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Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Response to Gatesgate

What follows are my thoughts, in the most infant stages of development, on the incident between Professor Henry Louis Gates and Officer Crawley. This is such a late response to this incident that I want to apologize ahead of time if I am regurgitating ideas and views that have long since circled the blogosphere. (I really hate that word.) I have been so caught up in other endeavors that I haven't had a chance to think critically about what happened to Professor Gates, much less share my thoughts. I am not sure if I will continue to develop these thoughts or leave them as they are, but in any event I would like to share them with you.

Let me start by saying that what happened to Gates outside of his own home was despicable. The officer did indeed act "stupidly". (To continue to suspect a man for Breaking & Entering after he showed you a Driver's License and another form of ID is stupid.) Although it was a terrible incident, I appreciate that people seemed to care.

However, I cannot help but wonder if there would have been this media hoopla if Gates wasn't so white. Let me explain. I am aware that Gates is an African American. What I mean is that Gates has a PhD, is a Harvard Professor, and is very wealthy - ranks usually held by white males. Therefore, Gates' status, for better or for worse, makes him whiter, and this is why this incident attracted so much attention and so much outrage.

Racial profiling is a disease that plagues every police force. Incidents like this occur daily, yet we never hear about them. If Gates was a postal worker or a gas station attendant, or if Gates didn't live in such a white place - nearly 70% of Cambridge's population is white - this story may have been buried in the back pages of the newspaper, but there would be no CNN and there certainly would not have been beer at the White House.

But Gates is a "model" African American. He worked hard and made the most of his opportunities and realized the American dream ( I really wish the powers that be would create a sarcasm font). And the incident did generate hours of media coverage which in turn did "spark a national debate." Or so they say. Pundits claimed the White House happy hour was a giant step in advancing the discussion of race in America. But was it really? It has been over a month and, save the week after the beer-talk, has there been any discussion? The fact remains that incidents like this (ie. DWB - Driving While Black) happen more than most anyone in white America know, but we are not outraged until is happens to a whiter African American. Furthermore, the outrage is short-lived and it isn't long before we return to the status-quo.

We cannot make any real progress if we huff, puff and discuss isolated incidents. Progress cannot happen until we look at the real issue at hand: systemic racism. Sure, stereotypes and ignorance are hurtful and backwards, but they are only bits of the quagmire, and until we are able to realize the scale of racism, well then we are stuck.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hello. Is there anybody in there?

LIVE [lahyv] adverb 1. at the moment of its happening

So maybe I should rename the blog "Justin...When he gets around to it", or just stop blogging altogether. Is there anyone out there that reads this for an actual update on what is going on with me that does not already know? Is there anyone that reads this for leisure? Let me know.

So just in case there are one or two of you - I'd settle for half a person - out there, the following is an update on my life since my last post:

I moved back to Traverse City. I love Seattle. It was a magnificent city with a ton to offer both as a major metropolitan city and as a city that embraces and utilizes its natural surroundings. The people are enlightened, like-minded and generally hip. They even had a soccer team, but I could just not make it. I was on what seemed to be a never ending quest for work while living way outside of my means. I was depressed and accruing debt. Needless to say I needed a change. So I packed my car up with all of my things (my riches are not in possessions) and made the 3-day trek back to Michigan.

My summer was great- although as Josh has pointed out it was more like a warm autumn. I had a chance to give back to society through work. I became healthier. I got a new haircut. I was laughing again. Needless to say, I got my swag back.

Since moving home I even managed to pay a credit card off. I can't tell you what a relief that was. I made the final payment earlier this week, and just tonight I checked my statement for the first time. I was delighted to see "$0.00". It will be nice when the card listed below it reads the same. I will feel so much better about moving (again) for a job with a balance that is more manageable. Although I will say that I am thankful that this is happening now instead of 10 years from now when I have a family and mortgage and even more white hair.

I also even managed to find rediscover a girlfriend. Her name is Alex and I say rediscover because I dated her when I was a senior in high school. We broke up when I moved away to college - she was still in high school - but we always managed to stay in touch. We both ended up at Michigan, and we both started to talk and hang out towards the end of my senior year. (Theme alert) But once again I was off to Micronesia and all across the country while she finished school. Well finally we are both in the same place and a relationship was inevitable. To say we are compatible is an understatement - we are pretty much the same person.

I am still on my never-ending job search, but I am also living within my means. It was hard for me as a 24 year old college grad to move back in with his parents, but I had to put my pride aside. Sometimes a seemingly backwards step is actually a step in the right direction. It is all about attitude.

Let me know if you are out there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

George Costanza

CAUTION: Extreme use of the parentheses.

Every night at 10 the CW (one of five channels I am able to watch with basic cable) plays an hour of Seinfeld. Along with Jeopardy at 7:30, it is a show I can look forward to watching on a daily basis. Remember how big that show was? I remember during my 9th grade graduation ceremony Mrs. Strable said, "I will try to make this quick. We all want to catch the final episode of Seinfeld." It was huge. It trumped the momentous, hallmark event that was my ninth grade graduation (sarcasm). I appreciated her hastiness. Not because I wanted to get home and watch the final episode (I didn't), but because, well, how awkward was middle school?

You know all these silly facebook quizzes? (Bare with me. I'm getting somewhere.) You know the ones: "What animal represents your spirit?", "What Greek Goddess are you?", or "How will you die?" (These were literally the last three quizzes that my friends took according to my facebook homepage.) Well I am sure there is a "Which Seinfeld character are you?" quiz out there somewhere, but I wouldn't have to take it. You know which one I am? George Costanza. Think about it: I don't have a job, but am on a never-ending quest to find the right one; I have to move back in with my parents; despite sometimes neurotic behavior, I am indeed intelligent; and I have affinity for nice restrooms. Okay, so only a few are true, and I doubt I would ever be cast as George Costanza, but what I am trying to get across is a) I don't have job, and b) I am moving back in with my parents.

That is actually a difficult thing for me to say. I am moving back in with my parents. I have to swallow my pride and do it - thanks Mom. No really, thank you. We had a few of "those" conversations. The ones that last a few hours. The ones where your mother/father are in her/his element as a parent even though you are a mature, mid-20 something college grad. So a big shout out to you Lisa. Or as Barrack would say to Steele, "whassup?" (Sorry, I just had to find a way to get this hilarious video posted.) The result of these conversations was me realizing that I am living outside of my means - hey I had to do my part to contribute to the economic woes. I have been so far off track as far as my life goals are concerned because I have been putting all of my focus on staying afloat. What a slippery slope that was. So now I move home, pay off my debt by year's end, and follow through with my Peace Corps commitment. In the meantime I can enjoy time with friends & family, the beautiful Northern Michigan summer (I refuse embed a Kid Rock video), and stuff my mouth full of Don('s).

This really isn't a move of weakness as I had previously thought. I was thinking people will see this as a move to live at home for free and be babied. That isn't the case. I am going to work hard to get out of debt and out of that house ASAP. And also, I really don't care what you think ;)

Monday, April 13, 2009

In Defense of A-Rod

If you have not had the chance to read David Kamp’s piece “Rethinking the American Dream” published in April’s Vanity Fair please do so. It is a sharp, thoughtful essay on the evolution of the American Dream – did you know that it was not until 1931 that this term was coined? (As Kamp points out, “you’d think that these words would appear in the writings of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but they don’t.”)

One of the more thought-provoking eras of this timeline was what he called “the Juiceball Era of the American Dream” – the late 90’s and early 00’s – “a time of steroidally outsize purchasing and artificially inflated numbers.” He explained that this was a time where we as a nation not only subscribed religiously to the theory that our standard of living must always be better than the generation the preceded us, but that we did so through credit cards. I think his explanation through the sports metaphor is spot on, and I would like to take a stab at explaining (although without much, if any, actual research – thank you twitter era) how sports often reflect our society or culture.

Sports have always reflected our evolution as Americans and can often be used to help explain what life was like during a certain time period. For example, the most popular sports during the majority of the 1800’s were barnyard sports. Sports like boxing and wrestling that did not require much space – you know, like as much space as a farmer’s barn could supply; time – there was only enough time in between plowing the field, milking the cows and churning the butter to get a quick bout in; or participants – farms are isolated and boxing and wrestling only required your brother or farmhand.

Then around the turn of the century we became more industrialized and more efficient. Ford created the assembly line and the population shifted from rural to urban as people left the farms for factories. As we did our work faster than ever we had more leisure time and thus we saw a shift in which sports were popular. Baseball became a staple of America – America’s Pastime” – along with the car and apple pie. We had the time, space, and neighborhoods to play baseball and football. Plus it was inexpensive.

After the war we see the rise of the middle class thanks to the G.I. Bill making it easy for vets to get a college education and own the homes they occupied. Their kids, Baby Boomers, grew up easier. Their parents had more money than any other generation. Sports too were affected. “Country Club” sports like golf, tennis, and swimming became more popular and for the first time had participants that lived on Main Street and not mansions. Arthur Ashe shined and paved the way for the likes of Tiger Woods and the Williams Sister – although this is more of a class thing and not a race matter.

At the same time, televisions were in more homes than ever and sports were now able to be seen on your television rather just heard on the radio. Events became more popular and eventually grew to larger than life, i.e. the Super Bowl. Football became more popular as baseball began to resign to more old-fashioned, nostalgic sport. Hence the World Series being called the “Fall Classic”. We also see the rise of the sports “star” as athletes became more popular with the face time television afford. This also began the metamorphosis of athletes as every-day, All-American people to handsomely paid pop culture icons. Figures like “Broadway” Joe Namath and Mohammed Ali became more and more the norm, although not completely, yet.

Basketball, the most urban of all sports, became more and more popular as the civil rights movement gained steam. Basketball has always been a sport of the inner-city (Jews dominated the NBA in the 1920’s. They also dominated the inner-city) because all it takes is a ball and a basket instead of expensive equipment and a large field. The major difference between the Jewish-NBA and Black-NBA was television.

So now moving into the 80’s we have sports as means to strike it rich as salaries really began to rise. Sports were perceived to be an easier, more fun way to achieve the American Dream. This was especially true for minorities as African Americans not only began to dominate rosters, but for the first time African Americans also began to dominate their sports as individuals. Hello Michael Jordan. The 80’s, as Kamp notes, became a time where middle-class Americans rallied “to seize control of their individual fates as never before…decoupled from any concept of the common good.” This was the start of both the credit card and the steroids era. Reagan deregulation made it more acceptable to acquire debt.

Both the use of credit cards and the use of steroids would grow exponentially throughout the 90’s and early 00’s as noted in his Juiceball Era analogy. Pop culture as we know it today was also prevalent during this era. Actors/actresses, musicians and athletes made millions a year. Their lifestyles idolized by every young man and woman watching shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, MTV Cribs and any number of reality shows following celebs and athletes in their homes. Americans striving to replicate this lifestyle greedily mounted debt to by a BMW or the biggest SUV possible as if to say “look how successful I am, my car is two lanes wide.” The American Dream had shifted from the house with a white picket fence to the mansion with the white land rover sittin’ on dubs. But it was as artificial as Milli Vanilli. Nevertheless, American’s wanted more money and bigger houses the easiest way possible.

This was the case with sports. Athletes wanted to make as many millions as possible. They wanted even more fame so they began to rap, act and hang out with movie stars. Agents equated to GM’s an athlete’s star power to ticket sales. But athletes wanted this fame and fortune the easiest way possible so they did anything to get ahead. They took steroids, enhancements, and vitamins. Equipment became stronger, lighter, faster, and more powerful and athletes began to break records every season. It was all parallel with the American Dream…the most money possible by any means possible.

I think it is also important to note that American society became a society of instant gratification. Coinciding with the technology boom, it was easier to get things done fast. Americans began to do more and do it fast, and it was all possible. This equated to every facet of life. Fast food restaurants were everywhere. In order to serve more than 99 Million daily, they added a second drive-thru line. Digital cameras became popular because who wants to wait for a picture to develop? You can’t, however, ignore the fact that the quality improved. American’s wanted the most, the best, and in the fastest way possible.

So can you really blame A-Rod (and athletes in general, of course) for taking steroids in a time where the prevailing attitude in America was to get the most the fastest while exerting the least amount of effort possible?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Robin Hood

The more I think about it the more I realize that Robin Hood is my favorite folk tale legend. First, you have two awesome movies from the 90’s. How great were they? Actually, I do not remember a thing about the more serious movie other than that awesomely cheesy Brian Adams song from its soundtrack. (Admit it, you love that song) But Men in Tights was hilarious. You had a Mel Brooks twist to a classic tale, the debut of Dave Chappell, and the blind dude who was also a teacher from Saved by the Bell. (Okay maybe I should have brushed up on both of these movies before I gushed about them, but give me a break. I am writing this without the internet access required to brush up.) Then you have awesome Old World names, places, and events. His name was Robin of Locksley. How sweet would it be if you were held to such esteem that you were the only person in your town worth mentioning? Combine that with Nottingham Forest, Merry Men and festivals and you have yourself a dime squad of a story.

But what I love most about Robin Hood is what he stood for. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He stood up for the weak, poor and, therefore, powerless against the tyranny of the Kingdom. I want to do the same, and I think that during these tough, tough economic times, the poor need Hoodian efforts more than ever. I realize that everyone, rich or poor, have felt the effects of this crisis; even Bill Gates has lost billions of dollars. But Bill Gates and the other small percentage of folks who possess a large percentage of our nation’s wealth do not take the same kind of consumption hit as the rest of us. Say Gates loses $100 Million (a number taken from the sky) of his wealth in investments, for example. He loses a healthy fraction of his wealth, but he will recoup this money when the economy recovers, and he can still afford to buy bread. Then there is me who has to seriously consider how much I can spend on groceries because the $50 or so I spend at the store seriously affects my ability to pay for my rent, my car loan & insurance, phone bill, etc. etc. The crazy thing is I have a college degree and work 40 hours a week. What the hell does someone less fortunate do?

Well they panic. I know this because I talk with them every single day. Their jobs are getting cut. They have to live with the all too realistic chance of having to starve or live on the streets. Their health care safety net is deteriorating as their clinics are closing and their insurance rests its neck under the guillotine of the budget. I understand programs will have to be cut, but is taking from the poor the answer? I don’t think so. Why cut health care when folks are losing their jobs and their benefits left and right?

In the meantime…I will continue my efforts to stand up for those that need it. I have been doing my part to play Robin Hood, but nothing radical. All within in boundaries of what our legal system allows. And certainly within the boundaries of what a democracy encourages, or at least is supposed to encourage. I really hope that does not sound self righteous.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A phone update

Hey it's another phone update. The last (and first) time I did this I was at the Vegas airport on my way to Seattle.

I have started my new job, and although it is temporary, it is not half bad. I go into health clinics and talk with folks about the proposed $1 billion cut to health care.

Here is some basic information on what is happening here in the state of Washington. Washington, just like most states in the Union, has a huge budget deficit. What the Governor has proposed to do is cut 42% of the Health Care budget. This would be detrimental to Basic Health, one of a few affordable health insurance plans, and the health clinics funded by it. These clinics are the only options for tens of thousands.

Because this is a budget issue, it is not anything we can vote on, but that doesn't mean there is nothing we can do. What I do is have patients, providers and staff call targeted legislators in their district to urge them not to cut Basic Health. It is the same type of grassroots action work I have been doing save the 100 hour work weeks and shoestring budget.

The first draft of the budget comes out towards the end of March. This will let me know if what I am doing is working, or if I need to work harder. (It will also tell me if I still have a job. If they really scale back the cut then I am no longer needed).

Programs like Basic Health are needed now more than ever. What with thousands losing jobs and benefits weekly. I know, for example, that the State spends more than $2 million a year on bottled water for State related functions when Washington has perfectly fine tap water. Now this is obviously not enough to save $1 billion, but I am sure there are many other examples of unnecessary spending. It is all about priorities. And it's not like this cut wotld solve anything, it just shifts the cost of burden to the insured, employers and communities, and eventually to the state as a whole.

Anyone watch the Oscars last night? The most memorable Oscars that I can remember. Not that I even get into the Academy Awards, but I just thought it was a great production. I especially liked the former award winners saying something about each nominee. That was a great touch.

And how about Sean Penn? Just a class guy and he gave an acceptance speech that will be remembered as long as the Awards are around. By the way, does anyone else see the resemblance between him and my friend/old roommate Dennis? Same smile, same eyes. I will post a pic when I get on my computer again.
The weeks are flying with this new job and it won't be long until my brothers and cousins come visit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Job Ho!

After weeks of navigating Craig's List, revamping resumes & cover letters and interviews, I finally have a new job. I was all set to throw in the towel and just accept the job at American Eagle. In fact, I was supposed to start today. I was really hoping I did not have to consign myself to retail. First of all, $8.55 an hour will not pay the bills. Second, it was meaningless work. In the end, there just was not much in it for me other than a 40% discount.

But, nonetheless, as of Monday, I was starting to accept the fact that American Eagle indeed would have to do as temporary respite on my journey to find, at the very least, a decent job. Then I received a call from Community Health Network of Washington regarding a resume I had submitted at the beginning of January. They filled that position, but she really wanted me to come in to interview for a different position. I interviewed on Tuesday and got official word yesterday.

So about the job...Officially I am the Clinic Advocacy Field Organizer. It is my job to put grassroots pressure on legislators to not cut funding for these clinics. These clinics are funded by the state and serve people who cannot afford health care or whose doctors do not accept medicade/care. So these clinics are really the only options for these people. If the funding is cut, many of the clinics will be closed making it extremely tough for these people to be treated.

Why cut the funding? Well Washington, just as most other states, are in a huge deficit, so many programs will see huge budget cuts. But why healthcare? I am sure there are many other areas that are not nearly as important as health.

Unfortunately it is only temporary. Once the final budget comes out towards the end of April there is nothing we can really do. Either we win or we lose. Regardless, I am excited to be doing good work again. I am relieved to have a well paying job. Glad that monkey is off my back.