Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Habits

Well, another Black Friday (and most of a Gray Saturday) has come and gone. Pepper spray to be the first in line for an X-Box, huh? Well, you have to give them points for originality.

It's easy to fall into sanctimony over the unthinking consumerism that Black Friday both manages to represent and self-parody every year, but it's worth keeping in mind that unthinking non-consumerism will have some pretty serious economic consequences of its own - most of us don't make anything that qualifies as a necessity, except in the fact that it might have acquired enough First-World ubiquity that we "don't know how to live without it." (This despite the fact that we got by perfectly well for a very long time - as late as when I was in high school, if you told someone that you wanted to be a Web Designer, they would have likely quipped that the spiders were managing perfectly well on their own.)

So perhaps the moral of the story that we keep missing every year is that we need more thinking consumerism. It's nice to be enough of an aesthetic that you can sneer down your nose at someone who camps out for a week to get a cheap DVD player. But most of us don't think about what we'd say to the guy who needed to make those DVD players to feed his family. "Take up small-scale intensive farming," isn't helpful, it's glib; those skills are fairly rare and it's easy to screw it up.

In the constant race to have the best hand at Misery Poker, we spend a lot of time claiming that the people with all of the money twisted our arms, but the simple fact is that we made this bed for ourselves and we can make a new one. But, as the saying goes, "In economics, there are no solutions, only trade-offs," so until a better way is really worth something to us, there isn't going to be one.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Occupy of One's Own

In local news, Occupy Seattle has gone to court to fight for the right to stay camped out on the Seattle Central Community College campus. With a few high-profile evictions of Occupy activists making front-page news, the back and forth over the movement is picking up steam. Interestingly, here in Seattle, the argument doesn't really seem to be over whether or not Occupy Seattle has a right to camp out - "A permitted City Hall site where limited camping is allowed has been mostly vacant for two months," according to the Times, but whether or not they should be allowed to camp where they want, regardless of any other rules.

With all of the focus on Occupy Seattle and the greater Occupy Wall Street movement, of which it is a part, it's perhaps become too easy to forget that the students, activists and their allies that make up the local Occupy branch aren't the only people who are spending time camping out, and looking for places to stay. In 2004, SHARE/WHEEL's Tent City 4 was created, and ever since, a small community of homeless adults has been living a nomadic existence, moving from one location within the Eastside of the Seattle suburban area to another, often in the face of rules deliberately adopted by local cities to keep them on the move, generally at the behest of citizens who had bought into a hysteria that cast the resident of the tent city as an out-of-control band of murderers, rapists and substance-abusers. With the passage of years, the hysteria, the tent city and the resident have all mostly been forgotten. Nowadays, a church or synagogue offering to host the encampment merits little more than a blog posting, and no-one bothers to comment. Tent City 3, which tends to move around inside Seattle still draws a little grief, but even that's mostly died down.

Of course, Occupy Seattle and the Tent Cities aren't really the same beast. The people in the Tent Cities aren't protesting their situation - simply attempting to make the best of it. They can't really afford to make a fuss over where they're staying, because if they lose the right to camp, they lose what passes for their homes, rather than mostly having to go back to their houses, apartments and dormitories. (Not to say that there aren't genuinely homeless people in Occupy Seattle, but I suspect that no-one in the Tent Cities has volunteered to be there.) And it's that disconnect that is of interest to me. Occupy Seattle can afford to push things farther because they have comparatively less at stake. And in doing so they can stay in the public eye, and thus in its consciousness.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trying Times

I've never really cared for self-help gurus. In my personal opinion, they tend to offer pat answers to complicated questions. (Note, however, that I don't say that they're necessarily wrong answers...) I suspect that I'm simply not in the target demographic, being the sort that is suspicious of simple answers to complicated questions.

But my ex-girlfriend was a big fan of Anthony Robbins, and we spent a good deal of time watching his videos. Most of which drove me up the wall. But during one video, he said something that really resonated with me. The scenario was simple - a woman in the crowd was having some sort of difficulty with her husband, they'd come to a compromise and she said that she would try to hold up her end of the bargain. Robbins pounced. I'd expected him to go Yoda-esque on the woman, but after an amusing sequence (amusing to us, anyway - it was frustrating for the woman) where Robbins asked her to "try to pick up that chair," he let off the hook and got to the point. Rather than an variation of "there is no 'try', there is do or do not," he said that when we set out to "try" something that we don't feel we can actually accomplish, what we are often doing is putting in enough effort (or the appearance of enough effort) that we feel we can't be blamed for failure.

Back when the "Supercommittee" to tackle the budget deficit was formed, the first thought that crossed my mind was: "They'll try." I think that other people agreed with me. There was already chatter that Congress would simply break the "Sequestration" rules they'd created for themselves; the only question was would the Republicans manage to block Democratic attempts to halt cuts to social programs while restoring defense spending, or would all of the "automatic" cuts be voted out of existence.

Now, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) one of the co-chairs of the Supercommittee, is one of my senators, and she's a nice enough lady. (Yes, I have actually met her face to face. Best $250 I've ever spent. My father was dead right - being a black person at a political fundraiser does make you one of the centers of attention.) But it takes more than being a nice person to break a budget impasse in Washington D.C., it takes someone who's willing to do what it takes to get the job done. And I could have told you from the start that Senator Murray was not that sort. Her job was to hold the line against Republican attempts to roll the Democrats yet again. If they reached a workable deal, so much the better. But the failure to reach a deal was seen as a better outcome than a bad deal, and so she tried. And so did everyone else. The fact that the finger-pointing started some time back is proof of that.

So what do we do now? Well, "we" do nothing. Anyone who thinks that the United States of America is unified in any meaningful way that doesn't involve chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and/or hating/scapegoating/killing people in some other part of the world who we can blame for our troubles is, in my not particularly humble opinion, a naif. Look at the TEA Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Okay, so they aren't exactly on the same page. But they at least share the common goal of reducing the perceived influence of moneyed interests in Washington. But if you put a dozen people from each side in a room, you'd get a cage match worthy of Pay-Per-View long before they decided to sit down and see if it was worth working together to elect people they felt better represented then nation as a whole.

We all know that the path we're on is unsustainable. Even the Republicans have (mostly) given up on the fantasy that we'll simply borrow billions of dollars and that we'll use it to magically create some super economic juggernaut that will create such a flood of prosperity that we'll be able to pay off the debt without anyone actually having to pay a dime more than they want to in taxes. We can't do what we are doing forever, and that means one of two things - reduced government services or increased government taxes. And in the end, those are really just variations on the same thing - a lower standard of living. You're either paying more to get the same amount, or you're paying the same amount to get less. Or you combine the two, and you're paying more and getting less. Either way, that's money that can't be spent on flat-screen televisions, new paint for the house, gasoline, food or clothing.

The issue, at this point, isn't whether we're going to see a decline in our standards of living (although something could happen to get us out of this - it's happened before) it's when does it start, how far does the decline go, and how much damage to we do to things in trying to mitigate it. If we want to limit the impact, we really only have one option - we have to actually work together. That doesn't mean looking for "compromises" that are thinly veiled attempts to screw over other constituencies. It means understanding that is this important enough to do something unprecedented in this country: putting aside our differences and being okay with the idea that someone might get something that we're entitled to or in need of. There is no more time for trying, shifting the blame can no longer be the goal. We have to do this. One wonders if we consider it important enough.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Onward

On the Recieving End

We were talking about the police yesterday, when someone asked why more of them don't carry Tasers. The answer, as it was explained to us, is that to be Taser certified, you have to be tased, and a lot of police officers have conditions that prevent this.

But (assuming this is correct) there's a certain irony in that to be certified to carry a less-lethal weapon, you have to have it used on you, but this is not the case (for obvious reasons) with lethal weapons, and so it's easier for a police officer to have access to lethal force than non-lethal force.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Leaves

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Rule of Seven Dumb Things

Every so often, you come across something that doesn't seem to be on the Internet, but really should be. This is one of them. I've made some slight edits, but this is pretty much the way I found it.

The Rule of Seven Dumb Things

Do one dumb thing, and you'll probably be fine. A little self-awareness goes a long way.

Do two dumb things at the same time, and you ought to be careful. But, the deity of your choice smiles on babes and fools, as the saying goes.

Do three dumb things, and you're venturing into difficult territory. Something will probably go wrong, your bruises may be noticeable and you'll need to retrace your steps.

Do four dumb things simultaneously, and you are virtually assured of injury or loss. It will not go unnoticed and you may gain a reputation as a lucky fool or for having cheated fate.

If you're doing five dumb things at the same time, you're going to be seriously injured and risk death. You will be rightly ridiculed by your friends and family while you recuperate. Death hit the snooze bar, but will be back for you after coffee.

Do six dumb things at once and you're going to die. You will draw a large crowd of hushed gawkers. Some might even say you deserved it, and chances are good your casket won't be open.

Do seven dumb things at the same time and you will become an instant posthumous legend. Your demise will be ensconced in college physics textbooks, the NFPA Fire Code and an AP "file photo." You name may become a verb and your descendants will deny their lineage.

Jon Espenshied (Adapted from an oral retelling by Bob McKenney, Chief Electrical Inspector for the City of Tacoma, Washington, for many years.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

He's Lucky It's "High-Tech"

Herman Cain has appropriated the term "high-tech lynching" from the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to describe what he appears to be attempting to portray as a hateful conspiracy against him. In a very real sense, this represents incredible historical progress. By the time Cain was born, the extrajudicial "mob-justice" murders that comprised historical lynchings had declined into the single digits annually - and you could go for years between recognized incidents. Now, you can count the majority of the incidents that happened since Cain's birth on your fingers and toes, and we consider the practice to be entirely a relic of the distant past. While hate murders, like that of James Byrd, still take place, they are considered just that - murders, and the public aspect of historical lynchings is long gone. I'm middle-aged myself, and while I've heard lynching stories from my parents and grandparents, by the time I was born, the practice had died and seems just as before my time as calling cars "horseless carriages."

I dislike Misery Poker, and so this isn't going to be sob story about the injustice of it all. But it is worth noting that at least two of the women who have accused Mr. Cain of sexual harassment were white. Were this 1911, or even 1961, there would be nothing "high-tech" about what could have happened to him in the face of such accusations. Emmett Till, who died when Cain was nine years old and was only a teen himself, suffered abduction and a gruesome death for far, far less than what Cain stands accused of. And it could be argued that a practice beloved of more anarchic conservatives - jury nullification - played a part in allowing the murderers to walk scot-free. And that racial animosity is what allowed the acquitted, but guilty, men to feel secure in admitting what they had done in a magazine article. The rallying around Cain that many Republican voters have done would have been unthinkable, even considering that at the time, the Republicans were still considered the party of Lincoln. And it seems that many have decided that it the accusers who should be tried in the Court of Public Opinion, rather than having their word taken as Gospel, as it once would have been.

This isn't to say that there should be an uproar over Cain's use of the term lynching. Or that we've become heartless and callus for being able to use the word so lightly, even given the horrific history of the practice (which was not, by any stretch, confined to African-Americans). Just that we should remember, when we hear the phrase "high-tech lynching," that it's not just the "high-tech" prefix that makes the difference. What passes for a lynching these days would hardly have merited the term "persecution." And that we should all be very, very glad of that fact. Especially Herman Cain.

Burdens

No one ever has a burden of proof to explain why they believe as they do. That is between them and the Universe, no matter how loud and obnoxious they are about it. Whenever anyone says to you: "If you want my respect, you must explain to me, to my satisfaction, why you believe as you do," simply walk away. That's a fool's game, with no way to win, and you're unlikely to earn anything for the effort of playing.

But the moment that someone asks another to believe and or to behave as they do, THEN they acquire a burden of proof. If someone says to you: "Your way of looking at and interacting with the world is incorrect, and mine is the path that you must follow," then you are more than justified in requiring that they explain to you just why what they do and believe is rational and useful, and just why it serves your purposes for you to do as they would have you. Anyone whose worldview is constructed in such a way that it requires others to follow it should either become very well versed in the finer points of persuasion and negotiation, or should find a more durable worldview.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Obligations

A lot has been made of Joe Paterno's failure to live up to his "moral obligations" in the midst of the Pennsylvania State child sexual abuse scandal. Which raises this interesting point: Had Paterno's superiors followed up back in 2002, we wouldn't be having this discussion even though Paterno's actions would have been the same.

In light of that, I've come to suspect that most of us never actually fulfill all of the obligations that have been set for us. What happens instead is that circumstances and the community of people around us do most of the heavy lifting, and we just take the credit. This, in turn, prompts us to think of ourselves and others as more active and/or capable than we really are, and thus more less cognizant of the role that external factors play.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn

Just to Clarify...

Okay... Let me get this straight. Michigan legislators who are trying to score political points with people who take their cues on life from selective readings of a selectively edited anthology of religious tales (the most recent of which are nearly two millennia old)  that some even take to be an accurate history of the world (and in some places, prophetic about the future of the world, despite seeming to have been written while on crack) have basically gutted a piece of legislation because it would protect from bullying and harassment certain people that a literal reading of one of the specific tales in the aforementioned selectively edited religious anthology says should all be killed on sight, doing so by basically saying that if you really, really believe what you selectively read from these old religious stories (or what someone else told you that they said), then it's okay.

Do I understand the situation properly?

And people are surprised/upset/angered by this exactly why? You might as well be hacked off that it rains in Seattle.

Welcome to a republic people, where even those citizens who take their cues on life from selective interpretations of self-serving religious tales of sketchy providence have the right to representation.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Already?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Christmastime treason and plot.
Stores see no reason why Christmas gift season
Should ever be forgot.

Didn't it used to be illegal to cram stores with Merry Christmas crap from wall to wall before Thanksgiving? I walked into Target today, and my eyes about started bleeding.