Lives Matter

I believe that nature is cyclical, that history does tend to repeat itself, but I don’t believe that it is inevitable that the same mistakes must be repeated time after time. I believe that, as sentient and rational beings, we ought to be able to recognize and interrupt cycles before their disastrous conclusions. I have no basis for believing that and it almost never happens, but the possibility gives me comfort.

Humanity, or at least the portion of humanity reported by the entertainment press, seems to be passing through an intolerant phase, and that has the potential to go wrong in so many ways in 2016 that I don’t even want to imagine them. Suffice it to say that this cycle is reversible in my opinion, but I hold faint hope that it will be.

First, I want to tell people that all lives matter. It’s not black lives or blue lives because, in the first place, those are artificial distinctions. Human beings are human beings, and our so-called racial characteristics wouldn’t even rate a mention if we were applying them to any other animal on Earth. It has become convenient to categorize and pigeon-hole people along with everything else in our lives, but it is misleading and dangerous, and we need to get over it. I see no happy resolution if we continue to focus on how to separate ourselves instead of how to make room for one another.

Second, we need to talk about the distinctions between black (or white or hispanic or asian, etc.) lives and blue lives. A cop is not a distinct life form; he or she is another human like us who has chosen employment in law enforcement. Now we need to talk about modern law enforcement because I believe that is a reflection of our mood of intolerance.

I grew up in a time when the motto was “To serve and protect” or something along those lines, but those times are in the past. Officers I worked with recently talked openly about their organization as a para-military organization to control the population, and that’s something completely different; that’s an occupation force. That is not intrinsically “bad” but it is threatening to those of us outside their circle. I was pulled over more than once for riding a Harley back in the day, and when one deputy saw my military ID he said, “Oh, you’re one of those.” Law enforcement seems to want us to respect and like them, but they do not seem to respect or like us very much… and they’re armed and organized. That seems to be a very asymmetric relationship, and those are seldom sustainable.

At the very least, and I get how painful this is, Law Enforcement needs to recognize and address that not everyone with a badge and a gun should have a badge or a gun. (I remember Craig Peyer.) It is true in every profession and they do no one any favors by circling to protect the few who misrepresent them in the community.

In our nominally democratic republic, our institutions are or ought to be a reflection of us and our values. If our institutions are not a reflection of us and our values then that’s the problem, and that’s what we need to fix. If we accept our institutions as they are then that’s the problem, and that’s what we need to fix.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Posted in Civil Rights, Life, Morality/Ethics, People, Rationality | 3 Comments

Thoughts on Coexisting With Partisan Politics

I believe that my problem is that in my mind I have conflated two separate processes. I sense that I’m not the only one who has made that error. I’ve been ranting because I would really like the opportunity to (finally) vote for the candidate for President whom I feel would best represent me, and it now appears likely that he may suspend his campaign before June 7th; but it’s never been about me.  This has nothing to do with who I want to represent me  as President. Rationally, I need to accept that.

The selection of candidates to stand for election this November is not a Constitutional process. Presidential primary elections are about identifying who will represent the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (and other organized political entities) in the General Election. As a practical matter, unless I believe that either major Party represents my interests, I am always going to be voting for Tweedledum or Tweedledee for President in November. I don’t believe for an instant that either major Party represents my beliefs and concerns.

A “fun fact” that I only recently learned is that the U.S. House of Representatives (the “populist” Congressional chamber) has had 435 members since 1913. The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 made that number more or less permanent in 1929.  Consider that the first U.S. House of Representatives had 65 members representing a population of 3.9 million people* or about 1 per 60,450 people. In 1910 (the Census upon which the 435 number of Representative was based) our population was about 92.2 million people or one Representative per 212,019 people. In 2010 our population was reported to be 308.75 million people or one Representative per 709,760 people. (Feel free to check my math.) If a present-day Representative really represented us, each Representative would represent roughly 12 times as many people as a Representative in 1790. Of course today they represent their Party. Even nominal “Independents” must get their Committee assignments from either the Majority or Minority Leader, partisan roles dating back a century.

I would like to see a truer non-partisan model as we often have elsewhere in government where the money to be made isn’t yet good enough to prevent giving the electorate a real voice. I believe – without proof – that more people might be motivated to participate in the process of choosing their representatives if our government was, in fact, more representative of us. Sadly I see that our government is instead becoming less representative and more partisan at every level.

Posted in Civil Rights, Life, Politics | 1 Comment

What’s to be done about institutional bigotry?

Of course I lived in North Carolina from January, 2010 into May, 2013. I worked with some really good people, some usually good people doing good work, and a few I will never understand how they reconciled their views with the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross.  In his Essay on the Immortality of the Soul,  David Hume (1711-1776) wrote:

“Heaven and hell suppose two distinct species of men, the good and the bad. But the greatest part of mankind float betwixt vice and virtue.”

In the New York Times Op Ed pages this morning was a lament: “Why Should My Store Be Boycotted Over a Law I Despise?” and that’s a perfectly legitimate question from the owners of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC.

Asheville – and I do love me some Asheville – is a quirky city in what is really a pretty inhospitable part of the country. Asheville had one of the few Democratic congressmen in the state – albeit a  DINO – until the district was gerrymandered in 2011 to bring it back to the Religious Right. I saw this article on Facebook this morning (“Entire Fucking City of Asheville Moving Out of North Carolina”) , and I could totally see it being true if it was possible to do such a thing.

The problem is that it’s functionally impossible to boycott part of an institution. I’ve been dealing with this for years now, and have never come up with anything better than a least objectionable compromise. If I remember to get gas just before I leave New Mexico, I can get across Texas on I-40 without spending money in Texas,; but, anywhere south of I-40, I’m going to have to support Texas. I always have to support Arizona, too; it’s just too wide.

I’m stopping by Asheville in a couple of weeks, and I know that any commerce I conduct in Asheville will generate income to Raleigh, but I’ve put this trip off for a couple of years now and I’m damn near 70 and I’m not putting it off again. While I’m there I intend to try very hard to only spend money within Asheville city limits, and I probably won’t buy any books from Malaprop’s because it’s probably not going to be necessary. It’s not personal.

I’m aware that I’m rationalizing my tacit support for institutional bigotry. I don’t know if I’ll be going back into Dixie again, but I do need to go at least once and I don’t have time to wait until there’s a sea change in their culture; it’s been at least 150 years already.

 

 

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Pondering American Politics

I lied. I’m going to write some more about Politics, but perhaps not about this particular dysfunctional episode we’re going through. I got onto this track when I noticed that February 5th is the anniversary of the passing of Ronald Dahl who wrote a lot that I never read about political “science.”

I may have shared before that my first experience with politics was in 1964 when I volunteered with the Goldwater campaign. I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but by then I had a pretty good idea where I’d be and what I’d be doing after high school and I felt like Goldwater was talking about that more honestly than Johnson. Well, no one wanted to have an honest conversation about the upcoming war in Viet Nam and Goldwater lost.

I was working in the operating rooms at the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, in 1968, and voting for Johnson’s Vice President never crossed my mind. Yes, I am to blame for Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rove and that lot. I didn’t know they came with the package, and I didn’t know that Nixon could be so venal and stupid, but I did it.

I was going to go on about the 1976 and subsequent elections; but, for the life of me, I can’t remember if I voted for Carter or Ford. You can blame me for Reagan in 1980, too, because Carter pissed me off and I voted for Anderson instead. The Bushes are all on you folks.

What I’ve noticed and want to explore is that, coincident with our slide toward neo-fascism, we’ve also made uncertain progress toward civil rights and equality for women. What happened to us?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare were both passed during the Johnson administration. Since then it’s pretty much been a rich man’s world. Why is that?

Bringing it to the present day, we’ve had about 47 years of one party bumbling along and marginalizing itself with factional infighting; and one party apparently deliberately concentrating power on behalf of itself, of course, and international business interests while passing among us as nationalists. This makes no sense to me.

The military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned of is, I believe, part of it, and Big Oil; but after all of that is said and done, Americans in large numbers are consistently voting against their long-term – and often their short-term – self-interests. At least one of these people is not home-schooled or poorly educated, and we often agree throughout the course of a discussion at the end of which she will say, “and that’s why I vote Republican,” and my head explodes. What makes people so frightened – I think it has to be fear – that it makes them blind?

More importantly, what makes 60-70% of the electorate so resigned to the failure of our democratic experiment that they don’t even bother to show up? In 2015 it’s estimated that 114 million people watched the Super Bowl. Three months earlier 82 million of 227 million eligible voters cast ballots for their representatives. I know there are only two viable parties, but how did we come to accept that representing us was secondary to representing the Party? We’ve been tolerating that for 115 years now!

I’m going to try to figure some of this out. I have no hope of fixing anything, but I feel a need to understand it better. Feel free to come along and to chime in.

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Thoughts on Politics

I want to vote for Hillary, but I can’t in a primary. Do you see that political grid over to the right? I’m about as midde-of-the-road as it gets given the issues before us. I recognize that Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, is significantly to my left, but Hillary isn’t the change that I believe we need to see in America. If elected, Hillary will be another well-intentioned appeaser settling for less than we need so as not to lose or to piss off the Democratic Party hierarchy.

We ought to have Medicare for all. We should have had it with Obamacare. Insurance companies have no interest whatever in our well-being. Their only interest is in making money by using premium dollars to invest in financial markets. You can look it up. Perhaps Blue Shield was originally founded to enable access to physician services and Blue Cross to enable access to hospitals, but that was 1929 and 1930. In my lifetime, it’s just been insurance not unlike any other insurance. Consider that they expect to make more from you than they expect to pay out for your care. Consider that the reason Medicare Advantage Plans can provide all of those little extras is that Medicare pays them more to manage your care than Medicare expects to pay to manage it themselves. It’s stupid!

Eisenhower warned America of the military-industrial complex, but we didn’t listen. “National Security” demands arms research and development and procurement. The simplest thing in the world is to find a enemy to defend against. Congress demands a VA Medical Center by built in every district, but staffing them… well, there’s no photo opportunity in that, and no contractors to support – just more mouths to feed.

We fought the entire Iraq War off the books with an “all-volunteer” force of kids to whom a 5-figure signing bonus looked like the brass ring. For the rehabilitation of the survivors we rely on charity. None of this is Hillary’s fault, but what is she going to do to get us anywhere near back to where we ought to be? She going to fight the fights she knows she can win.

My generation is weak. Our parents survived the Depression and fought two wars while we watched “Leave it to Beaver” and grew up to be weak with an overblown sense of entitlement. VietNam was a bitch so the military draft was halted so future conflicts would be fought by kids for whom the military looked like a step up. Since then it’s been hyper-nationalism, no questions asked on military equipment spending, and penny-pinching on anything that wouldn’t benefit a corporate sponsor.

Hillary says we can’t afford Medicare for all which is code for “Hillary won’t fight for it.”  She’s telling us up front that she’s going to fight the fights she knows she’s going to win, but she’s not going to jeopardize her reelection much less her legacy by suggesting anything unpopular with the Party and its supporters. I respect her candor to the extent that she’s being candid.

I can’t say now that I believe Bernie has a chance to win, but his legitimate candidacy absolutely improves the debate. We have such a long way to go, and I am reminded of when Schwarzenegger was running for Governor. So many people told me that they knew so-and-so would do a better job, but Arnold was going to win and they didn’t want to “waste their vote.” I’m sorry, but voting for Hillary would be a waste of my vote.

I’ll try not to write any more political posts.

 

Posted in Politics, Rant | 4 Comments

Trivial Pursuit

I find it disturbing that so many of us seem to believe that entertainment is the most important aspect of our experience. I’ve been listening to the coverage of the absence of people of color among Oscar nominees. At first I thought perhaps people of color should make better movies that more people want to see, and then it occurred to me that I had bought into a non-issue.

Of course discrimination continues to be an issue all through mankind, but this fuss is about millionaires of color not being recognized by other millionaires for excellence in entertainment. I suppose I’ve been boycotting the Oscars for years because it’s several hours of coverage of a subject that is, almost by definition, meaningless.

I’m living in San Diego County presently and the biggest issue being talked about at the moment is whether or not the Chargers will move to Los Angeles. A big part of the issue is how many hundreds of millions of dollars local government will commit to guarantee construction of a new stadium for the multi-millionaire owners to hold games between very well-compensated players. These are games (football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, etc.) that kids play every day all over the world in dirt lots.

Meanwhile, a representative of local government said just now (again) that they were hopeful (again) of finding private money to house homeless veterans by the end of this year (again). The stadium stands a much better chance.

Of course it’s Big News that Donald Trump has been endorsed by Sarah Palin! We’ve lost our freaking minds!

Posted in Life, Morality/Ethics, Rationality | 2 Comments

Thoughts on “The Corporate Takeover of the Red Cross”

Propublica came out with another screed about the American Red Cross and its leadership,; and a) I was starting a 3-day training with FEMA, and b) I knew when I thought about it I’d have more to say. I said I’d think about it and respond here.

I want to preface my remarks here by saying that I’ve never met Gail McGovern, or Richard Reed, Senior VP for Disaster Cycle Services. Several people might have overheard my opinion that Richard Reed clearly doesn’t have a volunteer partner, but one of the perks I do enjoy about being a volunteer is that I get to choose the opportunities I want to engage in.

I also don’t know Justin Elliott, the author, nor do I have any more or less respect for his reporting than I would for anyone else. Okay, stating at the outset that Red Cross leadership has “presided over a string of previously unreported management blunders that have eroded the charity’s ability to fulfill its core mission” sounds a little like bullshit hype. I have no idea whose interests he serves beyond his own and getting a paycheck.

There were two fires in Northern California in September. The response I worked on had been started beautifully by local and regional staff and volunteers (a goal of reorganization) with augmentees from nearby and then more distant regions as needed to staff the response as quickly as possible while limiting travel delays and expense. Working with partners in the impacted communities, including a Native American rancheria, clients were sheltered, fed, and assistance centers were opened quickly. Obviously I can’t speak to every response in every region from Maine to Saipan, but I’ve never felt hamstrung by “National.” I don’t think “National” even goes out anymore.

I was never under the impression that we were going to maintain a physical presence “in every single community.” When I first volunteered at the end of 2007 there were chapter offices in many more communities, but many of them were unsustainable and standards of service varied widely from chapter to chapter. I understood that two of the major goals of that phase of reorganization were to standardize the brand and the services provided across the country (Unity) and to centralize financial responsibility for Red Cross assets. As much as it pissed me off to have my local chapter close, I can’t say that it was a bad call.

When I first started going out on responses my boss at the time asked me what we provided and, when I told her, she said: “Is that all!?!” Well, no, it’s not all, because Client Casework (I don’t do Client Casework anymore) works in partnership with each impacted family using whatever resources are available in the community until the client’s disaster caused needs are met. I don’t necessarily love Direct Client Assistance, but it’s much easier to deliver and easier to teach to new responders, and we still partner with each family through the recovery process.

My body doesn’t do cots in staff shelters as well as it used to, so now I deploy with a little air mattress. Yes, I’d much rather be in a motel, even with that guy who watches ESPN to fall asleep (but barely), but I’m pretty sure most donors don’t intend to put me in a motel while evacuees are on cots. I believe that many volunteers who leave the Red Cross because the perks are changing have taken their eye off the mission: so long as we’re safe, voluntary service is never about us but the clients.

Volunteers come and go all the time, and the few employees whose job requires them to lead volunteers are woefully overworked and underpaid. Recently staffing levels have been standardized across the nation based on population served and, I believe, on how common disaster are in a Region. I don’t know what else to say about that; I don’t believe most donors intend to support a lot of non-responding paid staff. (I do want my employee support replaced, please.)

The mission of the Red Cross, although it was changed somewhat a few years ago, remains supportable: The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. I’m good with it.

As an afterthought, I haven’t said anything about Gail McGovern.  I don’t know her. I really don’t care about bosses. Once I have the direction I need, I’m pretty much done with them. I wish her, and all who love her, a long and happy life. The same is true for Richard Reed, although he seems to create more issues for my employee partners and he might benefit from a volunteer partner.

 

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I Think We’re Over-Thinking or Not Thinking At All

Okay, about all of this killing we’re doing… and I totally get that it’s different when we kill them, but I bet it doesn’t feel different to the ones being killed.

First I think we need to look in the mirror because we do act on our prejudices, and you can’t base a rational strategy on an irrational premise. Crazy is going to stay crazy.

I don’t say that we’re bigots or whatever, but let’s admit that the deaths in France hit us harder than the deaths in Africa because we’re of European ancestry. It’s not fair and it pisses off people of African ancestry, but the attacks in Paris happened to people like us. Let’s own that and put it aside for at least a while.

I’d like to see us put aside the religious rhetoric. I’m convinced that religion has very little if anything to do with terrorism if only because everybody does the same damn things regardless of their religious cover story. They do this crap for the same reason that Capone wanted to take over Chicago. Luciano wanted to take over the mob, and (pick a dictator) wanted to take over the world: a lust for power.

When McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building we hunted him down like the dog he was and killed him. When Ted Kaczynski was sending out those bombs we hunted him down like the dog he is and locked him up for life (8 of them). When bin Laden engineered 9/11 we declared war on two countries and an ideology, and got thousands of our own people killed before ten years later we finally hunted him down like the dog he was and killed him. Now, hours after the attacks in Paris (and 7 months after the attack in Kenya) we’re in another full-throated tizzy about America’s response to Islamist extremism.

These are crimes. We have cops. The whole world has cops and some of them, many if not most of them I’d say, are pretty good at what they do. Find out who engineered these crimes and where they are and take them out in as surgically precise a manner as possible. Don’t piss off every innocent civilian within a thousand miles just because they have different beliefs and wear man-dresses instead of pants.

Will my approach stop “terrorism?” No.

Has anything stopped crime so far? Is there any population in the history of mankind where everyone has stayed in their lane and followed the rules? We don’t have to stop trying and we don’t have to be stupid about it. The dumbest person I know had to admit that you can’t kill all of your enemies, especially when you go around making new enemies everywhere besides the widows and orphans.

Posted in People, Rant, Rationality | 6 Comments

Thoughts on Getting Angry

I choose not to waste my life being angry.

This morning I – with several thousand of my closest friends – got an e-mail from 350.org telling me that it was time for me get angry and support a federal investigation into what Exxon leadership knew about climate change and when did they know it.

It told me that it was time to get angry that I had been lied to. Bill McKibben goes on to say that we shouldn’t just be cynical and say ‘of course they knew;’ that if they’d only told the truth we’d all be green by now. Seriously? We had no idea that 7 billion people raising billions of animals for food and burning carbon-based fuels while denuding the surface of oxygen-producing vegetation was a loser? I’m reminded of when the world found out that smoking was a danger to our health.

I’m not clear on when this whole “what did they know and when did they know it” mantra came into fashion; I feel like the Democrats started it when they were investigating the Watergate break-in but I could be wrong. I’m not opposed to investigating crime, but spending millions just to find out how pissed-off I should be seems like good money being thrown after bad.

Now it’s “get Hillary” time in Congress. After all of the lives lost and fortunes spent during Republican administrations in the past, we have yet another investigation into what Hillary might have known before four people were killed at Benghazi.

Now when Hillary calls Republicans out for scheming to privatize the VA she becomes the bad guy, because how could they have known that years of awarding building contracts for new hospitals in their districts was not at all the same thing as adequately funding the VA. How could they have known, and when would they have known it?

Of course Exxon executives knew they were managing a finite resource that was polluting, but there was still oil to be sold and a lot of money in it, and they were going to get it and sell it. Of course tobacco executives knew then and know today that their product, in it’s purest form, is poison and that it is addictive, but people are still buying it and there’s a lot of money in it and they’re going to get it to market. Investigating Exxon for years and then holding years of hearing on what they knew and when they knew it – assuming either Republican-controlled chamber would undertake such a thing – would accomplish nothing.

My great-uncle farmed with horses up to his retirement in the 50s because internal combustion engine exhaust would kill his crops.  My foster-father told me when I was 12 not to smoke because it was killing him. They knew, and we knew, and we let it get like this anyway. Investigate that.

No. A few of you people are evil, some of you are nuts, and a bunch of you are in denial, but I’m 68 years old and I refuse to spend whatever time I have left in this body angry. If I was going to get angry then I’d have to move, and if I moved again I might have to leave the country and I paid for this country. I’m okay with being cynical – cynical and disappointed – but I’m not going to be angry.

“Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.”
– Robert A. Heinlien, 1973, Time Enough for Love

Posted in Life, People, Politics, Rant | 3 Comments

Reflecting on Disaster Response

Incidentally, I’m a Red Cross volunteer, and I do Disaster Assessment – which is morphing into a broader Situational Awareness activity – on Disaster Relief Operations. These DRO’s are the ones that make the papers, and that is as it should be I suppose, but we’ve only had 157 of those in 2015 while we’ve responded to more than 41,942 home fires. I digress.

Here’s the thing: we say that all responses begin and end as local responses because the first people on the job are the folks from the local chapter, and after all the out-of-town help and the cameras have gone away the local chapter will dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” and see their clients and community through to recovery. We know this rationally, but sometimes we get called to a community where they don’t have a brilliant response manager, or a lot of local resources, and sometimes the people who come in from out of town to help don’t do things the way we’ve always done them or they may rub the local folks the wrong way. When that happens and we’re working 12-15 hour days 6 days a week we can get a bit out of sorts, and when that happens we can lose sight of what we’re there for and let it become about us. I find that to be kind of sad.

I don’t believe anyone goes out on a disaster response to fuck things up; I just don’t. There may be prima donnas who like being big-deal shot callers – I may be one – but I can’t imagine that, with the living and working conditions on these jobs, people are going to go so far out of their way to make a disaster worse. I think those people are going to sit at home and write articles about how we’re doing everything wrong.

I really like doing what I do on these jobs. It is my privilege that people ask me how many homes have been impacted, how many people displaced, is it safe to go out on those roads or in that weather. I feel a little guilty that I feel as good as I do after I come off a job like this because it was so freaking awful for the clients. I can’t imagine losing everything I’ve spent my adult life working for.

At the end of this last job I came home feeling that I’d done my job, trained a few highly-motivated and committed local volunteers in skills that will help them and their community on their next job, and maybe made a few friends. It pains me that at least a few folks came off that job not feeling that, especially the ones I saw giving it every bit as much as I did.

People do irk me from time to time. We have procedures and standards, but we’re responding to disasters that don’t always conform to our standards and where our procedures don’t always work flawlessly so I adapt where some folks might not, and conversely I will sometimes resist an adaptation that I feel is uncalled for.

Anyway, it isn’t about me. It’s about the clients, their recovery, and getting everybody ready for the next one. There’s always a next one.

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