Monday, January 26, 2009

Mr. Boehner, Shut Your Potato Trap

How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?
Thus spake John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House minority leader, in commenting on the stimulus package.

I'm reminded of an old feminist saying: if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. Mr. Boehner obviously believes that a measure that only benefits half of the population isn't worth doing. And this isn't even abortion - this isn't about abortion. This is about giving women the tools they need so they never have to have an abortion. But it's not worth the effort, he thinks.

Here's a little arithmetic, Mr. Boehner. The median family income in the state oof Mississippi, the lowest in the country, is $35,533. The median family income for a family with 2 kids in Mississippi is $53,697. The median family income for a family with 5 kids in Mississippi is $45,494.

(What? but that's what the numbers say. I got these numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. I'm guessing the median is lower for a 7 person family because the wife can't work outside the home, she has to take care of the kids. But that's a guess.)

I think the numbers actually make my point. With some exceptions (most corporate CEOs could support as many kids as they could beget), the more children a family has, the poorer they are. This effect is worst at the low end of the economic scale where salaries have stagnated for the last 25 years. And of course, the poorer you are, the less money you spend to stimulate the economy.

Mr. Boehner is correct that expanding the provision of contraceptives won't give the economy an immediate stimulus. But for a longer-term stimulus, it'll have a definite effect in terms of smaller families, reduction in teenage pregnancies, etc.

Of course, what he's really doing is grandstanding to the Republican supporters on the Religious Right, some of whom object even to contraception. That's not an economic argument. But don't say it won't have any economic effect.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama

Tuesday morning is my weekly shift stacking groceries at the Food Bank warehouse, so yesterday morning at 7:40 I hit the freeway. I thought it was appropriate, given Obama's emphasis on service, to show up and stack groceries as usual. I found a bin of green apples and the usual conveyor belt arrangement, and with a half-dozen other volunteers, set out to bag apples. Virtue was rewarded, though - at about 8:45 the volunteer coordinator stuck his head in the door and said, "Come on in - they're going to swear him in in about 3 minutes!"

We all trooped into a big conference room, where they had live television coverage projected onto a screen. We saw Rick Warren's invocation, Aretha Franklin's solo, and on through the inaugural address - no internet delays either. (Let's hear it for 20th century technology!) Then we all went back and bagged more apples.

Let me tell you, seeing Aretha Franklin really made me feel old! Unfairly, I'm sure, it also tickled my funnybone. I read a comic strip called Curtis in the Sunday paper, which is about an urban black family with 2 small boys, and Curtis, the older son, regularly makes fun of the older church ladies and their elaborate Sunday hats. I'm afraid, when I saw Aretha and her hat, I immediately though of Curtis. I don't know, maybe Aretha wouldn't mind.

Everybody is deconstructing the inaugural address today, but here are the parts that impressed me:

He talked about our great history, and invoked us all as part of it, to carry it on. I don't recall George Bush ever invoking American history, I suspect because he never read about it.

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Ya-HOO! Damn right we do. Now deliver on that, Mr. President. Also deliver on your promise to "do our business in the light of day" - the Bush administration's insistence on classifying everything always made me wonder what they were trying to hide.

"We will restore science to its rightful place." It's embarrassing to have a president who doesn't believe in evolution; you keep wondering if he thinks the earth is flat.

He included "nonbelievers" in the people who make up the American nation. (If only he'd managed to restrain Rick Warren from sailing off into Jesus-land - until he went there, he'd given a very good, broad ecumenical prayer that even I could agree with. But when he invoked Jesus, he locked out everybody but the Christians.)

"We will not apologize for our way of life." THANK you!

I could go on, but I've got to get back to work - I have some volunteer stuff to do today, and I have to do my Pilates. (After all, our new pres works out 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week - I hope he can keep that up now he's in office; he'll need the stamina!)

Welcome aboard, President Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Well, tomorrow we'll have a new President. I've been reading a great deal about it from all kinds of sources - the newspaper, the Economist, my fellow bloggers - and I find I really only have one thing to say:

It's. About. Damn. Time.

I was thinking about this "first African American president" business. American attitudes toward race are weird (only less weird than American attitudes toward sex); and really, my lifetime has spanned the full range, except for slavery itself. When I was a small child, in the Fifties, Southern black people drank from "colored" fountains and sat in the balcony at movie theaters; and the town I lived in (not in the south) didn't sell land to blacks. Negros, we said then. I didn't meet a black person until I was 10 or 11 years old and joined the Vallejo Junior Symphony - Vallejo was a Navy town and had lots of black people.

In the Sixties, I was in college (at U.C. Berkeley no less); we watched the marches, we saw the dogs and water hoses on the news, we read about the murders. The Black Panthers arose here in Oakland, and I didn't approve of their armed stance (I never have liked guns), but they did schools and child care and social services. If only they'd stayed with that; but they had to have the guns. White women still crossed the street when black men came along, but people were beginning to say it was wrong.

That was forty years ago. Now, nobody (well, almost nobody) even blinks at interracial marriage; whites work side by side with black people (and Hispanics and Asians) and think nothing of it; the American population is a spectrum of shades of brown. Black people still face some discrimination, but the Jim Crow laws, the miscegenation laws, are history; the "white only" rental signs are gone; it's a lot better. It amazes me how much better it is, within one lifetime; people who get stopped for "driving while black" may not agree with me, but really, it used to be much worse. Now racial profiling is questioned. And with Barack Obama, who ran as an American (not an African American), maybe we can take one more step along the road.

Maybe we can just be Americans. Those of us who were born and raised here still have more in common with each other than we do with anyone from another country, no matter what color we or they are.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oscar Grant III

I don't blog much about Oakland; plenty of bright people already cover that beat, and frankly I get tired of spitting into the wind. With the Bush administration, bad as it was, we all knew it couldn't last past Jan. 20. With Oakland, who knows??

Since it made the national press, you've probably read the accounts of the death of Oscar Grant III, a supermarket worker who found himself in the wrong company on New Year's Eve and was shot to death by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. While lying face down on the platform with his hands behind his back, waiting to be handcuffed. The officer refused to answer questions and, in a first, has been arrested for murder, based on the videos captured by the BART riders' ever-present cellphones. (Do people actually not realize that their every public action could end up on YouTube??)

What I want to talk about here is the reaction of the local citizenry. We're all appalled, of course, without regard to skin color; but the local black community is especially outraged, seeing this as one more example of "the police" treating black people "as if we're nothing." (Oakland PD wasn't involved in the incident, and in fact has behaved extremely well during the resulting protests; but I guess one uniform looks like another.) As a result of this outrage, 2 successive peaceful (by intent) protests have expanded into violence and vandalism against downtown Oakland businesses. Most of which are owned by black and Asian businesspeople.

Here's my question, both for the peaceful protesters (the majority) and for the minority of thugs who smashed up businesses, bus shelters and cars: I understand your outrage over Oscar Grant's death, but where the hell were you all last year, when 124 people were murdered in Oakland?? Most of whom were young black men? Is the death of a "young black brother" only worth a protest in front of city hall when he's killed by a police officer?? I guess it's a closed shop: only young black men are allowed to kill young black men.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson published an excellent analysis in last week's Daily Voice, Obama Alone Can't Halt the Black Murder Surge, which is worth your attention. Criminologists (and the boys in the 'hood) have known for years that the majority of murdered young black men are killed by other young black men, and that there aren't any consequences when it happens.

The situation in Oakland isn't simple. The police department has internal problems, the mayor is missing in action, the city council is dysfunctional, the city has massive budget deficits which are going to cut what services we have, and there's an active antipathy to the police in the roughest neighborhoods which means that when something happens, nobody will speak up for fear of being labeled a "snitch" - a label which does carry consequences. The result is that armed gangs hold the city and the neighborhoods hostage.

OK, I don't live in those neighborhoods; I'm a middle-aged white woman living in the hills. Why do I care? Because, dammit, I hate to see the bad guys win; and they're winning here.
I'm outraged when a "young black brother" is shot to death. I just don't see what I can do about it. None of these kids is going to listen to me. Marching on city hall and smashing cop cars does nothing except sell newspapers and get on the evening news. We've built an entire generation of young urban black men who don't think life is worth anything, theirs or anyone else's; these guys are dangerous, and I don't see anything concrete standing between me and them except that they haven't gotten over here yet.

I know there are plenty of good people in Oakland organized and working to fight this culture, but so far I don't see any widespread success. Mr. Hutchinson closes his article with this comment:
Obama has a role to play in the fight to reduce black homicides. But so do many others.
It's going to take everyone.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bird in the Window

I actually saw this happen, out of the corner of my eye: something dark flashed against the window facing the street, and I heard a thump. Damn kids throwing something, I thought, and then thought again: did we just have a bird fly into the window?

It's a big square window with no interior panes. It was possible. I went out and peered among the hellebores under the window. Yup, on the ground was a small brown bird - lying on its back, with its little feet sticking up in the air, panting rapidly. I wondered if I should try to rescue it, and then thought no, it's likely just stunned. I never saw a bird lie on its back before.

I hadn't, of course, brought my camera, since I wasn't sure what I'd find. I scrambled back in the house, changed to the long lens, and came back out. The bird was still there, now right side up, standing (actually sort of squatting) on the ground. I took a picture:

The bird ignored me. I watched it for a minute and then went back in the house. I went back out to check on the bird maybe 4 or 5 times over the next half hour, and every time it was sitting there staring blankly. Finally, I went out to check and it was looking around, then it turned, hopped a couple of times, and flew off. OK, recovered.

My husband says there's a reason for the term "bird brain."


Somebody posted an opinion on the situation in Gaza on a local discussion forum I frequent; and I want to share here some of the comments I wrote in response:

I'm appalled by the way Israel has handled the Palestinian situation; I believe that what they're doing is perilously close to apartheid; I believe that in their paranoia they have allowed themselves to become the enemy by using the enemy's methods. (Listening, Mr. Cheney? Sorry, that's another argument.)

As long as the two parties maintain their diametrically opposed positions, the situation in the Middle East is insoluble. The Israelis insist that they have a right to exist as a nation, as a Jewish nation, on the lands they believe Yahweh granted to their ancestors generations ago; and, existing as a nation, that they have a right not to be shot at by their neighbors. The Palestinians insist that they've been living on those lands for two thousand years, and Allah granted the lands to their fathers, and the Israelis have no right to inhabit them at all. This one can't be solved by phone calls from Condi Rice, folks, especially as both groups regard Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount, as central to their faiths.

Part of the problem is that the U.S. insists on arming the Israelis, and the Arab nations insist on arming the Palestinians (although I haven't seen any Arab nation offer the Palestinians anything except inferior weapons, and scruffy refugee camps).

I sometimes think the rest of the world should just build a wall around the whole area and cut off contact, and walk away for 10 years; and then see who comes out. Any science fiction writers interested in the concept? But it won't happen. Too many outsiders have too much invested in the conflict. The initial post that I responded to, argued that a joint state with full citizenship for both peoples is "the only possible solution." It's a solution, but we must all hope that it isn't the "only possible" solution, because attaining it will require both groups to change their entrenched positions, and I don't think it's gonna happen. I know stubborn when I see it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The New Dog

My sister has always loved dogs, and her husband (surprise!) also loves dogs, so they've never had less than 2 dogs, usually 3, and I think once they had 4. Patton the boxer died recently, much to everyone's dismay, (a great way to go; he went for a walk with my brother-in-law, chased some critter away from the neighbor's chickens, turned and looked at my brother-in-law and keeled over), so they were in the market. Since they're both suckers for a stray who needs help, the new dog (like all their dogs) is a rescue dog; what's unusual is that the new dog is a Doberman puppy, about a year old. They've never had a Doberman before.

So, here's Duke:

Duke's previous owner lost his job, and stopped buying dog food so as to feed his 3 kids; the scraps left over for the dog weren't enough. Also, he left the dog tied alone in the yard all day, which attracted the attention of Animal Control.

The rescue people called my sister, and they've had Duke about a month now. They're stuffing him madly, but you can still count most of his ribs and all of his vertebrae.

He's a nice puppy, if understandably a little nervous about being left alone. He also thinks he's a lap dog, which can be trying when the dog stands over 3 feet high and weighs around 65 pounds. Wait until he fills back out; his projected adult weight is 80-90 lb. That's a lot of lap dog! Due to a total lack of training, he was a little pushy when they got him, but even in the few days we were there he was getting much calmer and responding much better to commands.

But the funniest thing about Duke is the way he looks when he curls up to sleep; he looks like a Swiss army knife:

Officially they're "fostering" him, but I think he's going to stay.

Holiday Travels

We drove to Las Vegas between Christmas and New Year's, to visit my sister and brother-in-law. From our house this is about 550 miles one way, and takes between 10 and 12 hours depending on how fast we drive, how often we stop, and whether we stop for a meal. We could fly, but then we'd have to stand in lines, sit in uncomfortable seats with no leg room, and put all the fluids and gels in a quart Ziplock bag. On the other hand, flying only takes about 4 hours. You pay for everything in either time or money, and this time we decided to pay in time.

We got some payback for the decision, too. As we came over the Altamont Pass, around 9 AM, we saw a (now) very rare sight: the Sierra Nevada mountains. The air was clear enough to show a full view of the snow-capped peaks, and the Central Valley between. This doesn't happen much these days; if you can see the mountains at all, it's usually over a haze of smog. We watched the mountains all the way across, and down Highway 99 as far as Fresno; by then it was early afternoon and the daily cloud bank was covering up the mountains. It's much more interesting to drive down 99 than to take I-5; 99 goes through towns. Before 99 became freeway bypasses, it had the Oranges - big round orange buildings by the roadside, from which people sold (originally) fresh orange juice; but the last Orange is now gone. Driving down 99 lets you see what life in the Central Valley looks like now.

I'll do some other posts on the trip, but for now I want to mention 2 other things I saw that charmed me:

I saw a roadrunner cross the road in the red rock country west of Las Vegas. It looked astoundingly like the one in the cartoons.

Coming back up I-5 on December 30, at 6:48 in the evening near Patterson, I saw a meteor. I was staring blankly out the passenger window, and a bright light streaked across the sky and vanished in a small flare of more bright light. No, I didn't get a photo; we were driving in a car at 65 MPH, and apart from the meteor it was black as the inside of your hat, not the ideal situation for low-light photography.

Coming back up the central valley, we had no more views of the Sierras. We could barely see the side of the road. OK, that's an exaggeration, but if you've never driven past Bakersfield on a damp winter day with no wind and an inversion, you really can't envision how bad it is. I estimate maybe half a mile visibility at the worst. When you read that the Central Valley has the worst air quality in the country, think about driving through a thin brown soup, which blurs out the power lines paralleling the road.

By the way, a road trip for you California types: if you're coming back from Nevada over the Tehachapi Pass, heading for I-5, don't cut straight over through Bakersfield. Endless stop lights and town traffic, believe me. Go north on 99 to highway 46 and cut over to I-5 through Wasco. No traffic to speak of, only 3 lights, and you get to envision Cary Grant running down the rows of orchard trees, because Wasco is where North by Northwest was filmed. It hasn't changed much since then, either.