do right by their people.

And to those executives who would say, "We're only open that day because people want to shop that day," I say, that is no excuse.  Not only does it abuse the free time of the employees and the families who love them for the sake of extracting a few more dollars from your customers, but it also abuses the customers.  Some customers don't care, they just want the best deal.  But probably most of them would rather not be there, even if it's just for a 4 a.m. opening on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  But people are made to feel desperate, that this is their only opportunity to get something big, that they might otherwise never be able to get.  Or at least, desperate to keep their credit card payments a little bit smaller.  So they sacrifice their sleep, their time waiting in line, and most disgustingly they sacrifice a little of their humanity.  They sacrifice what should be some of the most meaningful time of their lives to become sleep-deprived, feral, door-busting, customer-trampling bargain shoppers!

Door-busting is an inhumane practice and should end this very holiday season.  Companies should stop trying to drive people to shop at their stores by creating a panicked sense of urgency and potential loss.  There are other ways to remain a viable business than by forcing people on both sides of the counter to make difficult, even soul-crushing (or people-crushing), sacrifices in the name of consumption.  Maybe start by building your brand as a company that values people more than corporate bonuses.  A company that doesn't just want to financially exist, but wants to deserve to exist.

I would pay extra to shop at a place like that.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bliss in the Is... and other tattoos.

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Soy Chai

That ellipsis was deliberate.  Because that's the way I had that phrase tattooed onto my wrist yesterday.  Because there is much more imbued in those words than just the literal definitions of the words you see.  And since I'm going to be explaining what the hell that's supposed to mean for the rest of my life, I thought I'd start with the handful of you who read this.

My short response will be, "It's another way of saying 'live in the moment,' 'be present,' that kind of thing..."  But there is a reason I chose this phrase and not any of those others.  To begin with, it's a challenge to see what really Is, honestly, no excuses.  It's about seeing your own motivations behind your actions and emotions.  It's about keeping things in perspective, counting your blessings, that sort of thing.  It is about first coming to terms with things as they are and accepting that they are.  Not what they are - that they are.

Accepting that the Is is does not make what Is acceptable.  Things often need to be changed, sometimes drastically so.  But you can't fix something if you don't understand the truth of it.  And, as with the pain of childbirth, or the pain of getting a tattoo (especially on your wrist), sometimes the only way to deal with the pain you're in is to stop fighting it and learn how to ride it out. 

Deep, full, even breaths... peaceful imagery... and clocks seem to work for me, too, for some reason...

"Bliss in the Is" also means that happiness only happens in the present.  I've heard this stated in different ways but, ultimately, you can't spend your life waiting for something to happen -  waiting for more money, a different town, a different domicile, a better car... waiting for "the big break" or, worse, "the one" to complete you.  You can't conditionalize your happiness.  You rob your life of joy if you give your happiness over to a time that does not now, and may not ever, exist.

So you don't stop trying to improve the Is.  You must first know how you really feel about what is and what will actually make things better.  But you will never have happiness in the present if you don't allow it to be there.

All easier said than done.  That's why I chose to remind myself in post-it form... forever.  Or until I go back and have it all remade into some kind of tribal wristband.

I promise I won't do that.  No barbwire, either.  You have my word.

As for the rest of the work I had done yesterday... 

To compliment the "Bliss" phrase on my left wrist, I had a line from a Henry Rollins song ("Starve") tattooed on my right wrist: "I kiss my fear on the mouth."  No ellipsis on that one.  It's pretty decisive - it needs no further explanation.

On that same hand, to compliment the blue moon already tattooed on my left hand, which represents my name, I had a sun tattooed to represent my boys - the source of light in my life, so to speak.  But not just any sun.  This sun has a story...

I mentioned a little while ago that I would thank Moby, if I ever met him, for being the catalyst that brought my husband and I together.  Well, that kicked off an idea, and I ended up writing him a letter asking him to be the one to draw the sun that I would get tattooed.  Then I didn't know where to send it.  So, I ended up reaching out to old moby-boardie friends and two of them (Hi, Debbie! Hi, Ed!) became my sun-doodle advocates.  They met up with said rockstar  last month and - ta-da! - he doodled, not just one sun, but two suns.  And now I have one of those two tattooed on my right hand.  (I now refer to it as the "rock star hand"... but just in my head...)

This is the doodle... :)

Now, why not tattoo both suns?  Well, that was my first intent.  But in the chair I realized that the placement of the second sun (on the inside of my wrist) would be extremely painful and I was feeling shaky again.  I'm pretty sure I was just chilly, but my body is clearly wonky right now, and I prudently decided that I didn't want to push my limits.  Plus, I'm still ambivalent about the overall design on my wrist, so it gives me some time to live with it before I decide on the final details.

Okay, I admit it - I have commitment issues.

At any rate, I'm happy with what I got.  It feels more complete now, though, as with the crescent moon and star tattoo that has caused some people to question if I was, in fact, born in Turkey, it comes with the consequence of befuddling some folks.  So be it.  I'll just have to work on my short answers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Because Mom says I'm wordy... Roll out the A/V cart!

The domicile
Soy Egg Nog Chai
Pumpkin Spice Bread (about half the loaf)

I promised piccies last week, so here ya go!  Fall, in review...  Feel free to save any for backgrounds (if it lets you?).  I don't claim to be a good photographer - I'm just fortunate to have some attractive subjects...

First, we went to get our pumpkins...

And the trees...  The boys and I spent many days at the park...


We found a few mighty big leaves...

And some more trees...


And finally, Halloween...  I ended up more "Eccentric Victorian Poet" than the "Steampunk Poet" that I had been aiming for.  I was told by several people that the raven made the outfit.  And I was obviously wrangling an astronaut (zooming around the chocolate shop) and Zaphod Beeblebear...

The day after Halloween, O-boy was the astronaut and H-bomb was a dinosaur again... 

And Mom was DONE.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The wisdom of not doing it.

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
Soy Vanilla Butterscotch Steamer

I missed the blog last week because I was shopping for accessories for my Steampunk Poet costume.  (Which reminds me - did I give someone my quill?  Damn it, I think I did.  Oh, well).  Yes, I will post piccies post Halloween.  I think next week will just be a Fall Photo-spread.  You're welcome.

So, last night I went to get tattooed.  Today, I have a partially shaved wrist and no new ink.  I had been anticipating this for so long.  Nine years, in fact, since I got my first moon tattoo.  Now, when I finally had the doodle for my suns in hand (there's a whole other story I will relate later on), and words to live by ready to be permanently inked onto my hands and wrist, I had to stop.  I hadn't been feeling great all day (serious lack of sleep, among other things) and at that moment in the chair, literally as the tattooist was about to apply the stencil, a wave of nausea hit me.  Fortunately, I know my body well enough to know the risks of continuing and potentially puking and/or passing out on the nice young man about to inflict intense pain upon me.  As much as I wanted to push through the discomfort, I am wise enough to know that you don't mess around with the physiology. 

It was the wise thing - courageous, even - to speak up for my body and reschedule when the queasiness did not subside.  And trust me, I can tell you from experience, your tattooist is much happier when you don't pass out and pee on their chair. (Let no one mistake me for a bad ass...)

But your body is a much more tangible thing than your mind.  So it's easier to defend your choice to back out of your previously stated plans when it's your body that is impairing your efforts.  It seems much less forgivable when you tell people something is just "too much" for you - your psyche - to handle right now.

As I proclaimed a few weeks ago, I started school at the beginning of this month.  I knew it would be difficult to manage with two small boys and my high levels of stress and disorder.  But I was going to "Do it anyway!"  By my first day of my physics class I knew I was in trouble and that it would take a considerable effort to catch up and stay caught up.  I shared my fear with some of my new classmates that I might not be back for our second class.  I was met with a challenge from a woman who pushes through obstacles...  Why wouldn't I make it?  Little ones?  So?  She has kids, too.  And works full time, of course.  You just do it anyway.  You find a way.  You push through...

Rather than joyfully inspiring me to achieve more than I believed I could, she just pissed me off.  She might be a lovely person.  I truly do not know.  She struck me, however, as someone who lacks empathy and understanding of people not like her.  She had also irritated me earlier in our lab by jumping into our lab experiment without reading all the instructions.  I might legitimately be slower than I ought to be (especially sans coffee), but there is value in not setting yourself up to fail by plunging headlong into a situation before you're ready.  Just sayin'...

Needless to say, I did not make it to my second class.  If the drop date hadn't been just days after the first class, I might have stuck it out a little longer to see if I could get on track fast enough.  I think I stood a chance of pulling it off.  But I risked academic probation if I couldn't make it work, and another "W" would suspend my financial aid, so I made the the best call I could at that moment.

But why couldn't I do it?  What was my excuse? If she could do it, why was I failing? 

Because, unlike her, for reasons known only to ourselves, my mind was deeply nauseated.  And I did not want to risk the consequences of inflicting more pain and stress on it when my children were in fallout range of emotional projectile vomit.  That's not an excuse.  That is the wisdom of not doing it.  I might have been able to do it, but it was better that I didn't.

When someone says something like, "I didn't have time to do (whatever)," a truer phrase might be, "I didn't have much time to do it, and I elected to not put myself through the difficulty of making it happen."  And maybe that's a weak stance for them and maybe that's a wise choice.  Only they can say.  It's not for other people to decide for them which it is.

When I say, "I have kids," by way of explaining the state of things, that's only a piece of the explanation.  It's a useful shorthand because most people understand the intense stress of caring for a couple of miniature crazy people.  And if someone gives you crap because you don't have as many kids as them and you deign to be more exhausted and stressed out - screw them.  One kid is plenty.  One kid is more than some people can handle.  No one has exactly the same circumstances, psychology, or physiology, and the same results should never be expected for everyone.

It is entirely acceptable to challenge people to do their best, but it is never okay to tell someone what their best is.  It was incredibly difficult for me to let school go again.  But I realized that that was the "it" in "Do it anyway."  I was afraid of being stuck in this cycle forever and never going back, but the best thing I can do for my children is to put off the extra stress until I feel a little more stable, got a few more duckies in a row.  There's no shame in that.  It does not make me inferior, it just makes me different.

And one final story to drive it home...

A few weeks before giving birth to my second child, I heard a story about a woman who ran a marathon at 39 weeks and then went and gave birth.  That's great.  It's always inspiring to hear about someone pushing the bounds of human excellence.  My birth story a few weeks later, however, may be more inspiring. 

Though I have fibromyalgia, though I was in so much pain during my first delivery (even with an epidural) that I couldn't push my son out and almost had to have an emergency C-section, my second son was delivered by a water birth - no painkillers.  I had taken what I had learned about myself and my body and used that knowledge to prepare myself for the second go-round.  And that effort was rewarded with a completely natural childbirth experience.  Boo-yah.

Marathon lady was a runner to begin with, I was damaged at the start.  We both achieved something, and the fact that I didn't run a marathon before giving birth doesn't mean that I was a failure.  She excelled.  I overcame.  We both achieved something. 

But I do think my story is more relatable.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Feel our pain - FEEL IT!

Bloomsbury Coffee House
12oz Coffee

Let's talk compensation for our elected representatives.

Needless to say, I think our reps should not be getting paid during the shutdown.  I think I can accept them getting back-pay, but definitely no checks for them while they are withholding paychecks from other people.  But while we're on the subject of their paychecks, let's just settle what that amount ought to be.

How do we determine what is fair compensation?  There is no real private sector equivalent to a congressman (and we will just not go into all the other things we can equate a congressman to).  Some have said they should make minimum wage, or some derivative of that (no more than double the minimum, for example).  But I think it's pretty fair to say that a minimum wage job isn't equivalent in responsibility and consequence to that of an elected official's.  It's worth adding that that does not make either worker superior or inferior to the other (just sayin').

Some people put forth a specific amount for compensation (as it is now), extrapolated from current values within the economy.  But that criteria is pretty subjective, and that amount would naturally need to be adjusted as costs adjust.  And, as I am against minimum wage being tied to votes, I would be against rep pay being tied to votes, and for the same reasons.  Whatever the criteria by which we set their pay, their pay should move as the economy moves and be self-adjusting, as minimum wage should be.

So what's fair?  I say, if they are representing us, they should make what we make.  Any representative should receive whatever is the median income of their constituents.  All the way up to the White House.
Yes, I think the "Leader of the Free World" should make about 40 grand a year. 

Naturally, there would be other forms of their compensation - company healthcare, company car (or company "Air Force One"), pensions, etc.  And representatives do have to maintain more than one residence - in their home districts and in their governing cities.  There would be expected traveling expenses going back and forth.  It would be reasonable to cover some of those costs to allow our representatives to fulfill the obligations of their jobs.  Within limits.

But when it comes to the actual paycheck, why should our public servants receive such vastly higher pay than their employers - us?  Shouldn't they have some skin in the game?  The truth is that most of these people are already rich.  You nearly have to be in order to run for office nowadays.  Which begs two conclusions.  First: if they're already rich, then why do they need more money?  Second: we need to implement some other reforms while we're at it, so that people who are actually more representative of us are able to be elected to represent us.

A couple thoughts...

First, term limits.  You can be re-elected once to the same job.  Maybe you can sit out a term (or two) and come back.  But to serve 30, 40, 50 years, in a job with a two-year term?  That's just not a healthy relationship for either of us, and we both need to move on.

Next - money.  Everybody seems to talk about how horrible is the influence of money in our elections.  How many people actually put forth any real reforms to fix that?  Public matching funds are one fix that might make a little difference, but they don't fix the main driver of increasing election costs.  It's the advertising, people.  Buying television ads are incredibly costly to campaigns and they are the worst source of information for voters.  But they sure are effective for the well-funded campaigns, and who wants to give up that advantage?

If we were to restrict or eliminate political television ads, the costs needed to wage political warfare would be reduced, and that would make the playing field just that much more level.  Much of the political messaging gets out through other, less costly, means anyway (internet ads, news proxies).  But we could still make efforts to give equal quality exposure to more candidates.  Perhaps a series of 30-minute prime-time informative spots donated via public television.  Or something.  But in the age of the internet and hyper-social media, we can better serve both candidates and voters by moving away from the TV.

Oh, and I think most of us can agree that money is not speech.  Can we just pass that language so the judiciary is no longer confused on this point?

I could go on (and on) but I'm getting distracted and running out of coffee.  I think that will do for today.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sanctimonious Fucktards

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Soy Chai
Lemon Whiskey Macaroon
Cranberry Scone

I'm guessing you guys can guess where this one's going.

Imagine for a moment the very smart couple.  They got their education.  They got married.  They had their careers, they bought a house.  At thirty, they decided to start their family.  They had three beautiful, amazing children, who are a testament to their parents' awesomeness.  They did everything right.  And in 2008, they got knocked on their asses when they both lost their jobs to the Great Recession.

Over the last few years they have been knocked around badly, not knowing where the next job, the next meal, the next temporary housing situation was going to come along.  They and their children have been amazingly resilient, though not without their bruises from these ordeals.  But finally - finally! - they are getting back on their feet.  Back into regular employment, back into regular housing, and regular meals.

Or, they were getting back on their feet, until October 1st when they got the dreaded news: furloughed.

I don't think the sanctimonious fucktards who caused this shutdown can appreciate the word "dreaded."  They have no idea, not the faintest wisp of empathetical understanding, of what it is to live in terror of having no paycheck.  No net, no back-up plans, no hope of escape, and now, no help from the government they have been helping with every precious paycheck for so many years.

Let's imagine someone else now.

There are millions of pregnant women out there this very moment.  A significant number of them are still in their first trimester, or early in their second.  Early enough to get an abortion in most places.  Almost none of these women (as a percentage of the overall population) is rich enough to not be worried about their own finances, let alone the overall economy.  Many, many, many of these women are very, very worried about their own finances. 

So think about one of these more anxious, more desperate women.  Maybe she was smart and did everything right.  Maybe she wasn't that smart.  Maybe she was foolish enough to trust, in people, in situations.  Maybe she didn't tread carefully enough.  Maybe she was just human.  Whatever path brought here, here she is - due, and dreading what kind of life her child might have.  What do you think that pregnant woman is thinking now when all safety nets have been removed?  How much trust does she have that those nets will be restored? that they will be enough?  How much does she trust that they won't be ripped away again before she's more stable?  And how long will that take?

Does she dare keep the baby?  When she has been robbed of the means to care for herself and the child, and robbed of all confidence that there will be a safety net if she were to need it again - how can she bring herself to invest in a human life under those circumstances?

These are not hyperbolic or abstract examples.  These are real fucking people and there are thousands - millions - of them.  Their pain - their daily, living, breathing dread - is very fucking real.  And not only are they suffering directly by the hands of these self-righteous, self-deluded bigots, but everyone else is going to begin suffering by proxy.  Even the rich are eligible for fallout, whether or not they are willing to acknowledge it.

I confess I'm feeling a bit hostile writing this.  And I was in such a good mood today...  But this is a Miller's Facepalm of epic proportion.  And if somebody says the words "Obama's shutdown" in front of me, I will have a very difficult time not punching them in the face.  And I'm such a nice person...  But no matter how much some people want to engage in rebranding and double-think, this is in no way a bi-partisan impasse.  This was a directly Republican engineered disaster. 

This was in no way unavoidable.  Conflicting budgets were passed by each house six damn months ago, and all they had to do then was follow normal procedures and appoint the people from each house to sit down together and hash it out.  But that didn't happen, did it?  Nope!  And, yes, it was because of the Republican leadership.  Even now, all the Speaker has to do is bring a bill to the floor to be voted on that would fund the government - at sequester levels! - for a few weeks while they finally sit down and try to agree on a budget.  He will not bring the bill to the floor.  One guy.  One asshole.  One great big sanctimonious fucktard is choosing to continue this.

And compromise?  That's like saying you'll stop punching someone in the head if some other guy will start kicking him in the nuts.  Either way, if you get what you're demanding or you keep doing what you're doing, someone's going to the hospital.  And, oh yeah, he doesn't have health insurance.

There are plenty of reasonable Republicans out there who don't want this.  But they are complicit in this theft and abuse of these citizens who are being robbed of their pay, of their life-saving assistance.  And they are just as guilty of the reckless endangerment of public safety.  And, oh yeah, the economic safety of the fucking world if they continue this through the debt ceiling, too.  Even if you do believe that the Affordable Care Act has serious problems, and even if you believe this could actually rectify any of those problems, the consequences of this tactic are, right now, doing more real harm to far more people.  If you want to get rid of Obamacare, vote it out with something better.  This is just not worth it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...

Downtowne Coffee
12oz Soy Mexican Mocha w/orange
Blueberry Elf Muffin

(Woo-hoo formatting!)

I'm going back to school next week.  Again.  I am beyond anxious about this. 

I had a rough time when I first went to college, dealing with a stressful relationship and an almost panicked urgency to "just finish school" so I wouldn't get stuck being poor forever.  But things went how they went and I had to take a semester off... for a few years.  And then I accepted that I couldn't make my situation any better than it was, and I tried to go back to school in an "as is" kind of situation.  It didn't work out.  I tried again.  It didn't work out.  Every semester, something happened - I had schedule issues, I had falling asleep every time I opened my homework issues, I hurt my back, I got kicked out.  I even missed the final for my Stress Management class because I had a panic attack.

You read that irony correctly.

Withdrawal, withdrawal, withdrawal...  It got to the point that I developed a kind of complex about going back to school.  And all the while, my academic knowledge slipped further and further away.  I was a math/physics major once upon a time.  I finished all my calculus and linear algebra and the like, and now I cannot remember almost any of it.  I'm just about starting from scratch.

I've began to question whether I'm up to the demands of school, especially with the two boys.  I can't keep up with my dishes - how am I supposed to keep up with school?  Angels though they are, it is basically non-stop stress all day, and all night, sometimes.  I have a hard time finding time to "cool down" my brain.  Me time.

And what I'm going to do with a degree anyway?  Years and years and years from now, when I eventually get it...?  I have concluded that I lack the rigor for the tedious research of such an academic degree as astrophysics.  That does not mean I can't work on something tirelessly for hours on end.  I've certainly done it before.  It just means that I've learned about myself that I have to love what I'm doing or it will fall apart.  Or, I'll fall asleep.  And sifting and sorting through data about redshifty galaxies, while interesting to hear about, could not hold my concentration long enough to process it myself. 

I'm not proud of that admission.  I wanted to believe that I was capable of so much more.  Maybe I could have been if things had gone differently, if the stresses hadn't been so relentless, all life long.  I'm sure there is a parallel universe out there somewhere where, right now, I am teaching all the college kids about parallel universes.  But here, now, my brain has been fried.  I've spent too long emotionally strung out to realize the promise I might have once possessed.

Mope, mope.

But who cares?  I ain't dead yet. 

And I want to learn, damn it.  Going to school isn't just about the potential financial stability.  After all, they make it almost financially fucking impossible just to get the damn degree.  But my brain hungers.  It's restless.  It craves more than just marathon days of HGTV in the background while I run around rescuing the boys from the certain peril of furniture pratfalls and territorial toy disputes.

So, strung out, chasing babies, blogging brief, cryptic haiku... "as is," but hopefully with clean dishes... once more unto the breach, I go...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sick days and other Inelastic Goods.

Downtowne Grounds
12oz Soy Mojito Mocha

I love it when smart people quote me.  John Stewart does it periodically, like when he suggested "decoupling" health care from jobs.  I have used that very term to argue the same point.  Recently, I viewed this link to a video wherein John Green (another smart person) mentions (as I often have) the "inelastic" nature of health care.

For the record, I think that Obamacare is about the dumbest way to move forward that we could have come up with - but it is moving forward.  I only hope that, in time (preferably short time), we come back to the subject and, instead of compulsively trying to defund it, we make some real improvements to it.  But the one thing that I do not think we should do is return health care to the "Free Market."  Because the health care market is inherently not "free."

Free markets, or rather, markets that can move freely, are elastic.  Coffee is an elastic good.  (Arguably, if I'm being woken up by Henry at 6am and I just got to bed at 1:30am).  That means, if you jack up the price from two bucks to twenty bucks, people will stop buying coffee (as much).  However, if, as Mr. Green suggests, your life-saving prescription goes up from, say, 7 bucks to over 100 a month, you're still going to find a way to pay for it.  The demand is "inelastic" because it does not change dramatically when the price does.  And because of that inelastic nature, this is where the government has an appropriate place to step in.

Now, stepping in can take many forms - be it through regulations of private insurers or providing health care as another public service, or some combination thereof.  But the goal is simply to prevent people from being exploited, since they are inherently vulnerable in such markets.  This is why, as I mentioned above, we need to stop allowing health care to be treated as a "perk" that either is or isn't in someone's benefits package, and instead view it as a mandatory cost of living that should be reflected in their paycheck (one way or another).  If an employer can't or won't provide affordable health care coverage to their employees, that employer shouldn't pay a fine to the government, but should pay those employees enough to provide insurance for themselves.

There's another inelastic market: paychecks.  People don't hold up signs saying, "Will work for food, shelter, and extra vacations days."  They stop at "food."  People will vastly undersell their product - their work - just to keep from starving.  This is why I advocate so strongly for a movable, livable, minimum wage.  Wages have been allowed to drop so far below inflation (as well as disproportionate increases in the cost of inelastic things like health care and college tuition), that we've essentially had a fire sale on American Labor for the last several decades.  Any MBA should be able to tell you that that is an unsustainable business model.  And many economists (like Robert Reich who has some kind of new PowerPoint documentary about income inequality) have been trying to tell you that it is an unsustainable economic model.

Again, there are more than a few ways to try to balance the inequality of an inelastic market.  Unions are one way, and their decline has paralleled the decline of middle-class income.  Government regulations of wages and other employment issues are another means of rectifying the imbalance of power.  Any solution has its pros and cons, but the lack of intervention is no solution at all.  Because such markets generally utilize very destructive means to "correct" themselves over the long run. 

And I, for one, prefer my revolutions with more dancing and less broken things.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pavlov's Bitches and the rise of the Ramenista Class

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Soy Raspberry Mocha
Egg-pastry thingy

We're all pretty familiar with Ivan Pavlov's work with dogs.  At least the part about drooling.  But old Ivan produced a conditioned response - that the dog would anticipate the arrival of food when it heard a bell - so that the dog would produce saliva.  He was not trying to associate a particular behavior that would result in a food reward, though that is the standard technique for dog trainers nowadays.

So what do you think Pavlov's dog would learn if you gave it a big old juicy steak, not when a bell rang, but whenever the dog did anything.  What would you get if you gave a dog a steak even when he crapped on the carpet?

You'd get Donald Trump.

Okay, cheap shot.  To be fair, I'm not talking about all CEOs or businesspeople in general.  But there is a predominant kind of thinking right now that says if you're rich, then you deserve it - and if you're poor, you deserve it even worse.  Not everyone subscribes to that philosophy, but it remains so pervasive that our entire economy has been fundamentally crippled because of it.  And, as I argued in one of my first blogs (Of Food Stamps and Smart Phones), it is psychologically crippling our people as well.  This shaming of the poor, whether it was cynically contrived or the simple result of protecting the rich man's ego from guilt (or responsibility), allows for this very unhealthy economy to continue.

Our economic structure is so skewed right now that basically no one is getting paid what they deserve.  How can you deserve to work hard, full-time, and and not be able to take care of yourself, let alone a family?  And how can you deserve a multi-million dollar a year salary when the employees of your company have to ask for government assistance to feed their children?  If your people are not thriving, then your business is not thriving and you, sir - or madam - have not earned your yacht. 

Here's another way to put it: $15,080.  That's what a full-time 40 hour a week worker earns in a year, gross.  Assuming that person works from age 18 to age 65 (47 years, right?), they will earn (without adjusting for inflation) $708,760 in their working lifetime.  Do we really think that anyone's work is so important, so irreplaceable, that they deserve to be paid more in one year than a hard-working minimum wage worker will be paid in their entire lifetime?

It was reported this week that income inequality is the highest it has been since right before the Great Depression.  That should alarm you.  It was also reported that 95% of the economic recovery has gone to the wealthiest 1%.  That should piss you off and alarm you.

Fortunately, it has pissed off fast food workers, and other low-wage workers around the country - the Ramenista Class - who are beginning to protest and demand a real living wage.  Again, minimum wage has fallen so far behind the real cost of living that it would take a radical readjustment to catch it up to what it should be.  And I know that are many nay-sayers out there, and many a small businessperson is shaking their head, saying, "There's just no way I could pay my people anymore - I'd go out of business!"

And the truth is, yeah, they might go out of business - if they were the only ones paying a living wage.  But it is a myth to say that it cannot be done.  There are innumerable economists out there who are saying that not only can we do it, but we need to do it or we're never going to have a sound economy.  And after all, the money you keep out of your employee's pocket is money you keep out of your customer's pocket, too.

There was a study by a (I think "progressive") think tank, Demos, that said that if the major retailers (Walmart, Target, and a few others) were to raise their base wage to $12.25 an hour, they would raise tens of thousands out of poverty, create jobs, reduce other social costs, and boost the overall economy.  Could they afford it?  Pretty easily.  And if they passed the cost on to the consumer?  Pennies per shopping trip.

The main difference is that those giant retailers make up such a large percentage of the low-wage labor force compared to a single small business.  So the actions of that handful of employers would have a far-reaching impact over the basically insignificant impact of that mom-and-pop shop that wants to do right by their workers.  There is some percentage, I'm sure, that represents a 'critical mass' needed to move the economic baseline without the intervention of government.  Apparently, these mega-retailers could do it on their own if they just chose to.

So far, that doesn't seem to be happening.  Nor does it seem that the government will be moving that line any time soon.  And so, the Ramenistas have arisen to demand it.  It seems the market will not bear this pseudo-indentured servitude anymore.

I give that Miller's Fistpump.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Never pass up a chance to pee.

Mix Sweet Shop
16oz Soy Chai
Chocolate Croissant
8oz Americano

I feel like a bit of a jerk.  I'm a bit sick and sitting in the middle of a crowded coffee shop.  But I absolutely needed to be out of the house for a while today.  We just got back from our first family-of-four trip late last night and I'll be spending the rest of the day decompressing/putting the apartment back in order.  That's also why this will be a bit brief.

First, when going on your first long trip with your two small children - overpack.  As long as there's still room in the trunk, and you keep the diapers and snacks and a couple basic soothers in immediate reach, just take everything you might remotely need or imagine somebody might want.  Only by going will you learn what can be culled and what must be taken on future trips.  Be prepared to go to Fred Meyer at 10:30 at night for more supplies.  (Also, bring your own baby-proofing supplies if you want to avoid going to Fred Meyer at 10:30 at night).

Plan what you want to do in advance.  Then cut it in half.  Then cut that in half and add an hour to each stop.  Then be prepared to do something else entirely.

Take lots of pictures, but take more pictures in your head.  You're going to have an experience, so experience it.

Give yourself at least a day to recover from your trip before you have to go back to being responsible for stuff.

Make sure you empty the trash before leaving, even if it isn't full.  Especially if it contains dirty diapers.  Seriously.  It's okay to be a bad hippy sometimes.

As per Hitchhiker's Guide, bring a towel.  You will want something to lie on when you have to stretch out on the gross sidewalk outside the McDonalds because your back hurts from driving for-freakin-ever.

Take the speed limit seriously.  There are places we were driving in SoOr and NorCal - especially on the 101 - where the speed limit should have been even less than what was posted.  Also, pay attention to the signs because the limits change frequently and many drivers act like, well... California drivers, who specialize in Making Good Time.

Don't make good time.  Have a good time.

And... Go.  Even though Oliver is not even two and Henry is only three and they may remember little of the feel of the gritty wet sand or the smell of the salty ocean, go anyway.  Oliver fell asleep before making it to the Trees of Mystery, and Henry was more interested in creaky gates and rickety bridges and the ice cream in the gift shop.  Still, the stillness of the forest, the towering redwood canopy, the vast trunk of the fallen 3,000 year old tree, the beauty of a green untamed wilderness will seep into their consciousness and linger on in their dreams.  And when we go again someday - years from now - they will connect to the experience and understand without understanding why, and their memories will be stronger for having gone this time.

Oh, yeah, and... never pass up a chance to pee.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Comedian's Dilemma.

Bloomsbury Coffee House
12oz Soy Mocha w/whip
Zucchini Bread

The best comedy tells the truth.  And because of that, comedy often traffics in uncomfortable taboo topics.  Racism, sexism, war and violence... the bread and butter of many comedians.  You don't have to use "blue humor" to be a master comedian - think Bill Cosby.  But it is often the blunt, crass, shocking comedians who add the most value to our society by their ability to reveal truths about ourselves that have gone unacknowledged.  Think George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor.  However, that doesn't give comedians license to be shocking and vulgar and claim some noble cause, that they're just telling it like it is, holding up a mirror to society.

My husband and I have very different taste in humor.  He is much more fond of the Jackass movies, pranks, and the modern-day Comedy Central roasts.  These are often unwatchable for me.  But we do agree on many things in principle.  He is adamantly anti-censorship, and insists that no subject is taboo as long as the joke is funny.  And I am basically in agreement, but I have to add one caveat, one challenge to the performer: Maybe the subject isn't "off the table," but should the joke be told?

It would probably surprise people to know that all those stereotypes about Jewish people which appear regularly in comedy routines - I didn't know any of them till I was in high school or college.  I learned them from comedians.  And even though I don't believe in racism - in that I don't think there is any behavior that is intrinsic to one group of people or other - those thoughts are there now, whether I want them to be or not.  They pop up like a reflexive twitch of the knee when it is struck by the comedian's hammer, and every time I have to make the effort to correct the thought, lower my foot to the floor again.

Racism, sexism, any kind of prejudice, can only survive through its repetition.  It has to be branded into your thinking, like any marketing campaign. 

So, for a comedian trying to find their voice, make their name, they need to ask themselves also,  "Is the joke worth telling?"  You can come up with some clever turn of phrase, some situational joke that will have a good punch, but does the joke reveal?  Does it enlighten?  Will it bring us to a better place by challenging our previously-held perceptions?  Or will it reinforce the old worn-out prejudices?  Where does the humor of the joke come from?  If you're telling a joke about something horrible happening to someone, does the humor come from exposing the horribleness of the perpetrators, or of society's reaction to the event?  Or does the humor exploit the victim?  Will the joke strengthen the weak or the strong?

At the end of the day, I'm not a comedian, and I'm not for censorship, so this is not directly my dilemma.  But I do not have to partake in that kind of humor, and I feel a responsibility to call it out when I see it, because, so often, those who are telling the joke do not see it. 

Then, it's our turn to hold up the mirror.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Broken Things

Downtown Grounds
12oz soy ...somethin' fancy, I forget the name, but it's got Mayan chocolate and orange zest or something
Peanut butter cookie

The Broken Things

There's duct tape
and glue
and chips off
laminated edges;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's cigarettes
and pills
and pillars of
empty bottles;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's spare rooms
and backseats
and other people's
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's second jobs
and food stamps
and maxed out
interest rates;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's pundits
there's lies -
I'm of no one's
special interest;
and we'll never get fixed
by the broken things.

We'll never be fixed
by the broken things.

-- 8/10/13

So, I went to the college to work out some paperwork crap, and they were closed.  Unfortunately, Greg dropped me off in front and left with the boys before I could signal to him that the doors were locked.  And... guess who's got a home-row and left their phone at home today?  This gal!  So, that's why I'm doing my blog today and just mailin' it in this week.

Also, I uploaded a video to YouTube.  Did I mention I have a YouTube account?  I was originally going to do a video blog, so I started a channel called "RamenistaClass."  Unfortunately, I couldn't blog from home because I didn't have a camera with decent audio at the time, and there was too much baby interference.  So I had to resort to getting myself ye old-fashioned bloggity-blog.  Anyway, this video was prompted by a call from the show "All In" with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.  They wanted stories about life on minimum wage, so I tried to summarize what I had written about in the "Hard Choices" blog.  Check it out, if you like.  And send in your own story while you're at it.  That is all.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The first rule of Consent Club...

Mix Sweet Shop
8oz Soy Mocha
(Huge!) Croissant

Trigger Warning.

Have you seen that phrase popping up more and more?  I have.  I think it's a great thing, but it's such a tragic thing, too.  It's a sad commentary about the presence and pervasiveness of today's topic.  If you are sensitive to this topic - and if you are then you know the topic to which I am referring - you may want to go look at pictures of kitties opening doors and peeing in toilets and then (most importantly) flushing.  Or pour yourself a shot and soldier on...  This is your trigger warning.

Someone posted this article to me about Yale's response to an investigation into on-campus rapes.  They retermed it "Nonconsensual Sex" and "disciplined" the offenders with probation or suspension.  Not even expulsion - suspension.  That's it.  My comment when I reposted the article onto my Wall was:

To be clear... there is no such thing as "Nonconsensual Sex" because Sex is something you do WITH someone not TO someone. You can call it "Nonconsensual Penetration," because if I were to, say, take a pencil and Penetrate the eye socket of one of these college administrators they would in no way confuse that with making sweet, sweet love with a Number 2.

I have been seeing more and more conversations about rape and rape culture.  My first reaction to the term was that it probably went a little too far, because no one is really for rape.  Right?  Then I read more and more and, once my eyes were opened to it, I realized it is everywhere.  These are a couple of articles I reposted recently about what rape culture is and about the objectification of women beyond just the obvious over-sexed advertisements.  To sum up, objectification is more about the way that men are overwhelmingly the subject of the story, the action, and women are the mostly passive object of the story or action.  Even strong female characters tend to be somebody's love interest/trophy/partner on the job, etc.  

And rape culture?  The best explanation of rape culture that I've heard is that is the normalization of rape to the point the people don't recognize it as rape.  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Steubenville rape case, beyond the rapes, was the audience.  Numerous witnesses said they didn't stop or report the incident because they didn't think it was rape.  An unconscious person - a kid - being dragged from party to party and repeatedly penetrated by multiple people... not rape?  Apparently, these guys thought this was some kind of a party prank.  Like drawing a penis on someone's face is on the same level as forcing one inside them without their consent.

There are too many examples of horrible things.  Too many statistics that will break your heart.  I've heard different figures but most often I hear these: 1 in 4 women will be raped in her lifetime... 1 in 6 men... and most victims before they reach the age of 18.  So about 1 in 5 Americans overall.  The figure that hit me hardest, though, was among black women: 3 out of 5 will be raped in their lifetime.  Sixty percent.  That's "most."

Three-fifths of black women treated like they're not quite human.

I don't know the numbers among black men, but that number - three-fifths - that alone is enough call for black men to be at the vanguard of the feminist movement.

My hope is that we are finally beginning to wake up to this silent epidemic.  We clearly need to do some educating and re-educating across the population.  Apparently, we need to teach people things like, the legal definition of "rape" (despite some politicians' efforts to distinguish between "legitimate" and, what?, "not legitimate" rape) is any penetration of any orifice by any object, animate or inanimate.  We need PSAs.  We need Consent Education as a fundamental part of Sex Education.  We need to cultivate a culture of respect for every person's right to their own body.  

Even the guy(s) who grabbed my ass in the lunch line in junior high was(/were) guilty of sexual assault.  And in hindsight (no pun intended), I should have just picked one of the guys standing behind me and punched him, because if he wasn't the guy who did it - twice - he was the one who allowed it.  And even those seemingly harmless drunk pranks, like dragging someone into some other position/place or drawing a penis on their face when they're passed out, is a form of assault.  I have a right to my body under any circumstance, but especially when I am most vulnerable.

We need a culture that collectively shames those who would violate others, not a society that protects them from consequence and even cheers them on.  We need a culture of consent, not the conflation of rape with seduction or conquest.  We need a culture that treats the non-consensual publication of pictures of nip slips or other nudity as a form of rape.  It doesn't matter if it was during a consensual act or if the person is a natural exhibitionist.  That does not imply that they consent to the perpetual exhibition of their body via whatever kind of visual recording.  Publications that exhibit non-censensual nudity should not be fined - people should go to jail.

In short, we need to bust some memes, people.

So, for the sake of those who need a little clarification, here are the rules for the Culture - the Club, if you will - of Consensual Sex... 

1.  The first rule of Consent Club is... if it's not consensual, it's not sex.
2.  The second rule of Consent Club is... if it's not consensual, IT'S NOT SEX.
3.  If your partner tells you to stop, taps out, or loses consciousness, the sex is over.
4.  Only approved participants can participate, no matter the number of previous partners.
5.  Consent is valid only for the time it is enthusiastically being given, and does not entitle you to Consent at any other time (nor the replaying of recordings of the Consensual Act).
6.  No style, length, or lack of clothing implies Consent.
7.  Sex goes on as long as ALL parties want it to, and not a stroke longer.
8.  You do not HAVE TO have sex with anyone, ever.

Maybe it's not as snappy as Fight Club's list, but it get's the point across...  Even if you're two strokes from glory and she really is "just being a bitch" - you're done.  No excuses, twisted logic, or justifications...  Only Consent equals Consent.  End of story.