Where Am I?

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This is a question that has been plaguing me for the last few months (if I am honest and reflective, it has been longer), but even more acutely for the last few weeks. At a friend’s house a few days ago a woman was talking about her farm, where she has sheep that she uses for educational programs, as well as other animals. As she spoke, I sat quietly, and the hosts remarked that it was very unlike me not to have any comments. Indeed it was.

My feeling in that moment was that I was so far away from myself (if I was still in high school, or perhaps feeling more literal, I would have written that as “my Self”) that I just felt distant and kind of dead inside.

A friend recently wrote a blog post about the joy of being known for who you truly are, and I didn’t even open it to read it for weeks after she posted it. The pain I am experiencing right now from living a life that is so not reflective of who I am- in so many ways and on so many levels- is so acute that I couldn’t even bear to read her words.

But my problem goes deeper that my estrangement from myself. The chasm between me and Me has grown so profound that I don’t even know how to reconnect with who I am meant to be any more. I don’t know where to look to find myself, or how to light a spark that will take hold of me and shake off the cobwebs. I am not sure how to reverse the spell that has come over me, so I sit in this torpor and just kind of pass the time like a condemned man waiting to expire.

I have been unable to write, unable to blog, and over the course of the last few days, I haven’t even been able to figure out how to continue this post, or how to pull it together enough to finish it. So I’m just gonna post it as it is and see what you guys have to say about it. Maybe you will be able to offer me a road map out of this place…

My Hero, Pranav Kodali

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Please watch. You’ll be a better person for it.

Just Because Race Is Involved Doesn’t Mean Racism Is Involved

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A poignant experiment was done with turkeys. Researchers observed a curious phenomenon, whereby turkey babies would follow their mothers, even into dangerous situations, and even to their deaths. They wondered what made this bond so strong, that while other animals in similar circumstances showed a self-preservation instinct, turkeys would march happily to their own demise as long as their mothers led the way.

As good researchers do, they played around with different variables, trying to figure out which one was responsible for such strong turkey loyalty. What they found out was that turkey moms emit a specific noise, and that was the key. Anything the researchers would hook up with that noise- even inanimate objects- would suddenly find itself the focus of a turkey baby parade. Researchers could put an obvious predator in clear view, and a turkey-mother-noise-emitter in a tin can and drag it past the predator, and sure enough, those little turkeys would just march to their deaths. Publishers of the study referred to this as a “click-whir” response. The brain is programmed to respond to a certain stimulus in a certain way, and gosh darn if it won’t respond that way come high water or predators or zombie apocalypse.

I feel like we have “evolved” as a society to where racial sensitivity has now resulted in us seeing racism everywhere. We clearly have some racial baggage that needed cleaning up. To do that, we needed to be aware of issues of past racism, and how to address them and redress them- but that history has cost us dearly in that now we cannot see race without seeing racism. If police have to give the following description of a suspect, “A 6 foot, 4 inch man, driving a white Honda Accord and wearing a brown jacket…” because to say that he was a certain race- the most obvious descriptor of a person you are looking at!- may be viewed as racist, then we have gone backward instead of forward. If in 2015 we are so eager to show how not racist we are that we are penalizing white people in order to promote less qualified minorities, then we are spitting on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream that people would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

And when there is an incident between law enforcement and citizens and before the facts are even clear people are shouting, “Black lives matter!” my response is, “Yes, and…?” Of course black lives matter- as do the lives of every person. But yelling this as if this is somehow insightful information is like me yelling, “I think Mexican people are kind of neat!” Perhaps interesting, but it doesn’t really add anything relevant to the discourse.

It reminds me of the time I was leaving a local cafe and someone asked me to sign a petition against LGBT murder. So I asked, “Um, who is in favor of LGBT murder?” The woman went off on a whole shpiel about how “those on the right” (ha!) support policies that cause the murder of LGBT-Q people, etc etc etc… and then after about ten pages of anti-right-wing stuff was the actual petition which was in fact a pro-gay-marriage petition.

Whether the recent incident in Baltimore will turn out to be police abuse or something completely not that remains to be seen. Clearly there are many on the streets and in the media who would like to frame this conversation for us. The last time folks wanted to helpfully sloganize (Remember “Hands up, don’t shoot”?), before the facts were in, the voice of the street was shown to be a conspiracy of shameful lies.

The internet has done so many great things as far as bringing information to people. But when people irresponsibly use social media to spread an agenda before the facts are in, the immediacy of the information age can work against us. For some reason folks almost always see the wrong information, yet almost never see the corrected information later on.

Let’s just hope we can be smarter than a bunch of turkeys.

How Much Do I Hate Forms? Let Me Count The Ways…

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I am applying for one of my children to get into a certain program. It is free as part of the public school system, so applying is really more a matter of getting him on the radar (somewhat of a moral conflict for me to begin with) and giving them enough info to verify that we are actually entitled to receive the services we are requesting. So far that is reasonable. But after the initial application, there were another 27 or so forms (there were not actually 27; I am exaggerating for dramatic purposes…)to fill out, and I had questions as to the reasons for some of them, so I called the organization. I was connected to a very helpful man (yes, a human!) who patiently answered all of my questions, but sadly, some of the answers went like this (and here I am not really exaggerating…):

Him: So then the next form asks about the racial and ethnic make-up of your family and your child.
Me: Um, I think that is illegal.
Him: Oh. Uh. Well, It’s probably for statistical purposes (By the way, why do people always try to tell you that information they are not entitled to have is for “statistical purposes”? What statistics are they compiling? And who are they, the US Census? [Who, for the record, I think also grossly oversteps…]). But you can probably skip that form if you want.
Me: Yeah. I’m going to skip that one.

Please note that there was already a section on the original application that asked for this information, and was marked as optional.

Him: Then we have the income form. This is pretty straightforward. You just fill out your family’s gross income, monthly and yearly, and of you get food stamps or Medicaid and if you have any other sources of income that are not from work.
Me: And why would you be entitled to this information? I mean since this program is paid for by tax dollars, and it isn’t income-based?
Him: Oh, that’s a good question. No-one has ever asked me that before. Huh. Well, I guess they just want to know who is in the program.
Me: Well that’s easy. The person in the program is my son. He’s a kid, so his income is zero. Can I just write that?
Him: Oh. I guess so…

Him: (Poor guy. I know he is wishing he had gotten a different person on the phone. Like maybe someone who just wanted to know how to spell something. I felt bad for him, but seriously, these forms were crazy. And it was about to get waaaaaaaaaaay crazier…)Then the last form is the immunization form. So just upload a copy of your son’s immunizations and you’ll be all set. (So first off, I don’t know how to upload. Honestly I’m not even totally clear on what that means. I believe it’s sort of like faxing, but when I say that people laugh at me. But I’m not sure why…)
Me: Ah. Well we don’t immunize. So how would you like us to handle that? (It’s important to note here that most organizations just have a standard form that they ask you to sign saying that you don’t immunize. Not this place.)
Him: Oh I can email you a form to take to your child’s doctor to have him fill out that says your child isn’t immunized and after he signs it you can send it in to us.
Me: Ok so I will just tell you right now that I am going to sign it and send it in.
Him: No, we need a doctor’s signature.
Me: (Incredulous) You need a doctor to sign that he DIDN’T do something?
Him: Yes. It has to be a doctor.
Me: So you want me to make an appointment with a doctor who didn’t know my son when he was a baby and a toddler (the person on the phone knows we moved here a few years ago, so the doctors we have in Seattle would not have been the ones to give our kids shots as babies anyway…)and take my son there so I can tell the doctor that my son is not immunized, and then he can take my word for it and then he can sign a form based on what I have told him and then this is the form that you will accept as the truth?
Him: Yes, exactly.
Me: Okay, I’m telling you right now that I will be the one signing this form.
Him: Silence.
Me: Just because I don’t want to be shady. I want to be very honest about what I’m doing. But it seems kind of stupid that if I tell a doctor something you will believe it, but if I tell it to you then you don’t believe it.
Him: Silence.
Me: Okay, so I’m going to sign it.
Him. Okay.

We had a similar issue when one of my daughters was entering a certain program, needed a “medical” form filled out, but the information was literally height, weight, eye color, any medical concerns that would prevent her from participating in the program- and immunization history. So I said I was just going to fill it out and sign it. It’s not that we don’t have medical insurance- thank goodness we do. But the idea of going to a doctor so they can certify things I can see with my own eyes or things I actually have more knowledge of than they do is patently absurd. The problem was that it clearly said “physician’s signature”. Yes I have principles, but no I’m not about to commit fraud. Much to my daughter’s’ chagrin, I just crossed out “physician” and signed it myself. They never noticed, don’t really care, and just need paper to put it a file.

I hate to embarrass my kids, so I am really trying to pick my battles now that they are older and are more involved and could become embroiled in these situations. On the other hand, I hate being a complacent robot, and hope I am raising kids who will be able to stand proud and not be afraid to question perceived authority.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned is this: anything that is on a form was put there by a human being and can be negotiated off by a human being. Just because it’s in black-and white doesn’t make it Holy Writ, and just because someone can point to “policy” doesn’t mean you have to roll over. It’s hard to question everything, but in the long run, it’s harder not to.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

My Life In Motion:

3 Comments

This is how I feel every time I call Amazon customer service, or frankly, any time I have to to deal with almost any technology:

(For the record, I would be the monk seated on the right…)

The Death Penalty- As I Understand It

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As AM radio drifts in and out of my consciousness today I can’t help hearing snippets of conversations about whether or not the Boston Marathon Bomber should get the Death Penalty. I guess the parents of the youngest victim have requested that he not get the Death Sentence, for fear that he will spend endless years appealing it and they will have to spend endless years in limbo going to court case after court case hearing his attorneys explain why he should get his sentence overturned.

From what I have seen and read, this fear is not unfounded. And at the risk of raising the ire of those who think they know more about this than I do, and at the risk of raising the ire of those who may truly actually know more about this than I do, I am going to tell you what I think about the Death Penalty.

I think the Death Penalty can be a great deterrent if it is administered swiftly, fairly, justly, and with certainty. The problem is that none of the four criteria are ever met, nor do I believe they are almost ever possible to meet.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must come soon enough after the crime that a criminal will know it is a logical consequence of his actions. It will have to come speedily enough that he has time for his case to be fully heard, yet not much longer after that. But since THE IMPRESSION WE HAVE (although this is statistically not true…) is that mistake after mistake happens during a trial, we have to leave time for the Appeals process to play out. In truth, however, if heaven forbid the accused is your loved one, or the case is your case, even one mistake during trial is too many. So until we can tighten up our Judicial System and clean up our house (see next point), swift justice just won’t happen.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must be seen as a fairly earned punishment for crime. As long as the perception is perpetuated- and it is perpetuated because it actually happens- that poor defendants and minorities are disproportionately sentenced to death, it can’t deter crime in any real way because committing crime will always be seen as a game of playing the odds instead of a A=B equation. Whites and wealthy or well-connected defendants will assume they can skate away from charges, and everyone else will assume it’s a coin toss anyway. If there is no fairness, there is no respect for the law, so it’s hard to convince people to abide by a system that consistently plays them false.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must be seen as just. That means that the punishment must fit the crime. That means that there needs to be some sort of uniformity in how Death is distributed. It’s a bit of a hard sell to say that in one state a person should die just because they were already a felon when they committed murder, but in another a person must commit the most heinous crime against a child before the State would ever even dream of invoking this most serious of punishments. Either the Death Penalty is drastic and dramatic, and it is reserved for the most awful crimes, or every life taken deserves to be avenged by a life taken, but whatever the standard is, life is Arkansas can’t be more or less valuable than life in Texas, or the Death Penalty is not just.

And in order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it absolutely must come with 100% certainty. A criminal must know that if he commits murder, he will die. He can appeal errors in his case, but then it’s game over. There is no 28 years on Death Row, there is no 60 Minutes interview set three years from now, there is no ‘what if technology changes in a decade and we find out we got the wrong guy?‘ That’s an insanely disturbing question, and I don’t know how to answer it, but if we are going to have the Death Penalty- which I believe has many benefits for society- then we are going to have to swallow some bitter pills along with it. Just like in war, sometimes things happen that you would rather not have happen. Not talking about them doesn’t magically wish them away, and not admitting to them doesn’t make them less objectionable. Not saying that sometimes long after a conviction, that conviction is overturned would be me being a liar- or me hiding the facts to make my own case sound better. So, sorry, I am in favor of the idea of the Death Penalty, but there are things about it that make me super uneasy and that’s the ugly truth.

I think warehousing prisoners for a gazillion years is stupid and wasteful. I think Death Row is a sick joke. I think the problem with the Death Penalty is not the idea of it, but the ways we implement it. Does that make me evil? You may think so. I think it just makes me open to discussing an idea.

Maybe you will agree.

Traitor Joe’s

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After returning from a trip out of town with the family where I pretty much stayed in bed for the majority of the time, I decided to venture out to Trader Joe’s on my home turf of Seattle.

Big Mistake.

I forgot- or perhaps deliberately misremembered- what it’s like to insinuate myself into Trader Joe’s in the Seattle area. It’s just all around awful :(

In Detroit, Trader Joe’s is a place where you can go if you want to get healthy food at reasonable prices. You can buy organic ingredients, and find interesting and exotic fare and pretend you are a yuppy, but do it on a ghetto budget. You will be smiled at and embraced by like-minded people who are proud of you for trying to make moves in the right direction, who will give you the benefit of the doubt that you probably want to buy the organic cage-free non-GMO vegetarian humanitarian-raised individually nurtured and coddled eggs, even though you are buying the cheaper more regular eggs… They treat you like you are in on the right side of whatever it is you should be on the right side of and it feels good to be there. People chat and hang out and share recipes and just generally vibe with each other in a cool positive way. It’s got all the nice aspects of a cafe, but for folks who also want great prices on produce and delicious dairy products.

Not so in Seattle.

In Seattle the agony starts in the parking lot. You maneuver into the tiny little place which is designed to let you know that you really shouldn’t be driving there unless you are in a Smart Car or perhaps a go-cart- or better yet, a bicycle. You feel like you have violated the moral code before you ever step foot in the store, and when you walk in, heaven help you if you have more than one child with you. Two children will earn you the harshest of glares, and more than that may cause actual physical violence to break out. Unlike the employees in every other Trader Joe’s everywhere, the workers here act like you have interrupted them in the middle of a colonoscopy and they are none too pleased about it. No matter what they are doing they seem ticked off that you are seeing them do it and irritated that you are in their store. You kind of want to stealthily buy whatever you need and then get out of there as quickly as possible before someone gets an attitude with you that you are taking too many of their yogurts or touching too many of their vitamins…

I’m trying hard to get back to doing the right thing food-wise. That means I really want to buy organic when it’s possible, and buy non-GMO whenever I can. But if Trader Joe’s is going to be such a nightmare it’s going to be a real struggle to walk this path. I have definitely drifted to the easy junky stuff here, but in truth when you live in a place like Seattle where it is so easy to make good buying choices, I really shouldn’t let myself get so sloppy. So, I guess I will see how hard I’m willing to work to do what I believe in. But it would be nice if Trader Joe’s would meet me halfway…

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