Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Priorities


One thing that I didn't really get into with yesterday's post, though it is implied, is that you have to make decisions about what is important and where you allocate resources. Part of why I have been thinking about that is due to some ads supporting Ballot Measure 91, in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.

The ads take an interesting angle, with people from law enforcement and courtroom backgrounds talking about all the wasted resources that go into enforcing these laws, when they could better use their time solving murders.

The ad tactics make sense. My first thought might have been that there would be a lot on benefits of smoking pot, or comparisons to alcohol, or something like that, but I think most people probably already have heard as much as they are willing to hear on that. Anyone who is going to be swayed by those arguments is probably already there, but you might be able to convince some people who despise potheads that this really is a law and order move. A lot of libertarians are already pro-legalization, and a lot of people who are registered Republican lean libertarian, so that's the ground you might be able to gain.

I can appreciate the logic of that, but what goes through my head is the thought that a lot of priorities are set by revenue. Traffic patrols do matter, because that people generally obey the laws of the road makes being out on the road safer for everyone. It is still really common for people to assume that when they are pulled over that the officer is trying to make a quota.

Are there really quotas? For motivation to obey traffic laws, fines do make sense, but it can't possibly be good for that to be a needed source of revenue. Many of the articles we have seen about Ferguson show a very abusive relationship that essentially funds city hall, but that has also led people from other areas to talk about inaccessible city halls that play scheduling games and it becomes an important source of revenue.

We put a lot of money into the war on drugs. Without stopping drug use, it has filled the prison systems, kept down communities, justified harassment, and led to the militarization of the police. That is not good. Legalizing marijuana won't help much with that.

That's not about this specific ballot measure. Mass incarceration is a problem, and prison privatization is a problem, but also other issues frequently come up. It does take having an actual goal.

If the purpose of the prison system is to protect the public from criminals, is it doing that well? Do the people who are dangerous end up off the streets? Do people go into the prison system and come out more or less dangerous? Are there more effective ways to keep the public safe? For example, could we do early investment to keep people from becoming dangerous instead of warehousing them after they're dangerous? And "which one is cheaper" is a reasonable question to ask for that, but it is not the only question to ask.

Is the purpose of the whole system to punish bad people for being bad? If so, are we comfortable with that purpose? Is it working the way it's supposed to? Does it only punish or does it do other things? If it only punishes, what is the effect of that on society?

I mention this because I don't think we realize how often some things come about and stay in place merely because of tradition, and those traditions often started in bad practices. Are we content with that?

And maybe, if the system works for you, you are content, but there are people for whom that system really sucks. It may be uncomfortable to be caught in the currents of change, but those changes matter, and to get good changes it takes thinking. It takes open eyes and open minds, and it takes open hearts.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Job creators


I'd recently heard a reference to the 47% again, and while that one did really get to me (http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2012/10/100-wrong-about-47.html), lately I have been thinking more about something else Romney said.

It came up because it was related to things he said during the presidential race, but apparently this quote came from his failed Senate campaign in 1994. Maybe that's why it didn't draw too much attention, being older.

"This is a different world than it was in the 1960s when I was growing up, when you used to have Mom at home and Dad at work. Now Mom and Dad both have jobs to work whether they want to or not, and usually one of them has two jobs."

I am still surprised that this, and his more recent comments about even mothers of young children needing to work didn't get more attention. I think I know why, and that is the people who supported him imagined he was referring to single mothers who don't work at all. If you were against Romney he said so many horrible things that you need to prioritize, but I think this merits some discussion. Why are we willing to accept that it might take three jobs to support a family?

This isn't about lazy people - one job can drain you pretty well, and he is saying it takes more. That is saying that even in a two parent home, at least one parent might be working 60-80 hours a week, with the other working 40.

Maybe it bothers me more since the death of Maria Fernandes.

Her name may not be familiar to you, but you have probably heard the story of the woman who was working three jobs, and died napping in the parking lot of one job.


Okay, she was working part-time, low-wage jobs, but does anyone doubt that she was a hard worker? Does anyone doubt that if she could have found one job to pay all of her bills that she would have taken it?

There are a lot of things that could be said here about minimum wage and heartless corporations and a devaluation of human life that is sociopathic but supported by people who should know better, but instead I want to talk about Henry Ford for a moment.

Yes, his innovation of the assembly line was clever, but something else really cool that came out of there was letting his employees have a higher wage and Saturdays off. It wasn't a philanthropic move - he wanted his employees to be able to have the means and the motivation to buy his cars - but it changed the standard.

As long as Ford Motors was taking job applications, then other employers in the area had to have similar offerings. That meant even more people who could then afford cars and have time to drive places, so it continued to benefit Ford, but it was also great for the workers in the area, and it did not kill the other employers.

During that brief period when I was an Intel employee, I had phenomenal wages and pretty good benefits. When I came back as a contractor the benefits were not as good, but they compensated with more money. That wasn't out of the goodness of their hearts, but at the time there were a lot of good jobs out there, and employers had to be competitive. The economy did great. No one's stock fell because they paid good wages. If the rising tide didn't raise all the boats, it raised a lot.

Favoring employers can be helpful when they are already hiring, but it doesn't make them hire anyone. It didn't in Kansas, and they gave it a harder shot than anyone else:


Somehow it doesn't seem to matter how many times you can go back and show that raising the minimum wage doesn't cause inflation, or point out that most people receiving benefits also work, or that Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $6.2 Billion in aid to workers, but gets $1.2 Billion in tax breaks, some people just don't want to hear it.


Right now we need both more and better jobs. It is not going to happen with tax cuts. It can happen with mandated higher wages. Even if it doesn't create new jobs, if some of the people who are working multiple jobs can afford to go down to one, then the extra jobs they relinquish are new openings. That can be three jobs, and better quality of life for all three workers.

More jobs will not automatically be created by raising corporate taxes, but if those funds are used to create jobs, it will still have a valuable impact on the economy. There are plenty of things that need to be done. Have childcare workers affiliated with employment centers. That could have been good for Shanesha Taylor. Do road maintenance. Do job training.

Often those who are against raising the minimum wage will point out that people should not be staying in minimum wage jobs, ignoring the fact that employers will not pay more than they have to, whether it be due to legislation or competition. Well, if the government is hiring people at living wages with good benefits, than private employers will have to offer those things.

This isn't even choosing between alleviating human suffering versus doing good things for the economy. This is about both. Anything aligned with supply-side economic policies will do neither.

Ask Kansas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Books that the movies always get wrong


I have been thinking about doing this one for a while. I guess I always felt that there should be three books to really make the point effectively, and at times I have thought that Frankenstein should be the third, but I am not committing to it.

For now, there are two that especially bug me, and they bug me in specific ways. It is not that a favorite scene or character was dropped, or that they missed good parts; that is something that happens and is kind of necessary. In this case, it is that the movies miss the entire point of the books. I understand why it comes out that way. Suffice it to say, there are spoilers coming up.

The first is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I should clarify that this is one of my favorite books. Well, it's more of a novella I guess - it's pretty short - but so gripping and well-written that I just adored it on the first read. I know other people have found it too dark to be enjoyable, but it just didn't have that effect on me.

If you are only familiar with the story from film and television adaptations, you probably think that Dr. Jekyll was trying to rid himself of his evil nature, and that not only did it fail, creating an alter ego with all of the evil qualities, but that he could not control it after trying it.

That's not how it happens in the book.

Dr. Jekyll likes doing bad things but does not like that his conscience bothers him. He wants to separate his two sides so they can both do as they like. That doesn't sound quite as noble, but it gets worse. He finds that while his Mr. Hyde form has no compunction about anything, and follows many of these evil impulses, his Jekyll side still wants to do the bad things.

Jekyll hasn't accomplished what he wanted, but since he does still like doing the bad things (despite pangs of conscience) he continues drinking the potion to turn into Hyde. It is only after repeated uses that he loses control. He could have stopped the whole thing once he found that it didn't work as intended, but again, he was not a noble man.

That may be part of why the movies change it. The protagonist as written isn't really sympathetic. Also, there are no love interests. The movies will often add two, one "bad" girl and one "good" girl, and then the bad girl usually ends up dead, though there are factors there that are probably part of another discussion, so lets just move on to The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells.

I think part of the problem with these adaptations is again the need for a love story. The time traveler saves Weena's life, and she's a female, he's a male; obviously they have to fall in love!

Except they can't have a real meeting of minds, because she is like a child. All of the Eloi are. Actually, they are more like cattle. Yes, the Morlocks eat the Eloi, which seems horrible and scary, but the Morlocks also provide shoes, clothing, and food for the Eloi. The Eloi were once the upper class, and had intelligence and abilities, but they were content to push the Morlocks underground, and give up all thought and effort until they were essentially cattle.

In the movies the solution is always to destroy the Morlocks, and then the Eloi can live in peace. Actually if the Morlocks were gone the Eloi would freeze and starve miserably, changing their placid lives that have just moments of terror to gradually increasing misery ending in death. At least cows can go on eating grass.

The Guy Pearce movie paid a little bit of service to the idea by having a computer that could teach the Eloi, but even though the Eloi were uneducated in that version, in the book they have devolved: incidents that happen don't go into long-term memory, their language is simplified, and they have physically shrunk. You can't fix that with a talking computer.

Besides which, the scales of justice are still imbalanced, because all the reckoning is on the side of the Morlocks, who have become savage, but were relegated to this savagery by the Eloi (or more accurately their ancestors). But the Eloi are prettier so they have to win, and let the crude and unattractive (and lower-class) be the monsters that must be destroyed.

Remember, speculative fiction may be set in the future, but it is talking about the present, and human nature being what it is, it will often still be sadly applicable to the present several years down the road.

Anyway, I've always wanted to get that off my chest. Also, we might be talking about economics and class in future posts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Band Review: Matt Lande


One reason I reviewed Hot Apparatus yesterday is that they have a Dracula song, and I knew that I was going to want to make it a song of the day as we got closer to Halloween. Similarly, as Matt Lande does stand-in and double work on "Grimm", as we approach the season premiere on October 24th, it seemed like it was time to get to him.

That is how we ended up with such Portland-focused reviews, but it still seems like a pointless story, except for a thread of little things leading together and combining that seems relevant to Lande's music.

The music is not forceful, but there is a quiet strength to it that builds. It was something I had noticed, but not really thought about until watching a short video where Matt speaks about his music, available on his Youtube channel.

Without intending it, Matt started learning how to play guitar. In pursuit of a girl, he ended up in a Christian rock band. Starting to sing and getting into his next band, Heaven is Where, by his telling almost sound more like things that happened to him than things that he did. However, each step led him to the next thing, working together, so that he can now play guitar, sing, and write music. It now includes writing songs for a novel written by a Twitter connection.

There is often religious imagery from the Christian tradition in the music, but at the same time it does not really feel religious, but kind of more Zen. He could have easily stopped or resisted at some point, but it appears to have been a good path. My overall impression is of water gradually carving and wearing down stone, which feels like the most Portland part of all.

If some of the signposts on the path were girls, perhaps it is not terribly surprising that the songs seem to come from the heart of a romantic, and you will hear that on many of the tracks

Personal favorites for me are probably "Ease Disgrace", "Beautiful", and "It Was You", so I think one of them will be the song of the day on October 24th, but I'm not sure which yet. There needs to be a little suspense.




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Band Review: Hot Apparatus


Although Hot Apparatus does follow me on Twitter, I was aware of them before that through working with band member Alison Dennis.

This seemed like a good time to do the review, because they recently released a new album, Hot Apparatus, available as a free download from Bandcamp.

There are many other tracks available, especially via Tumblr, but I have focused my listening primarily on the new album.

Hot Apparatus feels very Portland, in some different ways. One is that the vibe often tends toward the weird. By their own descriptions they perform both psych-pop and improvisation. Not having been to a performance yet, I don't know how the improvisation goes, but their recorded tracks often veer far from the conventional, and are more arty. That is pretty Portland.

In addition there is sometimes a strong retro feel. It's not all referring back to the same era, but comes from different times and places, becoming an appropriate soundtrack for browsing at a thrift shop. Again, that seems pretty Portland.

My favorite track on the new album is "Disconnected", but "All I Feel Is Yes" has a way of sticking with you. Also, Alison's sweet vocalizations on "Astronaut" are beautiful and haunting.

Music by Hot Apparatus is easily and freely available.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Suicide


As long as we are dredging up painful memories, I have more.

I once had tickets for MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. That part is only a little embarrassing. I also had tickets for Billy Idol and Faith No More, as well as Nelson, during that time period, so mainly I think it shows a fairly diverse musical taste. I made it to the other shows, but not to MC Hammer.

Somehow the tickets disappeared the day of the show. We did have some workmen come over to work on the furnace that day, I did share a room at the time, and also, I have lost other items before (though never concert tickets), but I never found them.

It felt worse because it affected someone else. I was going to go with Matt Davis. He was one of the guys on the basketball team I managed, and we weren't particularly close, and we definitely weren't crushing on each other, but we had decided to go, and when he came to pick me up I was still frantically searching my room. The evening was cut short.

That is not the painful part. The painful part was later, when I was away at college, and my sisters called to tell me Matt had killed himself.

I know he didn't kill himself because of the missed concert; there were other things going on. I did still wonder at times if going to the concert would have gotten us closer to each other, and maybe I would have been keeping tabs on him, and known it was getting bad.

Or maybe if he and Mary had gone out on that date, it would have changed things. There was a girl he liked, and I knew her, and she was new at the school so didn't know a lot of people. I tried to fix them up, but she didn't want to. Maybe that would have changed things.

In reality, I probably had no ability to affect it. It didn't stop me from mentally trying to find all sorts of ways to undo it. That's what happens with suicide. Our mind recoils not just at the loss of a life, but that it was intentional. Something went terribly wrong and we struggle to reconcile it.

I suppose I have been thinking about more since Robin Williams died. It wasn't just him, though that affected a lot of people. Locally a young mother had gone missing, and there was a lot of publicity until she was found, and discovered to have taken her own life.

I had written a little about how frustrated I was with the press releasing details on the methods used, and the news coverage in general. I could write a lot about how horrible people can be in their responses, especially via web comments, for those cases and others. The thing that is working on me now though is how it gets misunderstood.

I understand why people call suicide selfish, though it does feel an awful lot like name-calling, which wouldn't be a good response in general. That's not how it works though. You may think that they did it with no regard for anyone else, but for many of them there has been this voice in their head repeating over and over that they are ruining everyone's lives, and that everyone else would be better off without them.

They're wrong. Most of them are way wrong. Some of them may make life more difficult in some ways, and they feel that. The logic breaks down if you really go into whether everyone would be better off without them, but usually when I am dealing with it, it's teenagers. Not only do they have less perspective on life, not having lived very long, but their pre-frontal cortex isn't fully developed and there are things they just aren't going to grasp yet.

The adults should be better able to fight it, and they often are. That reminds me about one other thing, especially with Robin Williams though, is that then people felt like everything was a cheat -- that when he was laughing and making others laugh it was all a lie. That's not true either. They can still have good times that are real. If they have any tendency toward bipolar, they may have really intense good times. The lows still hit.

I don't know what happened with him specifically. Sometimes it is just a matter of the urge hitting harder at a time when the opportunity is there. What I can say is that anything that I do understand now is only because I have listened. It's so easy to avoid the uncomfortable conversations, and to dismiss the thoughts that seem ridiculous, but it's not ridiculous to them, and they are more uncomfortable than you. Sometimes you can disrupt that dark moment. Yes, more dark moments will come, but only because they lived longer. It gives another chance.

And that can be enough. There was one more person from school whom I didn't know well, but I knew from another friend that he seemed to know an awful lot about suicide, and things that could happen when you tried. And yes, it's a stereotype, but he did dress Goth. So, I worried about him, and it seemed like he moved, or wasn't around anymore, and I always wondered.

One day he showed up on Facebook, and he has a family and work, and a good life. That happens too. People can make it. Always remember that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Not the most annoying kid ever


One thing that worries me for others, but I do it myself, is a tendency to see ourselves as so much worse than we are.

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, gaining maturity is a process, and older and wiser people are often willing to cut you some slack. Their more mature perspective probably helps, but it looks different to us. We may know that they are being gracious, but think that they are still marking down a demerit, and the cringing continues long afterward, when it probably doesn't need to.

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a friend, and we spent some time with her mother as well. We have been friends since third grade, so we go way back.

As I was getting ready to leave my friend's mother said how nice it was to see me because she had always liked me. I expressed surprise because I thought of myself as being a really annoying obnoxious child. That surprised her. She had thought I always had something interesting to say.

That was nice to hear regardless, but I started thinking about why I thought I was annoying, and really it came down to two incidents, which I shall report right here, right now.

The first one came when we were watching Auntie Mame on television. Mame's nephew brings an annoying fiancee home, and she keeps repeating  "I can't tell you how pleased I am to make your acquaintance." Because she way annoying, and repetitive, I made some joke about how for not being able to tell her, she was sure talking a lot, or something like that, and I didn't think anyone picked up on the joke, so I repeated it, and then I realized that it had been heard, it just wasn't funny.

The other time was that they had given me a book, The Wind in the Door, and she asked me how I liked it. There had been a printing error with the book, where one section of the book had repeats of previous pages instead of the correct pages, so there was a chunk of the plot missing, and I started telling her about that when I was sure later that the appropriate response would have been "Thank you. I liked it." It wasn't badly intended - part of my need to talk about it was that I was so surprised that such a thing could happen, and I was still wondering what happened in those pages, so it was on my mind, but I felt like it was a major gaffe.

As a sane adult now, I know that I would not hold those things against a kid. As the kid, I'm still embarrassed.

There is some value in this. I am pretty sure the incident with the book was where I became really good about thanking people. I can't say that I never tried too hard on a joke again, but I at least have a better chance of recognizing it.

It is interesting looking back because while I have this collection of embarrassing incidents, involving multiple people, that I don't like remembering, it's when examining them that they lose some of their power. Yes, my lack of mortal enemies could also work as an indicator that maybe I haven't been too horrible, but reinforcement is nice.

There were things already in place that made it easier to feel a sense of wrongness. There have been a lot of memories coming back during the reading, and why some of them impressed on me so forcefully makes more sense now. We will get into that eventually, though I think I may be getting political for a little while, or maybe get more into Halloween.

The point for today is that not only was I probably not the most annoying kid ever, though I am grateful for that. In addition, it is possible that you have similar concerns, and yet probable that you were in fact a very good and likable kid, and still someone good now.