Thursday, November 30, 2017

Band Review: Tru Rez Crew

Tru Rez Crew is the last of the bands from the Mic article, with a mention of their video, "I'm a Lucky One":

One of the reasons that particular song is mentioned is the inclusion of Inuit throat singers on the track. This feels seems appropriate.

With their name it is impossible not to think of 2 Live Crew, and a lot of their music that will remind you of 2 Live Crew and Snoop Dogg and that segment of rap. Still, Tru Rez Crew in no way limits themselves to that, pulling in grooves and vocal accompaniments from other genres, often getting on a good funk.

The throat singers may vary a bit farther off that musical path, but bringing in Inuit performers is very in keeping with the band's theme of uniting along diverse aboriginal experiences.

It is not clear that the band is currently active (the Mic article itself is from 2015), but there are several tracks available via ReverbNation and Soundcloud.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I care

Saturday was a long day.

I'm not saying it was bad; just long. At some point toward the end, it came to mind really strongly that I am a caretaker. It meant beyond being my mother's caretaker, but that it's what I do and who I am.

I had been having related thoughts recently as I go about doing things. Often it is something domestic, like unloading the dishwasher and then loading it again, and checking on the laundry after getting dinner started. The thought comes that I am good at this. My time in the nursery has shown that I am good with children. I already knew that I am good with animals, but lately I think all the checking in -- with all humans and animals to make sure they are okay -- has shown me that care-taking is a key part of my identity.

I have been going over that to try and figure out what to do with it. What does knowing that mean? What should it mean?

It could work as just an affirmation. There's something to be said for knowing that you are good at what you do. That didn't really feel like enough.

It is important to me that it didn't feel bad. It didn't feel like a trap or a minimization or anything like that.

That may be one really important point, which I didn't get to yesterday. I believe this segment of my life is taking years off of the end of it. This is not so much because of the limited health care access but more because of the financial stress. There are so many things to worry about, with so much pressure and so many disappointments, and so much shame... I know it is taking a toll. Life is wearing me down faster than it should.

But that is not the care-taking; it's the harsh economic environment.

I'm not saying that care-taking isn't hard. It often is. Respite time is still really important (which makes the last two things that I was supposed to go to but not able to seem worse than disappointing). Even knowing all of the potential pitfalls, this is something that I can do and find fulfilling.

Even when I imagined a life where I was a wife and mother, I always saw myself writing; that is fundamental for me too. Still, there may other spaces in my future where I can do more of both, if these financial problems are ever resolved.

I don't really want care-taking to be my job. It can be great when your job lines up with your core being, but if my core being means I will always be looking out for other people while off the clock, doing it on the clock too seems like it would result in me never not being tired. And sure, that often seems like a real possibility anyway, but that doesn't mean I should go running toward it.

Maybe the most important thing to remember is that when I am trying to find a way to remember to see to my own needs (and not keep putting myself last), I know that I do know how to care for people. I have the personality for it and the skill set, so I should be able to be successful in taking care of me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Living with diabetes

I was seeing a lot of discussion of insulin on Twitter last week, much of it related to Alex Azar's nomination for Health and Human Services, and this article:

It especially focused on the two deaths mentioned: Shane Patrick Boyle, whose GoFundMe for insulin was $50 short, and Alec Raeshawn Smith, who aged off of his parents' health plan and was trying to ration his insulin.

I did try going without insulin once. It only took me a few days to end up in the emergency room. That's what you call false economy: when attempts to save a little cost a lot. I tried because I was uninsured at the time.

Insulin was a big expense even when insured, with pretty hefty co-pays. Uninsured it was going to be impossible. My doctor provided some samples, but in the last appointment I could afford she ended up recommending I start using Relion insulin. This is a Wal-Mart brand.

Previously I had avoided shopping at Wal-Mart because of their business practices and their destructive nature. Currently they are the only way that I have insulin (and pants). I can get by on about $75 per month. Otherwise it would be closer to $1000. I still need help from family members affording the Relion, but without it I would be dead.

It is great that Relion exists and is affordable, but there are some drawbacks.

Least important is that it only comes in vials, not in pens. That is less convenient for travel and dining out, but I don't do those things as much as I used to anyway.

It's more important to know that there is not a straight conversion. Previously I had been taking a long-acting insulin (Lantus) once nightly, plus a fast-acting insulin (originally Novolog, but my insurance had me change to Humilog) before meals.

With Relion, I take both of them twice a day. There is a greater probability of my getting low blood sugar between doses, so I have to be careful. I am lucky in that my body usually does a good job of telling me when my blood sugar is dropping. Having it sneak up on you can be really dangerous.

Since the Relion works differently, it shouldn't be at all surprising that you can't just convert the doses straight across. My doctor worked out what would probably be the right doses. It doesn't require a prescription, so anyone can go in and buy them. Without some medical supervision, though, that can be really dangerous.

Also, while Relion works -- and maybe this is just my no longer supervised dosage -- I don't think it works quite as well as what I was previously on. I am not sure because I can't afford test strips.

I added that parenthetical note about the change to Humilog for a reason; my insulin was not changed nearly as often as my glaucometer, the device I use for testing my blood sugar.

That would be worse if they weren't always giving out free glaucometers, but that's the thing: they give you free meters so you will buy their strips. The insurance company tells you which one to use. Last time they insisted on OneTouch Verio, and gave me one. No problem, except now that I am uninsured I have noticed that I seem to need the most expensive strips.

It's weird that an insurance company would specify a more expensive product, except that there are probably some sort of kickbacks or deals going on, where it is made worth the insurance company's while. It is not great for those who become uninsured.

I admit, I was not always scrupulous about testing back when I had strips. Sometimes I would just forget, especially when things got hectic. It was easier because when I was testing regularly the results were generally good, but you can't assume that everything is working fine, especially when things are hectic enough that it could be affecting sleep or beverages or things like that. I have never been a perfect patient, but there's a big difference between just forgetting to test my blood sugar and not being able to afford it.

I do need to get back to the doctor soon. That's one expense to worry about, but also, they will want to see what kind of scores I have been getting. They can order an A1C test (labs are so expensive) but they will want meter results. It's stressful.

And I am one of the lucky ones.

Which reminds me of the two who died. I don't know this, but I see that at least one is younger, probably both, and I wonder if they had Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

I only mention that because it is common to associate diabetes with obesity and feel that these are self-inflicted problems. So here's something to think about. While they always mention the rise of Type 2 diabetes in conjunction with the growing obesity crisis, I never hear them mention that Type 1 diabetes is also on the rise, perhaps because there is no easy explanation for it. It is nonetheless true. I know several parents dealing with it now, and they hate having their children be sick, and they did not cause it.

It's just something to think about.

Monday, November 27, 2017

That was awkward

I had sent messages asking if it would be all right to identify the pertinent people and entities for Tuesday's and Wednesday's post. That is partly because I value consent. Also, after following so many intersectional feminists who so often occupy marginalized places and are targeted for abuse because of that, I worry sometimes that praise or recommendations could attract abusers.

Generally the people I would want to recommend are more prominent than I am, so it's probably not a risk. Maybe some caution still doesn't hurt.

I did find that it affected how I wrote the Dangerously White post. I would love to brag about my diverse neighborhood, and point out the areas where you could expect conflict and yet everyone gets along okay, but my neighbors are not prominent. They are not wealthy (or they probably wouldn't live here). Many don't have cars; we have good bus access but that still involves some walking and during that part of the trip you can be pretty vulnerable. Maybe it's better not to draw attention to it.

I was thinking about that because I initially did not hear back from one of the requests. I simply left out his name and identifying information, and then when he wrote back that it was fine I added a note, and it led to me reading the post again.

That reminded me how I did not include street names or neighborhoods for my area, but it also reminded me of the awkward way I recounted that BART incident. There was a reason it was awkward.

I may have seemed unnecessarily focused on color when I called the assailant white and the target not white. It was about color though.

Yes, the odds of a person of color in the San Francisco area with the last name Wu having Chinese heritage is pretty high, but that doesn't make him Chinese.

The first major wave of Chinese immigration to the United States happened over the 1850s to 1880s. Philadelphia's Chinatown goes back to at least 1871. Ellis Island - symbol of immigrating to America - did not open up until 1892. Granted, the US government did a lot to try and prevent those early immigrants from staying and having families, but there could easily be Wu's who have been here for five or six generations. Does it make sense to still call them Chinese?

And if they have kept in touch with their heritage, that is great. That is something that enriches life. In my family it is a little different because on one side we have a first generation immigrant and on the other I have to go back to the 1600s or 1700s (depending on the line) to find the first ones born in this country. I admit we feel closer to the Italian side, for many reasons. I am still glad to know about the other side, and that there are people who have kept records and held onto that knowledge.

For all of that, none of it makes me Welsh or English or Scottish or French or Dutch. I was born here, went to school here, and except for a layover in Amsterdam I haven't visited any of those countries. I visit Italy, but I come back here. I pay taxes here. I belong to the United States, and no one questions that, because I am white.

And it is certainly possible that the people of Asian descent that you see are more recent arrivals. For a lot of my friends, they were born here but their parents were not. They're still American (which would be more accurately written as USian, I know). Their lives are here.

No one wrote that an American man attacked a Chinese man, because then the problem was too obvious. No one would try writing that a white man attacked a "yellow" man, because even my writing it here as an example of getting it wrong feels incredibly gross. "Brown" man does not feel much better, though perhaps a little less hateful. A white man attacked a person of color is accurate, though that glides over some very specific aspects to that attack.

So then the most common solution becomes writing that a white man attacked an Asian man, which sounds accurate but is missing a lot. Hence, my original word choice, which I still acknowledge as awkward, but I have to support for at least trying not to ignore any of the key issues.

And you can get a lot more into it with more detail. There are interesting discussions to be had about the racist white guy pairing "Chinese" with the N-word. There are conversations you could have about the history of the Bay area and racial animus there. It could be interesting to note how Blackness at least seems to be perceived as American, and yet how that doesn't really help.

It could be really pertinent to talk about how the United States Attorney General now asks where terror suspects are from, and if they are US born he will start asking about their heritage because he just knows there has to be a connection. That might be important. It could certainly be important to talk about how his understanding only supports the goal of building a whiter society but not a safer or more peaceful or more just one.

But I think the most disturbing and most important question is that one, about why not being white links you to your lineage in a way that whiteness doesn't. We should wonder why people who are so concerned about their heritage as white people and losing that heritage think that other people can't be separated from theirs.

Related links:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Band Review: Drezus

Drezus is a hip hop artist from Saskatoon, currently based in Calgary. He was also mentioned in the Tom Barnes Mic article, specifically for "Warpath".

He lists influences like Wu Tang Clan and Tupac, which can be heard, but also lists several R&B influences like Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Their influence can be heard as well.

"Me & U" and "All I Can Be" display some funk undertones, while "Nehiyaw Girl" and "Rose" giving more of an idea of the getting down aspects.

Overall it still feels very much within the realm of hip hop, especially based on its social consciousness. "Warpath" is a good example of this, but I especially responded to "Get Up" and "Red Winter".

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Band Review: RedCloud

RedCloud, a hiphop artist from Hawthorne, California, was also mentioned in the Tom Barnes Mic article. (Just two left after this.)

It was different in this case because it focused not on one of his recordings but on a freestyle. Drawing attention to missing and murdered indigenous women by saying their names, he broke the world record for longest freestyle rap. There is more about that in this article on HipHopDX:

While RedCloud has a good-sized catalog on his own, it appears that he is currently doing more as part of LightingCloud. Maybe I can review them next year. Actually, the RedCloud albums include a lot of interesting artists, including Pigeon John, Def Shepard, and rocdomz.

RedCloud can do some pretty interesting things with his voice. There is a lowness - almost robotic sounding -- that might count as vocal fry. It is best demonstrated on "Is This Thing On?", which also has an upbeat tempo and the most fun video. The video for "Tapatio" helped me appreciate that song better.

There is a lot of humor in the lyrics. It gets clever on "When Kenpo Strikes", but my favorite track was probably "Koyote Gospel", and that is purely for sentiment and emotion. That being said, Traveling Circus opens pretty strong.

And, if that shows some versatility, then that there is a new band, and new things going on, is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Affect: Access and acceptance

I mentioned Monday that Congress worked to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act in September. The month is fixed in my mind because right after reading about HR 620, I was able to experience its exact opposite. I attended Affect.

I helped with setup and take-down, which helped me notice some of the accommodations more.

I think the starting location was helpful. A facility building for the adjacent First Unitarian church, the Eliot Center already had ramps, push buttons for the door, and bathrooms that specified that male and female included male-identifying and female-identifying.

Affect went beyond that. Every pathway and corner was tested with a mobility device and marked out with tape so that no tables or chairs would accidentally block the way. Chairs were sturdy but also armless, and rows were set up far enough apart that you didn't have to feel trapped if you were sitting in the middle. I saw people with walkers able to arrange chairs comfortably, and I also saw people set up around the back windows with cushions.

There were ASL interpreters and live captioning, because maybe some people are hard of hearing but don't know ASL, but if you do know ASL you will probably follow along better that way.

Not all of the accessibility related to disabilities. Signs were placed over the already more-welcoming-than-usual bathroom signs to specify that they were for all genders, along with a single person bathroom. Not everyone identifies as male or female. There were pronoun stickers that you could take and put next to your name.

I initially did not take one. It felt unnecessary, like maybe it would be in bad taste to trumpet my Cis-ness. After a discussion with two non-binary people I changed my mind. We didn't really even talk about that. (We were talking about the pressure imposed by gender constructs, and how they cause a lot of harm even for Cisgender people.) Still, after talking, it felt like me using the sticker could make it easier for others for whom it was helpful.

That would have been a lot, but there was so much more.

There were some snacks provided. For everything there were vegetarian, gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free options. Information on restaurants that could meet those needs was also available.

In the bathrooms there were baskets with sundries like moist wipes, tissues, gum and a freshening spray.

There was a quiet room. That can be a lifesaver for people with sensory issues, but it can be pretty great for anyone who needs some quiet time.

There were color-coded lanyards for whether it was okay or not to be photographed, or whether you wanted to be asked first. That's not just about liking how you look or not; there can be safety and privacy issues as well. This way honored consent but without making it burdensome for the photographer or creating awkwardness with constant questions. It worked great.

Also preventing awkwardness, there were clear signs pointing to everything.

There were reminders to follow the Pac-man rule, that when you stand in groups you leave room for someone else to join. I had never heard of it before, but it worked.

There were reminders of the harassment policy, but also there were two contacts, with three different ways of contacting them, to prevent making reporting an obstacle.

There were reminders before almost every presentation that it is okay to excuse yourself if you need a break. Some of the presentations were pretty intense. I don't know if any of the attendees had PTSD, but that need was anticipated.

There was concern for financial needs too. Childcare was available. That can relieve a huge burden. All speakers had travel covered and were paid an honorarium. Working for social good does not tend to pay well; this is huge.

All of these service have costs, so there were sponsorships but also there was a fee for attending. There were also scholarships available, and free attendance for volunteers. That is where my story comes in.

I found out about the conference because I saw that Sydette Harry - whom I adore - was going to be there as the opening keynote speaker. I really wanted to go.

I could not afford the fee, and the scholarships were all taken, but there were still some volunteer opportunities and I applied for one of those, which I think was also already taken by the time it was received.

They wrote back with another option, live tweeting the conference from my phone. That would be a wonderful offer for almost anyone, but not only have I never had data on my phone, but on the day of the conference my phone was shut off for non-payment. They offered that I could help with setup and take-down if I was comfortable with that, which I jumped at.

(I understood that the reference to comfort was in case there was a physical ability issue, but I should also add all of the really heavy work was done by the facility or hired people.)

I did feel like it was a pity gesture, which I was willing to take. After I saw how much consideration was put into so many potential needs, I could recognize it as more compassion. I needed it, because I was a mess.

The combination of care giving and poverty and family stress is never great, but that weekend was especially bad; worse when I discovered that my phone wasn't working. I didn't know how many straws I had left, and whether the last one would make me collapse or explode.

There was so much kindness there, and it was okay to be me. Knowing that it was safe to leave a presentation at any time meant that it was safe to stay, even if some of the content might be hard. When the content was hard (because trying to make the world better requires facing its worst), then there was a break, and there was a quiet room I could go to and recover.

There was great strength available there. A lot of it would have been there anyway, but making room for weakness and tiredness increased that strength.

Imagine a world that tried to make everyone welcome, and let them find their strengths.

Imagine what we could be.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dangerously white

A couple of months ago I was listening to someone from out of town. He spoke about many different things, but he started by mentioning (with some discomfort) how white Portland was. 

ETA: With his permission, the speaker was Shaun Lau of No, Totally!.

This is true, and I have heard it many times. My automatic thought is that the suburbs are more diverse, which is also true. I read it pointed out in an article many years ago, and it has only become more true since then. This is something I rejoice in, but I also acknowledge that a lot of people think this area is trashy. Maybe seeing different color faces and hearing different music, seeing clothing with specific cultural and religious associations... maybe that reinforces it for them.

Nonetheless, he mentioned all the white faces, and then he talked about the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the largest mass lynching in American history. A mob of 500 white and Latino rioters ransacked buildings in Chinatown, attacking and robbing many residents and torturing and killing 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants. Eventually 10 of the rioters were brought to trial and 8 convicted, but those convictions were overturned on a legal technicality.

This was also not completely new to me. I believe it had come up both when I was studying history and violence in the American West, and then came up again when I was trying to figure out what Bret Harte was doing with that one poem, that eventually turned out to just be failed satire. (And he was more focused on San Francisco, but when you aren't finding good answers the search tends to expand.)

I don't know why it was different this time. Maybe it was because I heard about it from someone who had lived in Los Angeles and who had some Chinese ancestry. Somehow, when I was walking in downtown Portland a few hours later, it was different.

I found myself looking for non-white faces. There were several, but there were so many more white faces. It didn't look like a problem necessarily, unless someone gets in the mood to start a lynch mob, and what were the odds of that happening? Except I had also seen pictures of the torch-carrying mob in Charlottesville.

The big revelation for a lot of men through #metoo has been wondering how women ever feel safe; how do people of color ever feel safe?

This seems even more pertinent in light of a recent incident on BART, where a white man verbally and physically attacked Charles Wu, a man who is not white:

I can't blame anyone for being scared in that situation; it was only in May that two men were killed and another injured for standing up to a racist on my town's public transit system. I am willing to think it's good that multiple riders contacted the police (while holding on to some concerns over whether or not that would de-escalate the situation).

It still bothers me that there were more requests to calm down given to the person being attacked than the attacker. It's nice that they all said how wrong it was after the scary guy was gone, but it might have been more useful earlier.

It really bothers me that the one white guy got up and moved away. In the article officials praised him for removing himself from danger, but I can't help but think that for the attacker it would be viewed as a tacit acceptance: yes, you can abuse this guy. I won't stand in your way.

One of the best pieces of advice I have seen recently is to figure out in advance how you are going to react to different situations so that you don't freeze when it happens. I don't want to freeze.

I also don't particularly want to be attacked, but even more than that I do not want to be part of a crowd that passively accepts the will of white supremacists -- whether it is a deeply held ideology or just accepted as enough license to be abusive and assert dominance -- I do not want to uphold that.

I realize this post - from the title on down - may be causing a lot of discomfort. If you are feeling that I am wrong or at least overstating, but you have continued reading, I commend you.

Our country elected the candidate most popular with the Nazis and KKK. There are other factors contributing, but he still got a lot of votes and they were from mostly white people and they were not a majority of poor people so there are no excuses there. During the campaign hate crimes rose, and they are still rising. I can't blame anyone who isn't white for getting nervous when they are surrounded by whiteness.

That vote was an important choice, but it is not the only choice. We choose what we laugh at, what we awkwardly ignore, and what we call out, whether we do that humorously or with clear non-verbal cues or with an actual statement.

We choose what legal issues we care about and which ones we decide don't matter because they don't affect us.

We choose what we complain about. Some people only ever play devil's advocate, which is an interesting choice in itself.

And we choose how we react when faced with naked racism. I'd like to tell you that in this day and age we're past having to worry about lynch mobs, but there are too many signs that we're not.

But before that, there is a lot of testing the water. There is name-calling and stereotyping and boundary pressing of how much one can get away with. Resisting here may do the most good. Maybe it can turn the tide.

We need to think about it. We need to think about what we see and what we hear, and how we respond. We need to think about the things that aren't in front of us but are still happening.

Most of all, we need to think about what we will do.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Examining social structure

I don't think I actually used the terms "patriarchy" or "kyriarchy" last week, but I was nonetheless talking about them.

Both concepts are about hierarchy, but where patriarchy primarily indicates male supremacy, kyriarchy allows a more complex understanding, where there are many intersecting points of privilege and oppression. That allows us to consider not just the intersection of sexism and racism, but also concepts like ableism and capitalism.

The important thing to remember is that much of this is not conscious, but there are so many reinforcement built into the structure of society -- coming out in the workplace and education and government - that the power structure gets absorbed and perpetuated.

There is a whole entertainment and publishing industry that has reflected and reinforced that the story of straight white cisgender men is the primary story. That sounds good for straight white cisgender men, like it should be more of a problem for everyone else. There are complications.

First of all, if you view life as essentially a contest for domination, chances are that there is always someone who you can dominate if you are willing to sink really low. You can be very marginalized and still find ways to be horrible (which I cannot view as good news, but some people clearly do).

For those who are supposed to be on top, though, there is pressure to maintain. That may be threatened by women or people of color not providing sufficient deference, but it can also come from ignoring capitalism and its non-sustainable patterns. Last week's post were essentially about how this can often erupt into violence. It in no way excuses the actions of those who inflict the violence, but it is not helpful to ignore the ways in which society is sick.

It is easy not to think about that, and even when you are trying to consciously think about it, there is still a lot that is unconscious and automatic (and therefore often uncomfortable when you do think about it).

We should all see that this contest for domination is horrible, right? We should see that it makes life "nasty, brutish, and short", and want to end it, but some people fight that really hard. They aren't necessarily the ones who abuse the system the most, which may make it easier for them to be content.

So I want to circle back to some points from Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

First is that people do not recognize their own issues. Bancroft has had therapy groups for controlling men. Successful completion generally takes over two years, because the mindsets are so entrenched. (There is usually some sort of court mandate that gets them there.) What was really interesting is that the men are able to recognize the problems with the behaviors that they don't do.

This is not just that those who verbally abuse see the problem with those who punch or choke, but even that they might also see the problem with someone who controls via unpredictable mood swings or surveillance. Every group member will be able to identify problems with some other members, but when called on their own, it's something they need to do: how else can they keep her in line?

Beyond that, getting to the persistence of why the group members still feel a need to control their women, Lundy points out that even thinking about equality is pretty recent. At least in the United States, women have not had the vote for a full century. I was two years old when women were able to get their own credit cards. It has only been relatively recently that there has been any legal acknowledgment of spousal rape. Even now many people don't believe it should be illegal.

It is that way along all of the vectors. The Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965 and immediately started facing challenges, which finally bore a bad fruit when part was struck down in 2013, suppressing voters and influencing this election. In September, Congress weakened the Americans with Disabilities Act, only passed in 1990.

People fight hard for the kyriarchy. People who are hurt by it still fight for it.

Over the next two posts I will present two different visions of what we can have and do. It won't cover all of the details of how we got here or how we get there, but they are visions with real life manifestations.

I believe the choice is obvious. It should be obvious.

We'll see.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Band Review: City Natives

City Natives is a hip-hop group from the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia area.

They were also mentioned in the Tom Barnes article, but the biggest influence on my perception of them was University of Alberta's Indigenous Canada class, which had a module on life off the reservations and in the city. I completed that pretty recently, and seeing the name City Natives immediately went back to that. It makes sense to me that they are from Canada, despite urban-dwelling indigenous people not being a uniquely Canadian thing. That was my context.

The other primary influence on my listening was their song "Hip Hop Heads". Being less into rap myself, when I am reviewing rap groups I often struggle to identify influences and musical currents.

City Natives lays out their journey in the song, starting with NWA, and referencing the East Coast/West Coast conflict, but then transcending it. (Which they should; it's overly reductive of scenes and rappers.) So I found the track helpful in terms of understanding the band better, but also it feels very personal and easy to relate to. That's especially true for the part about the father saying to turn it down, and resistance to turning it down.

Starting with NWA could raise certain negative expectations about the music but I don't think they apply. It's not that the tracks are void of despair, but there are also threads of appreciation of success, love of family, and especially love for their children which provides a link to the future.

Most of my favorite tracks were on 2017's Dream Catchers. "Intro" set the tone and led to more thinking about the material, but the tracks are also pretty solid.

Hip hop fans should check out City Natives, but there is enough musicality to allow some crossover for those that are not devoted rap fans.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Band Review: Witko

Witko is a hip-hop artist from Pine Ridge Agency. He was mentioned in the Tom Barnes article, specifically for "Mutiny", which is considerably more difficult to find that his other tracks, possibly due to a label change or something like that:

Barnes' focus is on activist music, which makes "Mutiny" an understandable pick for him. That being said, songs about life can still have political meaning even when it is not overt.

Witko's music tends toward the dark. Lyrics are intelligent, but more devastating for that reason.

Tracks are enhanced - though not really lightened - by higher pitched accents. This can include piano accompaniment as on "New Day" or the chanting on "Major Key REMIX". I find it most effective on "There".

For rap fans in general, I think if you like Coolio you should check out Witko.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Like a boss

I have been bothered for a while by what I have been thinking of as the toxic masculinity GMC ad:

"How do you want to live? As a decent person? Fine human being? A good husband? Is that it? Good? Of course not."

This is the improved version. The first one I saw didn't mention things like "father of the year" or making her heart skip" as getting closer to acceptable, but I guess they realized it was sounding a bit too antisocial.

Apparently the inception of the ad comes from trying to claim that their trucks are professional grade "Like a pro." What I remembered was the use of "Like a boss." That has a funny history.

It starts with a release by Slim Thug, "Like A Boss", which inspired a parody by Lonely Island that was so ridiculous it became a meme, back in 2009.

The Lonely Island version starts with relating fairly menial tasks (checking e-mail, calling corporate), but all of them done "Like a boss." The tasks grow to include sexual harassment, but also depressed and self-destructive behavior. It is chock-full of toxic masculinity, showing at least a basic understanding that this brand of masculinity is not only toxic to others, but to those exhibiting it too, which is important to remember.

Lonely Island's "Like A Boss" ridiculed toxic masculinity, which made it easily applicable to memes. Eight years later, GMC's ad team appears to be taking it completely seriously. It is possible that they were not aware of the history of the phrase, but it's also possible that they saw those memes and thought, Cool!

Again, I didn't know all of that when I saw the first ad. I was surprised at the intentional evocation of an antisocial mindset, acknowledged that it did play to the current zeitgeist, and was still repelled by it. Expecting social responsibility from advertisers is a sure path to heartbreak anyway.

This ad was a big part of when I started questioning whether married men were less likely to be recruited for terrorism because their family lives brought internal satisfaction. It was an old thought anyway; if we try and understand the terrifying acts of today in the same context that we understood September 11th, 2001, we will be missing a lot.

And yet, some of it does relate. The factors for those attackers were economic inequality, lack of opportunity for family, yes, but also for employment in general, and a readily available stream of anti-American propaganda.

Fast forward to 2017 in the United States, and economic inequality is bad. Opportunities are shrinking for affordable education; for work that is satisfying and allows you to live well; and there are voices on the internet, radio, and television constantly telling you how bad various groups are.

That does not create a good situation for anyone, but if you have been socialized that to be a real man you have to be in charge of someone - that you have to be a boss - and yet nothing you can do financially or intellectually or athletically is giving you that power, what is left but violence?

And if violence is the only way you know to get your voice heard, how easy is to get guns?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The making of a terrorist

Many years ago (maybe 2004) I read an article in Psychology Today.

If I recall correctly it wasn't even specifically about terrorism; it was about how there can be things that are unpopular to say but need to be said, like talking about why so many terrorists were Muslim, except there were specific things about that.

Most of the 9-11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Yes, it is a Sunni Muslim country, but it is also one with widespread income inequality and one that allows men to have multiple wives, greatly reducing the chance that a poor young man will be able to marry.

So you could worry that talking about that could increase religious prejudice or cultural prejudice, but you should just as easily be able to talk about how taking away positive opportunities for the young makes them more susceptible to negative influences.

(Also, any discussion on Saudi terrorists would need to get into the educational and news influences that their young men are subject to as well.)

At the time I took the polygamy factor as a testament to the value of marriage; that once a man has a home and family there can be enough validation and satisfaction within that nuclear family that it doesn't matter so much whether he is a leader at work or the alpha male of his friends or has some other way to dominate.

That could have been naive on my part. It could be that the wife and children are valuable as possessions and provide enough opportunity for domination. I don't like being so cynical, but there are reasons for it.

Terrorism and mass shootings are not exact synonyms. Terrorism would generally be expected to be political, and it doesn't require a gun. Mass shootings often don't seem obviously political. There are still a few things worth pointing out.

With the recent truck incident in New York, that does seem to be terrorism and he was radicalized here, in the United States. The September 11th attackers came here specifically to carry out their plan, but that isn't how things are happening now.

In addition, if you look into the backgrounds of the perpetrators of all of the mass shootings for the past several years as well as other acts of terrorism, the overarching common bond is a history of domestic violence. They have injured wives, children, stepchildren, partners, sometimes parents, but the violence started in their personal circle and spread outward.

Al-Qaeda put time and money and effort into carrying off their plan; ISIS just puts instructions out there for "lone wolves" who are looking for some way to have an impact. Maybe that matters, because September 11th delivered a bigger wound than, for example, the Pulse Nightclub shooting or the San Bernardino shooting. However, is that because it was bigger, or because we have just had so many other non-terrorist shootings that we can't even process them anymore?

We should be talking about things like that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mainly about the Trimet stabbing

In May I took my mother to Italy for a week to spend time with her hospitalized sister. I have written some things about that trip, but those focused on family. This is more about the world.

We left on May 22nd. While we were at the airport, I heard about the bombing in Manchester. There were flight delays for different reasons, but while in line to fix our itinerary issues I had just been talking to a man going home to Manchester. I immediately thought about him and his wife finding out that they would be going home to that, and all of the thoughts and worries they would have while still thousands of miles away. It cast kind of a pall over the trip, but that was about to get worse.

On May 27th I logged in and started seeing alarming tweets about Portland and TriMet and that's when I found out about the stabbing the day before. Now we were the ones thousands of miles away. It's not like I would even have been able to do much being home, but it does increase the feeling of helplessness.

I tried to catch up on everything when I came back. There was one article that quoted former FBI agent Joe Navarro and mentioned his book, Dangerous Personalities: An FBI Profiler Shows You How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People.

Even though I questioned some of his conclusions about the suspect, I decided to read the book. It was disappointing, but that was okay because when I looked it up the library suggested another book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Bancroft Lundy, and that was really good.

The problem with Dangerous Personalities was that it gave a checklist of 120 or so traits for each of four personality types: narcissist, paranoid, unstable, and predator. If a person had more than 60 of the 120 for any of the types, they were probably a dangerous personality.

If you think those lists would get tedious to work through, and wonder if it wouldn't be easier and more accurate to just work with the Hare checklist for psychopaths, yeah, I thought so too. Navarro can spot a dangerous person, and can be an effective agent, but it felt like he did not have a deeper understanding of why everything interacts the way it does. I think that's why he needs such long lists.

The original article talked about the stabber's history, and what led him to this point. Navarro and another author, David Neiwert (who writes about far-right extremism) both talked about mental illness, especially relating to paranoia.

Navarro said that it would be a mistake to reduce the crimes to an outgrowth of mental illness. I agreed with that.

There was a lot in there about the stabber's life path that showed a pattern of low achievement: high school dropout, menial jobs, living in a friend's basement for a couple of years. He was into comics and mythology and metal, but those are positives for a lot of people, even if they show up with people who are less positive as well. (Tattoos showed up on all of Navarro's checklists.)

Navarro and Neiwert both acknowledge the appeal of groups and special knowledge, which can make certain groups more attractive when they embrace you (like white supremacists). However, there was nothing in the article about how sometimes there is such a dearth of anyone embracing  the low achievers except for white supremacists. There was nothing about how society pressures men to win, or what that does for someone who seems incapable of winning in any other way than violence.

I'll tell you something else: when you look at those backgrounds, the Trimet stabber sounds a lot like the Charleston church shooter, or the person who ran over Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. They would sound a lot like the Vegas shooter if he didn't have money, but maybe that's why he needed to be such an overachiever with his plans.

No, I am not using their names. I am also not trying to stir compassion for them necessarily, but I do think we need to try and understand. That doesn't come from shrugging our shoulders at mysterious lone wolves, not when they seem to be coming off of an assembly line. It will not come from talking about mental illness if the symptoms they exhibit are not aberrations from the societal norm but rather exaggerated reflections of it.

Now we are talking about toxic masculinity.