Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Chair waits for you...

Downtowne Coffee
12oz Soy Black Swan Mocha
Ginger Cookie

I feel everything.  Since the dramatic movie-style finish to the manhunt yesterday I have found myself trying to have every emotion at once.  The world has been surreal.  For an American, anyway.  I happened to catch the dramatic beginning of the standoff at 11pm the night before and resigned myself to being up till 3am - the kitchen needed to be cleaned anyway - as the details slowly unraveled and it became more apparent that these were the two marathon bombers.

I gave a whispered synopsis to the "little man" as I climbed into bed.  He declared, equally quietly, that he hoped the officers shot the guy - no trial to line the pockets of lawyers, no pleas of innocence and speeches of martyrdom.  Just kill 'im.

Clearer pictures came the next day, as did stories.  The elder brother, hot-headed, extreme and intolerant in his religious observance.  The younger brother, still at large after the bloody gun-battle (not an exaggeration, for once) the night before... to everyone who spoke of him, in every way, seemingly a good kid.  And yet, what he had done...

The day of the bombing I had felt, as many, the acute feeling of loss and fear that any parent feels.  The horror of hearing about children missing limbs, as I looked at my little boys playing, laughing, giving each other hugs and even kissing the other's boo-boos... often after inflicting them...  And I thought then of all the mothers everywhere and the children they have lost to bombs and guns and all the horrors of the world.  I didn't need a bomb to remind me.  It simply gave me another opportunity to feel their pain fresh.

And yesterday, as I listened to the reports... there are helicopters circling... tons of cop cars lining one street... and finally, he's in custody... I thought of one more mother.  The mother half around the world absolutely refusing to believe that her boys had become monsters.

"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die... When I hear that whistle blowin', I hang my head and cry..."

Johnny Cash is on the overhead play, singing of remorse for his heinous deeds, right now as I type this.  (Literally right now - no kidding.  Crazy world.)

I can't explain why, but the moment I heard the two suspects in the blurry photos were brothers, something caught inside me.  Brothers.  Just like my little boys.

I am relieved that the final standoff ended as peacefully as it could have.  I'm glad there's a chance now that the victims and their families have someone to face, and that we might be given some kind of answer as to why these young men chose to do this horrible, horrible thing.  I'm also glad that the mother unloved by most of we shell-shocked onlookers will have her son a little longer, at least, so that she too can look him in the eye and ask why.  And, also, so that she can say good-bye to the child she knew.

The story of the bombings and the fatal manhunt was not the only horrible story in the world this week.  It sounds crazy, but I don't even know if it's the worst.  And they just keep coming.  To greater and lesser degree, there is no shortage of stories of people being horrible to other people.  And from all this one theme has struck me: Otherism.

It seems the root of all this evil.  The moment we create an artificial division, a category between one person and another person, we can then diminish them, by category.  It's not just the obvious color categories our country grew up with, White vs. Anybody Else.  And it's not just by country or religion, or sect within a religion.  It's social groups, too.  It's Rich vs. Middle Class vs. The Poor.  It's Yankees fans, and Red Sox fans, and football hooligans.  It's Republicans vs. Democrats.  It's Men vs. Women.  It's Conformists vs. Deviants.  Straights vs. queers.  Bullies vs. Sluts, Geeks, Stoners... Whatevers...  Beliebers vs. People Who Like Music.

(Okay, cheap shot.)

And once these Others can be categorized, they can have lesser attributes attached to them, and their inherent rights and dignities can then be ignored.  It's okay to treat Them that way, because They aren't Us.  There are more hateful slurs than there are words on this page.  Far, far more.

And now, that white Republican male, Senator Lindsay Graham, has just called upon President Obama to classify the young terrorist as an "enemy combatant" so that he can be handed over to the military.  As if our justice system is a luxury reserved only for Our Kind.  Our kind of criminal?

Does everyone remember why the term "enemy combatant" was invented?  The answer is in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights.  In that document, the United Nations spells out what rights shall be respected for all people around the world.  And they felt it necessary, from grim experience, to spell out all the many classifications that could NOT be used to deny any person these rights.  When they said "all" they meant "all," damn it, and no country get's out of respecting these rights.  Period.

So the United States, under the Bush Administration, created the new category of "enemy combatant" to get around it.  And if anybody but the United States had done it, they would have answered for it.  Or they would have, at least, been given a stern warning, never to be followed up on.

But "these people" are different... they always say.  Just insert your least favorite category in between the quote marks.

Let me leave you with one final story, before they kick me out of this coffeehouse.  A while ago I heard a story (you Google it) from a high school.  Two boys had gotten in trouble for fighting, or some such, and the principle, or whomever, had come up with an "innovative" choice of punishment.  He had the boys sit in a couple of chairs and forced them hold hands, while the surrounding student body was encouraged to shout homophobic slurs.

Yeah, that happened.

I hope that one day when my boys are older, if they were to stand amongst that crowd, I hope that they would not go along with the crowd.  I hope that they will be the kind of people who would dare to walk forward and challenge the crowd.  I hope that they would speak for all the people who have been shamed, who have been abused, and how the hate is nonsensical, evil.  I hope that they would say that it is only happenstance that those two are in the chair and anyone else is in the crowd.  The crowd is not a safe place.  But a community is.  A community which does not value dominance.  A community which rejects artificial divisions and celebrates real differences.  A community which embraces and respects all, which loves and supports any person in need.  A community which recognizes that every person is a person and has within them the capacity for both good and evil.  And the first act of evil is bringing out that chair.

The crowd is not safe.  The crowd will turn on you.  They'll find a reason.  There is no membership to be revoked.  No reason needs to be found to put you in the chair.

Closing time. 

No edits.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Miller's Facepalm... and some economics stuff...

Rogue Roasting Company
12oz double Soy Vanilla Mocha
Breadpudding Muffin

I have created my own axiom.  It reduces to the utterly simple philosophy, "Don't do big things dumb."  I have dubbed it: Miller's Facepalm.

I have formally announced it on Facebook, and I have now begun to use it as a short-hand in the comment sections of friends' posts.  An example, you ask?  The 2008 economic implosion was principally caused by the irresponsible and/or illegal actions of major financial institutions on Wall Street.  The obvious response would be to increase and improve regulation and incarcerate those responsible for the actual illegal actions, if not for the actions that should have been illegal.  As of 2013, we have fewer regulations and the banks responsible for crashing our economy have been declared too big to prosecute.

Miller's Facepalm.

Homeowners who were illegally evicted have received less in their settlements than the the consultant paid to look at the fraudulent paperwork used to evict them.

Miller's Facepalm.


Miller's Facepalm.

Chained CPI may or may not be the more efficient way to calculate inflation for the elderly, but to implement it when these "wildly" inflated Social Security checks have not led to the current economic crisis, nor to Social Security checks being enough to keep many seniors out of poverty...

Miller's Facepalm.

Obviously, I'm on an economics kick here, but this principle applies to anything big, anything systemic.  This is not your everyday "d'oh!"  This is not leaving your keys in the refrigerator, or on top of your car as you go walking downtown (twice).  This is big time dumbass.  This is waging an ill-conceived and illegal war.  This is instituting a huge reform to the broken healthcare system that does little to nothing to rein in the main drivers of increasing health care costs.  This is mandating that the woman keep the baby but cutting any assistance that would help her care for it.  This is obsessing about tax rates but completely ignoring wages and other forms of compensation.

Speaking of wages...  I literally did a fist pump, jumped up and down, and shouted, "About damn time!" at the TV when the president mentioned raising minimum wage in the State of the Union this year.  My biggest reason for moving to Oregon was the minimum-wage-to-cost-of-living ratio, as compared to that of California's.  The cost of living in Cali is about 2 to 3 times that of Oregon, yet Oregon has the higher minimum wage.  How has this come to pass?  Unlike California, Oregon's minimum wage adjusts automatically every year based on inflation.  Shockingly, this has not crashed the Oregon economy, though wage-stifling California has come oh-so-close to complete implosion.  Obviously, economies are complex and cannot be reduced to one simple factor, but this does seem to conflict with the prevailing argument that raising minimum wage in a recession (or at any other time) absolutely cannot be done.

Since minimum wage is the baseline around which the whole economy must harmonize, it is the first and most important piece to tune correctly.  Right now, in most parts of the country, it is striking a bitter chord.  Sometimes literally (have you heard about the fast food workers' strike in New York?).  What we first need to ask ourselves - in order to avoid a Miller's Facepalm - is what should minimum wage cover?  This is a question of our values.

Should it cover the cost of living for a single person, or should it be assumed that, at some point, a minimum wage worker will have to cover expenses of a spouse, child, or other relative?  Should we presume that a minimum wage worker should not have to pay the full cost of housing because they must live with someone else, like a parent or roommate?  Isn't that real cost deferred to other people?  Won't their income be decreased proportionally by covering the additional expenses of housing (and feeding, and the additional use of utilities by) the minimum wage worker?  Should costs of living include savings for long-term costs and eventualities?  What about raising a family?  If our ideal is a married two-parent family unit, but a single income can't support the cost of raising even one child, haven't we broken that ideal?  If both parents are economically required to work, then a third party must be introduced to raise the child while the parents work.  And even if there is a willing social partner (Grandma, Aunt Ida, mom's bff who has a tot or two of her own, etc.) available to take on the childcare responsibilities to enable the second parent to work, there is an additional cost - paid in kind by the caregiver, or by the parent to the daycare or babysitter.

There is a cost paid by the child, too.  It may not be a calamity to have an additional caregiver in their life - that can be a great asset.  But there is a limit to that benefit.  A young child is only awake about a dozen hours of the day.  If they're spending a full work day, plus commute - maybe 8, 10 hours a day - with other people, then who is really doing the parenting?  Don't we have the right to raise our own children, even if we're poor?

And should there be such a thing as the "working poor"?  If a man or woman puts in a full day's, and a full week's work, even if it's a menial job, a little pitiful "meaningless" job, shouldn't they be entitled to a living wage?  They are not pursuing their own projects or ambitions - not on the clock.  They are not back-packing across Europe to "find themselves" or working on their Great American Novel.  They are working to help another person's business thrive.  These are the hours of their life - they do not get them back.  Doesn't that earn them a decent, independent living?

If you agree to these things in principle, that even menial workers should be able to afford to take care of themselves on a basic level, save a little for the future, and maybe even start a tiny family, without having to ask anyone else for help, then you should be at least figuratively rioting in the virtual streets over the injustice of the current minimum wage.  Even in Oregon, where an individual worker has a fighting chance of living alone on a minimum wage income, wages still fall far, far short of providing these things we believe in.  No one is talking about minimum wage covering 19 kids or a 30-year mortgage, but could I maybe live somewhere that doesn't have my neighbor's cigarette smoke coming through the heating vent?  Could I maybe not have to flash my economic undies for the state every few months to feed my 2 kids and make sure they can go to the doctor?  Where is the dignity in that? in being degraded for working hard for a real small business that can't afford to be the only business in their market to pay you fairly?  Where is the respect for the worker who doesn't dare quit the job that treats him so inhumanely because he is so easy to replace, and not enough money is better than no money at all?

Okay, this is just the beginning of the conversation wherein I debunk all the nonsensical arguments against paying people what they are due.  I am, unfortunately, running out of coffee money and must wrap this up.

There are, clearly, many dumb ways to go about raising minimum wage.  However, not raising it at all, playing these shell games with costs, and allowing millions of people to continue to suffer and exhaust themselves for no good reason, that is the dumbest damn thing of all.

Everybody now...

Miller's Facepalm.