Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Congressional Problems are DC Problems, Too

Last night I attended a Happy Hour/meet up pitched by an outreach advocacy group called Women, Action, and the Media. The organization's stated object is to combat the still-shockingly vast degree of gender inequality that exists in the field and in so doing move towards complete parity. Moreover, the gathering was designed in particular to network, as the group itself notes, media makers, activists, academics, and fundraisers. I agree very strongly with the sentiment, so I decided to attend in order to see what other people had to say. My hope was that I might have some interesting, enlightening conversations. Suffice it to say that I was not disappointed. Yet, I nonetheless began to get a greater picture of the challenges facing not just women's rights but also those of all those who are a part of the media to some degree or another. Many of these pitfalls standing in our way have nothing to do at all with sexism and or even the Old Boy's club of the mainstream media.

Welcome to Washington, DC, a world of think tanks, non-profits, and journalistic enterprises. One could also call it paradise for the Type A personality, the person who enjoys regimenting his or her life with military precision. It is heaven for those who enjoy having each and every hour in the day filled with something and who learn to divide his or her attention between the task at hand while periodically glancing downward at a Blackberry. In this town, it often seems like everyone meets someone for a drink after work, but only for an hour or so, since there's always something else terribly important to do after that. Many of the movers and shakers present were very much indebted to that sort of lifestyle, the basis of which I have frequently been critical because it seems designed to produce inevitable burn out, if not a heart attack. But I digress.

To qualify, my skepticism is not directed towards those in attendance whose energetically articulated vision was to change the world, which was true with just about everyone I encountered. We need more people who love what they do and are enthusiastic about it. Instead, my reservations focus squarely upon organizational structure. These sorts of outfits build whole galaxies of worthy initiatives, training seminars, and important-sounding programs that manage to exist in complete isolation, totally unknown, to the other 5,000 similar organizations covering much the same ground. True networking does not involve finding ways to achieve a higher paying job or padding one's nest. Rather, it takes into account the idea that by combining forces and getting on the same page with those running over the same relative territory, gender justice can proceed forward and efforts to encourage it might become a reality.

These days I am not easily impressed when someone rattles off for me the particulars of whatever they're working on right now. I know they're not trying to impress me, of course, and I know they really do believe that their initiative to say, encourage media participation for women in third-world countries is going to make a huge impact. On a very limited basis, it will do good, but unless paired with other forces, the plan will be a mere drop in the bucket. Unless serious efforts are made to reach out and build bridges of communication, whatever gets set forth and put into action is just another dot in a sea of similarity. DC, after all, reflects the nature of Congress, whose own esoteria and minutia often end up submerging worthy bills and legislation under the deluge of statutes, procedural measures, and utterly useless proposals.

Sometimes I think the biblical story of the Tower of Babel is meant to illustrate this point. These organizations, like the Tower itself, grow taller and taller and taller, but they don't grow outward that much, and in so doing don't easily reach out to others. Instead, they are in love with their own language, just as much as those in the story used their own lingua fresca to serve as a common basis for organization. The Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of a higher purpose but was instead dedicated to the glory of humanity, to "make a name" for the builders. I don't believe that that DC organizations put forth their agendas with malicious intent, but they nonetheless mirror the way things have always been in Washington, a course of action which has proved to be not especially effective in the long run, a viewpoint currently shared by a majority of Americans. One can work purely to climb the ladder or work to advance humanity's understanding.

I took liberty with one other issue. Some in attendance last night were well-connected employees for Mainstream Media outlets. They talked excitedly about the ways that newspapers had adopted New Media tactics and as such were hiring lots of bloggers to keep pace with changing times. Again, do pardon my skepticism. I myself have never seen any of these jobs posted anywhere and the few somewhat like it that are advertised are quickly snapped up by those who have impressive credentials. As it is with so much, these sorts of positions are the domain of the well-connected and often the well-heeled, further casting doubt on a system supposedly predicated on the idea of meritocracy. One mustn't forget that blogs sprung up in opposition to attitudes such as these and for a very good reason.

The system itself is flawed in lots of ways, from the Old Boy Network, to hiring practices which insist a person have exacting credentials to even be considered, to tactics which feign to introduce citizen journalists into the picture while more or less keeping the status quo intact. The intersectionality which we seek within our own movements must be that of both action and intellect, else our own hard work and idealism produce frustratingly minimal results.

But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falls.

Performance Video

For about the past year or so, I've been experimenting with alternate tunings. In particular, I've been frequently covering songs tuned a full step down. Lou Reed uses it frequently to put the song into his range, and as such it utilizes a singer's lower register. 90's grunge and heavy metal use it quite a bit, though mostly with electric guitar, not acoustic.

This song, however, was designed to be played on an acoustic guitar and is also the most covered song in the history of recorded music.

What I Would Ask My Congressperson (If I Had One)

This week's question for John King's new Make Your Case, America show asked what question or brief comment I would mention to my Congressperson. The District of Columbia, of course, doesn't exactly have one.

Assuming I had a car, wanted one, and could afford it, my DC license plates would read "Taxation Without Representation". If anyone has a legitimate means of invoking the Boston Tea Party and the rebelling American colonists who started the whole thing off, we do.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tea Party Madness: Old School Prejudice's Last Stand

At the outset of the Tea Party demonstrations, comparisons were made to The Civil War by myself and other people. In retrospect, this was far too generous a comparison to make. I hardly wish to grant such people so high a compliment, even one rendered ignobly. In much more eloquent terms than I, people have recently dissected the motives and behavior of the mob, and fortunately its crackpot ideology is not as widespread as was the secessionist sentiment in the South in 1860. Those times were the apex of more than two decade's worth of upheaval and violence, the likes of which we have yet to see since, and which I hope to never see again. It takes more than just one unpopular bill to give people cause to most citizens to arm themselves en masse in open rebellion. Many may not support health care reform, but they feel no compulsion to vandalize offices, spit on legislators, and hurl epithets. These are merely the actions of a few reactionary imbeciles.

The behavior of the Republican Party towards the Teabaggers, by contrast, is what I find most reprehensible. Never was a mutually parasitic relationship more shockingly transparent. The GOP sees the Tea Party as its meal ticket back to power and will never condemn its tactics outright since doing so risks losing its endorsement. However, it is a slippery slope that Republicans are scaling here, and making a Faustian bargain has proven to be the eventual undoing of many. Fear of change and fear of the unknown is the energy source of this movement, but it goes much deeper than this, too.

If one had to summarize the most profound anxiety of the Tea Party set, it would be a belief that when whites lose their status as the majority racial group that they will in effect lose their grip on power and in so doing be punitively punished and subjugated by whichever minority group happens to control the gavel. One sees evidence of this fear way back in 1915 in a particularly offensive, but nonetheless emotionally powerful scene from The Birth of a Nation, whereby the Reconstruction-era legislative body in the state of South Carolina, the majority of which is comprised of newly freed African-Americans, takes great pleasure in passing retaliatory laws which reduce whites to the status of second-class citizens. This particular excerpt was such a successful piece of conservative agitprop that, as late as the 1960's, it was shown in schools and presented as though it were the God's honest truth. The underlying message is, I regret to admit, a viewpoint stressed by many I have known in my own life and many I know now. Regardless of its veracity, it is a nonetheless powerful idea to implant into the mind of anyone at a formative year in one's development and a difficult one to undo once it has blossomed.

A backlash against racial quotas, Affirmative Action, and our system of social service agencies for the poor also motivates those compelled to entertain the worst-case-scenario and a particularly dim view of progress. The belief among many Teabaggers is that the continued existence of these programs only perpetuates an underclass mentality of laziness and inactivity when people just need to get off of their derrieres and go to work. This is nothing new, of course. What might be new is the messenger. If the Tea Party has any African-American voice in solidarity, it is probably Pastor James David Manning, whose abrasive, provocative sermons threaten and chastise black people to start working hard and to refuse to rely on welfare because if they don't, and I quote, "Mexicans will be signing your paychecks". Manning's most recent attack, the language of which I have more-or-less pulled directly from its description of a YouTube clip, has centered on his assertion that President Obama, who he derisively calls "The Long Legged Mack Daddy", was, in fact, a C.I.A operative who used Columbia University as a cover to go to Pakistan in 1981 when the CIA and the Mujahideen worked together against the Soviet Invasion. Manning insists, with a straight face, that Obama supplied arms, logistics, and money using his Muslim background. Manning's ATLAHWorldwide ministry even seeks to put the President on trial for this accusation.

Among certain whites, a resumption of the militant voices of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X with the first black President in the White House are still latent fears among some, particularly those who remember Black Power. I recall during the 2008 campaign having a largely frustrating discussion with a staunchly Republican voter, a man my late Grandfather's age, who was convinced Barack Obama would rule like a combination of Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson. When I mentioned, quite offhandedly, that he was, in fact, biracial, and furthermore had been raised by a white mother and a white Grandmother, his fears were assuaged considerably. When I added that, furthermore, Obama was a Christian, not a Muslim, this also went a long way towards assuaging his anxieties. I wish I had not had to resort to these tactics, but by that point I was frankly tired of listening to one distortion of the facts after another and decided to try my best to short-circuit a rant.

The good news is that, very shortly, those of a certain generational mindset will die, and with them will perish many of the more infuriating elements of the Tea Party that have raised the blood pressure of so many in recent days. This isn't to say that problems won't always exist and there won't be a need for Progressives to continue to push forward against a tremendous amount of resistance on the other side, but rather to say that attitudes which have historically blighted our past will very shortly cease to blight our future. This is the natural course of events as it always has been. Our time here has always been limited, though we are often not aware of how finite we are until we reach the end of our lives. This then, might be the best encapsulation of that which we see now, the last gasp of those who are frothing at the mouth because they recognize at last their own mortality and in so doing, know that they are on their way out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Quotes of the Week

I couldn't decide between the two of them, so I decided to post them both.

-The Editor


"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."- Frederick Douglass

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Re-enacting the Past to Serve the Future

The stereotypical definition of Feminists held by many is that they are frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock. I find evidence of this sentiment no matter who I ask or where I search. In response, I will say only that every activist movement has a tendency at times to let anger at the status quo threaten to overshadow its altruistic policies predicated on compassion. However, this characterization isn't exactly justified for a variety of reasons. With the passage of time the radical, reactive voices within Feminism have been held up to highest scrutiny---the implication being that they must surely speak for the whole. The ultimate fault in why this assumption has been allowed to thrive and grow is not easily assigned, but a drop off in active involvement within the movement as a whole is regrettably a big part of the problem.

Institutional memory in American liberalism is often in short supply. We frequently forget the trailblazers and fostering mothers and fathers that guided us because so many of the rank-and-file have left or devoted their attention toward other things. Feminism once was quite fashionable, as was participation and proud membership within groups like NOW, along with the omnipresent subscription to Ms. magazine. Looking specifically at membership in a wide cross-section of left-wing movements, I note with some trepidation that we are now neither losing, neither are we gaining. As one person leaves, another springs up to take his/her place. But when this happens, the newcomers find themselves severely challenged by the ability to use the breakthroughs and lessons of the past and put them in their proper context.

Every ideological movement or group based on common identity feels a compulsion to look back into the past to find both a means of pointing to supreme authority or for help in its own discernment of ideas. As much as we embrace the future as the bellwether of the needed systemic changes to advance our agenda, we also rely heavily upon the past to grant us guidance and underscore our values. This is not a paradox in terms, but it nonetheless is a facet of Progressive thought that often times goes overlooked. Speaking specifically to the Feminist movement, this is accomplished for some by constantly alluding back to Feminist history. However, without a common memory, these names and accomplishments seem like ghostly apparitions pulled from the shadows. Without a collective sense of continuity, the most abrasive, strident voices easily rise to the top and end up dominating the entire message.

Articles like this one, penned by Dr. Louann Brizendine, who notes that she was once herself an early feminist, attempt to push back against the supposed man-haters and hair-splitters. Some points in the article itself have a facade of validity, but certain passages are especially cringe-worthy.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 20 to 25-fold more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.

If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.

Biological imperative has been used to excuse a variety of abhorrent behaviors. Here Brizendine runs to the "men are hormonal beasts" argument. This is a fallacy in terms for a multitude of reasons, namely that extreme sexual desire isn't purely the domain of men. Based on my informal surveys and anecdotal evidence over the years, women are just as sexually inclined as men, but have been socialized to repress it or at least to not display it openly. Speaking for myself and my own relationship, being that we are both humans, at times while out in public my attention will drift to someone attractive and at times she will do the same. In so doing, we both recognize that we feel a momentary, instant, entirely involuntary pang of jealousy as we notice this, a feeling which passes quickly and consumes perhaps five seconds total of our time. Both of us acknowledge the response as it happens and neither of us holds it against the other. But this point really is little more than a thinly-veiled dig at women who, in her mind, constantly complain about their boyfriends and husbands to no good end, feeling frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock.

One likely wouldn't have had a need for such articles had the old coalition held together. Feminism may have a thousand mothers, but I doubt the maternity of many of them. At times I feel like they are re-enacting the past to suit their own unique understanding or their own end, since when so few of us truly understand what has come before, the historical record can easily be shaped into whichever image one wishes. This also goes for Teabaggers and Internet columnists. Without the presence of those who were there or, for that matter, those to call bullshit, the movement as a whole finds nothing solid upon which to back its claims. When a past generation of liberal thinkers stripped away much of the older canon for the sake of being radically inclusive, throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the process, it left us all without an adequate rudder and a sufficient life preserver.

If we were a faith group, we might be inclined to refer to the Bible as a means of discerning the truth and serving as a final authority. Nature abhors a vacuum, of course, and the giant sucking sound you now hear is a desperate effort to establish a new basis for trust and validation among us. The question remains---upon which do we base our claims to be Progressives? Moreover, what do Feminists cite as Gospel when questions of doctrinal authority are raised? I hardly need to note that liberalism as championship sports team or as fashion statement are ultimately short-lived endeavors (see Obama, Barack, 2008 Election). We value freedom of choice, but Progressive tourism is never going to hold together factions, keep legislation from stalemating, or redefine hateful notions of feminists and Feminism.

People have got to have a reason to want to stay and to keep coming back to the feast. The angry, radical, minority voices must be kept in check. We must encourage active, consistent participation in our own attitudes, while trying our best to reach out when informed that someone in our ranks has had enough and wants to leave. This will not be easy, but it is the only means by which to ensure that our goals and our values do not have a short shelf-life. What we say must not merely be recorded faithfully in the historical record, it must also be passed on as words of guidance and inspiration to those who will follow us. The right to hold the torch also means the right to designate a successor and facilitate an adequate transfer of power when the time arrives. Otherwise, even that which I type to you today will be long forgotten. If we do not make plans now, most of our thoughts and ideas will become the stale domain of perhaps one or two devoted archivists who have bothered to comb through a vast electronic archive, blowing off several layers of dust in the process. This does not have to be our future, but it will be if we don't start seriously addressing the problem.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday Performance Video

While I navigate another complication in a convoluted social service agency, I offer this performance video to you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Redemptive Power of Healing

The stress of the past few weeks has reminded me of both the benefits and the drawbacks of being an adult. Perhaps you yourself can relate. Throughout the course of my daily existence, I expend a huge amount of energy attempting to navigate the world of interpersonal communication. Often I have to take account for the frailties, neuroses, personality defects, and defense mechanisms of those with whom I regularly encounter. It can at times be overwhelming and frustrating trying to not step on toes or to minimize conflict by means of damage control mode when I inadvertently do so. And as cobble together an apology and take stock of the situation, I find myself resenting the cruelty and sadism of humanity, which gives many people ample reason to build walls around themselves by means of protection. These attitudes only complicate crucial communication and trust and keep us separate from each other.

The anger of the Tea Party devotees upsets me, but what upsets me more is the degree of hostility and bitterness that has come to typify this entire process. I recognize that expecting otherwise is probably foolish, but I mourn when our nation's fabric is rent asunder for any reason. Though this sentiment has long sense passed into platitude, we are all Americans, and moreover we are all human beings who share the same land. I do not enjoy, nor particularly thrive in an atmosphere where a ceaseless war of words rages. To be sure, I do not shirk away from these situations when they arise, but after a time the constant back and forth proves to be toxic and noxious, not just to me, but to everyone.

I didn't have an especially happy childhood. Even when I was a child, I wished to be an adult. Adulthood to me represented a time where I would be taken seriously and where everyone else around me would be more or less on the same page. Now I find that this is true only up to a point. Among some I am taken seriously and among other I never will be. And as for my being on the same page with all, well, that's a matter for debate. What I have discovered that with age often comes a rapidly growing history of psychological damage, increasingly guarded personal conduct, and all of these manifestations are a form of the many lingering effects of internalized pain. Anger is really only a form of hurt, after all.

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

I understand why many people enjoy working with children. They are unguarded, honest, vulnerable, and often endearingly sweet. Their basic nature stands in great contrast to the games we play as adults. When I still lived in Birmingham I would periodically take my turn to watch the children while the adults worshiped. When I did, I often found solace in the company of little ones who were largely nonjudgmental and lived only in the present moment. This isn't to say that children can't be just as cruel and vicious to each other as adults can, but that in conversing with them, one has less minefields to gingerly walk through and less need to plan for exit strategies.

Forgive me this question, but, friends, why must it be this complicated? What if we didn't have to read the latest New York Times bestseller just to understand how to properly interact with each other? What if it didn't take hours of therapy and thousands of dollars just to be able to be honest with our own pain and ourselves, to say nothing of the pain of others? What if we could bear to leave the armor down long enough to separate friend from foe? While some find it fascinating to observe and note the ways in which we are twisted and wizened, recording the unique nature of our scars, I find the combined impact deeply unfortunate and tragic. People to me are not a scientific experiment gone awry, they are individuals seeking love. And by love I don't necessarily mean romantic love, but agape---charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional love for ourselves and for others. If we are ever going to begin the slow, but necessary process of healing, we must commit ourselves to it, all the time recognizing that the best offense isn't necessarily a good defense.

Let us resolve to be honest with that which is broken in all of us. Throw open the doors wide. Don't automatically reach for cynicism and skepticism in all situations, nor expect the worst for fear of not attaining the best. Don't recoil and draw back at someone else's immaturity or hurt directed in inappropriate ways towards inappropriate targets. Consider being like little children in all the best ways. Perhaps peace of mind isn't so elusive after all. What do we have to lose?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Poem and the Story Behind It

I'm still crossing off things to do from my to-do list. I hope I get the chance to put together something substantive later in the week.

This poem was written about an ex-girlfriend who was a raging alcoholic. Though not much of a drinker myself, I went out with her every evening and imbibed more than I ever would have ordinarily. It also talks about the kind of observations one notices about a significant other but doesn't dare point out to his/her face.


I saw something of myself in you
Too much, in fact

The way you preened
before a mirror
talked a little too loudly

Projectile vomited
your life story
in the direction
of anyone within earshot

They only rolled their eyes
clucked their tongues
make circular motions
around their temples

when you weren’t looking

I tried not to notice

the intoxicated swagger
you seemed to mistake
for self-confidence

I never pointed out
the brightly lit stage
you strode upon

was held up by
contradiction and condescension

I knew
that myths and fairy tales
kept your heart beating

Thus I wasn’t surprised
to find the death
of your last panacea

covered in your own blood

Monday, March 22, 2010

People Can Be Fickle

I find it amusing, to say the least, to discover that many of the liberal bloggers who were cursing President Obama's name yesterday have resumed singing his praises. One even posted on how Obama was now the "Best President Ever", which is very much jumping the gun, at least to these eyes. Health Care Reform certainly a major accomplishment for anyone, or for that matter, any President, but one legislative success is merely a drop in the bucket compared to everything that needs to be done. So much promise has given way to stalemate and disenchantment, and many resort to hyperbole when restraint would be better served, but such is the way that humanity treats all leaders. Expect nothing less.

In Christian circles, a prevailing philosophy is that if anyone is to mirror their lives after Jesus, then he or she ought to expect similar treatment. I don't mean death on a cross but I do mean an understanding that, metaphorically speaking, the same people screaming Hosanna to the Highest on Sunday will be the very ones screaming "Crucify! Crucify!" by Friday. I don't wish to burst anyone's balloon, and we have every right to celebrate today, even with our reservations that the bill signed into law doesn't go far enough. I am not criticizing the committed, but I am pointing a finger at those who have no sense of proper proportion and act like fair-weather fans.

My Thoughts on the Day After

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Every Bomb You Drop

Quote of the Week

"I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time."- Ecclesiastes 9:11

Saturday, March 20, 2010

30 Rock and the Arrival of Late Capitalism

Ordinarily I've avoided referencing pop culture in my posts, but forgive me again for doing so once more. I've been inspired to write on this topic based on watching this past Thursday's 30 Rock episode. Its main idea implies that this naggingly persistent Great Recession was largely a result of those in big business who went for the easy, predictable sell and in so doing completely eliminated the idea of risk. In the episode, a fictional company that has recently bought NBC's parent company, General Election, has devised a scheme to generate an endless supply of guaranteed income--namely, hundreds of channels of pay-per-view internet pornography. The revelation doesn't sit well with Jack Donaghy, the Alec Baldwin character, a top ranking executive who is used to committing brainpower and elbow grease to creating innovations that sell, regardless of whether they are environmentally friendly, exploitative, gimmicky, or completely useless. As he puts it, the new company has made his entire skill set obsolete and reduced making money to a robotic perpetual motion machine.

Many pertinent issues are raised in the episode. Among the most notable is the suggestion as to whether or not consumerism and consumer capitalism ought to be viewed as some sort of necessary evil. Jack Donaghy is frequently an unsympathetic character on the show, but he does represent the very American idea that buckets of money can be made for those clever and resourceful enough to come up with a product or concept the public will clamor for, regardless of how stupid, pointless, or wasteful it might be. This has indeed been the criticism many of us on the Left have made over the years when we contemplate our obsession with the acquisition of possessions to no real positive end. When played off the idea that even necessary evil has been corrupted by an unimaginative scheme which promises guaranteed rates of return and no possible margin for error, the larger question is whether our current economic downturn was, in part, caused by risk-averse thinking. Have we exchanged necessary evil for unnecessary evil?

Instead of taking a chance and risking gaining either great wealth or a setback, it appears that some have ventured to circumvent the old ways. Though I am certainly no fan of the capitalist system, it is my understanding that, based on its rules, anyone and everyone is given the opportunity to try their hand at making money. Some efforts succeed and some efforts fail, certainly, but that's just the nature of it. Many have made fortunes and lost them outright and many have achieved much in the way of capital through the process of trial, error, and dogged determination. But when that enterprising spirit and simultaneous revelation that one achieves when realizing that life itself is a series of ups and downs---when that become obscured by a desire to take the easy way out---then we all are simultaneously inhuman and poorer in the end.

Whether or not we believed that the American Dream was a dream deferred or a bad dream in the first place, it is interesting to ponder whether it has been royally short-circuited. To be sure, there were certain economic theorists and historians who had long proposed that something like this was an inevitability. Those in particular who espoused the theory of late capitalism would seem to be validated by the episode's premise. We who have long spoken out against the injustices and inequalities of the existing system have nonetheless learned to live with it, and the idea that a brand new enemy may have taken the place of the old is certainly worth contemplating. Still, predicting the ultimate demise of capitalism is a bit like setting a date for the end of the world, if not the Second Coming. As it is written, brothers and sisters, you don't need anyone to write to you about times and dates. For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Saturday Video

Women, listen to your mothers
Don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers
Take a step back, take a look at one another
You need to know the difference...
Between a father and a lover.

Women, listen to your mothers
Don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers
Take a step back, take a look at one another
You need to know the difference...
Between a father and a lover.

Women, listen to your mother
Don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers
Take a step back, take a look at one another
You need to know the difference.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where I've Been

The process of attaining health insurance has been a laborious one. To be sure, I eagerly jumped through all the hoops, filled out the paperwork, and waited. And waited. Coverage for low-income residents is never granted quickly or efficiently, but Washington, DC, is its own particular kind of dysfunctional in this area.

I had pushed aside matters like having my teeth cleaned, having fillings filled, visiting a psychiatrist, and getting a routine check up from a GP for months. The latest indignity was when I had scheduled a preliminary dental exam early last week, which was covered in full by one plan, then after arriving to have work done I learned that the plan the District had switched to was not taken. Still, the coverage plan I am now under does allow me to have my medications filled at a pharmacy like CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens instead of having to go back and forth to one particular on-site pharmacy which is way out of my way.

I have established Medicaid coverage, but that took me filing separately and having to go through another time-intensive process. Suffice to say until I get these appointments out of the way AND covered, posting may be a little on the sparse side.

No Time For Blogging Today!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They Seek Him Here, They Seek Him There

Recently I've been feeling incredibly inspired. I am glad to report that I've now had my original Feministing community entries re-posted on the website's front page on three separate occasions. It amazes me how I have been able to incorporate my own knowledge with that of the established players and discovered so much richness there. I really do believe, at the risk of making some readers a smidgen uncomfortable, that God pushed me in this direction and, having embraced his design, has granted me the gift of eloquence and inspiration. Sometimes, during the process of writing, a particularly moving turn of phrase arrives seemingly from thin air and I know the words and sentiment are not mine to own, but they are mine to advance.

This is the latest entry.

I've always had an uncomfortable relationship with the radical voices within Feminism. While conceding them several well-founded points, what rubs me the wrong way most are not the ideas espoused but the spirit of presentation. Radical thinkers often draw sharp, highly defined, very definitive lines in the sand that leave no room for compromise. While there is always something to be said for being uncompromising and tough, this degree of didactic inflexibility often comes attached to Very Important Statements and Extremely Serious Viewpoints. I concluded a recent blog post about Lady Gaga this way.

Still, like my fellow feminists, I can't fault her for her intentions. Rather than lower the boom, I'd rather state that I appreciate anyone who is willing to risk being misunderstood. As I age I find myself increasingly disinclined to split hairs. After all, we come to a greater understanding in our own time, and each of us rests somewhere along that great continuum. Learning continues forever, as does development. Few of us fit neatly into the exacting parameters of any movement, and our unique humanity may be the reason why. Though we ourselves would never appreciate anyone who put us in a confining and vastly limiting box, we are often frustrated when our heroes can't manage the same trick. We may need to understand that there's a certain fluidity with labels just as surely as there is with human sexuality and gender. The same goes with feminists, Lady Gaga, as well as you and me.

Any philosophy that treats its adherents as though they ought to have read the handbook front to cover and scored 100 on the quiz seems far less fair and less egalitarian than the one that still grants membership to the reader who learns more slowly and has only, thus far, gotten up to Chapter 4. We all contribute to the movement in difference ways, in accordance with our ability, and often times, our own emotional and intellectual maturation.

I wish sometimes that we would spend less of our time criticizing those who may be a step or two behind, nearly demanding that we wish they would understand everything instantly. This particular approach separates enemies from allies in resolute phrasings, but sometimes confuses the new Feminist to the fold as an enemy of the cause itself. I never seek to exclude anyone's particular worldview from the big tent, but recognize also that if we are to be a true community, not a coalition, we might constantly seek discernment and clarity in any statement we hold true or any platform we lift on high. Coalitions fracture. Communities are forever.

iReport on Health Care

Sleepily recorded after a night where shut-eye was frustratingly elusive.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another Poem and the Story Behind It

This week, like so many before it, has been full of constraints upon my time. Please pardon again as I dive into my archives for post material.

I will, once more, share a poem of mine.

But first, let me tell the the story behind it. This poem was a rarity. It sprang to mind fully formed and was completed in somewhere around fifteen minutes from start to finish. With the addition of a few crucial line breaks, the first draft looks more less exactly the same way as the finished product presented below you.

I wrote it about a friend of mine I had in college. She had a child at seventeen and harbored a tremendous amount of resentment towards both the biological father, and sadly, the child herself. One morning, after staying the night on a futon bed in the den as I often did, I awoke early in the morning to find both mother and child still sleeping. At some point during the day, my friend had left open a drawer of her large wooden computer desk, and on my way sleepily to the kitchen to make coffee I couldn't help but notice layer upon layer of neatly folded, perfectly arranged mementos resting there. It looked a bit like a tomb to me, as though the drawer was meant to be preserved under glass and rarely opened.

As I peered downward, what really grabbed my attention was seeing the actual cocktail napkin upon which the biological father had written his number (I recognized his name, of course), wherever it had been that they presumably had met all those years ago. She had kept it. She had kept it all, really. And you'd never know it by talking to her personally. In many ways she was a secretive person and I didn't mean to intrude upon her privacy, but I was struck by both the beauty and the tragedy at once, then, with that mad compulsion common to all writers, ran quickly to my notebook and jotted down my precise observations.


My dear sweet child
How do I tell you
You came about one fateful, boozy night

Whose memories are now only
A man’s name
A phone number
Scrawled across a
Stained cocktail napkin

Buried in a drawer
Deep beneath old photographs
Newspaper clippings
Ticket stubs

The dandruff of selves I once was

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Performance Video

I think I used up my blogging creativity over the weekend and found myself in a rare position today. To wit, I have absolutely nothing constructive to say about any topic. So, please kindly accept this performance video as a consolation.

The song itself is a relatively hard-to-find Neil Young early demo. Two separate versions exist. In one, the narrator is mourning the loss of a man, presumably either a lover or a friend, and in the other the gender pronouns are reversed. I decided to split the difference and sing half with masculine pronouns and the other with feminine pronouns.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lady Gaga and Emergent Feminism

In these days of musical famine, where the industry responsible for bringing new talent to the forefront is very much still hemorrhaging money left and right, the latest buzz frequently focuses on Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known by her stage name, Lady Gaga. But, as often is the case, Lady Gaga's politics and provocative behavior frequently overshadow the songcraft and the melody. Her videos and stage act are sexually subversive and highly controversial affairs, focusing in particular on willfully flipping gender roles and gendered assumptions upside down. She has spoken out vocally on behalf of LGBT rights and is herself openly bisexual, though she has since expressed regret at the admission, stating that she recognizes that the confession might have been perceived purely as a means of attaining cheap attention. When the stigma of being out for much of the community is still a liability rather than an asset, Lady Gaga did not want to be seen as another bisexual-for-headlines celebrity.

Meanwhile, young Feminists are often lumped together into a catch-all umbrella term known as the Third Wave, a construct that satisfies no one and yet has to suffice since no one can think of anything better. It's an unsatisfying qualifier at best, but does nonetheless capture the general sympathies of Generation X and Generation Y women's rights activists. Though its mere existence remains frustratingly lodged under the radar of many people, just as invisible and unknown as the broad extent of its stated agenda, it lives and thrives for those who have tapped into it.

Those committed deeply to its continued health recognize the challenges at play, the sort that keep it in line with a niche interest group rather than a fully integrated part of the discussion. So this is why that a movement desperate to find a point-to spokesperson for its causes has adopted Lady Gaga, even when the woman in question has bristled and hedged a bit at adopting the label for herself. Any organization or movement looking for increased visibility and instant identification in the wider world often seeks a celebrity or highly public figure to call its own and so it is with the Third Wave's courting of Gaga.

Feministing and Feministe, two of the largest, most established, and longest running feminist blogs routinely feature the output of or miscellaneous content pertaining to Lady Gaga. One can be sure that the instant the latest video is posted, Gaga's most recent interview is published, or some snippet of criticism finds its way into the public consciousness that it will quickly appear on the front page of the bigger sites. After being posted, the participation and interest level among readers and regular contributors will very noticeably spike. The purely sensationalist aspect of Lady Gaga's public persona is, of course, to be attributed to much of this massive fascination, but to reduce her to merely a provocateur would be an unfair characterization. She does have quite a bit to say, though how she says it can easily be confused with or sometimes even muted by her means of presentation.

Survey Third Wave communities and one descriptive phrase keeps coming up over and over again regarding Lady Gaga---badass. In such spaces, no higher compliment could ever be paid than that. When so many women feel that their voices are routinely stifled or that they've been conditioned to stay silent while men talk first and act first, young feminists understandably find something courageous and enviable about women, particularly women their own age, who force the world to accept them on their own terms. Furthermore, Lady Gaga's music videos in particular have directly, though a bit clumsily at times, taken on questions of same-sex attraction between women and done so in terms that are far closer to the way it actually exists in reality. The pure fantasy and grotesque parody of lesbianism, itself a construct clearly adopted by men, is at least pushed to the background of her work rather than set forth as the truth.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lady Gaga has recently been the subject of wild, unsubstantiated, often internet-driven speculation as to whether or not she is really a hermaphrodite. In her latest video, entitled "Telephone", she has seemingly put that rumor to rest, so to speak, though I would be shocked if others just as bizarre and scurrilous were not to follow. Feminist communities in the Third Wave have deliberately made room to incorporate queer voices into the discussion, so Gaga's let-it-all-hang-out style resonates well with a group eager to dissect and deconstruct homophobic and sexist attitudes as a means of properly dispensing with the bigotry in an effort towards getting at the truth underneath.

Still, Lady Gaga's output, be it as a recording artist or as an activist isn't a complete, satisfying fit with Feminism. Her entire shtick, be it her music or her music videos, traverse the same basic ground as many others who have come before her. I find what she stands for much more interesting and original than the music itself, which is rather derivative to these ears. I suppose as well that I have a different attitude regarding the objectification of the female form. Far from a prude, I still believe that while it might seem empowering for a woman to make a conscious decision to show off skin for whatever reason, rather than have that decision be forced upon her, the ultimate end is the same.

Gaga's latest video finds her in some version or another of undress, and regardless of the intentions, only a very few will be in on the gag. The average viewer is bound to notice the titillation and miss the commentary. While the obvious statement set forth does speak to the idea that women ought not be subject to nearly constant scrutiny regarding their own sexuality in ways that a man never would be, I'm not sure a brash response, one in effect throwing the sexist assumption back in the faces of those who hold it is the best strategy ever devised.

Still, like my fellow feminists, I can't fault her for her intentions. Rather than lower the boom, I'd rather state that I appreciate anyone who is willing to risk being misunderstood. As I age I find myself increasingly disinclined to split hairs. After all, we come to a greater understanding in our own time, and each of us rests somewhere along that great continuum. Learning continues forever, as does development. Few of us fit neatly into the exacting parameters of any movement, and our unique humanity may be the reason why. Though we ourselves would never appreciate anyone who put us in a confining and vastly limiting box, we are often frustrated when our heroes can't manage the same trick. We may need to understand that there's a certain fluidity with labels just as surely as there is with human sexuality and gender. The same goes with feminists, Lady Gaga, as well as you and me.

Quote of the Week

"The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms."- Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Removing the Bushel and Revealing the Light

With the passage of time, fellow Friends at meeting have come to me with helpful suggestions. They insist I should read this book, or this epistle of George Fox, or this collection of essays by one of our Society's notables. Obligingly I have read these one by one and am certainly fortunate that I now have a better understanding of Quaker history and how everything came together in space and time to make the faith the way it exists today. It is always helpful to see the intersections and make the connections throughout time that link the past with the present. Indeed, as history was my major in college and has been a lifelong passion, my interest already leans towards such pursuits. Certainly nothing I read was ever taught in any history class I took, even in graduate school. Each have been fascinating reads, but as I dug deeper and deeper into them, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why have we hidden our light under a bushel?"

Beyond spiritual functions, I've gotten the same treatment from people who feel as though I need to do my homework first before I step any further into any activist group, association, or organization.

If you'll forgive the archaic sexism of the passage, the King James Bible renders Matthew 5:15 as

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

This passage has given rise to a familiar idiom, the act of hiding one's light under a bushel. It doesn't matter what gathering of believers I attend nor whichever secular group that receives my membership that I don't see something along these same lines. Assuming you talk to the right person or persons, you'll uncover much that is inspirational and fascinating. Yet, why not extend full understanding or full comprehension to all without the need for intermediaries? Is that which I speak merely an oversight of habit that must be corrected by whomever speaks up loudly enough? Or, is it some deliberate distrust of those who have yet to suitably prove their mettle or commitment? The intentions may not be sinister, but they are certainly detrimental, regardless of why or how.

As always, I find the beginning of any movement the most fascinating---the first efforts where, in this case, one man's vision became adopted and advanced by other believers. This initial flowering appeals to my senses most keenly. Likewise, my favorite musical songs are appreciated for the moment at which the opening chords and melody blossoms into the hook. I am drawn to the instant at which the attention of everyone is drawn to this new creation. I am also drawn to the promise of wholesale fulfillment and with it the incredible possibility of that of that which might lie beyond. I extend this same interest to a desire to build from the ground up in my own life and by my own example. The passage has particular resonance with a Quaker audience, particularly with our belief that the Light of God exists within each of us.

To provide some contrast, in my activist work, I keep a close eye on the issues in debate within Feminist groups, particularly those issues which pertain specifically to Young Adults like me who wish to contribute to the movement. A week or so ago, an articulate and intelligent voice wrote a highly pertinent but also very critical essay taking aim at The National Organization for Women, known to most as NOW. The post took the organization to task for its failings to stay current to the existing political debate while expressing no small frustration that it seemed like there was nothing the author could do personally to make the internal changes necessary. Even from within, the author's voice had fallen on deaf, or at least uncomprehending ears.

The essay was, I am happy to report, received in the spirit in which it had been intended, and a response by NOW was drafted and posted. In it, the reader was greeted to a very well-researched narrative detailing how the organization had been founded, providing the names of the people instrumental in putting it together, and documenting well the great struggles of those who expended the time and energy to build it up from the roots. It was a fascinating read, but as I dug deeper and deeper into it, bouncing from the story and contribution of one largely unknown person to another, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why have they hidden their light under a bushel?" Certainly nothing I read was ever taught in any history class I took, even in graduate school.

If it be modesty or shyness on the part of those who have the strategies and wisdom, then this can be corrected. If it be to avoid attention, others more comfortable can vocalize that which needs to be shared with a larger audience. Friends and friends alike, what if the solution existed within us? What if that solution could be realized and put into place so that we could best attack a lingering problem? What if we didn't we didn't hide our lights under a bushel---all of us? What sort of world would we live in then?

Saturday Video

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Performance Video

This Seems Appropriate for Today

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building the Movement, Brick by Brick

Michael Walzer's piece entitled "Missing the Movement" is so relevant and smartly written that I felt inclined to read it through four times before beginning to thinking about formulate an adequate response that would do it justice. I am overjoyed to find someone who has managed to put forth a strong, sound hypothesis as to why recent reform efforts tied to a resurgent liberalism have been so limited while setting out cogently what we ourselves ought to do to fix the problem. Having identified what went wrong, let us now proceed to take on the hard work and soul searching necessary to get past it. For as it is written, "Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house."

Walzer writes,

Liberalism is the American version of social democracy, but it lacks a strong working-class base, party discipline, and ideological self-consciousness. None of these are in the offing, but we need to be aware of what we are missing, and we need to begin at least the intellectual work of making up for it. European social democrats are on the defensive right now, but they have a lot to defend. Liberals here are in catch-up mode, and not doing all that well. We know more or less what we have to do, but we haven’t managed to give the American people a brightly colored picture of the country we would like to create. There is a lot of wonkishness on the liberal left, among American social democrats, but not much inspiration. We haven’t found the words and images that set people marching. As an old leftist, I can talk (endlessly) about citizenship, equality, solidarity, and our responsibility to future generations, but someone much younger than I am has to put all this in a language that resonates with young Americans–and describe a "city upon a hill" that may or may not be the same hill that I have been climbing all these years.

It is this section in particular which resonates most strongly with me. I notice this kind of stultifying dullness among those who have, for reasons unknown, exchanged wonkery for truly impassioned discourse and inspirational rhetoric. The result produced is robotic and bloodless, for one. For another, it's downright Pharisaical. In this circumstance, defines Pharisaical as "practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit." I have noted, sometimes with anger, sometimes with frustration, never with satisfaction, that this is true not just in gatherings of religious liberals, but also quite evident in multiple settings and causes comprised of vocally secular liberals. Going through the motions without understanding the passion will never serve anyone's cause well and indeed, it is partially why we find ourselves in the mess in which we are now. Layering laws upon laws, formalities upon formalities, and procedures upon procedures might seem to be helpful upon first glance, but they end up separating ourselves from each other, not pulling us together.

I sometimes consider myself a bit of an inadvertent stop gap measure. Due to the year of my birth, I have a foot in two camps, both of which have completely different ways of looking at life. Though technically a member of caustic, skeptical, cynical Generation X, I am only a year or so removed from the new idealism, optimism, and renewed activism of Generation Y. It forces one to develop ways to best communicate with two related, but still very different outlooks. And furthermore, since communicating effectively with greying Lefties comprises much of my work as an activist, in particular because they often hold the reigns of power and control, I've learned over time that the generations do speak a different sort of language to each other. For example, if I mention to a Baby Boomer that my hometown is Birmingham, Alabama, (which, of course, it is) then I have come to expect that it is highly likely that my response will invoke some sort of extended soliloquy about the Civil Rights Movement, Bull Connor, or participation in a march held somewhere down South. To someone my age or younger, more often than not, I'll receive a shrug of the shoulders and the topic will then quickly shift to other matters altogether.

To be sure, there are certain ways and courses of action to effectively reach people who are of a different generational mindset than oneself, but not nearly as many as some might think. We do a fantastic job of complicating the already complex enough. Language itself is not nearly as much of a barrier as is the resistance of certain people to entertain new strategies and new tactics to suit new times. For some reason, all of us reach a point in our development where we wish to romanticize our own internal Golden Age, and in so doing confuse reality for myth. It is easy to see those younger than us as uncouth, loud, rabble-rousing, and otherwise offensive. Even though I am merely a decade or so older, I already have this instant reaction when I see a bunch of chattering, carefree, silly college students at the bus stop or on the rail. Yet I acknowledge too that with those instant negative judgments is a profound sense of loss, which I think is due more to a perceived loss of something intangible on my part, as part of some idealized conception of youth gone by, which as is often true, speaks more about me than it ever does about them.

Back to the topic at hand. Walzer believes that incremental change is about the best we can hope for right now, but posits as well that we would be wise to begin the steady process of base-building so that whatever is accomplished now cannot be washed away by subsequent periods of conservative rule, whenever they shall be. I agree, of course, and again my response returns to a passage of scripture.

"Suppose you want to build a tower. You would first sit down and figure out what it costs. Then you would see if you have enough money to finish it. Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They'll say, 'This person started to build but couldn't finish the job.'

These are not times for half-measures and limited devotion. If incremental progress takes the form of building a tower, metaphorically speaking, we must not abandon it halfway because of the difficulty involved. As a person of faith, I may choose to see certain challenges through a Biblical lens, but I know that morality, ethics, and a sense of societal obligation need not be indebted purely to the religious or the spiritual. Still, the meaning of this passage is crystal clear to me at least--commitment to a worthwhile cause requires complete selflessness and with it much devotion to planning, cost, and time. Anyone can be trained to jump through hoop after hoop without much conviction or purpose behind it, or to make one's living of it, and those who have become devotees of wonkery are prime examples. It is easier to proscribe any act designed to facilitate forward progress than it is to sign on and in so doing make it work.

But there is another kind of incrementalism that we need to think about, on the margins, alongside the big issues. I mean things like putting some aggressive liberal/leftists on the National Labor Relations Board, or pushing through small changes in the labor laws that would make union organizing easier, or using federal funds in small amounts to strengthen the kinds of community organizations that the president once worked for, or creating a liberal/left version of Bush’s "faith-based welfare"–enabling local communities, unions, and different sorts of NGOs, as well as churches, to organize family services and mutual aid. This sort of thing is base-building for the future. It can be very quiet and still be effective; its point is simply to loosen the "limits of progressive governance," so that a Democratic president years from now can do more than Obama can do today.

If these are indeed incremental times, everyone's combined, collective efforts from here on out are crucial. Perhaps we should see this reduced expectation as freeing in a way, being that we are not expected to win the War on Poverty, accomplish a lasting Peace on Earth, or cure any of a number of debilitating diseases anytime soon. If progress and Progressivism as currently defined are purely a matter of shoring up the base and advancing modest measures that cannot be washed away by flood waters, then I feel fairly certain such a strategy is well within our grasp. Much of the game of politics is a matter of attempting to predict the future and certainly no one could have taken into account the disappointment of 2009. Still, sometimes one never knows until one tries. Being that we know our limitations now, we can resume clearing the underbrush and paving the path for those who will follow. The roadway must be cleared first before we begin to build our tower.

How Times Have Changed

I wrote this a year or so ago and repost it because it reveals so much about what has transpired since Inauguration Day.

Barack Obama
will not stem the

growth of
Walmart SuperCenters.

Barack Obama
will not abolish

Top 40 radio
as we know it.

Barack Obama
will not build
a co-op within

walking distance
of every residence.

Barack Obama
will not force

everyone to drive
a Prius.

Barack Obama
will not send out

a coupon for
one free vegan smoothie
to every American

made, of course,
out of actual vegans

(and only free range ones
at that).

Barack Obama
will not build bike lanes

or sustainable eco-friendly
hiking trails
in remote parts of Montana.

Barack Obama
will not pass important legislation

in thirty minutes or less
or your order's free.

Barack Obama
will not show up at your


protest rally
that accomplishes
absolutely nothing.

Barack Obama
cares nothing for
trendy Thai restaurants

or overpriced soap.

Barack Obama
appreciates your interest

but makes a point of
friending anyone on Facebook

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Still on the Mend

While I am recovering, you can watch the entire film Network here for free.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our Broken Healthcare System

Over the past several months I've continued to document my problems with our broken health care system, particularly focusing on the options provided by those who are either unemployed, disabled, or who work low-wage jobs in which their employer does not provide the option of coverage. My hope upon doing so is that more people will recognize the depths of the problem beyond just the soundbytes, the smears, and the distortions. I aim to record the truth, not the fear-based rhetoric that many accept as God's honest truth. What I have discovered is that the problem goes much deeper than a position statement and only modestly resembles the demonizing propaganda disseminated by those who would kill reform altogether. The real issues are just as troublesome, though they are far more ordinary and less inclined to high drama.

Today's latest hassle involves a matter of incorrect bill coding. An insurance claim for lab work was not processed properly, so I opened the mailbox Saturday to find an eye-opening bill for a mere $1,323. To say that I couldn't exactly pay it in full would be an understatement. Along with the bill was an itemized statement listing the cost of the twelve separate tests that were run. Those who have a chronic illness of their own recognize that upon seeing a new specialist or doctor, he or she will often order several lab profiles at first as a means of eliminating other extenuating circumstances that might complicate the treatment of a primary diagnosis. Sensible enough, except that many these tests are very expensive. A test for Hepatitis, for example, cost $366, and a full drug screen cost $217. Those with excellent insurance never blink an eye about the prohibitive cost, of course, because for them it is almost always covered in full.

For those with sub-standard or nonexistent coverage, however, the situation is quite different. As I have mentioned before, I have bipolar disorder, and as such take Lithium to stabilize my moods. Lithium is a notoriously difficult drug to regulate because the most minor changes in environment or other seemingly innocuous changes will cause the levels in the bloodstream to vary considerably over time. There is no other way to accurately measure its concentration in the bloodstream except through drawing blood and over the years I have gotten used to it, as best as one can under the circumstances. Still, I report with much frustration that even a simple Lithium serum level costs $64 without insurance. Someone who also has bipolar and is living in poverty could not easily afford to spend this kind of money and would likely choose to either go off his/her medication altogether, or stay on the meds and go months without having a lab profile, both of which are extremely dangerous options.

There are ways, of course, for low-income residents to obtain health care coverage. However, I note again that it took nearly three full months of frustration and persistence to even obtain coverage in the first place. What I ran into was another glaring example of a broken system, whereby I was provided a huge amount of incorrect information over the phone, and in person, by a series of different workers before finally getting in touch with someone who knew what they were doing. And even then, problems remained. As it turns out, the reason I got stuck with the bill in full was as a result of two specific reasons. First, whomever coded my lab work listed the wrong health insurance carrier. Second, whomever set up my health insurance in the first place, by either carelessness or human error, got the day of my birth wrong by one digit. Something that relatively minor one might think would be no big deal, but indeed it was a very big deal. I have observed that even those with superb health care coverage often get charged for procedures and tests that were either never performed or were totally unnecessary.

I called this morning to try to get the matter resolved and I certainly hope that it was. The question of the incorrect birth date remains problematic. Rather than have to go through another extensive, time-consuming merry-go-round to get the date changed, and also to file to receive a new card reflecting the correct information, I told the person I spoke to over the phone simply to leave it as it was for now. I suppose if I feel like it, eventually, I'll go to the additional trouble. Right now, however, I have no patience with the process, nor much energy for it. I note that what I have dealt with over the past several months is rather darkly comedic at times; this morning after I hung up the phone I was reminded of a particular Monty Python skit whereby a woman orders a cooker that she herself clearly ordered, though in actuality while it was sent to the right address, it was assigned to the wrong name. She signs the necessary forms under the wrong name anyway, since going to the trouble to get it changed would be more effort than it was worth.

I have the good fortune to not have to be constantly afraid of losing a roof over my head or having enough money to feed myself on a daily basis. Many people in poverty do not. They simply can't take hours out of their busy schedules and demanding, stressful, often thankless jobs to tie up loose ends. So if they seek treatment, be it for a chronic illness or a routine checkup, many don't have the means to sign up for coverage. Either they get stuck with bills totaling into the thousands to tens of thousands and above, or they refuse to seek necessary treatment out of fear of bankruptcy or losing the little that they have. I hasten to add that there is no reason at all that even routine lab work should cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in totality, just as there is no reason at all why a month's worth of prescription drugs should cost close to $800.

The opponents of health care reform can talk up a storm about socialized medicine and the auspices of scary big government, but they notably never address the greed factor. Government doesn't trouble me nearly as much as someone's patent and manifest desire to inflate costs beyond all sense of proportion while no one bothers to call their hand on it. So yes, I do see this issue as a deeply moral matter, but I also see it as a way to prevent the unconscionable abuses and offenses of large corporations. That we seem to have somehow gotten away from this crucial argument troubles me more than the supposed inefficiency of a public option or the creeping specter of socialism. Real people are suffering mightily and if our legislators delay this measure or allow it to collapse altogether, their blood will be their hands. Do pardon the theatrics for a brief moment. I wouldn't resort to them if I wasn't speaking the truth.

It's not enough to just set up a system. As I've seen for myself, it needs to be properly funded, must limit needless complications, and it must be set up to handle not just times of plenty, but also times of famine when more people will have a need to use the system than in other times. Part of the problem we are dealing with now across the board is that few businesses or government agencies ever considered putting money away for a rainy day or developing a plan of action when recessions or economic downturns hit hard. When times are good, it's easy to neglect thinking about the future, but much of the shock of any economic downturn is when those whose ambitions and plans have outstripped their finances find themselves having to make do with far less than normal. Businesses go under, government agencies grind to a halt, and struggling people become angry and start looking for targets upon which to project those feelings of agitation. It's well and good to focus upon the proper target, but it's another thing altogether to transfer that hostility into positive progress. An angry electorate rarely thinks beyond a purely emotional desire to destroy the status quo and with it a short-term goal of cleaning house. But with this understandable response must come specific goals. Anyone can play target practice. I would much rather us hold accountable our current elected officials and force them to pass the reforms we need than fume and hoist our pitchforks.

Happy International Women's Day!

My thoughts today are with the women who have inspired and will continue to inspire me on a daily basis.

The Author Is Ailing

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Shameless Self Promotion

I am a contributing writer to Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices, which will be officially released 1 May.

For those interested, copies can be purchased from the link below, which also contains a brief synopsis of the Anthology and some reaction from Quakers around the world.

To go directly to the purchase page, follow this link:

Copies are $17.50

Quote of the Week

"Half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window, except that the birds might eat them".- Martin H. Fischer

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Friday, March 05, 2010

Blessed are the Conflicted

As part of a recent assignment, I was required to write up short, snappy summaries of candidates who are running this election cycle for political office. In so doing, I had to make sure to showcase their legislative accomplishments as well as to provide a bit of the personal to ensure that they seemed human and approachable, rather than robotic policy wonks. In the course of my work, what I couldn't help but notice was that, regardless of how Progressive a candidate claimed to be, he or she was always very careful to highlight his/her strong support of the military and of those who either currently served or had served in times past. To back up this claim, close family members and other relatives who had served in combat were visibly invoked, as were the specific bills proposed to assist both veterans and military families. This deliberate posturing was true to a person, even candidates who were bold enough to promote themselves as peace-loving doves.

As a rule, Quakers are strict believers in pacifism. Though I was not born into the faith, I have often attempted to reconcile my original thoughts on war with those which I believe now. I find, as is sometimes the case, that the two of them are often in conflict. Those who have studied wars in much detail, as I have, know that there is something about them that translates well to stirring narrative and romantic retelling. In time, the horror of battle subsides, as well as its impact upon the civilians caught in the middle, and we are left with a sort of gloried nostalgia that any sports fan can understand as he or she recalls in conversation some past victory and close defeat. Perhaps this is what Robert E. Lee meant when he said, "It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."

Two choices lay before me. I could go out of my way to mention that this particular section of the work went against my religious beliefs, but doing so would draw attention to myself, perhaps unduly and to no good end. I would then be obligated to specify why I found it so objectionable, and while I have no doubt that my reservations would be noted and taken seriously, I'm not really sure that anyone would truly understand why I found the matter so odious and offensive. Or, instead, I could choose complete the task in full, not feeling especially good about it, and simply pass the baton to someone else so that it would no longer be my problem anymore. I regret to report that I chose the latter, since delegating an additional task to someone else already overburdened with work would cause delays and potentially result in resentment from whomever had to pick up where I left off.

Life, of course, is full of such compromises. I have no doubt that those of you reading this have run up against similar circumstances in your own lives. It may be a simple matter of, pardon the expression, knowing how and where to pick our battles. Few of us are fortunate enough to have the ability to be purists in all circumstances. In politics, only those fortunate few who run for office in cities, districts, or states overwhelmingly in support of one particular way of thinking ever truly get the ability to present a public face anything in line with their own private convictions. The game of politics as we know it states, in part, that one is only really indebted to one's last position statement, and moreover, anything said today can be compellingly rationalized away tomorrow if needed. It isn't just politicians who have a genius for rationalization. Humans have managed to become masters at the process.

Returning to the earlier point, my own inward leanings against war of any sort take me once again to the Sermon on the Mount and those old, familiar passages that many have committed to heart.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus doesn't equivocate here. He doesn't give us any wiggle room. He doesn't say, "Forgive your enemies, unless you're in danger of losing your job." He doesn't say, "Some of you were taught that if someone were to pluck out your eye, you have a right to pluck out theirs in retaliation, but don't do that, unless, of course, the laws on the books tell you otherwise." He doesn't say, "Love those who hate you, but I certainly concede that there are some people who simply aren't able to be loved without turning on you." Jesus wasn't exactly someone who practiced the art of Triangulation or who talked out of both sides of his mouth.

Emerson famously mentioned that to be great was to be misunderstood and I have always been uncomfortable with the phrasing and the sentiment. It can be easily construed as a justification for egotistical conduct and as a crutch to forgive deplorable behavior. I'd much rather put it another way alogether. To be a servant, putting yourself last and service to your fellow person first, is to be misunderstood. To live a spiritual life is to be misunderstood. To chart a course between pragmatism and idealism is to be misunderstood as well, but don't forget that to be fully misunderstood is to stick to your convictions even when others don't understand them. After all,

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These words are as shocking now as they were then and just as applicable.