Letters From the 50th Congressional District, Redux

I was asked to provide my thoughts on the other four candidates. Since I had already typed it up, I decided to share it publicly. Just for the sake of clarity, these are just my opinions, and I’m no one particularly special. I’m just an engaged voter, and the room was full of engaged voters. We were all in the same room having a shared experience, but since we each bring our own world views and life experiences with us, we didn’t all experience the candidates the same way. My mother, for example, does NOT agree with my assessment of Ammar Campa-Najjar. Just because I don’t like a candidate doesn’t mean they’re not a good candidate, and just because I don’t like a candidate today doesn’t mean I won’t like them in 6 months. This is just what I currently think about the current candidates. We’re over a year out from the primary, and a lot can happen in a year. This is a process folks, and I’m processing it.

Glenn Jensen – His background makes him one of the most electable candidates in this district, and I think he had the best answer when it came to protecting our digital information. He’s clearly very knowledgeable about that topic. But I have a lot of concerns about Jensen. In his opening statement he said he was a former Republican. What made him switch? He has worked on legislation in the past. What legislation? When? He said he’s worked with the Department of Defense. In what capacity? He said that he supports the ACA with some minor changes, but then later he said he supports Single Payer healthcare. To me this is an inconsistent statement. I felt he was pretty vague on most questions, and in both his opening and his closing he said “Your lives matter.” The phrasing and intonation felt to me to be an appropriation of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ It was too close to saying ‘All Lives Matter’ for my comfort. For me I’ve had enough Republicans in sheep’s clothing. I am going to back a truly progressive candidate, regardless of his or her electability.

Gloria Chadwick – I think her experience in the healthcare system would be a real asset in Congress. There are far too many lawyers and not enough nurses making decisions for this country. My reservation about Chadwick is she seems very good at talking about hyper specific topics that interest her, and terrible at responding to what her audience wants to hear about. If Chadwick presented any substantive plans to help the district, I missed it as I struggled to follow what felt to me to be a stream of consciousness monologue about the minutia of the hospital board. Frequently I found myself thinking ‘What the heck is she talking about right now?’ It seems like she’d probably be very good at drilling down on the nitty gritty of law making, but she is going to have make some drastic alterations to her presentation style and her message if she wants to get elected. ‘Here are some super boring specifics about what I did on an arcane board no one really understands’ is not inspiring messaging.

Josh Butner – Like Jensen, Butner’s background makes him one of the more electable candidates for this district. But for me, Butner wholly failed to make any sort of impression, good or bad. I said to my husband an hour after we left ‘I’m already starting to forget Josh Butner.’ Everything he said was just so generic. He’s running to serve people. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We need to invest in our future. And then in his closing he quoted this most-often quoted JFK quote. It’s as if he came from a factory where they produce fungible centrist Democratic candidates. I suppose this can be turned into an asset, because I also didn’t find anything objectionable about him. Or at least that would have been an asset in the past. We live in a world where Donald Trump is president. Today it might be a bigger sin to be forgettable than objectionable.

Pierre Beauregard – I do not doubt for a moment Beauregard’s sincerity, I love that his card can be planted to grow wildflowers, and I’d love share a bottle of wine with him and hear about his life, because it sounds like he’s led a fascinating existence. I just don’t think he comes off as a serious candidate right now, bless his heart. I worry he’s not going to be able to attract sufficient funding by a long shot. He doesn’t have any specific plans for, well, anything. His closing was strong, but it felt like he was making up his opening statement on the fly after having just been told for the first time ever that he needed an opening statement 60 seconds before being handed the mic. I think he can be a very effective activist and agitator, but I just cannot see him being effective within the system at this point.

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Letters From the 50th Congressional District

Last night I had the privilege of attending a panel of 7 of the people running to replace Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District. Here’s my quick take on the 7 candidates. If anyone lives in the 50th and wants more info, I took very detailed notes, so please feel free to ask in the comments. A wise older friend who has been to many such rodeos advised my husband that it is very early, and a lot can change in 410 days, which is a point I felt was well-taken. But if the election were held today, I absolutely know who I would vote for. So without further ado…

There were two candidates to seemed (to me) to be competing with each other for title of Biggest Hot Mess. I’m not even going to bother talking about them. And there were two candidates who, while they may prove to be contenders later, to me were such middle of the road, snooze-fest Clinton-esque Democrats, they don’t really warrant much of my consideration right now. That leaves three real contenders.

Ammar Campa-Najjar is young, and a passionate, effective speaker. I suspect he picked up quite a few votes last night with his emotional appeals to a variety of generic, feel-good values. But to be honest, I liked him least of the three I felt were the frontrunners. He spoke a lot of words and said virtually nothing. He doesn’t seem to have any ideas at all about tangible things he can do for the district. He referred back to how he worked in the Obama White House in every single answer. If there had been alcohol there, we all could have gotten really wasted by taking a shot every time he dropped a name. He’s very glittery, but at least as of now completely without substance. And my husband thinks one of his campaign workers was feeding him lines because we saw him checking his phone a few times. Either that, or he had some super important Clash of Clans battles to check on.

Hannah Gbeh seems smart, well-educated, and well-spoken. She’s an organic farmer who minored in Global Climate Change, so it seems like climate change is going to be a big issue for her. She also came armed with stats about the importance of single payer healthcare to San Diego County. I am not a fan of picking a candidate based on whether that person can win, but Gbeh has some demographic attributes that might give her a leg up in a very conservative district. She’s a Christian and isn’t shy about pointing that out. She was raised in Georgia and has a subtle twang to her speech that I think will play well with voters on a subconscious level.

Gbeh needs to work on her one-on-one game though. She worked the room, and was one of only two candidates that introduced themselves to me, but she didn’t really know what to do after hello. She didn’t know how to initiate a dialogue. I think this is probably just a rookie candidate mistake that she will work out as the campaign progresses. My other reservation about Gbeh is while she had specific, informative responses for a couple of the issues raised, several of her answers were non-substantive platitudes. I felt her responses on protecting LGBT rights, protecting the Muslim community, and tackling the rising cost of college education were all pretty empty. Again though, she’s a brand new candidate still building her campaign. It seems like she has a lot of potential, but just isn’t quite there yet.

If I was casting my vote today, I would certainly vote for Patrick Malloy. Malloy was the only one on the panel who had run for the seat before, in 2016. Quite simply, dude came to play. First of all, this is not the first time I’ve met Malloy. It’s not the second time. He’s EVERYWHERE. Every local Democratic party event I’ve gone to, he’s already there when I get there and still there when I leave. When Gavin Newsom spoke here a couple months ago, Malloy was there working the room, even though there were a lot of out-of-district voters. So he asked them for money. He is never afraid to make the ask, as awkward as it is, because it’s necessary. Last night the room looked like a Patrick Malloy rally. He was the only candidate to get there early and paper the room, with signs on the walls and a variety of paraphernalia on every table, including bumper stickers. And when he comes up to start talking to you, he opens with ‘Tell me what issue matters most to you.’ To me this shows he wants to listen, and is confident enough in his knowledge to let someone else lead the conversation. I can see him bringing this work ethic, openness, and thoroughness to the job, which I think is great.

Far more importantly, I like where Malloy stands on the issues, and how he stands there. Every time I have met Malloy, he has opened by saying he stands for single payer healthcare. It’s clearly a pet issue for him. Malloy more than any other candidate has specific, tangible plans to tackle problems in the community. For example, when asked about how they would handle the travel ban and protecting the Muslim community, most of the candidates said some variation of racism and religious discrimination are bad, but didn’t actually answer what they would do about it. Malloy advocates reforming how applications are submitted overseas at our consulates by having help available for people. He wants to employ a multi-lingual paralegal in his office to help his constituents with the paperwork here. To help veterans, he wants to hire a vet advocate who has a wheelchair accessible van and can actually physically help them through the process of getting benefits. He wants to have 6 town hall meetings a year and include ‘old business’ on the agenda so we can follow up on the progress of issues he discussed at the last meeting. He advocates for changing the law so that student loans can be refinanced to a market rate, and he identified specific infrastructure projects in the district he would push. Can he really do all of this? I don’t know. Probably not. But I know that if you don’t have any concrete ideas, you definitely won’t do anything, and he had by far the most concrete ideas.

Malloy’s biggest problem is he needs to work on his delivery. He should have gotten way more applause than he did, because he doesn’t quite punch the right words at the right time. He was essentially the opposite of Campa-Najjar. Malloy is all substance, no glitter. In ideal world, that wouldn’t matter. But if we learned nothing else from November 8, 2016, it’s that glitter matters. I suppose he could lean into it, and try to pull off what Bernie did by aggressively refusing to play the game. But I worry that only Bernie can be Bernie. I’m also worried about Malloy’s funding. I’m worried about Gbeh’s funding too, but that’s just because she hasn’t declared yet, so who knows what that will end up looking like. Malloy said right now he is self-funding, which while not necessarily a problem, makes me nervous.

Both of my reservations about Malloy as of today are ‘can he be elected’ issues, and as I said, I don’t believe in throwing my support behind somebody based on electability. I decide who I support based on what they stand for, regardless of whether they will be elected. I know, I know, the best ideas are useless if the person never wins the seat. But that door swings both ways. Winning the seat is useless if the person sitting in it doesn’t share my vision. That’s not winning. I don’t win anything just because the person representing me calls themselves a Democrat. I win when more people have better, lower cost healthcare. I win when education becomes more affordable. I win when everyone in my community is safer, more financially secure, and has better life chances. While I will always remain open to changing my mind when new information becomes available, as of today I think my best chance of winning is by electing Patrick Malloy for the 50th Congressional District Representative.

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The Thing No One Is Talking About

Last night I saw Doug Applegate, the Democratic frontrunner challenging Darrell Issa’s seat in the 49th Congressional District, speak. The most frustrating moment for me came when he revealed that he is very aware of the real impending apocalypse, and he immediately backed off talking about it. And I understand why he did. No politician who wants to get elected, much less one who wants to do so in a Republican district, can say certain words aloud. Hell, Bernie couldn’t even say these words aloud. But there’s a terrifying truth no one is talking about.

We are at the end of the Industrial Age, folks. What comes next is the Age of Automation. In 20 years, MILLIONS of people will be put out of work by driverless cars. Self check-out at grocery stores. Ordering your food at kiosks at your table will mean fewer waiters to serve the same number of diners. Artificial intelligence will mean even those problem-solving jobs us educated elites think make us so special will be thin on the ground.

People like to talk about how unrealistic socialism is, but let me tell you something. Capitalism is based on the notion that human labor can be traded for goods and services. That everyone needs to do 40+ hours of work each week in order for society to function, and that they will be compensated for that work. It’s built on the fundamental truth from back when we were all small clans trying to beat back the wilderness to build shelter, to find food, to survive, that everyone has to do his fair share or we will die. Its millennia old.

But what happens when human labor is no longer necessary to build the shelters and grow the food for society? Socialism might sound unrealistic, but capitalism is already dying, because our technology has made the basic concepts on which it was built – human labor is necessary and resources are scare – untrue. Like De Beers with diamond prices, we have been artificially propping up these precepts for years now. But we can’t do that forever, and we damn well better have something to replace it with. Soon.

We are at the brink of a world where unemployment will rise above 50% and stay there. It will be catastrophic unless we very quickly re-evaluate bedrock notions of labor, value, purpose, and what money even is. And we all better get used to saying aloud the phrase ‘Universal Wage.’

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Bernie Sanders is (Still) My Fight Song

Throughout the election, I started several blogs and posted several long Facebook rants, but never managed to get an actual blog post up. I know only three people are reading this, but I still take it seriously, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say to the world. In the course of the longest election in human history, I was never able to figure out exactly what part of the chaos I wanted to address or what I wanted to say about it. But I’ve been talking and writing with many people since we all fell into an alternative dimension on Tuesday night. I’ve had so many realizations, so many things I want to share. The path that I want to take is becoming so clear to me. Now that the election is over, it’s time for my fight to begin.

I think I need to start with a little bit of background on me. The following italicized paragraphs are excerpted and updated from something I wrote on September 24, 2003, when I was 25.

The first time I ran across the word ‘nihilistic’ was in Cat’s Cradle. I was 17 years old and instantly intrigued by the word. Surely only fools were nihilistic, so how interesting that there should be a word for it.

Despite abandoning childhood Christianity some years before encountering nihilism, at 17 I had managed to cobble together an arrangement of various faiths. Faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity, faith in the inevitability of progress, faith in the pursuit of justice. No nihilist was I. And I had one faith that superseded and underpinned all the rest. I had replaced God with democracy and Christianity with patriotism. I believed so deeply in the complete righteousness of the goals of the United States of America, I could not make it through a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner without getting a little weepy. For me, rule by the people – what I thought we had – was the Answer that would save us all. I thought I was privileged enough to live in the first country in the history of mankind to make democracy truly work for everyone. America was a shining example to the rest of the world, and though imperfect, built on an incredible foundation of ever expanding-equality.

Ah, to be young. At 25, I detailed the personal experience of working on political campaign that I felt had so been such a powerful justification for disillusionment of my lofty belief system. But at 38, I see that I simply took the news that the world is complex and imperfect very poorly. I ended the entry:

I haven’t said the Pledge of Allegiance since that day. I didn’t believe in the war, but didn’t care enough to make it to more than one protest rally. I didn’t vote in the last election, probably won’t vote in the next. I welcome the fall of this failed experiment with open arms. The only thing that makes me sad is I know I wasn’t always this way, that I did at one time really care. Now I am the embodiment of apathy. I’m not even angry anymore. Each injustice is met with only a shrug. They never found the weapons of mass destruction? Oh well, we knew that was bullshit anyway. What’s on TV?

I had tapped out of the national discussion, and not much changed after 2003. For a while I was extremely informed about local politics because it was a necessary part of my job at the time. But I had lost even that level of interest by 2007. I kept my head down and focused on my own life.

By early 2008, I was knee-deep in preparing to enter law school. I had missed the memo that Barack Obama was different and I was supposed to be excited about him. I was incapable of believing anyone could be different. I voted for him in 2008, not because I had a particular affinity for him, but because if he won, I wanted to be able to say I had voted for the first black President. (And living in California, it kinda doesn’t ever matter who I vote for in presidential elections anyway. That is a rant for a different time.)

Something else was on the ballot that year. Prop 8. The people of one of the most liberal states in the nation outlawed gay marriage, and I was disgusted. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ is the goddamned soundtrack of my life. No one wins. We never get better. Humans are rotten to the core. Nothing. Ever. Fucking. Changes. So why bother? I am nihilist, hear me roar.

And if I was looking for evidence that nothing gets better, man did Obama’s first term provide it. Hope my ass. During that time I took and passed the bar, got a job, and started my life. I didn’t vote in 2012, because again, I live in California, and who really cares if it’s Romney or Obama anyway? Half of one, six dozen of the other.

Then something started to shift. The people I graduated law school with finally started getting jobs as the economy improved. I saw a President who was finally talking about our gun problem in frank terms. And on June 26, 2015, in Obergerfell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court officially said that institutional homophobia was illegal, and all people have the same right to love. At the exact same time, the Affordable Care Act was upheld, taking us a step closer to the truth that healthcare is a fundamental right. All of this together made me wonder, are we finally actually valuing human life in this country? And then people started talking about this senator from Vermont who was saying some pretty crazy, radical things.

I had been hearing about Bernie Sanders starting sometime in early 2014. A Facebook friend I’d gone to law school with would post memes with him saying some nonsense like people should have free college or Medicare for all or $15 an hour minimum wage. While I agreed with every word, I thought it was nonsense because no way this country would get behind it. How naïve of her to even want that. To think that anything gets better or anything changes or life is anything but scratching survival out of the dirt for most of mankind.

So it’s mid-2015, and this Sanders guy says he’s running for president. And he says we should call him Bernie. Like he’s my friend or I have any reason to trust him. This dude is just a distraction, and as much as I like every word that comes out of his mouth, I know he won’t win, and his existence is somehow going to hurt Clinton’s election, sticking us with another Bush. (We were still months away from realizing how desperately we’d all wish we had the option of voting for another Bush.) Distrustful at first, a friend convinces me Sanders will pull the conversation left, something that is desperately needed. Every minute he is in the race is a minute more that we’re talking about ideas no one has had the courage to talk about for years.

Over the next few months, as I read everything I could get my hands on, I let Bernie into my heart more and more. At first I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew it was just around the corner. An old video of him saying something awful. A few women he had affairs with. A time he was accused to misusing public funds. Something was coming. It had to be. And then it didn’t ever come. I started calling him Bernie, like he was my friend, and I did something I had sworn I would never do – I donated my money to a political candidate. Repeatedly.

The best part of the Bernie revolution was looking around and suddenly seeing that I wasn’t alone. Other people believed like me. Lots of other people. We filled stadiums. Uncompromising progressives grasping at real change that seemed more within our reach than ever before. Bernie had brought me back into the church of democracy, and our congregation was large.

I believed in America and Americans again for the first time in over a decade.

While Bernie’s primary loss was painful, my faith remained strong. After June, my battle cry was ‘For Bernie’ as I fired off letters to representatives I’d never heard of before then. This year was not without its tragedies, but I forced them to strengthen my resolve rather than discourage me. But nothing could have prepared me for the truth I was forced to face this week.

As my husband said, this election is like a cancer diagnoses. It fucking sucks, but a lot of people get cancer. When you’re told you have cancer, you know it might kill you. But you don’t have the option of becoming paralyzed with fear and sadness, and pretending you don’t really have cancer doesn’t make it go away. When you’re told you have cancer, you have to immediately talk treatment, because every day counts. Well America, we have cancer. And the cancer isn’t Trump himself, but a set of circumstances that have been building for 30 years. Trump is just the pain in our side that sent us to the doctor for tests.

When my dad got cancer in 2005, his first response was anger. And yeah, I’m angry. I am angry at every Democrat who loved Bernie but voted Hillary “because she can win,” all the while ignoring polls that told us MONTHS AGO no, she couldn’t. I am angry at the Democratic National Committee, for rigging the primary election and ignoring those same polls and the incredible movement Bernie was building in favor of cronyism. I’m angry at the Democrats for the last 30 years, who let places like Flint, Michigan crumble while they abandoned the working poor. They moved so far center they essentially became moderate Republicans, leaving huge numbers of Americans with no one to turn to but “an outsider,” whatever the fuck that means or how the hell it applies to a lifelong privileged billionaire who has never bought a gallon of milk or pumped his own gas

And yes, I’m angry at the Clintons. I’m angry at Bill Clinton for NAFTA, which I’m old enough to remember was wildly unpopular even at its inception. And I’m angry at him for being so sexually inappropriate and dishonest while he was in office, it lowered our standards of decency to the point we find ourselves today. And I’m angry at Hillary Clinton, who lost Wisconsin to Bernie and then didn’t even bother to visit during the general. Every ounce of goodwill I had cobbled together for her over the last 4 months evaporated the instant CNN dropped that little factoid as I fell into the hell dimension I now find myself in. Because oh my god, the hubris. The arrogance. What a perfect example of how exactly right the Trump voters are. You don’t care, do you? For them, it really is worth the risk. In fact, you gave them no choice.

I want to tap out again. I was right all along. Things don’t get better. Nothing changes. As Cohen said, old black Joe still pickin’ cotton.

But here’s what’s stopping me. It’s one of the last ads the Bernie’s presidential campaign put out. The focus is on LGBT rights, but it invokes all the times in the last 40 years Bernie has stood alone on the right side of history. Forty lonely, unrelenting years of screaming into the void. And only in the last two years, people started answering back. Millions of tiny voices, whispering ‘Me too Bernie,’ bouncing off each other, and creating a thunderous roar. Us too Bernie. Us too Senator Warren. One of the interviewees says ‘Bernie, you’re no longer walking alone,’ as the camera cuts to rainbow of people joining hands in a field. It’s cheesy as hell, but all good political ads are. (They have 90 seconds to reach into your soul. It’s no time for subtlety.) That ad reminds me that I have to be the change before I see the change. I have to be strong like Bernie. I have to be strong for Bernie.

I reached out to younger friend today. A millennial, I was afraid he was going to give up the way I had in 2003. He was instrumental in introducing me to Bernie, and I wanted to remind him of his obligation to fight for what Bernie stands for. Turns out, he was going to do the reminding. He said, “You know, I think this outcome is probably good in a way because it provides motivation. Had Clinton won, it would’ve been like ‘meh, ok,’ and the country probably would’ve made some progressive choices while continuing down a corporatist path. But now we can’t be complacent.” And it reminded that all of the worst things that have ever happened in my life, including my dad dying of cancer, ultimately forced me to take an action that lead to all the best things happening.

So I’m not tapping out. I’m doubling down. And Bernie Sanders will remain my battle cry. Once more into the breach dear friends.

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Fast Fashion, Slow Burn

In early September, a friend posted on Facebook a call for volunteers to help with a group of refugees that are currently in the local area while their long term fate is decided. She listed the help that was needed, and surprisingly, they needed people to sort through the piles of donated clothes to get rid of the incredible excess.

Wow. These people had come to our country with literally nothing, and within a few short weeks they were faced with a very American problem. They had too many clothes.

At the time I had a couple big garbage bags of my own clothes I need to get rid of. We’re planning a garage sale, but experience has taught me clothes don’t sell at all at garage sales. So I dumped them off at Goodwill, (in)secure in the knowledge that I wasn’t wasteful, I was charitable. There are poor people who need these clothes, right?

Except that I also had browsed in Goodwill, and had often seen brand new clothes on the rack, with the original store tags still on them. Sometimes even clothes I had seen within the last few months at places like Target. Hmmm.

I remember reading an interview with Kurt Cobain many years ago. He said the reason Nirvana had the look they had in the early 1990s was because they were too poor to buy clothes from anywhere but thrift stores. The thrift stores typically carried the wardrobes of the recently deceased, whose relatives had dumped everything off. Since it was the early 90s, the people who were dying has bought a lot of clothes in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. Hence the signature Cobain cardigan.

Something was amiss in the last couple of years though. Something made me uncomfortable. Why wasn’t I seeing more clothes from the 80s and 90s? If Kurt found 1960s cardigans, shouldn’t I be seeing 1980s stirrup pants? There were too many new clothes. Why were there so many brand new clothes? (And dammit, where can I buy a pair of stirrup pants?)

My personal relationship to clothes has changed a lot in the last 4 years. Two major things have happened. First, I lost 140 pounds, which means I can fit into “normal” sizes now. Stores like Target, Forever 21, Old Navy, previously no-mans-lands for me, suddenly offered racks and racks of cute clothes that made me feel good about myself. Second, I finally started making enough money that I wasn’t worried about paying the electric bill each month. Spending forty unplanned dollars once or twice a week was no longer a problem.

So every time I was out running errands, I’d stop by a bargain store and browse for 45 minutes, usually picking up about $50 worth of clothes. Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Kohls. Cheap is my favorite, and I love bragging about how little I paid for something. I love dresses for $20, because I don’t feel guilty if I only wear it once. Or never. It’s only $20 after all. I spend that on lunch. Lunch is gone in an hour, and how bad can something be that costs as much as something that is gone in an hour? The only cost of clothes is the money I spend on them right? Shopping replaced eating as my stress relief and self-care. And it was fun.

At first. In the last few months, a tiny voice has been growing louder. Something is amiss here. My attitude toward clothes is not ok. This is bad, and I don’t know why.

For no particularly articulable reason – except I vaguely suspected we were producing a lot of fabric waste – I decided to go on a one year clothing fast, starting September 1. I didn’t announce it on social media, because honestly I wasn’t sure how committed to it I was. I like shopping. I like clothes. And maybe I was just looking for reasons to feel guilty about shit, and I’d get over it.

Then last night I watched “The True Cost” on Netflix. The tiny voice in the back of mind was finally given the vocabulary for what was bothering me. Here is how it is broken! Here is how it is bad! And holy shit, it’s even worse than the voice and I would have guessed.

So I am now firmly committed to my one year new clothing fast. Except for bras and underwear, which I generally only buy if I truly need and clearly will not buy second hand because gross, I will not buy any new clothes at all for at least one year. I should be able to easily get by on what I have, and I am allowed to buy second-hand clothes during the fast if necessary. After my fast, I will drastically change the way I purchase clothes. I will look for either fair trade clothes, or better yet 100% Made-in-America clothes. I will pay more for fewer clothes, and be proud that I did.

In “The True Cost,” an interviewee discusses the notion that our clothes define us to the world. Maybe so. But if my clothes tell the world who I am, instead of my clothes saying I’m cute or fashionable or wealthy, I want my clothes to say I am ethical.

Check out the movie: http://truecostmovie.com/

 

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Everyone is Always Trying to Kidnap Me

Note: I began drafting this blog several days ago, before the news of the violent deaths of Karina Vetrano and Vanessa Marcotte garnered national attention. My heart breaks for their families. I am angry to the point of shaking for every woman who wants nothing more than a nice afternoon run. And I am terrified for my own safety. But I will not be terrorized. This blog is for me, as reminder to be brave. As a declaration that I am powerful. As a refusal to ever let fear make my choices for me.

***

I was on a run a couple months ago in the middle of the day in my happy little suburban neighborhood when a gray Chevy truck stopped in the middle of the road and the driver seemed to be staring at me.

Fuck. I was running behind a high school, so perfect sex predator hunting ground. I immediately looked to start memorizing the plates, which I do any time I feel threatened by a vehicle. Dealer plates. Double fuck. He was already facing the opposite direction of the way I was going, so I decided to just keep going. I picked up my pace a little. Then he turned his truck around and started heading my direction. Holy shit. This is not a drill people.

I immediately headed off the road and into a small field. If you want to kill me, Chevy truck guy, you’re gonna have to drag my fat ass through 40 feet of tumbleweed and dirt first. I paced the field near a chain link fence, trying to decide at what point it was time for me to jump it and make my escape through the high school. I had zero confidence in my ability to jump this fence uninjured, but in my mind, I’m fighting for my life. I’m a trapped animal, ready to gnaw my foot off to get away.

As it turns out, Chevy truck guy was dropping something off at the house I happened to be passing. He probably didn’t even see me, at least not until I started pacing a random field like a crazy person. And I got socks full of foxtails as a reward for my little detour.

This is not the first time I was almost kidnapped in this manner. In the fourth grade, a friend and I were walking to the park, and a car slowed in the middle of the street and stared at us. I was wary, and then he waved at us. I screamed at my friend to turn the other direction and run. Then he turned his car around. Holy. Shit. We moved as fast as our 10-yeard-old legs could carry us. We were nearly two blocks away when we stopped to look back. He was hugging a friend and heading into the house we happened to be standing in front of.

I stand in front of the most dangerous houses.

Probably the most dangerous stranger situation I have ever been in was in my first week of college. I went to a bonfire on the beach with a bunch of girls I had just met and got too drunk. It was freezing, the girls wanted to stay on the beach, and I wanted to go sleep in my car, a few hundred yards away. But it was too dark and I was too drunk to safely navigate my way to my car. A man in his mid-twenties said he was leaving, and he could help me to my car. I was a drunk 18-year-old, so obviously I said sure, I’ll head off into the secluded darkness with you, kind stranger. He got me to my car, made me promise not to drive, left me sitting in the back seat, and began to drive away. But at the end of the parking lot, he began to circle back around. If I hadn’t been so drunk, this is when I would have gotten scared, but all I thought was ‘what the fuck are you doing dude?’ What he was doing was checking on me. I had left the car door open for a few minutes, and he was worried I had passed out like that. He made me get all the way in and lock the doors before he left. For safety.

I know that everyday women are raped and killed by strangers (but far more often by acquaintances and lovers). Stranger danger is real, and I don’t mean to dismiss it at all. But it’s not my reality. In my life experience, guys in cars are just delivering packages and visiting friends. Guys at college parties just want to make sure I’m tucked away safe for the night. In my life experience, I travel through my world literally unmolested. So why am I so afraid? Why is every man I pass automatically a possible threat? Why, when hiking alone, am I more afraid of other hikers than I am of possibly running across a rattle snake?

Because I’ve been taught to be, of course.

Because “Stranger Danger” is a phrase and a philosophy that has been taught to kids since at least the 1960s, possibly as early as 1949. It’s a little tricky to track, and varies throughout the world, but sometime after WWII, we all starting being afraid some stranger was going to snatch up our kids. There is no question most kidnappings and child molestations are committed by people the child knows – usually a relative – but the public message has long been focused on teaching kids to wary of strangers. For women, that message never goes away. We never graduate into an adulthood where we are taught we are now powerful enough to travel to the world safely. In this way, we remain scared, powerless children forever.

Because sometimes women really are taken, raped, and killed by strangers. And those stories echo in your head forever. Because in 2010, 17-year-old Chelsea King went on a morning run through a park, and was raped and murdered by a man who had abducted, raped, and murdered a 14-year-old who was on her way to school about a year before. And every single time I go for a run by myself, I think about those girls. And I think about Penny Beerntsen, the woman who went for a run on the beach and was raped in 1985, and whose story was the start of the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Because Google Kari Swenson. Google Sherry Arnold. Hell, just Google ‘female runner murdered.’ Because THIS WEEK Karina Vetrano AND Vanessa Marcotte were found dead after going for a run. Because my imagined battles were real for them, and there but for the grace of God go I.

Because these stories of violence against women are everywhere, and they are terrifying. Literally. They cause terror. And this makes me wonder, is the terror founded in a likely reality? Or is it a means of social control, a parable designed to teach us all that good girls don’t go out alone? Good girls stay home, take care of their families, don’t venture far and wide, don’t talk to strangers, don’t experience new things. You better be good little girl, or the big bad wolf is gonna get you. Are we constantly re-telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood in a deeply rooted attempt to keep women in their place?

Am I really statistically more likely to be the victim of violent crime as a woman? I decided to spend a couple hours trying to answer that question.

First, a butt load of caveats. Finding reliable, clear statistical information on these kinds of questions is not as simple as it would seem. This is the Age of Information, right? Can’t I just punch the question into Google, and the FBI will tell me the exact number of murders reported up until today, and that’s my answer? Not so much. The information I’m going to share below comes my review of the info compiled by the National Center for Victims of Crime (http://victimsofcrime.org). Their info in turn comes mostly from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). I’ve included links to the primary sources where I can.

So number one caveat: I’m not a statistician. In fact, I failed stats the first time I took it in college. It was at 8 in the morning. That was just a bad idea from jump. I did get an A the second time I took it at 5 pm, for whatever that’s worth. The good news is these are some pretty straight forward numbers, so no advanced math degree required.

Second, violent crime is nuanced issue that encompasses a wide variety of crimes. Murder and rape are obviously the two biggies. What about robbery? If you’ve ever had a gun held to you as some took your wallet, you’d probably feel like you’d been the victim of violence, even if you didn’t have a scratch on you. What about if someone beats the shit out of your car when you’re not there? That’s a pretty violent act, but you were never in danger. Does that count?

Third, the violent crime that had me running into the field, the one most women are probably most afraid of, rape, is wildly under reported. The estimates are only about 27% are ever reported.  And complicating matters further, the definition the FBI uses for the purposes of crime stats reporting changed in 2013, and some departments are still using the old definition. The old definition, btw, was “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Which means up until 2013, a man or young boy could not legally be raped for purposes of FBI crime stats. The world is fucked up y’all.

Fourth, I want to make the argument that women don’t really have to be more cautious than men because the numbers, as you will see, don’t support the notion that we are in more danger than men. Except women ARE more cautious than men generally. And by being more cautious, very probably avert and prevent danger. So there are fewer crimes against us than there would be if we weren’t cautious, which makes the argument that we don’t need to be as afraid as we are a house of cards. Look ma, a paradox!

Finally, as suggested in the third caveat, this info is coming from hundreds of departments from across the country. There is still shocking variation in how and when departments across the country report the info. There are well-run, organized departments, and there are, let’s face it, hot mess departments. Whether it’s under-funding or a run-of-the-mill inept administration, some info just never makes it to the feds.

So with all that said, here’s the truth bomb y’all knew was coming. I’m safer out there than you are. That is, if you are a male.

Men are more than 3 times as likely to be murdered than women. And everyone is more likely to be killed by someone they know. In 2012, for example, of 12,765 murders, only 1,557, about 12%, were committed by strangers. Far more frightening is that in 5,757 cases, the relationship is unknown. Which means the perpetrator is unknown. Which means in 2012, 45% of murderers got away with it.

Of those 12,765 murders, only 15 listed rape as the surrounding circumstances. Compare that to 148 which happened after an argument over money. Or 26 times a babysitter killed a kid. All that is a drop in the bucket to the 720 murders of juveniles in gangs. See UCR 2012 Violent Crime by Relationship and Circumstance

Women are way less likely to die from violent crime, but that’s not the only thing we have to fear, right? Over their lifetimes, women are roughly 14 times more likely to be the victim of rape. One in 5 women will be raped. But only about 13% of those rapists will be a stranger. A woman is just about equally as likely to be raped by a family member. Just over 45% of rapists are current or former intimate partners. And women suffer wildly more aggravated assault from intimate partners than men. But men are 15-20% more likely to be assaulted by a stranger than women.

In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics dumped all violent crimes together and looked at violent victimization overall. Men are about twice as likely to be attacked by a stranger than women are, and have been every year since 1993. And btw, EVERYONE is getting safer. There were almost 17 million incident of violent victimization reported in 1993. That number was just above 5 million in 2014. See Violent Victimization 1993-2014 – Quick Tables

So here’s the takeaway. Statistically speaking, strangers are more dangerous for men than women. Men are more likely to be assaulted by strangers than women are. When men are attacked, the attack is more likely to be fatal. The news may be telling me to be afraid to run in the park, but the true danger to women happens in their homes.

If this is true, why do we hear so much about stranger violence against women? Why are we as a culture so insistent on telling girls they’re fragile and need to stay inside? Stay at home. Don’t go out alone. We tsk and shake our heads disapprovingly at cultures around the world that don’t let their young women out to do simple tasks alone. How barbaric, we think, that these women can’t even go to the store without a chaperone. How lucky we are to be free in this country. But aren’t we using fear to the same effect? I’m afraid to go for a run in the middle of the damn day. My movement is restricted because I am told repeatedly about the price I pay for failing to be cautious.

Look out little girl, the big bad wolf is coming. If he gets you, it will be your fault for going into the woods alone.

Today I am in mourning  for Karina Vetrano and Vanessa Marcotte, but also for every mile that will not be run by every women who is too afraid. Today I will be sad and afraid. But tomorrow I will be angry for Karina and Vanessa. I will be faster and stronger for me. I will be powerful for every women who is still afraid. And I will demand change. For all of us.

Posted in Feminism, News Media, Running | Leave a comment

God is the Colors a Mantis Shrimp Can See

Let’s start with an extremely over-simplified biology refresher.

Eyeballs contain special light catching cells called cones that respond to color. More types of cones means more visible wavelengths of light means more visible colors. And more total cones mean richer, more intense color vision.

Most mammals have two types of cones. Dogs, for example, have two kinds of cones. Dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue, and gray. Dogs are lousy at seeing red, even when it’s all around them. Sucks to be you, dogs.

Humans can see red because we have three kinds of cones. The three basic colors we see are red, blue, and green. These three colors, along with light and dark perception, combine to make the millions of colors we see. All the pinks and oranges and golds and purples are really just different mixtures of these three colors.

Not all humans see these three colors the same though. The most common types of human colorblindness come about because the person is missing one of the three kinds of cones, so they see fewer colors. Sucks to be you, colorblind people.

Also, even if you’re not colorblind, your perception of color is subjective because “the brain responds to the stimuli that are produced when incoming light reacts with the several types of cone cells in the eye. In essence, different people see the same illuminated object or light source in different ways.” I don’t really know what that means, except that I think it probably helps explain why everyone was losing their shit trying to decide if a dress was blue and black or white and gold. (It was blue and black. It always looked blue and black. You people are crazy.)

Remember how I said more total cones of the three kinds of cones mean you see richer, more intense colors? Well, Wikipedia says, “The Himba people have been found to categorize colors differently from most Euro-Americans and are able to easily distinguish close shades of green, barely discernible for most people.” So that’s some crazy shit. The Hima people have apparently evolved better eyeballs. They’re basically X-Men. With a really lame power. It’s a really specific and rare scenario where distinguishing shades of green is gonna stop Magneto. Makes the ability to make it foggy look good, huh?

Here’s where it gets really crazy. Humans are riding the top of color vision evolutionary ladder when it comes to mammals, but we’re as lame as dogs when compared to other animals. Many birds and fish have four types of cones. Butterflies have six kinds. But they all suck compared to the mantis shrimp, who has 16 types of color receptive cones. It is thought that this ridiculous number of cone types, more than 5 times what we have, gives the mantis shrimp the ability to recognize colors that are unimaginable by other species. (Some of this stuff is still being studied, so the jury is still out on exactly what the heck is up with the mantis shrimp’s color vision, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s just an analogy. We can assume the current prevailing theories are accurate for our purposes, so chill out.)

The mantis shrimp can recognize colors that are unimaginable to other species. Unimaginable. As in, we are not physically capable of imagining these colors. If you sat there and tried to imagine a new color, you’d just end up with some combination of red, blue, and green. Because your mind has never received any input other than red, blue, and green to use as a building block for this new color. Your brain hasn’t evolved the circuitry to distinguish these colors, even if somehow you did an eyeball swap with a mantis shrimp.

And if a mantis shrimp has 13 types of cones we don’t have, it’s entirely possible there are billions or trillions of colors we don’t see. We might be/probably are seeing this infinitesimally small fraction of colors the world has to offer. The colors are there, even if you can’t see them. They’re all around you right now. You yourself might be more colors than you can even fathom. Just like dogs are surrounded by all sorts of red, some dogs themselves are even reddish, but they will never know. It doesn’t make the red less real. Reality is not dependent on a dog’s perception.

At this point in my life, I have come to believe that the thing we call God is like the colors the mantis shrimp can see. It’s real, it’s all around us, and we can even catch a small glimpse of it from time to time. But we can’t see all of God. With our short lives on a teeny planet among the expanse of time and space, we simply haven’t been built or evolved the ability to see the immortal, enormous consciousness that is God, much less comprehend it. And how laughable that we think we can verbalize it. God is unknowable. In every sense. Any attempt to know or explain God is inherently wrong, even the one I just provided. Our meat bodies are incapable of processing the concept. But we do occasionally get little slivers of a moment where we see one shade of the spectrum of colors of the thing we call God. We can see the red, blue, and green of God.

The problem is that we get these glimpses of God, and using our wildly inadequate senses, meat brains, and minds that don’t have the sensory input to form the basis of an idea, we start trying to form ideas. And those ideas turn into beliefs. The beliefs turn into belief systems. The belief systems turn into hierarchies and institutions of social control. Social control demands rigid, unthinking adherence to be effective, so people are programmed beginning at infancy that there is only one right way, and failure to follow that way means nothing less than the extinction of the species and the end of all that is good. In the best case scenario, people adhering to a rigid belief structure are unlikely to promote any change or advancement. In the worst case scenario, they kill each other.

I completely believe that people do have fleeting but real encounters with God. But it’s as if he’s a guy who smiled at you from across the room from a cocktail party. It feels pretty great when someone as big and important as God smiles at you, so the experience was really meaningful to you. You think about it a lot. You’ve dissected every detail. God was wearing a red shirt when he smiled at you. That must mean God’s favorite color is red. You should probably wear a lot of red, you decide. In fact, God ONLY likes people who wear red shirts. Actually, God HATES people who don’t wear red shirts. Never mind that God was also wearing blue slacks. That’s not the important part of the outfit. You decide to ignore slacks entirely. They don’t count. Everyone else at the cocktail party agrees with you that wearing red is the only way to please God. Some people at party say the shirt was magenta. You know it was maroon. God likes you better, because you’re better at seeing the REAL color. The difference certainly cannot be explained by the different lighting in different locations of the party that you never saw. Nope. God’s shirt was maroon, only maroon, maroon is a definite objective thing, it’s the only thing that matters to God, God loves you best because you can see his love of maroon, and God hates anyone who says anything but maroon is acceptable.

Your friend down the street wasn’t at the cocktail party. He saw God at the farmer’s market the next morning. God was wearing a green shirt. But you’ve built an entire worldview around God’s maroon shirt now. You cannot accept that God might sometimes wear red and sometimes wear green and still be God. It makes you really uncomfortable to think about, because maybe you wasted an unbelievable amount of time and money making sure every stitch of clothing you own is red. You’ve got a lot sunk into this red theory. Plus, if he’s right, maybe you don’t have a unique insight into God. Maybe you’re not special after all. No, the only explanation is that your friend did not see God, but some horrible imposter, who is making you feel all sorts of unpleasant feelings. If he would just STOP talking about this green shirt. Now he thinks he knows God. He thinks he’s the special one. He’s wrong, and he has to stop talking. You have to stop him.

I think that not only can God change his shirts, but God cares about a lot more than shirts, so it’s pretty silly to build entire belief structures around one shirt. God is a lot more than red, blue, and green. If God is the billions or trillions of colors the mantis shrimp can see, the millions of views of God we have are still just a fraction of what God is.

Everything you believe might be true. For the sake of argument, I’ll even grant you it is. Maybe God really does give some people 40 virgins in heaven. Maybe Jesus really was a physical manifestation of God. Maybe it really does make God angry if you eat shrimp. (Maybe he meant mantis shrimp.) It doesn’t matter, because all of these things could be true at the same time, and it’s all still just one shirt God wore one night at a cocktail party. You’re not his trusted confidant. You don’t even really know him. You don’t have his phone number programmed in your phone. He’s just a  guy that smiled at you once.

And he smiles at everyone.

Posted in Religion | 2 Comments

In Memoriam of Poussey Washington

It was too much beauty for my little heart to take. When that incredibly gorgeous woman looked at the camera, broke the fourth wall and held my gaze, and told every story of all human beauty and loss without saying anything, my heart burst. It was breathtaking in its optimistic sorrow. Even now, there was a beauty. Even now, a smile. It was too magnificent to bear. I ached for this imaginary soul, too remarkable, who endured too much and was given too little time here. I ached for all the real souls, throughout all of time, that have been given circumstances too hard and lives too short to travel through the incomprehensible and vast beauty of the world. I lamented the horrible truth that even the luckiest among us will only ever see a tiny fraction of what the world has to offer, because we can’t live every life in every place simultaneously.  I grieved for all the dances and bike rides and random connections that never were.

And I fretted over what is on the other river bank. What happens when you’ve made it across Styx. That question consumed me. I was reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh: “Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realizes it’s water.” I did battle with that quote for weeks. When I finally admitted defeat, I acknowledged, if not fully accepted, that consciousness is the wave. It is real, but it is temporary. The water itself never disappears, only changes. But when the wave hits the shore, it is gone forever. When Poussey smiled at me, I mourned for the moment when all the waves hit the other shore. And I dread and fear the day my wave will take me no farther. I’ve grown fond of this feeble little consciousness of mine. I wish I could ride it forever.

Thank you, Jenji Kohan, Lauren Morelli, and Samira Wiley, you beautiful souls and inspiring women, for creating something so remarkable it hurts.

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I started a blog. Like it’s 1999.

I started a blog. My Facebook posts were getting too long and preachy. So you know, needed a designated place to be long-winded and preachy. Aren’t you stoked you’re here? Party over, oops, out of time.

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