Sunday, March 8, 2015

Beth’s Books: Boom, Bust, Exodus

Beth's BooksSubtitled The Rust Belt, The Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities, author Chad Broughton

I came across a description of this book somewhere and thought it sounded very interesting. It made me think of my hometown, South Bend, Indiana, and our loss of the main employer in the area, Studebaker, over fifty years ago.

The book recounts the story of how Galesburg, Illinois lost its own “Studebaker,” the Maytag plant. This happened at a time when many companies were moving operations to Mexico and other such locations, partly due to NAFTA, and it also looks at how Mexican border towns were affected by this change.

The book is well-researched and well-written, and left me with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. The struggle of some workers to deal with the impending loss of what they had thought to be a lifelong career was sometimes courageous, but most often heartbreaking. Some planned ahead and worked hard to get a degree. For those who went into fields like healthcare, chances were good that they would get a job. Others ended up doing something completely different, like part-time teaching, janitorial work, or railroad work, often for much lower wages than they had been getting.

As for the Mexican workers who flocked to the border towns like Reynosa to find steady employment, they were subjected to long hours, slave wages, and abuse. Drug cartels meant a dangerous environment for them and for their children. Some in this country love to hate the Mexican workers “who are taking our jobs,” but they are hard workers who are used by corporations to feed their profit margins.

I mourn for the loss of strong unions in this country. While the union was unable to save the jobs at the Galesburg Maytag plant, they put up a good fight, if an ultimately futile one. Some of the Mexican workers were fighting for stronger unions and worker protections, a fight that took place here years ago, and one that it seems we have finally lost. I know that unions aren’t always saving angels, but in the face of overwhelming corporate profits, they are the working person’s last refuge for representation. The loss of strong union representation in this country helps no one but the corporations who exploit the workers.

Boom Bust ExodusWe have gone from a post-WWII boom, one in which corporations shared the profits with the people who manufactured their goods, to an atmosphere of antagonism and exploitation of workers. I find this tragic. So when people like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker boast about breaking unions as some sort of grand achievement, I think that this is a person who doesn’t respect the American worker.

The South Bend experience is mentioned in this book:
South Bend, Indiana, once home to Studebaker automobiles, is now home to a data center for cloud-based computing, with hopes for rebirth based on high-tech manufacturing.
I know we aren’t the only town, especially in the Midwest, to have experienced the loss of a main employer like Studebaker. Galesburg dealt with the same thing some thirty years after we did. It can be a devastating thing for a community. Most of us who grew up in this area had at least one relative who worked there; I had a good half a dozen. Suicide rates in town went up after the plant closed; our population took a significant hit as people moved elsewhere to find work; the loss of pensions for Studebaker workers led to federal legislation that protected pensions even when companies declared bankruptcy. How does a community deal with such a loss? Fifty years later, it is still a work in progress for South Bend, and we have a larger population than Galesburg as well as another large employer (University of Notre Dame).

Income inequality is only growing in this country. The top 1% control 40% of our nation’s wealth. Wage stagnation fuels the growing divide. Who will stand up for the American worker? Who will be the voice of the middle class?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Grades for Trades

Kid with a gunIn an effort to stem the tide of what seems to be an epidemic of accidental shootings at the hands of children, some cities are looking at a novel solution: asking children to turn in their firearms. The incentive? Receiving a good grade.

One official who chose to remain anonymous due to the possibility of threats from the NRA said, “It seems like you can’t go a day without hearing about some kid shooting another kid...or an adult. We think it could work to get guns out of the hands of children if we guarantee a passing grade in one of their classes.”

When asked how the program would work, he said, “Well, we haven’t worked out all the details yet. We’re thinking that the bigger the gun, the better the grade. Turn in a .22, get a C. A .38 Special would get you a B. A .45 Magnum? Definitely an A. We’re thinking of factoring in the difficulty of the class, too. If you want an A in Calculus, you’re going to have to cough up the big ones. It’s a win-win situation. Fewer guns in the hands of kids, and smarter kids. At least on paper.”

He went on to say that they are also considering a scholarship program. “If you turn in something like an AK-47, you deserve to get a break when it comes to college. Since you’ll be getting better grades through this program, you’re also more likely to get into college.”

NRA spokesmodel Tammy Sue Spratt reacted strongly to the possible program in an issued statement:
“It’s a child’s God-given right to own a firearm. We feel that this is more important than vaccines. A child can fight off those diseases. You can’t shoot a virus, but you can shoot the neighbor kid trying to steal your bike. The only way to stop a bad toddler with a gun is a good toddler with a gun.”
When an official at the CDC was asked about the program, he placed his face in his palm and muttered, “You have got to be kidding me.”

***

This was a silly bit of fun that came to me the other morning. It’s really no laughing matter, though. Although the statistics are out there, it seems that there has been no comprehensive study of the numbers of children who shoot others, either accidentally or deliberately. It does seem to me that this seems to be happening more frequently, but maybe it has always happened, and we just hear about it more. The NRA has tried to block the CDC from studying gun violence as a public health issue, which strikes me as beyond absurd. Gun violence in this country is most certainly an issue that affects every American. President Obama attempted to direct the CDC to pursue this after the Sandy Hook shooting, but sadly, the CDC remains in fear of losing funding from a Congress whose balls are tightly in the grip of the NRA.

One can only imagine the long-term psychological effects such a shooting would have on a child, especially if they are old enough to realize that they have just harmed or killed a person...perhaps even their sibling or their parent. And yet...this still keeps happening and we ignore the consequences. It will continue to happen until people figure out that the NRA is not a benevolent organization. They are nothing more than shills for gun manufacturers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Be all you can be

Strength B&WI’ve been seeing this meme make the rounds that says “When a woman is loved correctly, she becomes ten times the woman she was before.”

I’d just like to say that that is the biggest pile of steaming horseshit I’ve seen for some time.

Obviously, the people posting this are women. What guy would post that? This strikes me as wrong in so many ways. It’s as if these women are saying that they are incomplete without a man who loves them “correctly.” (Who defines ‘correctly,’ anyway?) That they are not good people without this knight on his steed who saves them from their own horrible and imperfect existence. That they cannot be a whole person on their own.

Who still thinks this way? What low self-esteem a person must have to think that another person is all that will make them a better person...that they are incapable of doing it on their own.

I do think that a supportive partner can inspire you and make you strive to be a better person. I see the good things that Ken does and the good person that he is, and that makes me want to be that kind of person, too. However, as a small woman, I am limited in some of the things that I can do safely. I don’t pick up people to give them a ride, for example.

That doesn’t stop me from doing what I can to work on being a better person, but that effort is not contingent upon Ken. We are all a work in progress and we learn from our mistakes. That started many years ago, it was happening before I met Ken, and it is happening now. This is something that I would be doing even without Ken, and although I appreciate him and he inspires me to be more involved and to be a better person, I can’t say that it’s only because of him that I make that effort.

Never think that you need someone to complete you, or that you can’t be the best person you can be on your own. YOU are the one who needs to do that, and expecting a partner to do it for you is lazy and unfair. Unfair to your partner, but also unfair to yourself.

Is this a good time to wish my husband a happy anniversary? I’m not sure...but happy anniversary, anyway, honey!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beth’s Books: Double shock powah!

Beth's BooksA lot of good books have come out already this month, and I want to write about the new publications from my two favorite authors: Stephen King and Anne Rice.

First is Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat, in which she revisits the vampire world, including the Brat Prince himself. This book was a total delight. It’s been a while since we had a vampire book from her, and seeing the vamp gang again was like seeing old friends. Very old friends. Lestat is his usual irrepressible and impulsive self, but he isn’t one to back down from his destiny.

When a mysterious Voice begins plaguing blood drinkers all over the world, exhorting them to use the Fire Gift to burn the young ones, the vampires who are fairly new to the life (so to speak) are killed horribly. The group of elder vampires come together to figure out how to deal with this threat to their existence. As it becomes clear who (or what) the Voice really is, it is obvious that it is not just the young ones who are at risk; their entire tribe could be wiped out.

It was wonderful to read of these elders coming together again, after so many years of isolation from each other. They really are a family, and they each bring their own beauty and strength to the group. Rice’s description of the reunion, with all of these exquisite creatures dancing as they become caught up in the music, is a thing of beauty. Her writing is spare and concise in this book, able to convey a moment or a scene with minimal verbiage.

There seem to be a few things that are unresolved (what is up with you, Rhoshamandes?!), and I hope this means that Ms. Rice is happily back in the world of her Children of the Savage Garden. I think there are many more tales to be told there, and I look forward to them all.

Next is Stephen King’s latest, Revival. Oh my goodness.

This book gave me the creeps more than almost all of his other books. I still recall how The Shining bothered me so much at the time, and several others have lingered with me. But this one gave me a very uneasy feeling that has stuck with me several days after finishing it, and I don’t think it is going to leave me anytime soon.

I don’t want to give anything away, because you really don’t know where he’s going with this story until late in the book, but I’ll say that it is a bleak novel without any innate sense of hope. This seems like a bit of a departure for King...I usually finish a King book feeling that somehow, some way, every little thing’s gonna be all right. I finished this one with sense of horror, thinking, “Well, I guess we’re all fucked.”

King explores two things extensively in this book: music and religion. The protagonist of the book is Jamie, a good kid who gets into music at an early age and loves what rock and roll makes him feel and where it takes him. Except for that pesky addiction, but I won’t say anything more about that. What was fun to read was the sheer joy that Jamie experiences as he begins to get into music. Although I’m not a musician myself, I’m a huge fan, and I understand how music can move a person. I think it’s fair to say that all musicians start out as fans, so in that regard, I can relate.

As for the religion aspect, if the right wing religious people get a whiff of what this book says about religion and the existence of any god, they’re going to have a thrombo. This is King’s most damning condemnation of religion that I’ve ever read. Previous books have had a bit of a religious element to them. He has always explored the conflict between good and evil. The prime example is Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg from The Stand (and other mentions in various books). As Mother Abigail tells Nick in that book, when Nick says writes that he doesn’t believe in God, “Well, He believes in YOU!” That sense of possibility and mystery is gone in this book. This is more of an attitude of “if God exists, he’s a sadistic and psychotic asshole.” It’s quite an interesting change, and I wonder about the pathway that has brought SK to this point, and if this reflects his own views or is just a part of the story.

It’s obvious that he has nothing but contempt for religious charlatans and grifters. I share his contempt, and I find it dismaying that there are still so many such people out there. None have quite the dark side of Charles Jacobs, though...at least as far as anyone knows…!

A couple of great reads, and I recommend both of them highly. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course. Not for everyone!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Beth’s Music Moment: The Man Who Stole A Leopard

Beth's music moment6[4]

It’s a single song edition of the Music Moment!

“The Man Who Stole A Leopard” is a song by Duran Duran, from their 2011 album “All You Need Is Now.” When I got this album and was looking at the track listing, I was intrigued by the title. “Hmm,” I wondered. “What is this about?”

Well, it’s about exactly what it says it’s about. A New Jersey man comes across a leopard in the wild, and does some shifty and illegal maneuvering to get the big cat back to the United States, then keeps her in a cage in his apartment. Although the story is apparently fictional, I recall various news stories over the years about people keeping wild animals in small apartments. I wonder if such stories inspired the guys in the band to write this song?

Do you know where we are?
I'm longing for the dark of our nocturnal life
It begins and ends with you
Don't spill my secret

You were once running wild, hiding in the morning mist
Game demands I make you mine
I thought that I could resist, but the leopard in you silently preyed on me

I made my way back home (Did you follow her?)
I handled her with care (Were you in control?)
So elegant and sleek (Were you not afraid?)
I need her to be near (Does she belong to you?)
Don't spill my secret

Deserted by my friends (Don't they understand?)
She's so much more than them (How could they compare?)
So now she's just for me (No one else can see)
I watch her while she sleeps (Be sure she dreams of you)
Don't spill my secret

(It's been quite a while) Since we were last outside
(And do you miss the chase?) Now that we've both been tamed
(Inside this gilded cage) Prisoners of our thoughts
(You saved me from myself) 

Don't spill my secret...

Newscast:

Today a man was taken from his apartment at the New Jersey Shore and arrested under suspicion of entrapment of a wild animal. Police, after forced entry, discovered a caged leopard in the building. The fully-grown feline was said to be surprisingly domesticated by zoological experts who gave her a thorough examination, before preparing her for relocation.

A large crowd had gathered outside to watch the beautiful creature, as s giant cage was lowered slowly onto the street by a crane. From here, the leopard was transfered into the back of a truck for its journey ahead. A startled onlooker said, "It's extraordinary to think that any human being could have lived in such close quarters with such a dangerous animal."

Police are saying that the captive was simply besotted with the creature, and barely left her side. It's alleged that he hunted her in the wild and expertly forged documents to facilitate her illegal export to the United States of America. The incident has already created much controversy, and is now likely to lead to a major international investigation into the life of the man who stole a leopard.

Songwriters
Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Roger Taylor, Simon Le Bon

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

I’m not sure what it is about this song, but it absolutely slays me. It is ethereal and somewhat eerie, and Simon’s vocals are just perfect. The music itself is atmospheric and builds slowly. As you’ll hear at the end of the video, there is a spoken portion, a fake newscast. One of the lines is, “Police are saying that the captive was simply besotted with the creature, and barely left her side.”

There is something about this that makes me think of the human desire to possess and control. Rather than admiring this beautiful animal in the wild and keeping the image in his mind of her roaming free, the man in the song must capture her and put her in a cage, far removed from her natural habitat. This is obviously unhealthy for both man and beast. What is this strange desire of so many to tame and defang and sterilize—even to kill—what should be wild and free and natural? There was a story recently about a young teenager in Michigan who shot a rare albino deer, and a picture of him with the dead animal made the rounds on the Internet. Who could shoot such a creature? Why not let it live?

Duran Duran4I’ll never understand this desire to kill or capture, and the metaphor can be stretched to how we deal with people in our lives. Do we accept people for who and what they are, or are we motivated by the need to control and make others into what WE want them to be? Forcing others to conform to our notions of what they should be is every bit as dangerous as keeping a leopard caged in your apartment. Those who are caged and controlled inevitably rebel. We all need a little coaching as to how to deal with situations and how to be more polished in social settings, but trying to change another’s fundamental nature and personality is a futile endeavor.

I can’t listen to this song without weeping. I feel sad for the leopard snatched from her natural habitat and forced to live in a cage in a small apartment in the city. I feel sad for the man who had to possess her at any cost and who felt that she was his only friend. Yes, I know it’s only a song, but that doesn’t mean that it has no power. Listen to the song, and if you don’t understand why it makes me feel the way it does, then we obviously need to talk about your attitude and how we can change it. [wink]

Embedding is disabled for the band performing this song live, but it really is a wonderful version (seeing them is almost as much fun as listening to them), so watch The Man Who Stole A Leopard via that link.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Infection Connection: Ebola Freakout Edition

Ebola virusI really didn’t want to have to write this entry, guys. I am sick nigh unto death of hearing the ridiculous and inaccurate reports about Ebola. The worst is the conspiracy theories...that President Obama has purposefully brought Ebola to this country, that terrorists are bringing Ebola and other diseases across our porous borders, something about reparations for slavery...wait, what?

ENOUGH.

It has been a constant barrage of misinformation, hysteria, and outright lies. I’m not going to post an entry about misconceptions about Ebola, because there are plenty of those out there. I highly recommend the coverage on Vox and Nerdist, both of which have posted fair and fact-based articles. (Just search the sites for ‘Ebola’ to find the articles.) Of course, the gold standard is the CDC website, which provides updates and detailed information for both health care professionals and laypeople.

My frustration is twofold.

The media I have never seen a bunch of talking heads absolutely lose their shit the way I’ve seen the American media lose their shit over Ebola. The reporting is often incorrect, it is speculative, and it is on the verge of criminal in the way they sensationalize and fearmonger. This time, I’m not singling out a specific “news” source, one often known to stretch the truth in mind-boggling ways. (Not to mention any names, but it rhymes with cocks.) They have all been guilty of some really bad journalism lately, and especially with this Ebola story.

Oh, and isn’t it odd how the Ebola outbreak in Africa—the worst Ebola outbreak ever—wasn’t covered much by the U.S. media until we brought infected American health care workers back here to be treated? Thousands die of Ebola in Africa...a couple of paragraphs in the local paper, and maybe a mention on the news. Ebola patients brought back to the U.S. for treatment? Oh mah gah it’s the end of the world and we’re all gonna die! Get a grip. I’ve been following this outbreak from the beginning, and I am not one bit surprised that there have been cases outside of Africa. In case you haven’t noticed, people travel around the world and do so frequently. We are not a remote island.

Some online people This has been limited to friends of friends and people from my community and around the country that I see commenting on articles. I’m happy to say that my friends either know enough about it to not be freaking out or they are willing to ask questions or do their own research to learn more about it. Those who are freaking out are people that don’t know the first thing about viruses, their effects on the body, their transmission, or infection control practices that have been a part of hospital protocol for decades. They get their information from news sources, and said news sources have ramped up the fear factor to a ridiculous level.

I’ve seen comments ranging from people knowing that Ebola is airborne and horribly contagious to people thinking that it is a verrrry strange coincidence that this is happening around election time. It’s all nonsense, but these people are genuinely frightened (if horribly mistaken), and the only ones to blame for that are the media. To be fair, I will also place part of the blame on the individuals for thinking that they know everything about it because they watched a news show about it. An hour with Brian Williams doesn’t make you an expert on anything other than how cool Brian Williams is. Watching a news show does not make you a doctor or a virologist or an epidemiologist.

The politicization

Dammit! Threefold! My frustration is threefold!

Somehow, this has become a political football. Instead of focusing on the threat to public health and on the people who are dying in Africa, certain politicians are using this to score points against the opposing party. This disgusts me. The sleaze factor is through the roof. Many are calling for “closing the borders,” whatever the hell that means, despite the numerous health care professionals who deal with outbreaks as a part of their job saying that such tactics are counterproductive and do nothing to solve the problem. If we really want to stop such infectious diseases from coming to our country and causing an outbreak here, we will ramp up our efforts overseas and spend a lot more money on public health, both here AND there.

The cognitive dissonance

I give up. My frustrations about this are endless, and I’m not going to try to keep count anymore.

Ebola chartAs some people lose their collective minds about Ebola, they are somehow ignoring the more present and real threat of viruses like influenza. In 2010, 50,000 people died from influenza in the United States. There is a vaccine for that, but there is still a significant portion of the population that refuses to get the shot. There are many viral and bacterial infections that can be prevented with vaccination, and we can even prevent a certain type of cancer with the HPV vaccine...but there are still people who refuse vaccinations for whatever stupid reason they have. I can’t begin to tell you how irritating it is for me to see people lose their minds over Ebola and at the same time they think that influenza is no big deal and they don’t need to get the shot. You have a much higher chance of dying from influenza than you do of dying from Ebola. Why don’t people understand that? Go get your damn flu shot, people!

I could go on and on about everything that I find so maddening about what I am hearing and reading about this outbreak, but you get the idea. If anything good can come of this sheer clusterfuck of public health failure, it’s that people will wake up to the fact that we are NOT prepared as a country for something of this magnitude. Remember several years ago when we had an H1N1 pandemic, and a lot of people scoffed at the concept of pandemic preparedness? I wrote about it here and here. We had a plan at the lab where I worked, and the place where Ken worked had a plan—Ken was even on the committee that formulated the plan. I suspect that the people who thought that was a waste of time and money are the same people who are screaming the loudest about being unprepared. You know what? If you want to be ready for something like this, you have to prepare for it. That involves time, money, communication, education efforts, and practice. Lots and lots of practice.

From what I’m reading, one of the biggest failures of this whole mess was expecting health care professionals with no additional training in dealing with such infections and stringent isolation practices to be able to follow some sort of checklist and do things correctly. There is a protocol for not only putting on personal protective equipment (PPE), but also for removing it. It has to be done in a certain order and in a certain way, otherwise you risk contaminating yourself and others. It is obvious that the hospital in Dallas had not properly trained its workers to deal with something like this, and as a result, two of them have contracted the virus...and I would not be surprised if more do in the coming days.

We can do better, and we must. I suppose that as wake-up calls go, this is one of the better ones to get, because Ebola is not easily transmitted. If this had been an agent that passed easily between people, we’d be in deep shit right now.

I know the dangers of this virus, and I know that this is a serious public health threat, at least in Africa. However, I also know that we have the knowledge and technology to stop it from spreading here. That is why I have no qualms about boarding a plane on Sunday and spending some time in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Of all the things there are to worry about in this world, Ebola is really far down on my list.

I choose not to live my life in fear, and I can’t imagine waking up every morning and fearing what disaster will strike today. Terrorist bombing? Power grid interruption? Ebola? Rise of the apes? Shame on the media for trying to scare people in the interest of ratings, shame on those who are trying to score political points from a tragedy in which thousands have died, shame on those who don’t respect the microorganisms enough to realize that we have NOT mastered them, and most of all, shame on everyone who didn’t give a rat’s ass about Ebola as long as it was killing poor people in another hemisphere.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Beth’s Music Moment: Shake Before Us

Shake Before UsIt seems like this is on the verge of turning into a music blog, doesn’t it? That’s not my intention. It’s just that at this moment in time, it is what I am obsessed consumed with. I’m revisiting old favorites as well as finding new bands to show some love.

This band falls into the latter category. I don’t recall now how I came across them. It might have been one of the satellite radio channels, or maybe it was Amazon’s new music feature, or maybe it was via a free download site whose mailing list I am on. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I found them, because I was immediately in love!

I found their website and ordered a CD/t-shirt combo. I got an email from Will, who plays keyboards and sings co-lead, and he said they were out of the women’s size I wanted, so did I want a refund, did I want another CD…? What would I prefer? After a little discussion, I went with both of their CDs, resulting in a slight refund. That was the perfect choice, because I absolutely love both of them!

Shake Before Us is out of San Diego, and they have been active since 2010. Their first album (self-titled) came out in 2011, and their most recent, “Radio Time Bomb” came out in August of 2014. They’ve got a fantastic sound that is a throwback to ‘60s garage bands, but with a bit of a harder edge. Bonus: THEREMIN! Yes, the theremin is listed as one of the instruments played by the drummer, and personally, I don’t want to live in a world without theremins. Major props to any band that tosses a little theremin into the mix! The keyboards are a big part of their music, and it really adds to their garage band sound. I like my keyboards like I like my men: loopy, jangly, and a little fuzzy. Wait, that doesn’t really make sense….

Anyway, the first album sounds raw and fresh. It was apparently recorded live directly to a reel-to-reel, and if this is what they sound like live, I have got to see them at some point! My favorite tracks on the first album are “All Day And Night,” “Angels of Altamont,” and “Devil May Care.” But no lie...they are ALL good.

The second album sounds a little more polished, and a little harder. Personal favorites are “Figure It Out,” “You Started It,” “It’s What You Wanted,” and “Gottago!!!” “Button Up My Black Shirt” is also tasty. Again, they are all good. Not a bad track on either album, in my opinion. Whether you like your music more raw or more polished is a matter of taste. I say, “Why can’t we have both?”

One of the great joys in my life is finding something that seems like it was made just for me. A perfect combination of things I love. I’ve encountered a few books like that, that’s how I feel about “The Walking Dead,” and that’s how this band struck me. So thanks for forming and playing songs just for me, guys! Ha! I hope a lot of other people check them out and decide that they like them, too.

As an aside, I would like to have it on record that one of my pet peeves is when people say, “There’s no good music out there nowadays.” First of all, stop using the word ‘nowadays,’ because it makes you sound like a grumpy old person. Second, I call bullshit! There is all kinds of good music out there right now, and lots of bands that are working hard and really bringing it. But if you expect to hear it on a Top 40 radio station, you are barking up the wrong soundwave, my friend. That IS mostly crap music, but there are more great sounds in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your little radio philosophy. Get out there and look for it. Seek it out. Go hear local bands. We’ve got a great music scene going on right here in South Bend, Indiana and the surrounding area. The truth is out there. It is up to you to find it...because it’s not going to come to you. A true seeker will look and will find.

[stepping down off my soapbox]

Check out a couple of videos and see what you think. I know my musical tastes aren’t for everyone, but I am really diggin’ these guys, and I think you might like them, too! First, “All Day And Night” from the first album, followed by “It’s What You Wanted” from the follow-up, “Radio Time Bomb.” TURN IT UP!