Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quick update because I am lame

Well, maybe not that lame, but I was really on a roll there, and getting pretty close to the conclusion of that particular series, and then life happened again, as it does.

There was some stress about the burning smell coming from our dryer, sure, but after a week that is resolved. Certainly, I am always fairly busy anyway, but I was busy when I actually was doing the daily updates too.

No the real issue now is helping my friend with her mother's web site. I learned HTML ages ago, and have had different web-based responsibilities on and off, but my current assignment has beefed up my skills considerably. I have been repairing broken links, and have done some resizing and little things like that. I am still no expert, not by a long shot, and also, every interface is different.

Well, I have a friend whose mother is setting up a beach rental, and she wants a site set up. She asked if I would help. She has done a lot of stuff for me before, including helping with the dryer and she is currently troubleshooting my desktop. Of course I want to help her.

I am glad to be helping her, not just for friendship but also for the ability to stretch my skills. I could be unemployed again in a few weeks (I am definitely employed through April 9th, and it could go all the way to August 6th, but it is being decided one month at a time), and increased abilities can only be a good thing.

Still, it is a little consuming. This time I am working with Wordpress, which I had only had a passing familiarity with, and I am doing a lot more. It is really cool, but there is not much time for blogging. That will probably only be for another week or so, then I will get back to the other 36 planned regular blog posts, and finally finish that animal-centric travel blog post, and oh, I'll do all sorts of good stuff.

And if somehow I am ever able to afford another trip, I have a place in the Cook Islands where I can stay for free!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Taxes and Terrorists

I took the weekend off, but now I am back at it.

Before leaving off, I was writing about the financial decisions we make as a society—what we will fund, and how it will be paid for. Those decisions affect us on two levels. Perhaps you could call it external and internal. We get the society we pay for certainly, so that is the external, and whether we were in the majority or not, that affects us and has its own perils. There are also some internal perils though, in the person that we become as we make those decisions. We’ll start with the external.

Back on the topic of infrastructure, there are some things that we need to be able to rely on if society is going to function smoothly and support positive growth. Sadly a lot of the watchdog agencies are not doing their jobs, so you may have waste dumped into your water, or find that your electricity rates go up and it is generating profit for shareholders rather than improving service, but that’s a topic for another day.

The topic for today is whether we really want a system that widens the gulf between the rich and the poor? Money can buy you bottled water if the water supply becomes untrustworthy, and can move you into the country if the air becomes polluted, and if you have enough money maybe you can even have your own helicopter so that the state of the roads never matters. Most of us will not be able to take our private helicopter into the country, but we will be living in neighborhoods and traveling through civilization to a job, and humanity will be around all of the time. We shouldn’t want to avoid humanity, but we can’t anyway, so we need to think about how they are turning out.

Say schools struggle with funding. Wealthy people can send their children to private schools, and less financially secure but still dedicated people could try home schooling or maybe setting up a charter school, but the majority of children will be relying on public school. If the public school does not have adequate resources to prepare their students for a future of employment and social responsibility, enough of that can bleed over into the lives of the private school kids also.

First of all, you need an educated workforce. This goes beyond being able to attract economic investment to simply being able to support it, as well as having a population that will come up with its own innovations. If you have your own company and can put Junior in charge of running it one day, that is great, but it is a more meaningful gift if he can find good employees who know how to think and develop. Even if you have no children, it makes sense that as you age you will want there to be good doctors and city planners and safety inspectors, not to mention people continuing to pay into Social Security and Medicare once you are collecting. For that to work smoothly, you need success in the schools.

You could argue that you also need healthcare, living wages, and other things like that, and could argue about how much is really necessary, but there shouldn’t be an argument that you productive citizens for a smoothly-functioning society where pretty much any citizen can feel safe and accomplish what they need.

Yes, it was Afghanistan that sheltered Al-Quaeda, and there have been attacks against our troops in Lebanon and Yemen, but the great majority of terrorists come from Saudi Arabia, which is considered a close ally. Well, our government is allied with their government, and we like buying their oil, and they find perks in the relationship, so why the terrorists? There are a couple of things that make Saudi Arabia a fertile breeding ground.

First, you have an economy where there is great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, and great poverty in other places. You also have fairly high unemployment. This is getting better, and I could not find statistics for before September 11th, but two years later, in 2003, it was 25%. In addition, they practice polygamy, and assuming they have a fairly even birthrate, with the same number of men and women, and polygamy is common, there are not enough women to go around. Finally, although the government is friendly to us, and they do not have the same interest in freedom of the press and freedom of religion as us, they don’t interfere with a strongly anti-American press and clerics, because they would rather have the hate being spewed at America than them.

So, imagine a young man born poor, with limited opportunities. He can’t find a job. He is interested in girls, but with no money or job, or prospects of that changing, he will never have a girl either. With no job or girl, he has a lot of time on his hands, and the people who are really interested in him are the mullahs, who will preach to him for hours, and may even feed him, and they will teach him how corrupt and evil Western civilization is, and how glorious martyrdom is, and then you do get the women.

It may sound overly simplistic, but why don’t we get more terrorists from Jordan or Lebanon or Indonesia for that matter? You get a lot of Palestinians, even if they are not directed at us, but again, they are coming from horrible living conditions, with a lot of time to listen to the preaching of hate.

I first came across this theory in Psychology Today, and one point they made is that we just don’t get a lot of American suicide bombers, even in our lunatic fringe, and it’s a combination of those differences. There are people who will listen to a lot of hate speech, but they can still have families. There are people who are unemployed, but they have gotten a balanced education. Generally speaking, our conditions do not create the complete lack of hope for the future that is then coached into anger and hatred. Not yet.

This is a big reason why I worry so much about the lack of civil discourse. We have been moving into uglier times. I believe I expressed some anger towards Aaron Campbell for the choices he made, despite feeling compassion for him. I will also give him this credit in that I don’t believe he was trying to cause any destruction other than his own.

I cannot say that about Jeffrey Grahn. It wasn’t enough to shoot himself, and it wasn’t enough to shoot himself—he also needed to shoot two of her friends. I can’t say that about Joe Stack, who loaded his plane with an extra fuel tank before flying it into a building. I’m sure he was very disappointed to find out he had only taken one additional life. People call him a hero because it was the IRS—no way. And if you won’t get over your anti-government feelings to see the wrongness of that, how about him burning down the house where his wife and step-daughter still lived first? Okay, I guess it was nice of him not to shoot them, but leaving them homeless is still a pretty big “Screw you.” He just wanted to destroy.

Not everyone will turn hopelessness into hatred, but it does happen, and with prolonged hopelessness it’s a fairly easy step.

Life is difficult enough—we should not be setting things up to make it harder for anyone to progress a little and get somewhere. They say a rising tide raises all boats. Well, a little scuttling might end up sinking the whole fleet. We are connected. At best we have a society that gradually becomes less efficient and poorer; at worst life imitates Grand Theft Auto, We can do better than that, and we should want to. That will be the next piece.

On a side note, I can only imagine what kind of keyword flags this one is going to throw out. I guess its a good thing I don't have any trips planned.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

I forgot to mention something earlier. I had written about how it seems to me that the conservative side is ruder, and less interested in reasoned, fact-based debate, but that I do understand that there are examples of the same issues on the liberal side. I did briefly toy with the idea of making more of a point to seek those out, but I decided against it. Reading inflammatory and ignorant comments leads me into hating people. More of that would be bad.

I don’t want to quit reading the op-ed page, or keeping up with conservative friends, but I will try and exert more willpower in refraining from reading comments posted on internet articles. Also, if with friends my comments can help raise the level of discourse somewhat, where they do keep their opinions but lose some of the hostility, I would like that. These next few posts will be specifically about what is wrong with the hostility.

One thing that bothers me is that often people are too content with a status quo that benefits them but not others, like they deserve it but others would not. For example, one person who was incensed about voters passing 66 and 67 has benefitted from the Oregon Health Plan. That comes out of tax money. Another one who spoke out against health care is married to a school district employee. Well, they probably have excellent healthcare, and they have that through the efforts of a labor union. It’s not because they are good people and do a good job—they are, and they do, but that’s no guarantee.

Recently I was reading an article about charity and economic development, and what they had to admit is that we don’t really know what works. Microloans have some good effects, but there is a limit to how far they can take an area. Large aid distribution has flaws too. (Throw in a natural disaster and it gets even harder.)

I believe there are two main complications. One is just luck—that somehow there is an opportunity for growth where the timing is right and everything aligns. That would be hard to reproduce.

I think the other factor is infrastructure. Are there roads connecting the producer to the market? Is there a workforce capable of filling the needs? Are water and electricity available? That is something that microloans can’t provide, and it would be hard for a charity organization to really fix the big picture. It becomes capital development once you get beyond residential clean water and health care. It really would be the role of government, and it takes money.

One prominent supporter of this is Bill Gates Sr. and his support of the estate tax. Junior has become wildly successful, but his ability to do so was not just a matter of his ingenuity (and we can start getting snarky there about what made his success, but it would be getting off-track), and timing, but also having an available framework.

There are resources that the government provides like public schools so you can have literate employees, and there are resources that the government regulates, like the provision of utilities so your employees and customers can even fire up those PCs. Often these things get taken for granted, because they tend to run well, but imagine them being taken away and you can see the importance. Remember, Enron didn’t just cause people to lose investment money—they also faked an energy crisis that led to rolling blackouts and higher rates when the whole thing had been manipulated. And yes, that was related to deregulation.

So that infrastructure affects us on a macro level, and if there are problems a lot of people will be feeling it, but lets look at the micro-level, and it is just easy to stick with health care.

Some people have good healthcare, because they have good jobs, and they feel good about that. “You should just find a job where you get good benefits.” Yes, after being unemployed I should totally have turned down that job offer because it did not include health insurance. I’ve only had good health coverage once, and that company has changed their plans quite a bit now as well. It is more expensive for an individual now than it used to be, but still decent. However, if you want to cover a spouse and children too it gets pretty hard.

Labor unions fight for good benefits, but in the case of local teachers, they took good health and retirement in place of good pay, and now there are always people resenting that and wanting it “fixed”. (That is why when given a choice you should always choose good pay over good benefits, but nowadays most people aren’t really given a shot at either.)

Another comment on the ballot measures, regarding a higher income tax on those making more than $125,000 per year, was that if they are working harder let them enjoy it. I doubt they are working that much harder. I know the difference between what a department manager and an admin makes, and I know who usually works harder. Teachers work really hard, and we had some who voluntarily worked ten days last year so the school year wouldn’t be curtailed anymore than it was. Teachers usually need to work summer jobs to get by, so they took ten days they could have put into their other job and volunteered it for the kids. I know there is hard work there, but somehow the higher pay just isn’t attached.

I guess my point there is that we aren’t really a meritocracy. The last group I worked with started everyone at pretty much the same rate, but there was a vast difference in ability, and there has also (due to poor management) been a big difference in performance. So some people are working and some are surfing the internet or chatting, and everyone is making the same.

Someone else had asked, “Is $125,000 really that rich?” Well, the 2006 data showed the median male income to be $42389 per year (I specify male because for females the median income was $32,538). So, you make more than three times as much as half the people in the state. When Mom was still working both days and nights, and I was employed in my old job, and Julie and Maria were both employed, the four of us combined made less than that. Yes, I guess it does seem a little rich to me.

It was the same thing with the business measure. Someone wrote in to his representative saying that because the tax passed he was letting two employees go. More messages were exchanged and it turned out that his yearly gross was $5.4 million, and the tax he was going to have to pay because of the bill was $4000. So really, the issue is that the business had been struggling anyway, and he was not making a profit, and that is why he let two people go. Because if it is only the $4000, you can give them both 39 hour work weeks, or just lay off one, or make them take an unpaid vacation, it’s easy. But he focused on the taxes, because that’s what he resented. I would like to submit to you that the impact of that extra revenue on the economy can do more good collectively than leaving it there could have done for the individual businesses.

Earlier I was alluding to people taking the credit for things that were at least partly luck, and that would be one form of pride. Resenting those around you, and making assumptions about their unworthiness is pride too.

Last example on this one. Back when they were looking at expanding SCHIP, so all Oregon children would have health coverage, I remember a letter where the writer had calculated that all a parent would have to do is to give up one pack of cigarettes a day, or a six-pack, and they could afford to cover a child. I guess that way if you give up beer and smokes, you can cover two children, but what if you have three?

Joking aside, the contempt of that letter just oozed off the page, and there are so many things wrong with it. First of all, with most plans you have to put yourself in before you can add coverage for family, so looking at the cost of covering the child does not give the whole picture. Secondly, just that assumption that all poor people are blowing what they do have on vices is offensive, and there are a lot of people to whom it wouldn't apply.

Finally, okay, let's say that you do have parents who choose their addictions over the health of their children, do we really want to say to those children, "Sorry, I know you are getting a bad start in life, but doing things to make it better will cost a lot of money. Sure, by the time we spread it out over all of the taxpayers, it is not that much, but you're not my kid and I don't care." Is that really the right message?

Having had to re-examine my spending habits. I know that what you buy, and what you don't buy, says a lot about who you are. So, what do we want to say about who we are as a state and a country?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How I got here

I remember once asking my mother about her family, and the main legacy that she remembered was that they were all hard-working people. They were good at their jobs, but also quite constant in them, most people starting with one job and staying with it through retirement (generally working for the railroad, as far as I can tell).

On my father’s side, well, I think everyone is a good worker, but there has been a lot more innovation. My grandfather owned an electronics shop at one point, and did maintenance at a Joss house (it’s a temple for worship in various Chinese religions), and lots of other things that I can’t even begin to tell you. This was probably due to a combination of hard economic times and some restlessness. This approach is not great for accumulating wealth, but you learn to do a lot of different things, and it takes some capability to pull off.

Nature or nurture, my siblings and I are all good workers. We do good jobs, and we started working early. I started at McDonald’s at 16, but had earned money baby-sitting, pet-sitting, berry picking, doing yard work, and keeping score at athletic events before that, and it was kind of the same for all of us. Because we worked, we got paid and we had money, and that was cool. It brought a certain independence and confidence with it. Unfortunately, we did not have good money-management skills.

I have mentioned this somewhere before, but books about teaching your children about money will say to make them save half. That always sounded so excessive to me, but I finally get it. When you have no living expenses, it makes sense to take out a large chunk like that. Then, when most of your income is being pulled away on rent and groceries and utilities, you have developed the habit of being responsible with the disposable income. You learned it when everything was disposable income. I did not learn that.

My father was pretty free-spending. It used to be that every time he opened his mail, he would say “Dear Deadbeat” aloud, and kind of trail off. I assumed it was a joke. When he would bring home shiny new gadgets, or take us on vacations, it never occurred to me that this was stuff we could not, or at least should not, afford. Instant gratification seemed to be the norm.

I did a lot of things right. I did graduate from college, paying for it myself. I worked steadily, always being a good employee. I used my earnings to help my family and give to charity, just like you should. However, I did rely too much on credit.

First of all, I used my credit cards for purchases without thinking about it, because I could always afford my payments, and there were different rewards programs, and it was convenient to just put it on the card instead of carrying around cash. But it added up, and many of those purchases were unnecessary and not even really that wanted. How many figurines does anyone really need?

Also, there were unplanned necessities. I didn’t expect to charge a new roof and furnace, but we needed them, we didn’t have savings, and I wanted to help. I did start a savings account, but the hole was already being dug. The other thing that it took me a while to catch on to was that the cost of living was going up, and my pay wasn’t.

I should have known better. The prophets were always counseling to avoid debt, and I would hear that and think, yeah, but I’m okay. I was wrong. Of course, the advantage of having prophets is that they will tell you things before the reason becomes obvious, at which point getting in line is much harder.

Buying the house from Mom was supposed to help, because we would use some of the money for repairs, and some for her retirement, and some to pay off my credit cards. Then the repairs took more than we planned on, and I didn’t want to short her retirement, so I left the balances on the credit cards, which were still manageable. And then I lost my job.

Now, if you are in the mood to condemn, you can certainly say that my actions were wrong here. Julie was going to go on her sabbatical to Australia. She was going to go with a friend, but things weren’t working out, and she asked me to go, and Maria and I both decided to go. We made plans and bought tickets and I asked my supervisor how to arrange for unpaid non-medical leave, since I did not have enough vacation time to cover the entire trip.

I had accommodated every time-off request I ever got, some of which were pretty ridiculous. Maybe I shouldn’t even have asked, but just remotely filled out my time card with 0 hours and come back. Anyway, I could not get a straight answer. Weeks went by with no response, and I would call and they would say “We are still looking into that.” Finally, three days before I was going to be leaving, I called again, and they said no, I couldn’t go. It turns out what they were really investigating was not what I needed to do, but whether they were legally obligated to let me go. I guess I asked the wrong question.

All this time I had been frantically working to make sure everything I ever did was documented, and that other people knew how to do it, and suddenly it became a lot more frantic. My manager thanked me for being so professional about everything, and said to call when I got back and maybe I could reapply for the job. I thought the purpose of that was so they could make me take a pay cut, but that I would still have the job. Instead they launched a search for a replacement. I was already back when she started training, so they did not save any time and they lost a lot of experience, as well as chucking morale for the team, apparently largely because I had hurt their egos by going anyway, but you know, as long as they made a good decision.

Was my decision good? At the time it felt like the only decision. A lot of what we paid was non-refundable, it would have ruined Julie’s sabbatical, and I wanted to go. It was a great trip. I loved it. I just had no income and no unemployment when I got back, and the economy collapsed while we were gone, killing the already not-so-great job market.

I had some savings, and some vacation time paid out, and I got fairly decent tax refunds, but there were some months when there was just no money for the bills. Mom helped sometimes, so now I was really shorting her retirement, because that’s where it was coming from, and the church helped sometimes, and eleven months to the day later I am working again.

It is not enough to cover everything, so I have charged medicine, and I charge the cable bill, which on one level makes the credit card payment cover two bill (credit card and cable), but is no way to get ahead, but the money is just not there. A lot of things that seem like options are not.

For example, my sister-in-law suggested cancelling the cable. Well, that is television, internet, and phone actually, two of which are necessary for a job hunter, and getting the phone that way took a bill away from my mother, who is also stretched thin. Also, to lock in the lower rate, I signed a two-year contract back when I was employed. My cell phone is also on a contract, which will come up eventually, but again, as a non-driver and job hunter that phone is important.

Selling the house could get me out of debt, because even though it is not a great housing market, I could recover my mortgage and other debts without charging too much, but then I am not just homeless, but I am also evicting my mother, sisters, and pets, and we are not going to find a less expensive place to live. One advantage of a place built in the ‘70’s is that it has four bedrooms and a large yard. My house payment is about $1200 a month. I can’t do better.

Here’s my other problem. My current contract (which could end next week anyway) does not cover healthcare. Diabetes is a pre-existing condition. I don’t have enough money for my current bills, and there is no way that I can handle the sort of exorbitant coverage that would be available if I could find someone to take me.

Again, there is some responsibility here, because even though I clearly do have the gene for diabetes, I am sure that my weight triggered it becoming active, and I know I could have taken better care of myself over the years. That being said, there was nothing malicious there, and no willful laziness. There was some genetic tendency, and some societal shift in that direction, and some choices to prioritize other things over fitness, which did include jobs and helping others. (There’s a whole complicated other topic there.)

Therefore, when I picked up my insulin in January and found out that the price had gone up $7, I nearly started to cry in the pharmacy. (It’s over a $100 now. I am on the uninsured discount program too; it just doesn’t help much with injectables.) This is why sometimes I will go without my medicine for a few days, because I can’t afford it or I can’t afford the needles, even though my family helps a lot, and would want to help more, but how much can you ask of people who are already broke? And this is why I am out of Lisinopril, and almost out of Metformin, and I need to go back to the doctor, but she said that I needed to get my eye exam done before I come back, and I cannot afford to pay an ophthalmologist right now. Maybe I am making bad choices, but where is the good choice?

People mention free clinics, but those are practically mythical. I was being badgered to call Virginia Garcia, and I did, and they are useless. They take two uninsured people a week, and it is first come first served, but you need to call in the same week. If they are already full, you try again next week. They should just sell raffle tickets and be done with it. I thought going through the sliding scale discussion would be bad, but I can’t even get there.

So yes, I would love nationalized healthcare, where it does not matter who my employer is, or if I am employed. And the fact that all of these discount places for poor people seem to expect that you will have some kind of insurance really gives pause. Exactly how bad are their plans?

So, that’s where I am financially and physically. I have not always made good decisions, but I also don’t know anyone who can say that. I can say that I have not been lazy or tried to freeload. I have helped others where I could and still try to do so. So why don’t you want me to have healthcare? What have I ever done to you?

Yes, that’s taking it kind of personally, but I am a person, and I don’t believe that I am that much of an exception.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

“The Others” in other applications

I know, these titles are getting repetitive. As long as each post is, they are part of a greater whole, and I am going somewhere. I think the titles will start using different words though, for differentiation if nothing else.

My main contention has been that the problem is with taking sides. I don’t know why we are like this. I guess choosing one side over another takes away ambiguity, but it also takes away accuracy. So the police feel beleaguered, and it is reasonable, and citizens are worried about police brutality, which is also reasonable, but the end result seems to be that people quit examining what they need to change and only focus on how they are wronged. (Maybe the reason I don’t relate is my deeply ingrained tendency to always think things are my fault. There are problems with that too.)

Anyway, this leads to my concern with how partisan politics has become lately. It’s the same principle. My side is threatened by your side, so it becomes perfectly okay to vilify and lie and do whatever is necessary to make sure your side loses. The weird thing is that I think it is important to let emotions play a part in your political philosophy, but it feels like it gets taken too far, where no intellect is taken into account.

Here is where I will admit some possible shortsightedness. It seems to be that this mindset is worse on the right. That may just be a result of the last cycle of losses, which did upset the balance, and so the threat factor comes into play again, but it seemed like it was that way before too—that conservatives were more likely to deal in insults and ignore facts, while liberals were more likely to be giving reasoned responses and trying to keep the argument calm.

Now, an article I recently read mentioned this occurring on both sides, and gave specific examples, so clearly there are liberals doing it too. I guess I still feel it less because I am not encountering it as often. My opportunities to encounter things primarily come through conversations with acquaintances, as well as Facebook postings, letters to the editor as featured in The Oregonian, and comments posted on AOL articles. I don’t generally watch television news shows or listen to talk radio—I prefer getting that information through print and internet media.

Probably that preference is because it seems to be more intellectual rather than emotional. I assume they write scripts for these shows, but I believe they spend more time on the writing when it is being turned into an actual article, and going through that process makes a difference. It can make you be clearer, because you have to stop and think, and the reader will have time to stop and think, and it is just a different mindset.

So, coming from that background, it looks like the conservatives are bigger jerks. I remember when I wrote my own posts against Matt Wingard, I did go back to check various sources, and I spent some time on, reading their articles and the comments posted. Again, most of the people who were in agreement were very thoughtful—they referred to board history (going back two decades no less), they quoted other articles, they wrote in complete sentences—and the people who were against it could only say “You’re bad!” (I’m paraphrasing, but not as much as you might think.)

Now, do you see what I did here in expressing myself? I explained what my impression was, admitted some lack of knowledge but explained where the knowledge that I did have came from, and it’s civil. That’s what I like. Sure, it’s nice when I agree with someone, but you can disagree without calling someone a cancer and wishing them dead.
When we take that mentality of it being a fight, with a wrong side and a right side, suddenly we have created enemies, and we assume the worst about them.

I remember recently a small dust-up over whether Costco should be allowed to take food stamps, and how dare anyone who could afford a Costco membership get government aid! Well, okay, but what if they had just renewed, and then lost their job and were getting aid, or had a friend who had a card and would help? Because if you are feeding a family on a tight budget, Costco is great. You can get a 25-lb bag of rice for $8, when 5-lb will cost you $6 at a regular store. Peanut butter is a great deal too. Not everything there is a good deal, but there are some things that can really help.

Also there is a poll on whether drug tests should be administered to welfare recipients. Certainly, the purpose of welfare is not to free up money for drugs, but if you have your hard cases scamming the system, they probably have a method for passing the test. Apparently those tests are easy to work around. Would it really prevent bad people from getting something for nothing, or would we just be taking another shred of dignity from someone who doesn’t have much left? (I admit, my feelings on drug testing have changed since reading Nickled and Dimed.)

I have another example, but I am going to save it for later. The next post will be deeply personal, putting a face on this liberal who has been unemployed, underemployed, and struggling with debt and hoping for socialized healthcare.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Follow-up to The Others

More information has come out, and a lot of it is bad in different ways, but again what really bothers me is the reactions. There have been opinion pieces about how cops need to be aggressive, because their job is so dangerous, and others about how they are too trigger-happy, and maybe their guns should be taken away, and an article on this guy who goes around flipping cops off whenever he sees them. Apparently “I’m Ron Frashour” t-shirts are being printed, but I don’t know if any other protests are planned.

One development that I am somewhat hopeful about is that there will be a federal investigation. An outside look, but by law enforcement without regional ties or loyalty, might be the kind of clear-eyed antidote that is needed. I hope that’s not too optimistic. Clearly there are training and coordination issues, and those should be resolved.

In the meantime, there are several important points that are worth remembering. We know there are training issues and communication breakdowns, and that is bad, but if Frashour can be taken at his word, he was trying to protect his own life and that of the other officers and civilians. In addition, it sounds like James Quackenbush was doing good work, and de-escalating the situation, and it is tragic that other factors ambushed his efforts, but it is only fair to acknowledge the good with the bad.

From the other side, in general the police should remember that if they cannot hear what the other officers are saying, then the other people may not be able to hear them either. So if a person’s only offense is not following instructions, and it is loud, you can’t hold that against him. Also, if a person is hit in the back, they might put their hand there, and falling is not necessarily an aggressive move.

I know, that makes it sound like more of the blame is on the officers, but it’s not. Some people have stated that it is offensive to say that Aaron Campbell is responsible for his own death, but he is. His intended result was for the police to kill him, and that is what happened. Honestly, we don’t even know that Campbell was being honest with Quackenbush—he may have still intended to die at that point, and we can’t know—but even if he had changed his mind, the events were already set in motion, and there is a thought process that makes me really angry and sad here.

Campbell’s reasoning for wanting to have the police kill him was that if he killed himself, he would not be able to go to Heaven—because suicide is a sin. That makes sense. It violates the commandment to not kill, it flouts God’s will for living out the days ordained to you, and it hurts people horribly. They are left feeling betrayed and angry and guilty, because they take the blame for not being able to help. It’s a rotten thing to do, but a person can get to the point where they are in so much pain that all they can think about is ending it. How do you decide that making someone else do your dirty work makes it less of a sin?

We could go over legal precedents of pre-meditated murder versus manslaughter, or penalties for the person who hires someone to do a crime, but I think it is more useful to look at the damage. If Aaron Campbell shot himself, his mother would be devastated, especially having already been brought down by the death of one son, and friends and family would feel bad.

With a police shooting, we still have the devastated mother and sad family and friends. We also have (I assume, and hope) several police officers who have to deal with the guilt of that. It is not an easy thing to take a life, and even if you think that they did it too easily, that doesn’t mean that they shrug it off and forget about it. That leaves a burden.

This has not been mentioned, but presumable we have a traumatized girlfriend and three children, who were dealing with a desperate man with a gun, which can be pretty terrifying.

We have the guilt of the aunt for calling. The Skanner is saying that if you have a crisis situation that you should not call the police. So how do you feel if you made a call and someone ended up dead?

Most of all, we have more pressure on a relationship that was already strained, and that needs to be a good relationship.

How is that less sinful?

The police did not cause or create a tragedy. They failed to prevent a tragedy, and yes, I totally agree that there was incompetence in that failure, and it needs to be addressed, and this particular bureau has not shown themselves to be good at addressing their own failures in the past, so it’s really good that the feds are stepping in, but theirs is not the only fault.

I have great compassion on Aaron Campbell. I know what it feels like to wish you did not have to deal with life anymore, and to know that actually stopping dealing with life would be wrong. I also believe that God is a lot more merciful than we understand, and while I know that suicide is wrong, I have hope for the people who have done it. I have to, there are people I care about who have.

But I also know that despair does not last. Pain subsides, and new pain comes along, but new joys will too. I was thinking today about how they say that big things like getting married or winning the lottery generally only improve happiness for a year, and then you are pretty much back where you were. I thought it seemed like kind of a bummer, but then I remembered that I am usually happy, so it’s okay. I can be happy married or single, rich or poor.

It just stands to reason that a loss should wear off in about a year too. I know you still carry around the sadness—there are some things that I will remember suddenly, and it feels just as sad as it did when it was fresh, and maybe it always will, but my overall disposition does not change. But that is for an event.

If there is a choice to give yourself over to anger, or bitterness, or hate, that could be a permanent change. If you are an unhappy person and want to change that, it is more important to change your mindset than your circumstances. What I am afraid we will have here is people who are going to choose unhappiness, because they have enemies, and we shouldn’t be enemies. I think most of us want a peaceful community. That will require cooperation.

I read an essay recently likening civilians, criminals, and law enforcement to sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. I get the appeal of it, but it is exactly wrong, because it puts the sheepdogs as these creatures that the sheep don’t like, until they need them, but they are needed. No, lots of people love the police, and lots of people want to like them but have trust issues that can be kind of reasonable, and some people are just anti-authority, and besides which sometimes there’s kind of a thin line between a wolf and sheep, but really, the biggest problem of all is that we are all just people. For all of the good qualities of people, we also screw up a lot, and one of the big screw-ups is that we seem to have a hard time drawing a line without it becoming a gulf. We need to focus on what we share.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Reasons I am grateful for my sisters

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I have spells where I let a lot of time go by. What you may not know is that when I do this there are always different topics going through my head. One thing that is really important to me is being present in any given moment, and I am least able to do this when I am not caught up on writing, because the words are spinning off and trying to get formed right. Anyway, yesterday I wrote out the various topics that I had ideas on, and, well, there are about 40 that I think are specifically blogs. That does not count ones that might be better for journal writing or fictional ideas, or things that would go in the travel or preparedness blogs.

I’m not saying that I am going to post daily until I get through them, but I intend to try. Again, for those who like to read and keep up, well, it’s okay if you don’t read them all. The side menu shows the titles of the various posts, so you can see which ones sound interesting. Believe me, no one gets as frustrated with me as I do with myself. On the other hand, if anyone is still trying to use the blog to keep tabs on me in a not-friendly way, this could be really frustrating for them, and I’m okay with that. Wow—40. If I observed Lent, blogging every day could have been perfect.

Regardless of all that, I am very grateful for Julie and Maria. We didn’t start out really close. I love all of my family members, then and now, but while I was growing up Lance was distant, Misty was resentful, and Julie and Maria were bratty and mean. Some of that was because of the age differences. Lance was seven years older, and that’s a lot before you become adults, which brings some equality. Five years is still kind of a lot, but I think the main thing that meant with Misty is that she had strong memories of being displaced as the youngest and the only girl, whereas if we had been two or three years apart it might not have been such a big deal.

Despite being five myself when it happened, I don’t really remember feeling displaced when Julie and Maria were born. It was more when they started walking and talking and hitting and biting that it became an issue. They were into everything, which often included my stuff, and if I tried to protest it was easy for them to gang up on me because there were two of them, and I would get in a lot more trouble for fighting with them than they would for me. Here and there I remember playing games with them and making stuff for them or twirling them around, but I had gotten into the habit of calling them brats. One day I realized that my friends thought of them as brats, because that’s what I called them, and it’s not that it was wrong, exactly, but it wasn’t the whole truth either. I started to mature a bit then.

We gradually started getting along better, and becoming closer, but it has really blossomed now that we are adults. Vacationing together probably helped, and we have tackled many projects together, and working together helps too. Ultimately though, I think it is the sum of the little moments.

One thing is that I can say anything to them. I did do standup comedy at the talent show, and it was fine, but when bits are inspired by a specific person, I can tell my sisters the name. I can, but I don’t have to because they already know. I can use the harsher material too. I have this one punch line about ending up in a landfill in Utah, and it is dark humor. It does not stem from any bad feelings about anyone, and it is not intended to be hurtful to anyone, but there are still people who would be offended by it, and that’s okay. I have a home audience where I can be unadulterated. Sure, my dark side is pretty tame compared to most professionals, and still involves no profanity or vulgarity, but it’s still there, and it’s nice to have a safe haven for it.

Another thing is that feeling of connectedness with our similarities. I am so wordy—I know my posts are probably a lot longer than they need to be. I think I know why. It was never safe talking to my father. No matter how carefully I would plan what I needed to say, trying to choose the words carefully so that the meaning is totally clear and there is no reason for offense, there was always offense and I was always wrong. So one night we (Mom, Julie, Maria, and I) were sitting around talking, and Dad came up, and how you could not talk to him because you were always setting him off without meaning to, and I mentioned how I am paranoid about being misunderstood, and it makes me wordy. Julie laughed and asked, “Is that where that comes from?” It turns out she does the same thing at work. She got dinged on a review because she does not seem to be able to give simple explanations. They know she understands the material, and it was a good review anyway because she does a great job, but she just cannot abridge. Well, somehow the things that are wrong about yourself don’t seem quite as bad when you can laugh along with the other passengers in that particular boat.

I love their generosity of spirit, and that they are always thinking about other people and have great instincts as to what will be good for someone. Not only is it good in them, but it also means that I am not alone when I want to serve people. We aid and abet each other in that.

I am grateful that they have been following along with me. Somehow spiritual growth was easy for me, and I got a lot of it in early. They did not seem to have as much of an interest, maybe because of the vulnerability that it entails. But, when our attendance in that institute class (Writings of John) ended up being so spotty, they did agree to read the material as a family, and they agreed to keep going until we have read the entire New Testament, The Pearl of Great Price, Genesis, and are now in The Doctrine and Covenants and that has been good for us, and ultimately it would never have worked without their commitment. Now we are praying together, and that has changed us too.

I have referred to adulthood bringing some equality, and that may be the most profound way in which our relationship has grown. There were struggles at different times, but from about a year after I graduated from college to when I lost my job, I was always doing pretty well financially. I helped them with tuition, and bought them presents and gave them pocket money, and that was fine and I loved them a lot, but I was very much the big sister and benefactor.

That has changed a lot in the past year or so. Now they have had to help me, and sometimes we are almost playing Hot Potato with the money. The other week Mom got the water bill, garbage bill, and newspaper bill on the same day, but the water was unusually high, and was going to clean her out. I grabbed garbage and Julie grabbed the newspaper. Mom felt guilty about me taking garbage, so she signed over a refund check to me, but then I just bought groceries with it, and Julie bought some other items for the household, and then Maria picked up something, and it is just as close to living the law of consecration as we have ever been. It would be nice if money was not always so short (and believe me, it is short), but there is hope because we have each other. We can stay just enough ahead of the tide.

So maybe I owed them that one. There are still people who think I am nice and that they are not, and no, you just don’t know them. (And I think evil thoughts about people who talk smack about my sisters.) I am better at talking to strangers, so I can be friendlier that way, but that’s just because I have mostly given up on trying to not feel stupid, which is mostly because I have had five years more to figure out that there is just no point. Seriously, it’s excruciating for me too; I just do it anyway.

I have really come to see the value of having someone there, that you like and that believes the same way you do. On one hand I see sisters who are torn apart by competition, but there are others who are so lonely because they had to do everything on their own, and I’m blessed. We are blessed. This is not the future that any of us saw, but it has its good points.