Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yaaaaawwwwwnnnn, and a BIG Happy Birthday to Me

It's very hard to get older. This coming Thursday I'll be closer to sixty than I am to fifty, and the number sounds a little horrifying. But when joking about such things at work the other day, I commented to some work buds that you either get older or you die. So here we go. It's funny that as I get older, I find more things to ponder and fewer answers. Is this what finally gives us wisdom; that we realize just how few answers there really are in life?

Can anyone tell me how it is that books are now used as decor and not as objects that confer wisdom, joy, fantasy? In magazines and DIY (do it yourself) programs, books are not on shelves to be picked through by families eager to learn something new or escape a hard reality, but to accent one's shelves and knick knacks.

Speaking of DIY, my husband is a fan of the programs in which families get new kitchens or yards or rooms in a weekend, provided by extremely attractive young contractors (yes, all of the contractors are hotties.) But when he watches the ones about guys who restore autos, or "pick" junk yards, why patience wears thin. Very, very thin, over the unnatural remarks made as the stars break the fourth wall and address the camera. They come across as stilted, and just annoy the hell out of me. "But," you say, "they are real people, not actors." Okay-then why do they sound so scripted? If they are real people talking about their passion, let them talk about it in ways that don't come across so poorly. It reminds me of an episode of the 1960s TV series "Gomer Pyle" in which Gomer is gong to sing in a talent show, and Sarge tried to teach him how to use his hands as he sang. Gomer tried and tried to do as Sarge said, but it was just phony. So Gomer sang as he sang, and it worked. Hoodathunk?

I keep seeing commercials about a dating site for Christians. They promise to help members "Find God's Match for You." Does God need that these days? Is that the best "He" can do to get couples together? Really?

We saw another commercial yesterday that started a conversation between us, for one of those "Feed the Children" charities to feed children in LDC's (Less Developed Countries.) My husband commented that we really need to focus efforts on feeding children and getting medical care to children in this country. I had to respond, "Yes, but in America there is no poverty except among the shiftless, lazy folks who want to live off the government teat." I was joking. Or was I?

In the two weeks since George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin there has been much talk, almost daily, regarding racism in America. There are many on "the right" who say that racism is over, and black people need to stop talking about it, that all this talk about racism is stirring up negative feelings, and creating problems where there are none. They accuse blacks of instigating a "culture of victimhood," and blaming whites for everything that is wrong in their lives. Please don't misunderstand me, I have seen some blacks "play the race card" in ways that are clearly wrong and manipulative, and those folks do diminish real stories of true racism. But, it's odd to me...there are black conservatives, and I haven't heard one of them, not one, speaking out in agreement with their white compatriots who say racism is over. Not one. Is it because they too have been followed in department stores? Is it because they too have been stopped for "DWB" (driving while black) by both white and black police officers?  I remember my maternal grandmother blaming Martin Luther King for the violence that sprung up around his marches, even though the violence was committed by the whites against the marchers, who were both black and white. The remarks coming from whites in this current tirade sound like the same old stuff, same song, gazzilionth verse. While I essentially agree with Bill Maher that the racism that exists today must die out, there is no way to change the minds of people who hold on to these ignorant, arcane beliefs about racial superiority, we must look at all the subtle ways that racism is expressed by people who do not see themselves as racists. I have a friend who, when she has a problem with the behavior of a white person, it is a problem with that person. But when she had a bad boss who happened to be black, she assigned blame on that boss being "one of "those kind" of black women." This friend insists that there is no racism because she grew up with a black family that were good friends to her family. I have a serious problem with my friend, and my country's dishonesty and denial about the divisions between the races here. How can we fix a problem we deny the existence of?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Notion of Clarity is Unclear

I haven't hidden from my support for workers, here or anywhere else, or my distaste for Walmart. So I was kind of happy when I heard some news recently saying that Walmart had decided not to build a store in a city where there might be a minimum wage hike. This made me very happy, and caused me to ask, could this be a return for "Mom and Pop?" So many small businesses have disappeared due to the super low prices Walmart can charge, at the expense of the taxpayers, the workers, and those small businesses. Wouldn't it be nice?

In my house the TV is seldom off. And I've noticed a couple of small, nitpicky things about people I see on some of the programs that are on. There are some "reality" programs about pawn shops, and I've noticed that these programs really cater to some pretty awful stereotypes about both the customers and the staffs. For example, one of them takes place in Chicago, and one of the brothers who run it gets tips on the horses from a guy who is probably "mob  connected." On another there is a Jewish family, father son and daughter, who make sibling conflict look like warfare, and their customers, who are mostly black, look like a bunch of crack heads and reinforce every possible scary stereotype about black males. I just can't help thinking that these programs are not healthy for viewers. Not that I would cancel them; I don't want a "nanny state..." just sayin. Also unhealthy, the way somebody out there makes absolutely every female character walk-hips moving so widely from side to side that I keep thinking it would throw my back completely out. Why is that?

Is anyone else as tired as I am of the phrase, "A bridge too far?" It is so completely overused that it no longer holds any meaning.

We've had a nice period in my part of Texas with some slightly cooler than normal temperatures, and some glorious, sublime rain. When it rains here, there are spots with no grass where the dirt runs inexorably to the low spots on the sidewalk and creates major mud puddles. This also happens where the grass is "edged." This also happens in private homes where grass is "edged." It leads to soil erosion. This is not a good thing. Not a question, just an observation.

I love my friends. I have some awesome girlfriends who have been part of my life for longer than any of us care to admit. Sometimes we go places that bring us home late. At least three times I have arrived home late, only to find that my husband has gone to bed and locked the invisible lock. Is it passive aggression, not wanting me going out with the girls that causes him to do that? Is it just an oversight? How do I approach him with these questions?

Drones are in the news regularly today. Most Americans love drones because they can kill "bad guys" or "terrorists" without putting our young men and women in harms way. We, including me, don't want our children going to war and be killed. I would only ask if our babies are the only ones that matter. Drones are not exactly laser surgery, and there is almost always some of that loathsome to me term, "collateral damage," which includes children. Can anyone who values babies and children continue to see this as okay?

In listening to all the talk about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, it occurred to me why the witnesses for the defense were more convincing than the witnesses for the prosecution: clarity. While I'm operating on an assumption here, the division between the factions over Zimmerman's guilt or innocence has led to a conversation that is predictably ideological-the right being more convinced that Zimmerman feared for his life, the left believing that his reaction was based on racism/racial profiling, and that his life was never in danger. I don't want to get into Zimmerman's guilt or innocence, or into the racial questions it is bringing to the front, which is likely a very good thing. The 911 tape is where the prosecution broke down, and this is where right/left, science/anti-science intellectual argument divides. On the 911 tape, there was someone screaming for help. Some people say it was Trayvon Martin, some say it was Zimmerman. Where one falls on that question determines how one feels about the verdict. When Trayvon Martin's family was asked to testify as to whether those screams came from their son, they said they believed it was Martin. When pushed, they wavered, and said they couldn't be absolutely sure. But the defense paraded witness after witness who said that they were absolutely positive that the screams were coming from Zimmerman. They could not be moved from their positions, however pushed. This made me think of all the political and science conversations I've had with religious or political conservatives, and the problem is the same. If I watch programming on, say, The Science Channel, the hosts, who are usually scientists, often ask a question to which the answer is, "We don't know." Or "we don't know yet." On the other side, the answer is always clear; "God did it." This clarity prevents questioning anything, or seeing the need for questioning things. Not needing to question, believing that the problem is solved, can be very comforting. But it can also lead to narrow mindedness, and taking positions that have been proved wrong by those who continue to question. In the case of this particular murder trial, clarity may have prevented justice for an unarmed teenager. And the clarity of these witnesses may have been influenced by what they already believed, which is that a black teenager in a hoodie is probably up to no good. I hope the jury wasn't wrong, but it really doesn't matter now-Zimmerman was found innocent by a jury of his peers, and in our legal system, that means he is innocent. It's too late for questions now, but again, I am glad that this verdict is leading to a conversation about race in America. It has become too easy to rest in complacency and assume that the U.S. has got rid of the "race problem." I have absolute clarity that this is not true.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

With Great Consequence, the World Spins On

We are having some unexpectedly "cool" temps and rain in Texas this week, and it is wonderful! But rainy days give us much to ponder. For example, yesterday Abigail and I took a walk in the early morning hours. Some of our neighbors in the area have learned to run their sprinkler systems in the hours before ten, and so there were puddles in the street from their sprinklers. Good, clean, tap water. Abigail did not drink from them. Even toward the end of our third mile. But when we were nearly home, there was a trench that appeared to have been dug into the mud when a car jumped the curb, and it had filled with water from rain this past Thursday. She planted herself in that muddy water, and drank deeply from it. I've asked this before, why she who shivers at bath time as if she is being beaten, will drink as if parched and dying from thirst from the muddiest puddle she can find. I must conclude that there is something animals driven by instinct can taste in the minerals from the mud that they like or need. Any other theories, or any studies to answer this one? We do put mud masks on our faces-maybe they know something we don't about drinking mud?

And can anyone tell me the why of all our vitamins, and now some actual medicines, such as indigestion treatments, being in the form of gummie candies? I had some jelly candies at a British themed shop yesterday, and I'm just not crazy about the texture. What gives?

There is a very handsome guy who narrates some TV programming on channels I like to watch (Discovery, The Science Channel) who also shills for a certain car manufacturer. They are now advertising a large "dollars off" promotion on oil changes, with a mail in rebate. Why don't they just have a sale? Do they use a mail in rebate because they know some consumers will find that to be too much trouble, and they won't take the dollars off?

I went to the grocery store last week, and noticed a new shop in the perimeter stores around the Super Target in my neighborhood. It is an "E-cigarette" shop. I know some heavy duty (3 pack a day) smokers who gave up smoking using e-cigarettes, and that's what I thought they were for. But I also know someone who had a job interview a a famous "breast-aurant" and she told me that the wait staff were all in the break room smoking e-cigs as she was leaving. So are these thing a tool to quit smoking, or a way around smoking bans? Are they now a trendy thing to do, like a hookah bar? Am I so out of the "cool" loop?

I have overheard a couple of conversations at work recently that truly bothered me. One had to do with jury duty. I have never heard anyone talk about jury duty who feels, as I do, that this is the obligation of a voter who believes in our constitution. Everyone I've ever heard talk about jury duty complains vehemently of what a disruption in their lives it is. (Pardon me, please, if you've heard this before,) but I have been registered to vote since the Ford administration, and have never, ever been called. And I would be honored to serve my community as a "jury of peers" called to administer justice. Yes, it would disrupt my regular schedule, and my pay. But it is also what the framers of our constitution set as the way of guaranteeing justice (though it sometimes fails) is not administered by a ruling class who has no idea what the stories of our lives might lead us to do. An impartial "jury of my peers" is an important part of our democracy, and I wish more people would see it as such. We can all find ways to be thrown off a jury if we wish. But if you were accused of a crime, wouldn't you rather have people who understand your life, and don't look down on you from some ivory tower judging your guilt or innocence?

Another overheard conversation was from a coworker whose husband was in an accident in which he struck a horse with his car. She was ranting angrily that so many people's first question was, "Is the horse okay?" "How could they not care about him being in a car accident," she asked. Here is my take: Her first comment was NOT, "My husband is in the hospital because of a car accident." It was not, "My husband was killed in a car wreck." So it was clear from the get-go that he was not seriously, if at all, injured. If he had been killed or seriously injured, she would have been with him, and not there to talk about the accident, and her friends, family and coworkers would have heard about it from someone else. In that case, our first response would have been, "Poor ___." That is my first comment. Secondly, her husband was surrounded by 2000 pounds of metal with support beams, seat belts and airbags to protect him. The horse's body was struck directly by that 2000 pounds of metal. Who had the greater chance of being seriously injured or killed? When I lived in the corn belt, every year I saw the result or heard of people I knew who were involved in accidents with deer. The bodies of the deer were always left as evidence all over the highway. The cars were usually seriously damaged, and the humans were almost never seriously, if at all, injured. The biggest losers in this equation are always the animals, who have no protection from these killing machines that we drive around in. Yes, insurance rates go up. But the animals lose their lives, not the humans. Can we consider this before we get our feelings hurt that people ask if the animal is hurt, when it is fairly clear from the beginning that the human is okay?

My blessed state, with its colorful characters, and history, and beautiful mix of landscape and climates, and diversity of pioneering peoples-the Germans, The Scots, the Mexicans, etc.!!! We have been so much in the news lately, and for all the wrongest of reasons!!! Our legislators confiscate tampons and not guns in a heated debate about a horrible anti-choice bill being foisted upon the women of our state by a majority white male, majority bible-thumping legislature. We have been a laughing stock before, thanks to our moronic governor, who is trying hard to stake out his claim on a hyper-conservative national base for a presidential run in 2016. This is a man who shot a coyote for "menacing" his large golden retriever on a run, when he was running with a cadre of gun-toting Texas Ranger security people, and was never questioned for the lack of veracity of his story by anyone, despite the fact that his story completely lacked veracity. He is an embarrassment to anyone who treasures truth, intelligence or integrity. But enough of that-he won't  be our governor anymore after next year, so he's America's problem, and he's about to find out what a tiny minority the Tea Party actually is in Greater America. So, I want to talk about the Second Amendment as practiced in Texas. Texans, male and female, love their guns, and see our state as a place where the Old West is alive and well. I know a woman who recently got her CHL (concealed handgun license) and was proud enough to all but take it out and show it to us all at a recent lunch. Good for her. I have no problem with her carrying a gun for protection, and I'm glad she took the responsible path to have one. I hope she never has to use it, but in case she does, she's covered. Unless she's on a trip to Florida, and shoots a warning shot hoping to use their "Stand Your Ground" law. But I digress. The Texas state legislature has some women in it, and some people of color, but it is primarily white and male. These particular white males long for a time when women were seen and not heard, barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. They continue to jam through legislation based on their fantasy world, and even though some voices stand up and make some noise, they are drowned out and out voted. It is not going to be long before these men are going to wake up and realize that lots of women in Texas carry guns. And they will be legitimately afraid of that contingent of women in Texas. They are going to take up legislation to ban the CHL for women, because they are not going to want, no matter how much a minority of women in Texas may be pro-choice AND pro-second amendment they may be, and bunch of pissed off, armed women running around this great state. So, ARMED women of Texas BEWARE!!!! They've come for your choice, next they are coming for your guns. Governor Rick Perry doesn't have much time left, and he can't have you running loose with his infuriating miscarriages of justice for women forced into law late in the evening on a weekend being left to digest. If we don't rise up now,  we may never be able to. It's time to bring Texas into the 21st century. Am I wrong? Dare we wait to find out? Whatever else we do, we can't let them convince us that this has anything at all abortion. It doesn't, in fact, most folks who are pro choice don't like abortion. It has to do with keeping us under control. They may cloak it in lovely language about looking after women's health, but when a "Good Ole Boy" tells us we need him to look after us, remember who Texas women are, and that we may or may not be armed, but they don't really want to mess with us. We can look after our own "health care choices," thank you very much.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

When Butterflies Die

A haiku: I don't know the lifespan of a butterfly.
But when I see one dead
I feel sad.

My apartment complex is on a very busy street in Fort Worth, TX. There is a mall about three blocks from where I live. It has been there since I was in high school, and it has gone through some major renovations over the years; adding some stores, removing some, added food shops, etc. The last three years it has added free standing restaurants to the perimeter, all chain restaurants, though not some of the worst ones. They are adding a new one now, and since I don't know the rules about naming names in blogs, I'll just say that it's a place that specializes in hamburgers. Big, over-stuffed, (juicy or greasy, depending on one's point of view about burgers) burgers. Since we have lived here there have been two other big name burger chains that went up in the same area. Mind you, I'm not talking fast food burgers. I'm talking about burgers where the sandwich itself is about eight dollars or more, let alone a whole combo meal price! My question is...why? Does America really eat that many hamburgers? Can any one of these places really show us anything different? My brother waxed poetic about one of the places, and so I tried it, and it really didn't do all that for me. I guess I've reached a point where a burger is a burger. So...why?

My state, Texas has been in the national news spotlight a lot lately. Not for particularly good reasons-our state government is set to severely limit a woman's reproductive rights, and to close all but a few of the places in which a woman can get a legal, safe abortion. Our governor, Rick Perry, who has held that office longer than anyone in history, crosses between joke and jerk in the national mind. But he's a hero to a majority of Texans. The people I talk to in Texas can't stand him, but we are a minority here. Even with a huge national hoorah over one of our female state legislators, Wendy Davis, who filibustered this bill for eleven hours, and is now considering a run for governor in 2014, in a poll conducted last week, Gov.Perry wins by 14 points. The thing is, when someone asks why Perry doesn't recognize the unpopularity of his position nationwide, the answer is that governors don't have to. And Perry knows this very, very well. He tried a run for president last year, and made a serious fool of himself. But often governors do well as presidential candidates. This can possibly be boiled down to having run a state, or having been an "executive." Senators don't often do well as presidential candidates; they must compromise in order to "get things done," and so it is easy to paint them as "flip-floppers," anathema for a president. But governors must make big decisions on big things, and even if they are wrong, they did what they believed is the minds of those who would package them as national candidates. So if Rick Perry (I'm working so hard to be respectful here, and not use the nicknames that my tiny cadre of liberal Texans use for him) is eyeing another presidential run, he is doing exactly what often works for former governors; standing by his "principles." However odious those principles may be.

Speaking of the big issue that has thrust Texas into the national spotlight, reproductive rights, it occurred to me this week that all these white, male governors who are signing these laws restricting women's freedoms keep using terminology that says things like "protecting women and children." Have forty years of advances since the women's movement of the early 70's gone unnoticed by men? Women get more college degrees than men, and in many cases are the primary breadwinners in the household-not only when they are single parents, but sometimes when they are married. We don't need their "protection." We certainly don't need this kind of protection. Reproductive choice should be the decision of the one whose life is forever altered by carrying a child and raising it. I'm not pro-abortion-but I am anti-a bunch of middle aged, white men telling me what my decision must be about whether to have a child or not. I am anti-seeing women killed by unsafe, illegal procedures, as has been the case throughout history until the Roe vs Wade case legalized abortion in 1973. I work in a doctor's office, and we bend ourselves into pretzels to protect patient privacy; privacy was the clause that the Supreme Court used to affirm that a woman's medical choices are between herself and her doctor. Why do we now, suddenly, need men to "take care" of us again?

Speaking of SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States,) after their ruling two weeks ago regarding the voting rights act, I can't help but wonder if they ever regret decisions they make. And if one of them did regret a vote, would he or she admit it publicly? What they did was strike down the provision of the voting rights act saying that states with a history of discrimination must get federal approval before making changes in voting laws, such as voter ID laws, moving polling places, etc. Within two hours of this ruling, my Great State of Texas showed its gratitude by initiating voter ID laws, and moving to redistrict (or gerrymander, depending on one's point of view) so that minority representation would be reduced. In many ways, my beloved state makes a mockery of social evolution and "Justice for All." Now, I'm sure that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would never, ever, ever admit to mistakes. But would a more humble justice, with nothing to prove to white America, perhaps say, "You know, looking back now, I should have voted differently."

Lastly today, in this mostly political post, I must ask about the farm bill. This is the bill that our congress could not bring itself to pass a few weeks ago, because they want so badly to reduce food stamps for the poor, which are attached to said bill. The farm bill has not failed in decades, and this is something that voters on both sides should look at carefully, as it includes what can only be characterized as corporate welfare because of the subsidies included for giant agri-businesses. I lived for over eight years in a farm state, in a heavily farmed region of the state. My husband worked for an ECG there, and he had considerable contact with some of the farmers who used seed from that company. These are large family farmers, and all of them had crop insurance. When they had a bad year, they could file claims on that insurance. Do they need government subsidies on top of that? Even many family farmers are under the thumbs of agri-business anymore, and many of these subsidies go to those giant corporate farm interests; this is not new. I remember stories in news magazines from the 80's regarding corporate welfare for agri-businesses, especially corn, soy and sugar cane. The republican complaint against the farm bill had to do with cutting food assistance to families, not cutting subsidies to farmers and their corporate overlords. Why, why, why does corporate welfare continue to be okay with republicans, and some help in buying food for families is so loathsome to them? Are there people gaming the system for food stamps? Yes. Does the fact that the small minority of cheaters mean that a program that helps people who work put food on the table should be cut? I daresay, the answer is no. If a few cheaters mean that a program that helps so many should be cut, what will we do with bank and oil subsidies? And what if the taxpayers could get all that corporate welfare money back? Can you say "budget surplus?" I knew you could!!!