Sunday, January 30, 2011

Redeveloping Our Ideas

When Jerry Brown produced his first budget for the State of Calilfornia, I figured he'd gotten it about right:  enough cuts to annoy the Democrats, enough tax increases to fry the Republicans, and no hallucinations of money from the Feds that wasn't going to come.  He managed to gore almost everyone's ox, and that's good.  But apparently the most painfully gored ox belonged to the Redevelopment Agencies.

He released the budget on January 10.  It didn't take 24 hours for articles to start appearing (they're still coming, see Google) with the general theme, "Redevelopment money?  You can't take away our redevelopment money!  How can we live without redevelopment money??"  Other groups have since chimed in on the general chorus of "how can you take away our money?", some of them with more justice than the redevelopment agencies.  The argument about in-home care support is particularly poignant, because some of these people will have to stop living at home if the state support stops.  Everyone says, "but it's cheaper for the state to keep them at home than put them in a nursing home," which is true; but they miss the point that the state probably won't have to pay for the nursing home - the families will, or Medicare will. 

But I digress - back to Redevelopment Agencies.  In a print exclusive in the Sunday S.F. Chronicle (look for it online on Tuesday 2/1), Willie Brown floats a rumor that Jerry and the California mayors are privately cutting a deal on the Redevelopment Agencies, details to be revealed later.  If this is true, I think it's a mistake.  Everyone is screaming, "How can we live without Redevelopment Agencies?"  This is a rhetorical question.  The real question they ought to be asking is, "How can we live without Redevelopment Agencies?"  How can we do what we need to do, in a new way?

Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  Redevelopment Agencies are part of doing the same thing over and over again.  We've been doing the same thing over and over again in this state for 40 years, and the result is that the state is bankrupt, the cities and counties are bankrupt, and everybody is screaming that their ox is being gored.

I'm not the first person to say this but it's still true:  We have to start asking ourselves the hard questions.  What services should the state provide, and how should we pay for them?  Ditto counties and cities - what services should they pay for, and where do they get the money?  I think most people would agree that repairing the streets is a service that cities should provide, but there are streets in Oakland in such bad shape that your car's shocks are at risk.  You'd think you were in a third world country.  Oakland has committed to paying employee salaries and benefit packages well above the local market; and they can't afford to pave the major streets; the street I'm talking about is Broadway, hardly a side street.  We used a stretch on Broadway to test the all-wheel-drive on a new SUV we just bought.  I question these priorities.  We have a new mayor in Oakland; I hope she's capable of asking these hard questions; but since she has been part of the problem for the last 5 years (as head of the City Council finance committee), I'm not optimistic.

City, county, and state:  we all have to stop and ask:  what are we doing?  What should we be doing?  Where do we get the money to do that?  What are we doing that we really should find someone else to do on a contract basis?  If we don't ask these questions, we're insane by Einstein's definition.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Good Old Days

I decided to listen to Fresh Air on KALW this morning, because Terry Gross was interviewing Stephanie Coontz, who just published a reconsideration of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.  The show is worth a listen.

I haven't thought about the Fifties for quite a while, but that was the world I grew up in.  The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963.  I was seventeen, a senior in high school, when it came out.  As Coontz admitted herself, I've never read the book (she now has, of course).  But I know the world that produced it.  Girls going to college now probably can't even imagine a world in which a young woman in college was expected to emerge with her "Mrs." degree - any academic achievements for her were entirely secondary.

I should probably just encourage you to read both of these books (Friedan, and Coontz' Strange Stirrings), but I want to share some of my memories.  I still remember the pain when nobody ever phoned me except to get help with the homework - I graduated number 7 in a class of 750, the kiss of death for a young woman.  My sister, a C student, had flocks of friends and was always on the phone.  (There's a whole story behind her grades, since her IQ actually tests higher than mine; but this is my turn.)  Worse, I was articulate and literate - I read constantly and used "big words."  "The boys" didn't like girls who used "big words" and certainly not girls who argued with them.

I still remember the family gatherings; every time the aunts came over, they wanted to know when I was going to get married.  I used to hear, "oh, isn't it a good thing you're getting a college degree, since you haven't got a husband yet."  Now, one of these aunts married a man who beat her; another one married a man she once stood off with a kitchen knife.  So maybe they weren't the best source of advice.  But I didn't learn the truth about those marriages for decades.  So everybody was happy when Karen married an Air Force sergeant she met in a bar in Cupertino.  Of course, he had a high school diploma to my Masters in Library Science; and there were one or two other incompatibilities.  It lasted about 5 years.  I've often wondered where my life would have gone if I hadn't felt the constant pressure to get married.
Post-World War II, the U.S. was a man's world.  Women existed to keep house, raise children, and make men comfortable.  Women Did Not Work.  (They did, of course; I'm talking about the ideal.)  Rosie the Riveter had left the factory and was baking cookies.  Betty Friedan's book went through female society like a bolt of lightning because, for the first time, she asked publicly, "Is this all there is?"  Every college student, every young person, thinks they're going to change the world.  In the Fifties, young women were only allowed to think they would marry a man who was going to change the world.  What this produced, of course, was a generation of women who expected the man to do everything except cook and clean; and when their men died, or left them for a trophy wife, they didn't even know where the bank account was.

For the young woman unfortunate enough not to catch a man, there were few jobs available; and for all too many of them the ad read, "must be extremely pretty."  I remember, in my senior year in college, suddenly realizing that I was going to have to get a job.  I had very few options.  With my undergrad degree in English, nursing was out.  I looked at teaching, considered the classrooms I'd been in, and couldn't bear the idea.  I didn't know what a secretary was, then (given how secretaries were treated, probably just as well).  Fortunately, my mother worked in a library, and she suggested I go to grad school and get my M.L.S., so I did.  But - those were my options.  I now think I would have made a good journalist; and I know I would have made a good scientist, but "girl reporter" was something in the comics, and girls didn't major in science and math.  I later spent 19 years as a computer engineer, writing software and maintaining systems; this wasn't even a possibility when I graduated in 1968.  The field was there; but I didn't know it.  You can only take the roads you know exist.

Today's world, God knows, isn't perfect.  But at least it mostly accepts women as full human beings, with the same hopes and aspirations as men.  In the Fifties, that wasn't so.  And that was the problem.  Watch reruns of "Ozzie and Harriet," and put yourself in Harriet's shoes.  Wouldn't you ask, "Is this all there is?"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tears of a Clown

I want to know what this is all about. 

In 1972, Ed Muskie's presidential campaign derailed when he became emotional defending his wife against slander.  We can't have a man in the Presidency who will cry when someone says his wife is a foul-mouthed drunk - now, can we?

Also in 1972, Thomas Eagleton had to step down after being nominated for the Vice Presidency, when McGovern found out he was on Thorazine; Eagleton's doctors told McGovern that they had grave concerns about Eagleton's mental health.  (Aren't you glad they can't do that any more?)  We can't have a crazy man in the Presidency - now, can we?

In 2006, Howard Dean allowed himself to scream in frustration, after coming in third in the Iowa caucuses, and eliminated any possibility of higher office.  I've often felt that we'd be in better shape if the President occasionally went into a room and screamed, but nobody listens to me.

With all this evidence that our political leaders must be Strong, Silent types who never emote in public - suddenly we have Speaker of the House John Boehner, who leaks like a sieve at the least provocation.   Why is it now Just Fine that a man who cries in public is third in line for the Presidency?  Have we really evolved that much, or is it only Democrats who aren't allowed to display emotion?  Think about it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Price of Freedom

I've been thinking a lot about the Arizona shooting on Saturday. My thoughts are with Rep. Giffords, but I'm betting Arizona will need to elect a new representative for her district. Nobody recovers from a bullet through the brain in a hurry.

I admit, my first response to the news was to wonder if someone would indict Sarah Palin for inciting to violence, if not for conspiracy to commit murder, because of her notorious web site with the gunsights on Democrats she wanted to remove. I've been following the story closely in the media (and I don't mean Fox News), and I've concluded that, probably, Sarah Palin and her web site weren't involved in this at all. The young man who did this wasn't listening to the Tea Party or Glen Beck; he was listening to the voices in his head.  If you put Sarah Palin on a platform in front of him, he might take a shot at her too.

Is the violent rhetoric used by Palin, by the Fox News commentators, and by a lot of people on the right, excusable? No, I don't think it is. The left was using this rhetoric in the Sixties - remember "kill the pigs!" - and it was wrong then, and it still is. You may not actually mean the violent things you say as metaphor, but you never know who is listening to you, or what they may do with your suggestions. In that sense, Keith Olbermann was right yesterday when he said we must all stop using metaphors of violence, even though I don't believe in this case that political metaphors of violence were involved at all.

No, yesterday's attack, and all the violent rhetoric we hear around us, are the price of our freedom.

Our constitution says that we have freedom of speech, which means that if we want to publish a photo of our opponent with a gunsight imposed over it, that's our right as Americans.  The fact that we have the right to do something doesn't make it "right" in the sense of just, correct, or even sensible.

Our constitution says we have the right to keep and bear arms, which means that if a troubled young man decides to buy an automatic pistol, he has every right to do so, and what he does with it is up to him.

Another amendment (I can't recall which) is normally used today to say that we cannot force mentally ill people into treatment.  This young man clearly needed treatment; he was kicked out of the local community college unless he were to come back with a clearance from a mental health professional.  The combination of this attitude with the free access to firearms allowed a deeply disturbed young man to buy a gun and kill six people.

I spent 19 years as a computer system programmer, in charge of maintaining IBM mainframe and Sun Solaris servers.  The first thing you learn as a system programmer is that you have absolute authority to do everything on the box - it's called the "God ID" - and this authority is dangerous.  You have to think about what you're doing.  You have to consider consequences.  Freedom is dangerous.  Americans have many freedoms.  We are, in fact, free to do a number of things that are totally stupid.  We have to start thinking about what we do and say.  We could start by trying to disagree with each other civilly.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Ten Years On

My fellow blogger Linkmeister just posted a thoughtful commentary, based on another blog he read, about how the world has improved in the last ten years.  And he's quite right, it has.  The changes he mentioned were worldwide in impact:  improvements in disease control and poverty, and so on.  But he got me thinking about the last ten years in my personal life.

So what has changed for me in the last ten years?

I'm no longer working for  a paycheck, after 38 years in the work force.  I keep pretty busy volunteering, but the days of early morning conference calls and annual performance reviews are history.  So are the paychecks.

I have two artificial knees.  Ten years ago today I thought I had two perfectly functional biological knees; however, that was the bliss of ignorance, and before 2000 was out I learned that my biological knees were not functional at all.  I never knew how desperately I could want to walk to the store at the end of the street.  I also didn't realize how much more annoying air travel would be when I have to get "wanded" every time I go through the metal detectors.  I've taken some flack for this, but I think the new body scanners are just fine.

I'm probably in the best physical shape I've ever been in, and while I'm still technically obese, I'm losing weight slowly but steadily.  After my first knee replacement, I joined a gym and continued to work out regularly; this clearly has to continue for the rest of my life.

Both my parents are dead.  Ten years ago today my mother was still alive; but she didn't make it to the end of January.  She survived her 88th birthday by about 2 weeks.

My mother-in-law died in 2003.  (My father-in-law was dead before I met my husband.)

Two of the cousins I grew up with are dead.  One of them just died this last Thanksgiving.  A guy I've known since high school died, one of those friends I could call after a gap of a couple of years and pick up the conversation as if I'd never left.  I left that call back to check in just a little too long.  Call your friends.

My sister's health has deteriorated.  Ten years ago she could walk without aids.  Now she must use a walker, and she should use a wheelchair.  But we think they've finally found a medication that will stabilize her and allow her to gain strength, so I'm cautiously hopeful.  She's a fighter.

As a friend recently said at her 65th birthday party, I can't call myself "middle-aged" any more.  (Actually, I can call myself whatever I damn please; but I have to be honest with myself.)  My 65th birthday will happen this year, along with Medicare.  Just as the Republicans are about to gut it, too.  Gee, thanks, guys.  Note to self:  donate more money to AARP, they're fighting that corner.

I'm on my second new car since 2000.  I always used to keep cars at least ten years.  The car I sold in 2002 had 11 years on it. 

I'm singing with the Oakland Symphony Chorus.  Strictly speaking, I started that in December 1999, so I suppose I shouldn't count it.  But it's added a whole new dimension to my life.  It's also expanded my web management skills and taught me some basic audio recording skills.

I was never involved in local community affairs, and now that I'm retired, I am.  Suddenly I know more of the people in the neighborhood.  Funny how that works.

I'm sure other things have changed, but these are the big ones.  The odd thing is that I feel stronger.  Whatever doesn't kill you...