Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Reparations Happy Hour

Here is one article on a local Reparations Happy Hour:

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2018/05/reparations_happy_hour_portland.html

Black, brown, and indigenous people could show up and be handed $10 for drinks, the money coming from donations by white people who did not attend. About forty people attended, so that was $400 total, which - depending on the location - is not extravagant for drinks. No one was forced to donate or attend. People had a good time.

That shouldn't make people particularly angry, despite the long list of white people calling the police on Black people enjoying themselves, but there were some very angry responses.

I have some thoughts about why that would cause anger, but for now I just want to go over why it could be reasonable to give much more than $10. I had pictured this as turning into a screed of righteous anger; and it might be more of a weary lament. I should still get this on the record.

It is not just slavery.

Slavery would be enough. The beatings and family separations and loss of culture and the hard labor to build wealth that you do not get to share creates plenty of reason for reparations, with that last reason possibly being the most concrete.

However, it is not just slavery.

It is also that when land owners were finding it difficult to let go of their indentured servants and they were looking for a way to hold onto that labor without spending more money, and when Bacon's Rebellion reinforced the danger of letting poor people of all races unite, that whiteness became a weapon to use to strengthen hierarchies of power. (See Theodore W. Allen.) It gave racism deep roots.

It is that Bacon's Rebellion happened in Virginia, and racist shoring up of greed became formalized there, "the birthplace of presidents", and so became a huge part of the nation's birthright.

It is that for all the talk of state's rights, it was not just the desire to keep slavery in the Southern states but to be able to make the rules for the Northern states, as with the Dred Scott decision. They would do anything to hold onto that slavery.

It is that even after Emancipation freed slaves were not allowed to leave plantations, and that Freedman's bureaus would often take the sides of the former owners, and that even supportive bureaus workers couldn't prevent outright murder, which happened.

It is that after creating wealth former slaves were not considered to have any part in that wealth, starting new lives with zero assets.

It is not being able to take advantage of the Homestead Act, if not officially, largely still true in practice. (https://aeon.co/ideas/land-and-the-roots-of-african-american-poverty)

It is that immediately after Emancipation debt peonage started, not only depriving many Black people of their freedom, but making it more economical to have slave labor than it had ever been. (See Douglas A. Blackmon.) This did not help white people regard their Black neighbors as fully deserving of life and liberty.

It is that even though during Reconstruction education and opportunities were expanded for poor white people too, that poor white people still feel threatened by progress against racism.

It is that Reconstruction was abandoned so quickly and cheaply with the Compromise of 1877.

It is that lynching was used to punish Black economic success, but was painted as a necessity because of the brutality of Black men, continuing the tradition of their dehumanization. (See Ida B. Wells.)

It is the constant tradition of white men accusing Black men of raping white women, but white men raping Black women. (See At the Dark End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire.)

It is Plessy vs Ferguson upholding segregation while paying mere lip service to equality.

It is Woodrow Wilson re-segregating government offices because even a little progress is too much, and because he was a huge racist.


It is that it wasn't enough to lynch some Black business owners individually or in small groups, but that sometimes whole business districts and towns needed to be destroyed. (See Rosewood and Black Wall Street.)

It is that the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot that destroyed Black Wall Street and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre seem to have been at least partly inspired by the return of Black veterans who had served in World War I and felt that they had earned equal treatment.

It is also that redlining and other corrupt real estate practices and very corrupt lending practices and even racist design practices kept Black people limited in where they lived. This allowed for some wonderful communities, but it also severely hampered growth of home value, a very reliable investment for white people. (There is interesting information on New York and Robert Moses, but that is not the only big city with issues.)

It is also that this concentration of people of color has made it easy for some areas to be subject to worse industrial pollution. There is some information on that in Harriet A. Washington's Medical Apartheid but also Flint, Michigan.

Also, if we are going to refer to Medical Apartheid it is the Tuskegee syphilis study, and J. Marion Sims experimenting on slave women, and many other examples.

It is parts of the New Deal being set up specifically to exclude Black people.

It is Black people serving in World War II and then not being able to use the VA loans, or to get into some of the programs that they were technically entitled too, but somehow still not allowed to.

It is white men getting off and avoiding punishment for rapes and murders of Black people.

It is Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. but also Alberta Williams King. It is Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, but also Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware. It is other Black bodies being pulled out of the water when they were looking for James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. It is James Meredith imprisoned because he dared to apply to Ole Miss, and not getting out until he was dying of cancer.

It is so many people. The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward E. Baptist - that title comes from a quote about slavery, but it is true about so much more than slavery.

It is about white artists getting rich off of copying Black artists - even when they give credit - because the white performers are always more palatable. 

It is about braids being unprofessional on Black women but being daring and fun on white women.

It is about film not taking Black skin into account for decades.

It is about getting the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed and then work immediately beginning on undoing them.

It is about integration sending whites to set up private schools rather than giving up their discrimination.

It is about the Southern Strategy where the racism becomes less blatant but is still there. It is about the war on drugs.

It is about white people assuming that affirmative action means that people who weren't good enough on their own get in, when the issue was that being good wasn't enough unless you were white.

It is about Affirmative Action primarily benefiting white women. It is about a Black man making on average $15 an hour to a  white man's $21, and a Black woman $13 to a white woman's $17. It is about it being as easy for white high school dropout to get hired as a Black college student.

It is about white people taking advantage of pot legalization to start profitable new businesses while the jails are full of people of color in there for nothing worse than possession.

It is about our police system being based on Southern slave patrols and still being used to enforce the social order. It is about police budgets being supported by over-policing low income communities that disproportionately affects people of color, because they can get away with it.

It is about Ferguson.

It is about the over-policing leading to full jails of people who haven't even been convicted languishing because of the cash bail system and full court dockets.

It is about Kalief Browder.

It is about video showing us cops escalating incidents, using unnecessary force, planting weapons and murdering, and still not being convicted of murder. It is about Walter Scott and Eric Garner.

It is about unnecessary and patently false 911 calls and the police shooting before there is a chance to respond, and still there are no charges, just dead bodies. So it is about John Crawford and Tamir Rice, but not just about them.

But with Tamir and Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, it is about Black teenagers and children being seen as scary men, but Ryan Lochte and Brock Turner (and Kavanaugh) get youth as an excuse.

It is about the police searching Botham Jean's apartment but not Amber Guyger's.

It is all the fatal shootings, but it is also all of the calls that don't result in a shooting; only humiliation. There are all the reminders that Black people are not allowed to barbecue, or sell water or ride in a car with their white grandmother, or own a legally registered gun, or play golf or ride a wine train or use the bathroom at Starbucks or use coupons or use their community pool. That even though sundown towns aren't supposed to exist, they still do. That even though we are not yet officially a police state, you may always be required to justify your presence and may be asked to leave.

It is about Sandra Bland.

It is that even when Jacqueline Woodson win an award, her "friend" Daniel Handler still has to make a watermelon joke, 17 years after Fuzzy Zoeller directed his remarks at Tiger Woods. It's not that there is anything terrible about watermelon or fried chicken or okra, but that they always need to be brought up, always reminding you that you are other, and that will always take precedence over your accomplishments.


It is that a quiet and respectful protest gets you fired from the NFL, and that an ad campaign makes people care about sweatshops who never cared before. It is about people thinking that kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality is offensive to the flag, but waving Confederate flags is just about heritage, as are ugly statues that were raised quickly at times when there was a threat of rising equality.

It is about progressives saying "Listen to Black women" and then getting mad about things they say. It is about Sanders calling people who didn't vote for him "low-information".

It is that even in progressive Portland, this site exists and never runs out of material:
https://browninpdx.tumblr.com/ 

It is about another event from the Reparations Happy Hour people being planned because a Black woman was put out of the shop by an employee.

So yes, in Portland, forty people of color got $10 to spend on drinks. It that is what makes you angry, the problem is yours.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Status of limitations

Last night I posted really late.

Tonight I was trying to get my rant going, and it is again really late. I don't think I can do a good enough job of it. I thought about getting my journalism bit in, but I may want to take that a little deeper, where putting it in next week makes sense.

I am going to give a little update on me instead, which I had thought I might do next week or the week after anyway.

The most obvious status update is that I am so tired. It doesn't even make any sense, because it feels like I am not accomplishing anything. I have been trying to think about potential health issues, but my sisters have similar tiredness issues, and it looks most like it is the mind-body toll of living with dementia. That was the most obvious answer.

I avoided it for a long time because then it feels like being a bad daughter, and assigning blame that I don't want to assign. She's not even that bad, in a lot of ways. I can see a lot of things that could be worse. It is still tiring. My sisters have demanding jobs, and I have this.

To be fair, I feel like I am doing really well at it. She is mostly happy, and we have gotten better at navigating certain things. With a progressive condition every time you get adjusted it changes again, but it is something to have successfully adjusted over and over again.

The biggest part of what makes me sucessful is everything I have let go. When this started, I was going to cure it. Even in June with her last MoCA test, I was thinking about ways of working on the specific testing areas. I have a stack of connect-the-dot worksheets on my desk just for that. It wasn't to game the test, but if exercising those areas could slow the progress... but it may not work that way. Also, people with higher scores are leaving the house in their pajamas and not realizing it, so you can't depend too much on the number. It presents and progresses very individually.

My biggest concern is that I am forgetting how to relax. At that last assessment, I was reminded of the tendency for dementia patients to wander. Shortly after that, I got two glimpses of how it could happen, with a very small distraction or moment of restlessness. Nothing terrible happened either time, but then later as I was taking a deep breath in the shower I gasped; what if it happened then? That scared me.

And still, we are mainly getting along okay. I know people who have it much worse. My faith is a huge help. There are still a lot of fluctuations with fear and sadness and worry. I might have a lot of difficulty responding to "How are you?" right now. Maybe I am several contradictory things at once.

Actually, I was asked recently how long I have been care-giving, and that was really hard to answer as well. Definitely since I lost my job, and when I realized that I could not have another job, but what about when I started telecommuting and it was such a relief to know I would be there? What about when I was still working downtown and I would do meal prep and write notes to give a schedule the day before? Did that count? Because it's been a while.

Currently the blog has been a source of stress. The time writing and the time spent listening to the music for band reviews is becoming harder and harder to find. I keep thinking maybe it is time to give them up. I would miss them, but also then I think "Now? I am so close to finishing my Black History Month blogging!"

Right now it still seems to serve a purpose, and I still usually like what I write, but that could change. If it does, this will be why.

Right now, anything I do that isn't care giving is a major accomplishment, even if it wouldn't be for someone else. You have no idea how much feels overwhelming and then gets done anyway.

The care giving is a pretty good accomplishment too. It has some complicated feelings associated with it, but I know it matters and is where I am supposed to be.

It also leaves me very tired.

Among many problems

I was planning on closing out my Black History month posts with a rant in response to some anger at a reparations happy hour that took place in Portland recently.

The idea was to list all of the various obstacles that have been placed and are still placed in the paths of African Americans, concluding by saying something like "if this is what bothers you, you are the problem!"

That feels right as an expression of exasperation at how badly wrong people can be. It is still false.

That there are all of the obstacles in place - many the result of structural racism, but some that go beyond that - is a bigger problem than that some people get really pissy any time the existence of bigotry is hinted at. Still, that reaction is a real obstacle to getting over any of the others.

I still intend for the rant to happen. I may even use that concluding sentence despite debunking it right now. (Also, today was supposed to be a related thing on journalism, but I think that will go up Wednesday instead.)

For now, though, I want to write a little about the obstacles to people seeing the way things work. It looks like that will focus on privilege, just because that's what's been floating around lately.

That is Matt Stoller's fault. He didn't start it, but he bloviated the most about it. He bloviated without understanding how people use the word, either, therefore various people were having discussions on it. Here are two that I appreciated:

https://twitter.com/TGTalker/status/1041361374776123393

https://twitter.com/NoTotally/status/1041551963345715200

(I do not believe that it is a coincidence that these smarter and more nuanced takes come from people with more marginalized statuses. There are no guarantees, but sometimes patterns appear.)

Now, here's another place where I am going to amend the words that are easy to say and feel right.

By complete coincidence, I had recently read an essay where a man - Richard S. Orton - refers to his "blank spaces" in the way that we would normally use "privilege". I don't know when he wrote it, but the original edition of the book it was in was 1993. While the use of "privilege" does go back further than that, it was not common, and I doubt he was specifically avoid it. Instead, he was probably just trying to find a way to express something that was new to him, and he found a reasonable way.

(The essay was "Learning to Listen", which I found in Transforming a Rape Culture, and it was really good.)

I remember thinking at the time that because so many people get offended by the word "privilege", maybe "blank spaces" would be more palatable. Then I got irritated that it needs to be more palatable.

There is more to write there that I am going to postpone for now, because it goes along with different things. I do want to debunk the coincidence though.

I try really hard to learn. It means listening to people with different backgrounds and different areas of expertise. It means taking book recommendations from a lot of sources. It means periodically reviewing intended reading, and what I have on the backlog. It also means being sensitive to impressions on things that I need to be looking into now.

So it was not a complete coincidence that I was reading Transforming a Rape Culture. It was not a coincidence that I felt the need to delve into gendered violence.

It certainly could have been avoided. I am still finishing up one reading list while bringing up two others (that I will write about eventually). It's not that I don't have other things to do.

It could feel like a coincidence that reading something that had me thinking about the very term "privilege" came up so close to online discussions of the terminology, but the truth is those discussions are always happening.

The gendered violence list has ten books on it and I have completed four; do you want to guess how relevant they are right now? But if I had read them all right at the time I marked them as "to-read" - going back a few years for some - they would have been relevant then too. That's not even a partial coincidence, let alone a complete one.

It would be nice to think that if someone were to replicate that reading list a few years from now, that it would only be relevant as history. That doesn't seem likely.

That is a combination and culmination of many problems. You could possibly combine them all into a single broad problem of misogyny, or even bigotry (evil?), but that could also result in losing various key points. It is helpful to spend time on the individual aspects of the big problem, and even divide it into many problems.

(I'm not particularly in the heuristics of it all at this point, but that could change.)

Still, without it being the only problem, the people who get angry that they even have to think about misogyny and the harm it does, and who are more concerned with #notallmen or the possibility of false accusations, or worry about the path to redemption for harassers and rapists before worrying about the path to wholeness for their victims...

YOU ARE A PROBLEM!

Even if you've never raped anyone. Even if no one in your family ever owned slaves.

You are a problem.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Band Review: Darksworn

Darksworn is a melodic death metal band from Hillsboro, Oregon, the project of Alan Blaisdell.

Blaisdell performs vocals, drums, guitar, and bass. You could easily believe there were more members based on the strength of each individual part. Intros are packed with interesting effects, especially on 2017's Rogue.

Death metal isn't really my genre, but I think I understand why better after listening to Darksworn. I believe for me it may be due to the lack of a human voice. There is the requisite deep growling. As well as that fits with the aggression of metal, I don't emotionally connect with it. I may not be aggressive enough.

(Therefore, my obvious favorite track is "Merging Planets."

Even without that connection, I still admire the skill and musicality and instrumentality of the work. I believe for melodic death metal this is really excellent. So if that is your thing, you should definitely check out Darksworn.

https://darksworn.com/

https://www.facebook.com/darksworn/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZVv6zc6Z1nZj5FdPaWa1Ig

https://twitter.com/Darksworn_Band

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Band Review: Preach, Khriiistos Arcana

I'm not sure how this review happened.

I know I wrote "Preach" down for review after one specific follow, but the band information is no longer in her profile and it does not appear that she is in the band. Perhaps there was a bad breakup.

Beyond that, the names "Preach" and "Khriiistos Arcana" seem to be used interchangeably, so I also don't know what the deal is there.

It is clear that this hip hop is supposed to be religiously influenced, in which case it is disappointing how much it sounds like any other hip hop. It feels like it should be more edifying or uplifting in some way.

It's not necessarily worse than any other hip hop out there, but that is a wide field. This concept had one obvious path for standing out, but it was not taken.

http://khriiistosarcana.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/PREACHCHANNEL/videos

https://twitter.com/ThaRealPreach

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Against the family

One of the most poignant stories in Edward E. Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told concerned one man sold away from his family. He had a wife and two daughters. When he first learned he was sold he laughed in shock; it would be an example of how unfeeling the slaves were, he thought. As he was carried further and further away, with less hope of ever seeing them again, he became despondent.

There were multiple stories in the book of transplanted slaves who went into a kind of zombie state that could have been fatal, but kindness from fellow slaves brought them back. It was the same for this man. One family took him in, caring for him and helping him. As he became more engaged with the life around him, he took in a young boy in a similar situation. That boy eventually grew and had a family of his own. He named two daughters after those other two daughters: not quite his sisters, always remembered by him and his not quite father.

You can imagine how much I think of people who say that Black people were better off under slavery because of their superior family lives.

There is a history of viewing the Black family as pathologically broken, going back at least to Daniel Moynihan's 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case For National Action. It was very influential. It was also flawed at the time. It is also pretty old now.

(I partially treated this topic a few years ago: http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/06/lies-we-tell-about-black-people.html)

Regardless of public conception and misconception since 1965, it takes stunning ignorance to claim intact families as one of the benefits of slavery. That takes effort.

This week we have talked about greed and dehumanization. They both matter here.

Greed was a huge incentive. Slaves regularly grew in population, every time a child was born. They could be converted to cash easily.

Dehumanization mattered too; their feelings were perceived as less sensitive. Along with the many complaints about having to work in Been in the Storm So Long there were also complaints about desertion, and the ingratitude, and the lack of feeling. There were some very bitter laments about parents coming and taking their children back.

Records still exist of countless post-Emancipation newspaper ads trying to find out what had become of parents, siblings, and children. Sometimes they found each other, but sometimes there wasn't enough to go on. Slavery was a hard life; probably a lot were dead.

Guessing at the Haley family history from Roots, George and Eliza did a pretty good job of keeping their children together. Some of that could have been related to an amenable family of owners and their insistence on their children learning valuable skills probably made them more valuable to hire out than sell. I can't help but think that a lot of that is also being closer to the end of the war. If you were separated only five years before the war, maybe memories are fresher once you get a chance to search.

I found it interesting that there was nothing on George's grandparents. Once Kizzie was sold away from them, their story ended as far as the book went. There was no speculation on their reaction, and then I realized it was because they didn't know. They were not able to see each other again in life. That was true of Kunta Kinte and his family in Africa too. Those lines of communication were cut.

(More on that at http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2016/06/thoughts-on-roots-connected.html.)

At the same time, names of people from George's childhood were preserved, because new connections were made. They connected to each other because the alternative was letting their hearts go cold. For all of the tragedy that you find going back, the triumphs of the human spirit and capacity for love are truly inspiring.

That inspiration does not make me forget how much pain that never needed to happen did, and for terrible reasons.

All of that should be pretty well-understood too, yet still there are people being so smugly stupid about it. Now here we are, still separating families. I can't even say again. Who and how changes, but not that it happens at all. I guess those who forget the past truly are doomed to repeat it.

I don't have much helpful to say on this. We should know. We should do better.

I will leave you with this:

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/02/black-panther-erik-killmonger/553805/

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The full measure of one's humanity

I know... that's a fancy sounding title.

I spent time on some bad bosses yesterday because it is interesting how much one individual's desire to have more can affect their estimation of how much someone else deserves. I added an article about Amazon employees on food stamps yesterday, but Wal-mart employees being on public assistance has been the status quo for years. More recently there have been many stories of homeless people with full time jobs working for Disney or various Silicon Valley companies.

What I see looking at our local homeless issues is that income inequality is a strong underlying issue. As long as there are people who can pay more, it shuts out the people who can't. At least for housing, supply is not growing fast enough to bring down demand, so the limited supply drives up demand. The people who can compensate with more money do that. A lot of people get left out. That doesn't always result in ending up on the streets, but it does not help economic well-being.

That can lead to a very complicated discussion, but generally the favored response against a living wage is that people should be learning better skills so they are worth more than a minimum wage employee. It is the individual worker's responsibility to earn enough to live - and to adjust their lifestyle accordingly - and other factors beyond that individual's control should have nothing to do it.

There's at least two longer discussions there.

It's easy for a corporation to be heartless (it's technically built into a corporate charter), but in smaller companies you still see it: if I pay you more, I can't go to Aruba for two weeks. If I pay you more, I can't afford the labels I want. The interactions with the employees should help, but in a company small enough for that LL the numbers are smaller. the impact of an increase in employee benefits is in some ways more measurable.

Looking at African-American history -  not just during slaver -, you can see this clearly. There was professed fondness for the property at times, but there was a shocking ease of disregard too.

One of my most disturbing reads was Medical Apartheid: The Dark Side of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present by Harriet A. Washington.

I am not going to give examples from it. The book is worth reading, and Washington does a great job with her handling of the material and finding a path forward. Also, a lot of it is becoming better known anyway - I have seen more articles recently on J Marion Sims lately that talk about his "methods".

I finished the book on March 6th, so it's been a few months. I remember thinking during the time that the people who would do this clearly could not have seen the people they used as fully human. I now think that was an oversimplification.

For example, one reason Sims used Black women for his experiments was that it was supposed that they didn't feel pain the same way. Okay, except that if other doctors eventually stopped participating in restraining the women because it was so disturbing, that indicates demonstrable pain, right? Similarly, if to punish a slave you whipped brutally, and it was the only way of getting through, you must still believe that they are feeling something. Unless it's just for spite.

Honestly, I don't completely understand how it works. I know it is common for dehumanization to be used as a tactic in war. I see dehumanization as an aspect of sexism and racism: they are stupider or more corrupt or something where the effect on them does not matter. Except it feels like there is an underlying satisfaction in it mattering. It feels like it isn't as much about the other being less as it is about abusing the other making you more.

Maybe a structural inequality tempts those with any inclination toward sadism. Again, financial success has made some people worse people. Being worse has also helped some people become financially successful.

It just seems worth pointing out once again that after reading a lot of true crime, it was fascinating how much of a common factor greed was in sociopaths. It's hard not to think that was the motivation that moved them to antisocial behavior, where otherwise they might have stopped at thrill-seeking easily bored narcissist.

Yeah, I know that sounds like someone, but he's greedy too.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Economic corruption

"That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages." - Adam Smith

I don't even know that admiration toward the rich is that common. There is certainly fascination and envy,  and maybe some assumption that getting there involved hard work or intelligence or some kind of savvy (though that can fall apart really quickly on further examination). Maybe I just can't imagine other people being admiring because I so often feel utter contempt.

I do see a lot of condemnation of the poor.

One really irritating memory that comes up is John Schnatter living in a mansion with its own golf course, causing Mitt Romney to think Schnatter had done really well for himself. At the same time Romney thought that while it was nice that one income used to support a family, now a couple needed two or three jobs between them to have kids, and that was fine. Schnatter meanwhile thought that it was impossible to give his employees healthcare because it would require charging an extra 8 cents per pizza. Even though it would really only have required a 2 cent increase, and even though he had the massive house and grounds, when Schnatter got some criticism for his poor math skills and greed, at least one person was trying to drum up support for him and get more people going to Papa John's lest the poor man suffer. Apparently unbridled capitalism is not its own reward.

Schnatter can make a lot of money, but it requires a lot of employees. No matter how hard he works, they also have to work or he cannot successfully maintain a large chain of pizza stores selling just about the worst pizza out there. Healthcare seems like a reasonable reward for those people on whom his success his based, and not even that expensive. However, it's not just that Schnatter didn't find it necessary: the very suggestion made him angry.

(More recent developments in terms of who is and is not on the company's board don't change that.)

On a much smaller scale, I see small business owners complaining any time there is talk about increasing the minimum wage. They are barely scraping by, they have so much overhead, and why should this person whose labor makes their business possible receive compensation that allows them to live?

(No, they don't phrase the last bit that way. The rest is pretty verbatim.)

A larger discussion about economics and how to level the playing field between different size businesses (and if that should be a thing) will have to wait, but there is one business that I want to talk about in more depth. I am going to have to leave some details deliberately vague.

I will say that it is a business with more than four and fewer than fifty employees. After the economic downturn in 2008, they lost many clients. While they did not have to let many employees go, there were cut hours. They also cut several benefits, like paid time off. Employees generally went along with it because they understood that the money wasn't there.

Then the money came back. Lost business was made up and increased, and certainly some of the growing customer loyalty was due to excellent customer service. Hours went back up pretty quickly, but even after a few years those benefits that had been temporarily put on hold didn't come back.

In addition, the owners started becoming more absentee themselves. They had some expensive habits which often required long weekends. How can you really enjoy your skiing weekend or season tickets if you wait until everyone else is on the road?

To make up for these absences, some employees started getting more authority. That could have been fine, except that they tended to rudely lord that authority over the other employees, making the workplace much less fun. The supervisors did have skills that could be put to good use, but they needed more oversight and the owners were getting less and less interested in doing the work. They also became less interested in spending any money that was not absolutely necessary on the employees.

Those lost benefits were never required; they were just nice things to have that employers offer in a competitive environment where you need more incentives. However, there were other things that were legally required that they skimped on too. After all, they were a small business (under 50 employees) and some of those things were too hard. Employees that left often had grounds for lawsuits and Bureau of Labor and Industries complaints. Not everyone pursued them because that takes effort, patience, and often a lawyer which will cut into any benefit you get. Still, some did, and the owners did not change their practices to prevent future complaints. Even with a loss here and there, they knew the odds were in their favor.

The most important thing is that even though going over this without the specifics you can see evidence of greed, dishonesty, poor business practices and even some laziness, the problem was always the employees, or former employees. Creating and running profitable programs inspired no gratitude, just resentment when someone moved on.

And these are not even "crazy rich" people. I think they would probably just be considered well-off, and possibly lauded for being job creators.

What I want to be clear on is it is not merely that their business success was not the result of personal virtues, but the level of success they achieved actually corrupted them. I don't think it has to be that way, but sometimes that's how it works out. More legal protections for employees and greater enforcement could improve things, but that's just not the case.

So here's my question as we go over some more Black History month reading: if people can be that unappreciative, exploitative, and resentful of people who are only at will employees that have accepted the offers and the paychecks, but can reject those terms at any time (knowing that other economic conditions can make that very difficult), how bad do you think people get when they own the source of their income?

ETA, this seems relevant: https://www.thedailybeast.com/amazon-is-worth-dollar1-trillion-its-workers-are-on-food-stamps?ref=home

Friday, September 07, 2018

Band Review: Holy Wars

When listening to alternative band Holy Wars, the easiest comparison is to Siouxsie and the Banshees. That is not only because of Kat Leon's piercing vocals, but also the eerie funk and emotions. (In that way, I am also reminded of Concrete Blonde.) There are some wonderful guitars on "Orphan".

Leon is joined by her Sad Robot bandmate Nicolas Perez. I checked out the band on the recommendation of their producer, AFI's Hunter Burgan.

If you check out their late 2017 release, Mother Father, you will find grief, but also powerful wrestling and dealing with that grief. That may be especially true for those who have lost parents.

The title track is also the last track, and acts as a beautiful benediction on the fight. It's not exactly a conclusion. Some things are over, but new things are starting, with a stronger identity discovered. When you face death you also discover life.

There are not currently any tour dates listed, but a recent tweet hints at an announcement of an announcement, so it may be a good idea to keep an eye on the account.

https://www.holywarsmusic.com/motherfatherep

https://www.facebook.com/HolyWarsMusic/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKpgMRG6ocgGYRS750lo0LA

https://twitter.com/holywarsmusic

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Band Review: MK Ultra

The first thing I need to say is that apparently those videos need a warning on them. I didn't watch any, but I read that. I guess it makes sense, at least given that one of the songs is called "X-Rated".

(I'll figure out how to handle MK Ultra's daily song slot later.)

Listening to the music, while the song titles themselves reference adult content, the sneering quality of the delivery reduces the shock value. There may be the intent to shock, but I think real shock requires some sincerity, or at least freshness. This music feels more cynical and jaded - which has its place.

I should also warn that there are several other results to MK Ultra (also a reference to CIA mind control experiments), with apparently at least three other bands. This is the MK Ultra that has the Generation Dead album and The Hollywood Holocaust EP.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/generation-dead/id1295565278

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChGTtD9h2674qx4_4N3eiow

https://twitter.com/MKUltra_Band

The impracticality of extreme wealth

Two of the books that I read for my 2018 Black History Month reading were pretty annoying. The Strange Career of Jim Crow had the advantage of being relatively short, but Been in the Storm So Long felt like it went on forever, an interminable wave of white people whining.

Some of my annoyance with the book was feeling like the author, Leon F. Litwack, devoted so much attention to the whining because he felt a sympathy for them, which I could only think was undeserved. However, as ridiculous as the complaints sounded, maybe he knew that too and the sheer excess was only to drive home the point.

I am going to put in one quote here. There are some misspellings from the original source:

“Nearly a week after the fall of Richmond, the Confederate dream lay shattered. When the news reached Mary Darby, daughter of a prominent South Carolina family, she staggered to the table, sat down, and wept aloud. “Now.” she shrieked, “we belong to the Negroes and Yankees.” If the freed slaves had reason to be confused about the future, their former masters and mistresses were in many instances absolutely distraught, incapable of perceiving a future without slaves. “Nobody that hasn't experienced it knows anything about our suffering,” a young South Carolina planter declared. “We are discouraged and have nothing left to begin new with. I never did a day's work in my life, and don't know how to begin.” Often with little sense of intended irony, whites viewed the downfall of the Confederacy and slavery as fastening upon them the ignominy of bondage. Either they must submit to the insolence of their servants or appeal to their northern “masters” for protection, one woman wrote, “as if we were slaves ourselves – and that is just what they are trying to make of us. Oh it is abominable!” (p.178)

This is a representative example. There were many more complaints about no longer having slaves being equivalent to slavery (which is interesting in light of how some people react to criticism and threats of equality) and many lamentations of suddenly having to work and not knowing how.

Beyond that, there was great frustration with having to pay wages ("I still believe we can hold our own but the negroes will have to enjoy more of the fruits than before." p. 552), but also not being able to set the schedules. Many of the former slaves were agreeable to working on their old plantations, but were no longer willing to work from before sunrise to sundown, wanting something more like an eight-hour day with a lunch break.

Both sets of frustrations had a common cause that I was able to recognize, in that the old way of life had been built on lots of people literally slaving away to create a life of splendor and ease for a few. One woman can maintain a single-family house dwelling enough, even if there is a learning curve for knowing how. Maintaining a mansion is considerably harder. There is more to clean and more to heat and more to cool. 

When your workers don't get a wage, and you are in charge of how much they get to eat and what clothes they get, and they don't have to get breaks or time to think and spend with their families, you can be much more profitable. 

Actually, neither Crazy Rich Asians nor Generation Wealth spent a lot of time on that, but if you look below the surface it is always there. Fabulous wealth can't be maintained without exploitation, and the closer you look, the more likely it was acquired in ways that were ethically wrong if not specifically criminal.

Oddly, there were not a lot of records of Southerners forced to do an honest day's work who found themselves starting to appreciate their former slaves for their abilities and stamina. There was a lot of resentment, sometimes thoughts that white people would end up doing the work better once they got the hang of it, and I remember one person wanting to replace the slaves with apes, then bitterly predicting that someone would want to free the apes.  

Yes, clearly we are past all of that now.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Thoughts on Generation Wealth

Generation Wealth starts out as a follow up. Lauren Greenfield's debut monograph was Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood, which took a look at the lives of students at her own alma mater, largely the children of the rich and famous. Published in 1997, twenty years later she was revisiting those students to catch up with them.

That was an important part of the movie, but it ended up looking at much more of her body of work, some of it focused on wealth, but some of it focused on image and types of addiction, and also looking at her own life, where her focus on work could show some similarities with some of her subjects.

Certainly many of the people in the documentary have had wealth and fame, but they don't all still have it. Whether that is due to larger financial collapse, criminal charges, or a decision to walk away, many people are in reduced circumstances. One woman was never wealthy, but she acquired a lot of debt getting plastic surgery, and is shown living in her car.

Her financial situation might have been exacerbated by her daughter's suicide. That could seem unrelated, except for earlier footage. She justifies the plastic surgery for her daughter's sake, as it will make her a better mother and teach her about self-esteem. Seeing the messages that the daughter was carving into her own skin before her death, no, it didn't help at all.

There are complicated reasons for that, and for any of these individual stories. The one message more clear than that wealth is fleeting is that it doesn't bring happiness.

It is interesting that some of the previous encounters with the subjects were focused on addiction. The common thread is that they are pursuing something that never succeeds in satisfying them. It appears that the incomprehensible wealth never satisfies either.

Florian Homme offered his wife her pick of yachts. What she wanted was for him to put his phone away during dinner. He lost that relationship before he lost the wealth. He might be able to salvage his relationship with his children, but it is not a given.

One hard-driving businesswoman held the record for spending on her personal appearance. She said it's a free country, so if you want to work 100 hours a week to make more you should be able to do that. There are arguments that could be made about a lot of that, but her arc ended up being more about her desire for a child. It led to rushing into marriage and fertility treatments at 40, needing a surrogate, trying to dictate everything the surrogate did, and still having her child born prematurely. The marriage did not last long after, but she does have a healthy child now, and her perspective has changed. It is not clear that she has learned anything based on the interviews, but I still can't begrudge her having a child that she loves.

That's the thing: none of these people should be terribly sympathetic, but you still see their humanity. If they are doing or have done things that make happiness unlikely, you can still wish for something better for them.

In the movie Greenfield is preparing her photographs for a show, but she is also preparing for her 20th anniversary. As she examines her own focus on work, and how her own parents' work affected their relationships, there is room for reflection but her relationships are intact. Adjustments can be made - like inviting her son to join her on her next trip - but because the relationships were always nurtured, corrections seem more desired than necessary, and very possible.

Relationships across generations are important. For Greenfield's children, parents and grandparents who went to Harvard is one kind of pressure. For one of her original subjects - the son of the drummer in REO Speedwagon - not being able to live up to his father is a real concern that is demoralizing and demotivating. It seems quaint for someone who remembers REO Speedwagon but for whom they were never a big deal. For him, it was real, and something he needed to deal with to find his own path to happiness. It's interesting how often that involves having children, but that can be a negative experience too.

These thoughts may seem random, and they may not seem to directly connect to yesterday's thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians, but just keep them in mind as we go back to more on the 2018 Black History month reading.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians

We saw Crazy Rich Asians Saturday and really enjoyed it.

This doesn't undo any criticism of the film. People have made good points, but part of that has involved noticing things that I didn't notice, largely due to different life experiences.

The thing that made more of an impression on me was the reason that I did not originally plan on seeing it, which is that I am not a huge fan of conspicuous consumption. I heard about the movie not long after I had seen the video of a woman in Singaport - Jamie Chua - and her closet and clothes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcikVAADwak

So I know there is crazy money there, but I find that kind of thing revolting, even though Chua herself seems fairly sweet. I ended up going to the movie primarily to support diversity in casting, because Crazy Rich Asians gives memorable parts to a lot of people who probably have a hard time getting considered for film roles here, and also because people said it was good.

And it was good. I liked it a lot, but because of the human parts. While it does show a lot of purchased fabulousness, the movie really doesn't love the money, though it does have a lot of fun with it.

I am going to go more into that tomorrow, while writing about another movie I saw, a documentary called Generation Wealth. Before the documentary, I saw a preview for another film The Hate U Give, which also played before Crazy Rich Asians.

The first time I saw the preview, all I could feel was the pain of the shooting. On the second time, I focused more on Starr talking about being a different person at home and at school - and hating it. That combined for me with this movie, where sometimes authenticity took a back seat to connections or family obligations or the weight of wealth.

There was also a subplot where one marriage was suffering from the strain of different resources and backgrounds.

Anyway, I am sure I could have many other thoughts on the movie, but the thing that came out the strongest was an absolute desire to only ever have to be me, honestly, and that no money or relationship could be worth losing that. It shouldn't be necessary for those things to conflict, but it can happen.

My deeper thoughts are balancing individuality and collectivism (more from a philosophical than an economic point of view), and my more immediate thoughts are about imbalances in fame (and money, in anyone can ever come up with some), but the screaming thought is honesty over all, and I need to be me.