Category Archives: Politics

I despise politics, but sometimes I rant anyway.

That Time I was Inadvertently Racist

My parents did a really good job of raising my sisters and me, I think. We learned that racism exists, and we learned that it was bad. My mom tells me of the time she deliberately hosted Black friends at a party when she lived in Texas in the late 60s, and was subsequently booted from her apartment. We learned that that was wrong, that the landlord was racist, and that racism was just wrong.

Imagine. That was in the late 60s. We’re just barely fifty years away from that.

Me, I’ve gone out of my way to not be racist, but I know from personal experience that racism lurks somewhere deep in my bones. Here’s my story of that:

It was the second Tuesday of November, 2008. I know that very well, because it was Election Day, and I was swollen with liberal pride, having just come from a polling station where I’d voted for Barack Obama (our last great President). Imagine! Me, a white man, voting for a Black man for President! How noble!

But as I was sitting in my car at an intersection on Stockton Avenue in Sacramento, waiting for the light to change so that I could pull into the parking lot at the public library, I saw a young Black man crossing the street toward me.

Without even thinking about it, I locked the door of my car.

He wasn’t running. He wasn’t carrying any weapons or anything that looked like a weapon. I don’t recall if he was carrying anything at all. It wasn’t a “bad neighborhood”. He was just a teenager, going about his business.

I locked my car door.

That moment, that one incident, taught me that despite my parents’ best intentions and my own liberal pride, I still had racism built into me. After I realized what I’d done, I unlocked my car door, and the kid just passed in front of my car, not paying attention to me at all (or if he did, I didn’t notice).

I’ve thought about this a lot. I went to a private high school that had a significant Hispanic population; when I was at UC Davis, I studied with plenty of people from marginalized communities, and one of my favorite Philosophy study partners was a man from Ethopia. I live in Sacramento, California, which is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. I belong to the Episcopal Church which, despite its own problems in some areas, does teach that racism is a sin. I’ve had plenty of chances to confront my own racist sensibilities, and talk back to them. But they still lurk, I know, and confronting them is a constant conversation with myself.

Racism is such a pervasive part of culture, that so permeates our educational, political, even our religious systems that sometimes we whites don’t even believe it’s there, like a fish who doesn’t even notice the water it swims in. It’s always been there, lurking. It’s generational, and will take generations to solve. I mean, it’s only been fifty years, more or less, that my parents were booted out of their apartment in Texas. We’re less than sixty years away from the Jim Crow laws. Less than two centuries away from slavery. How can we possibly expect to have overcome racism in such a short period of time? We white people have an obligation to see the racism that lives inside ourselves, confront it when we see it, and do our best to promote those marginalized voices when they speak up.

Personally, I don’t envision a day when Black men and women get to participate in the same American dream that we whites do. I envision a day wherein we’ve built a new American dream that embraces Black culture as much as it embraces any other culture. We’re far, far away from that, and the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency has probably hurt our chances of reaching it anytime soon.

All we white people can do is our best to have this conversation with our racist selves. Racism is a power structure built right into our culture, and we have the obligation to tear it down.

P.S.: A friend of mine on Facebook noted that I hadn’t made mention of specific actions. I quote her here (with her permission):

We as white folks can actually do quite a lot. We can participate in government to vote in (and perhaps be) the white folks who use their privilege and power to create space for POC. We can call in our fellow white folks. We can educate each other and practice inclusive language and actions. And there’s more.

P.P.S.: I don’t believe for an instant that the incident above was the only time I’ve ever been racist. It’s just the one that stands out the most to me. I’m aware of some of my own biases and problematic behaviors, and I strive to overcome them; but I’m sure there are some that I don’t even identify.

A wee reflection, here on Labor Day

I don’t know much about the history of the labor movement here in the United States, but I can certainly offer reflections on how I got to be Where I Am in my life. And two major factors that got me here are, without a doubt, Opportunity and Luck.

I’ve been laid off from jobs, I’ve been fired from jobs (“Are you firing me or laying me off?” “Well, you’re not good at your job, but we really like you, so it’s a bit of both.”), and I’ve quit jobs with and without notice. The job I have now I got primarily through some luck and some effort. No formal interview or resume/application process was involved because it started as a temp job. I had worked hard to learn Linux and shell scripting and PHP; but I also had a previous job that gave me the opportunity to learn those things while not working on formally-assigned tasks.

I had a good college education, and I was lucky to have that opportunity. I was lucky — though that word is problematic for reasons I won’t go into here — that I could pay for my education without having to take out some serious loans.

In my time, especially in one particular job (that I quit with only two days’ notice), I’ve met with literally hundreds of people who for various degrees of misfortune of birth or just plain bad luck, had no such opportunities.

I’m well aware that I speak from a position of privilege. I’m also well aware that the current administration is pathologically determined to dismantle the structures of opportunity that have been put in place for women and minorities and low income people over the years.

So this Labor Day, in between the barbecues and sleeping in and what-not, remember that there have been and continue to be people who for whatever reason are in a “bad place”, employment-wise, and who are struggling for justice for themselves and for others.

That’s all.

I Suppose I Ought to Blog

I have a blog, theoretically, and once in awhile I post to it. I’m going to make a goal of posting at least once a week, but who knows how long that will last. Who knows indeed. I have Thoughts and Things to share, some of which might be of interest to both of my regular readers.

So here we go.

Politics.

  1. The election of Donald Trump as President was unfortunate at best. I don’t think it will end up being apocalyptic for the world at large, by which I mean I doubt we’ll see nuclear war. But for many marginalized groups, things are already getting bad. As as middle-aged, middle class, white, Christian, cis-hetero male, I probably have the least to lose, but I firmly believe that what harms one population in the US harms us all.

Writing.

  1. For NaNoWriMo, I wrote Padma, which I’d had in the planning stages for several years, ever since I wrote a strange little story called “The Flower” back in 2005. This story was called “very sexist” by one editor, but “charmingly engaging” by another. I hope that the novel works out well. We’ll see what happens to the novel version.
  2. My novella The Winds of Patwin County is still for sale, in both Kindle and paperback editions. See the link to the left.
  3. I have a silly little short story called “Tumbleweeds”, which has been called the definitive entry in the carnivorous plant genre by at least one friend of mine, and which at least one professional writer suggested ought to be submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. I’m not thoroughly satisfied with this story. It needs a new ending. But once I have that ending written, I have some markets in mind that I want to send it to.
  4. My next novel-length project will be something called And the Devil will Drag You Under, which I’ve mentioned before. The outline requires a good rewrite, since I’ve decided to switch the point of view character and make some other serious changes to it.

Health.

  1. Asthma. I underwent all three Bronchial Thermoplasty treatments, and my breathing has significantly improved. Now if only the insurance people would get their act together and decide how much I owe for that.
  2. Weight Loss. I went back up over 300 pounds at one point, but then I joined Weight Watchers (since the weight loss plan I tried to make up for myself wasn’t working), so I’ve lost about ten of those pounds. You want them? I’m not taking them back.

Kobolds.

  1. My mental state has been good of late. The Kobolds of Depression haven’t been bothering me much, though every now and then they send out a scout party.

And that’s all I got for now. Enjoy your day. And if you get a chance, listen to some Tom Waits.

A Political Interlude

I’ve avoided politics on my blog for several months now, for a couple of reasons. First, most people who know me know that I am a pretty liberal guy, so I haven’t had to espouse my opinions. Second, in a world where political discourse is increasingly divisive and people on both ends of the political spectrum seem to keep themselves isolated from conflicting points of view, I haven’t really thought that anything I said would make any difference to anyone anyway. I think this second point speaks to my increasing cynicism about political discourse in our modern age, and why I am not sure things are going to get much better anytime soon.

But Saturday’s tragic and senseless shooting in Tucson, Arizona, made me want to speak out a little. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the horrific events, and my prayers rise for the victims and the survivors. There was a lot of confusion in those first few hours; first we heard that Representative Gifford was dead; then we learned that she was alive; then she was dead again; then alive again. As I write this, she’s alive and her condition has been upgraded, but she has a long recovery ahead of her, and who knows if she’ll ever recover completely from a point blank shot to the head.

Much has been made about the shooter, Jared Loughner, and his state of mind. At the time of the shooting, we knew very little about him, but to most people it looked like a political attack, and there were many on the left who blamed the Tea Party movement. I was skeptical about that; I don’t have a lot of respect for Tea Party rhetoric, but I think the people who are part of it are on the whole law-abiding citizens who are above political hits like this. Phil Plaitt over at Bad Astronomy tweeted, “Let me be clear: it is way too early to know motives here, and speculation is counterproductive.” I agreed with him on this point. At the time, it was just too early to know what was going on and why.

As the days have passed, more about Loughner’s state of mind has become clear. Based on his YouTube videos and messages on his MySpace page, many people have suggested that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t know, personally; that’s the sort of judgement that should be made by doctors, not folks like me who just watch a few rantings on YouTube. One thing is clear, though: the fact that he named Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, the writings of Ayn Rand, and The Communist Manifesto as some of his favorite books points to a man without much political consistency. Is he a right wing fascist? A left wing communist? A Tea Party libertarian? Impossible to say. His points of view seem too inconsistent to make a firm judgement.

One side effect of the shooting, however, seems to have been a growing attention to the levels of angry rhetoric that seems to have infiltrated out political discourse these days. And that’s good; on both sides, discourse seems to have gone past “I’m right, you’re wrong” to “I’m right, you’re evil” (to echo the words of Representative Emanuel Cleaver). And while politics has never been free of contention (look back to the dirty politics that surrounded the signing of the Constitution, for example; and, more recently, there were conservatives loudly accusing President Kennedy of treason, just as they are accusing President Obama of the same thing), the sort of hate-filled talk that’s spreading around these days seems to be a new invention. And it’s a scary one. We’re right to be looking at this rhetoric and the impact it might have on unstable persons like Loughner.

But here’s where I get cynical. The mudslinging and the hating and the angry rhetoric aren’t going away any time soon. We have talk show hosts and news commentators who are paid not for their insights but for their ability to “rabble rouse”. Whole news networks aren’t afraid anymore to blatantly take sides in political dialog, when they ideally should be neutral. Outrage, especially of the “I’m right, you’re evil” variety, sells. The media, and the money behind it, favors extremist rhetoric on both sides. Until we see a fundamental shift in human nature, where people will not feel threatened by ideas different from their own but challenged to rise to dialog instead, we’re just not going to see an end to the violent rhetoric.

I fear that things will just get worse before they get better.

And now to counterbalance this cynical post, here’s a picture of our cat Ingrid flopping around on my chair:

Sometimes I’m pretty sure that cats have the right idea.

Lungs O' Doom

“Can Primatene Mist contribute to airway remodeling?” I asked the nurse.

She looked horrified by my question. “You’re not using Primatene are you?” she asked.

I shook my head. There’s no need for me to use Primatene. I have pretty good health insurance through my employer, and I happen to live in California, where it is illegal for employer-provided health insurance to refrain from covering pre-existing conditions. And since I’ve had asthma since birth, it definitely counts as a pre-existing condition. So fortunately, my insurance will pay for me to use Proventil, an albuterol-based inhaler which is considered the front-line medication for asthma patients having serious attacks (though recently my co-pay increased from $10 to $20, a result of a new remix using more ozone-friendly propellant, meaning the drug no longer qualifies as a “generic”).

Primatene Mist, by contrast, is an over-the-counter inhaler meant to treat mild asthma attacks in patients whose asthma is pretty well under control without medical intervention. It is NOT recommended for people with diagnosed asthma, because in patients with moderate to severe asthma, it can just do much more harm than good. And while it doesn’t contribute to airway remodeling (a phenomenon where the airways in the lungs change permanently due to chronic asthma-induced inflammation, leading to decreased airflow and lung capacity, and often alarming physicians who take X-rays of my chest), Primatene can cause long-term damage in asthma patients. This is why the nurse told me in response to my question.

Years ago, though, there was a time when I relied on Primatene Mist. I’ve had asthma since birth, as I’ve mentioned, and when my student insurance ran out after I graduated from college, I had no way of treating myself. I couldn’t afford to go to a doctor. I went deep into debt for the occasional hospital visit due to severe attacks; at such visits, I’d get a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, but I wouldn’t get them filled because I simply couldn’t afford it. (Of course, because I was unable to pay for my ER visits, the costs simply carried over to other patients). So I used Primatene. It was available without a prescription, I could afford it, and it worked for short-term relief. It caused damage to my lungs, worsening my asthma in the long-term, but it’s all that was available to me at the time.

MediCal was recommended to me as a way to get medical coverage during this time. Unfortunately, I was earning too much money at the time to qualify for MediCal; I was working two part-time jobs, neither of which provided any insurance, but I needed the income to pay rent (even though I had two housemates to help cover the cost of rent and utilities). It was  a choice for me between MediCal and shelter. I suppose there would have been resources to help me keep a roof over my head while I sacrificed part of my income so that I could get proper treatment for my asthma, but I wasn’t too keen on going on welfare. And, of course, I could not afford private health insurance, since my asthma counted as a pre-existing condition that would have made my premiums prohibitively expensive (and yes, I did look into it).

Fortunately, after a life-endangering episode, I finally got in touch with Dr. G., a local allergist and pulmonologist, who agreed to see me for a minimal cost. Dr. G. gave me the sample medications that drug reps gave him when they came to visit, including an albuterol inhaler so that I no longer had to use Primatene. And because he knew my financial situation, he agreed to see me monthly for the absolute minimal cost that he could — $10 per visit. This meant he wasn’t charging me for any of the tests that he performed, the spirometry and blood pressure and other tests that he performed regularly to keep tabs on my asthma. It was, as I understood it, at least partially dodgy for him to do so since he had to account for all of these tests, but believe me, I appreciated it. Of course, my asthma was aggravated by severe allergies, and, of course, he couldn’t give me the immunotherapy (allergy shots) that I really required to keep my asthma under control; and the drugs he gave me were barely adequate. In short, my asthma was under control, but just barely, and any irritation was liable to cause a serious flare-up which might require a hospital visit.

When I finally got a full-time job that offered health insurance benefits (after years of working part-time for a newspaper where I was regularly exposed to particulate matter in the form of paper dust and ink mist), Dr. G. was thrilled because now I could get the top-of-the-line medications he wanted me to have, and start on immunotherapy. I was thrilled to, although with my employee contribution to health insurance and all of the co-pays I was now paying for office visits and prescriptions, I was earning just under what I’d been earning before with my two part-time jobs. Still, six years after I graduated from college, I finally had adequate health coverage.

All of which is just to point out that the health care system in our nation is a joke. It’s full of pitfalls and traps. You might be able to qualify for state-run health care, but you have to go on welfare to do so because the job you need to pay your rent simply pays too much, putting you at just above the poverty level. If you have children, you have a better chance of getting assistance from the state, though if your child has a major condition — such as asthma — then you’re in trouble (my mom was still paying off my childhood medical bills even when I was in high school). God forbid you have to go on private health insurance, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, which pretty much rules out any notion of self employment. And me, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be working all my life instead of retiring, since I’m sure my asthma and other conditions will simply be too expensive to treat under MediCare or Social Security, without supplemental income. That is, if these conditions don’t kill me before retirement age anyway.

And from what I can tell, I’ve been lucky. I’ve known people with worse medical conditions than mine who can’t get any coverage at all. 68% of bankruptcies in our nation are caused by astronomical health care costs. Of those, 70% of the people filing for bankruptcy have health insurance. 50 million Americans have no form of health care coverage at all, and the majority of those people are children. And children who are sick pose health threats to other children, to say nothing of people in low-wage jobs who have no insurance (or inadequate insurance), who must stay on their job anyway because they can’t afford to take any time off.

The health care debate in our country isn’t just an issue of poor people not having access to adequate health care, it’s a public health issue as well. Diseases spread. Untreated diseases spread further and more aggressively. Even if you have adequate coverage, exposure to someone who is uninsured and sick and still preparing your food or driving your bus will make you sick as well.

That’s why I am totally in favor of health care reform in our country, and why I favor a public option as well. Vague threats about “socialized medicine” don’t scare me at all (and, to be honest, I’m convinced that most people throwing around the boogeyman of “socialized medicine” don’t even know what the term means). I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about insurance companies that link health care to profit and deny previously-guaranteed coverage when an illness becomes too severe. Our “system” is not any sort of system; it’s a convoluted mess of half-assed measures, cracks, and loopholes for executives.

Thus, I support President Obama’s goal of reforming the US health insurance industry to provide affordable health care coverage for all Americans. I’m not a Communist or a Socialist (and again, I think most people who use these terms as perjoratives have no idea what they really mean), though neither am I a Libertarian or a hard-core capitalist. I’m simply an American who believes that when all other Americans have access to adequate health care coverage, the entire nation will benefit.

A response to NOM's "Gathering Storm" video

If you haven’t seen the video entitled “A Gathering Storm” by the group calling themselves the “National Orgamization for Marriage”, that’s okay. It’s offensive, full of outright lies and exaggerations, and blatantly offensive in its use of the term “Rainbow Coalition” to identify a coalition of churches and other groups that oppose same sex marriage. I won’t embed or link to that video from here; I don’t feel like adding to their hit count.

Anyway, here’s a video that exposes the lies behind the Gathering Storm video. It’s worth the watch, especially if you’ve already watched the NOM’s video.

Right wing lunacy

Is it just me, or has the extreme end of the right wing jumped off the edge of reason and landed gleefully into a pit of pure batshit insane? Between Glenn Beck’s bursting into tears at the very mention of America and Michelle Bachman’s deliberate misinterpretation of a new community service program as a sort of network of camps for the “re-education” of America’s youth (not to mention Chuck Norris’s outright jumps of joy at the notion of right-wing terrorist cells popping up all over the country), it just seems that loony conspiracy theories, once the exclusive domain of the darker corners of Usenet and street corner pamphlets, are turning into whatever passes for “news” on the Extreme Right Wing Apologist Network Fox News Network.

I swear, it’s like they learned nothing when President George H. W. Bush ceded America’s sovereignty to the United Nations and took everyone’s guns in 1992; or when Janet Reno became dictator and took everyone’s guns after Waco and Ruby Ridge; or when President Bill Clinton did the same thing in 1999 and also threw all the right-wing conservatives into concentration camps (not to mention ceding America’s sovereignty to the United Nations and placing the entire country under martial law) all under the guise of the dangers of Y2K. Glenn Beck says he can’t “debunk” the idea that concentration camps are being built to right-wing conservatives, which is kind of like me saying I can’t debunk the idea that Bigfoot has impregnated Amelia Earhart with a space baby. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there will always be people who believe. Since January, Fox News, especially Glenn Beck, has been possessed by the spirit of Morton William Cooper, and become the fodder for mockery and an episode or two of The X-Files.

It is, of course, disingenous at best and mind-explodingly stupid at worst to suggest that all conservatives are represented by this sort of conspiracy thinking, just as it’s disingenuous at best and mind-explodingly stupid to suggest that all liberals want to enforce mandatory abortions on every child in America and turn everyone gay. Of course, if you believe either of these positions — and I know folks on both sides of this particular fence — then no amount of contradictory evidence or reason will dissuade you.

Of course, most of this posturing is just that: posturing. Fox News, like Rush Limbaugh, exists primarily for entertainment rather than information, and as long as the ad revenue keeps flowing in they don’t care that they’ve turned the Republican party and the conservative movement in America into a parody of itself. And that’s what saddens me. Conservatives in America used to be best represented by reasonable, thoughtful folks like Barry Goldwater; people I could disagree with but who I was sure would actually give issues serious consideration and not jump to conclusions that are not just silly but outright batshit insane.

And what saddens me even more is that people believe this shit.

Let's hear it for Iowa

Iowa court says gay marriage ban unconstitutional

It’s funny, because these things usually start out in California and move east. But this time California went stupid and decided that majority rule was enough to strike down something that the state’s Supreme Court had ruled was a right protected by the state’s Constitution, an action that violates one of the basic principles that the United States is based upon. Left up to majority rule, many of the rights that minorities in the United States now enjoy would not even exist. Remember that when President Obama was born, his parents’ marriage was illegal in many states until the Supreme Court ruled that bans against interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the legality of Proposition 8. I’m not a lawyer, but in my opinion, the passage of Proposition 8 was in violation of the state’s constitution, since overturning the State’s Supreme Court on an issue of protected rights requires, according to the law, a supermajority(two-thirds) to pass instead of a simple majority. Let’s hope that they do the right thing and let the rule of law prevail over fear and prejudice.

21 hours to go, and counting

As of this moment, there are about twenty-one hours until 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time on January 21, 2009, when this guy will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States:

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

And for the first time in nearly a decade, I’m finally going to be able to say, “I’m an American” without cringing. I’m sick of BushCorp, an administration more corrupt and more beholden to corporate interests than any we’ve seen in a very long time. While Bush may not have been the very worst President in the history of the United States of America (I personally believe that honor belongs to James Buchanan, under whose administration the nation quite literally fell apart), Bush’s role in the mess that our country is in now simply cannot be denied. I’m looking forward to a President and an administration which values the rule of law, and places at least some value on the Constitution and the values that made our nation great in the first place. I’m sick of a President whose interest in political promotion and whose grandstanding and pandering to right-wing special interest groups overshadowed any progress he could have made for our nation, both at home and abroad. I’m also just sick of a President who wouldn’t hesitate to fling our nation into wars which are unaffordable, morally unjustified, and politically disastrous.

I’m looking forward to a President who seems to act with integrity, and who understands the seriousness and the gravity of the position that he holds. Bush, for all his talk of how he was a “uniter” and “the decider” never quite grasped, in my opinion, just what it meant to be President. Obama hasn’t even been sworn in yet, but already he’s done more to restore the integrity and dignity of an office which got drowned in cowboy diplomacy and a President more suited to the frat house than to the White House.

Barack Obama won’t be the perfect President. From time to time, those of us who voted for him with the highest of hopes will be disappointed, and that disappointment will hurt. Some of us may even end up feeling betrayed.

Honestly, though, after what we’ve been through since Bush “won” the election in 2000, it’s hard to imagine that we could end up with anything worse.

More on prop 8 (I can't help myself)

Today, the California Supreme Court has agreed to take on three lawsuits challenging Proposition 8. Let’s hope they do the right thing, and overturn it. According to the article, “All three cases claim the ban abridges the civil rights of a vulnerable minority group. They argue that voters alone did not have the authority to enact such a significant constitutional change.” This has been my own position all along, and the primary reason why I chose to oppose Proposition 8. Constitutions exist primarily to protect the rights of the minority against the whims of the majority.

A couple of random thoughts.

First, a number of folks who poured money into the “Yes on 8” campaign have complained loudly and vociferously that they are being “unfairly targeted and singled out” for their beliefs. I have to ask them, “Gee, what’s that like?” Seriously, I really can’t bring myself to feel sorry for these people. While I don’t think harassment or vandalism is acceptable, it’s still difficult for me to feel much sympathy. Gays have had to put up with this sort of thing for decades. Centuries, really.

Second, I’ve heard several say, in response to news of the court’s challenge to the ban, something like, “Proposition 8 has passed, it’s the law, deal with it.” I don’t think this is an appropriate response; after all, saying the same about interracial marriages or separate seats on the buses would not be appropriate. Besides, why wouldn’t these people just “deal with it” when the Supreme Court said that gay marriage was protected by the Constitution? They decided that they needed to respond to that, so other people are responding the other way.

Third, I can’t help wonder if the people who funded the “Yes on 8” campaign had anticipated the volume of the backlash that has erupted. Some gay activists have said that the passage of Prop 8 may have been the best thing possible for the gay rights movement. It really seems to have galvanized them.

Finally, I think same sex marriage is inevitable in this country. If the California Supreme Court does not overturn the ban, then it will take a few more years, but it will happen.