Thursday, April 12, 2012

Raincheck, cashed

Well, mom will be here in an hour or so. She made it onto a later flight than intended, so I'll be headed out imminently. The weather tomorrow will not be much better than it was a few weeks ago, but it will at least not be worse than weather in Minnesota! The weekend should actually be reasonably nice.

Other good stuff today, aside from mom making a flight:

Lunch at Brent's.
They make a wicked good pastrami, and they customize it for me. I don't like the stuff they usually put on it. They've got some really good potato salad (and I don't much like potato salad) and they put it on the sandwich for me. It's awesome. It's also quite large, so I'm having pastrami sandwich for dinner as well.

Tire Man
My new tires, from the dealer, have never quite been properly balanced. The dealer would charge me another $50 to balance them, so when I had my brakes done, I got them balanced by that shop. And the balance got better, but it was not fixed. Preparatory to mom's arrival, I stopped at the Tire Man and had them rebalanced. The manager gave me two options - cheap and $20 per tire. I went with cheap. When I went to pay, he gave me the keys back and said, "Drive it for a while. If it's fixed, come back and pay. If not, come back and get the expensive balance." So right now, I'm driving on improved balance tires that I have not yet paid for. What a sweetie. I figure I'll ask my mom. If she thinks they're still funky, I still have options.

PHB On Owning Things

I have a handwritten "post" on hoarding that is apolitical. But this post was sparked because I was too lazy to change the channel when NPR started talking about a nuclear Iran, so there will be some politics, but hopefully not much. This is really more about money.

One of the great frustrations of me and many Americans is the size of our defense budget. It's G.I.G.A.N.T.I.C. The frustration is from the sense that this budget is out of line with our needs, and our ability to afford it. Whether our truly gigantic budget - literally multiples of the sum of the defense budgets of the rest of the world - is out of line is something that should be discussed. Why do we have all our bases abroad? What do we get out of it?

I happen to think that we as a society are better off if we, who are able, take some care of our least able members, allowing them to live a life of dignity and worth which they could not afford or get to on their own. I think this is reason enough for a welfare program and international aid. I do not think it is reason enough, necessarily, for OUR welfare program our our current international aid so we don't need to fight on those details here. That doesn't mean that I don't also seek out reasons why we give other countries money. Some of the money we give out just seems insane.

But some of the insanity may have come clear to me tonight. I've never been all that great with current events and politics. Some of it is from my inherent lack of respect for positions given by bureaucracies - I just plain don't see some connections. Some was because my first exposure to it in elementary school was so confusing and over my head that I just had to put it in a "don't know"/"not good at it" category and it has only been in recent years of reading blogs that I feel I've gotten a bit of a handle on things. Which is what makes me think I should blog about this.

As the commentators (really, some of the most knowlegeable and least divisive I've heard in a while) explained some back history of nuclear weaponry, they discussed the difficulties of what to do now. We'd bombed Japan with nukes and it was gruesome. The scale of nuclear weapons give us the potential to do damage on a previously unknown scale. We the people can wipe out countries in moments. This is a tough thing to face. Who gets this power?

Apparently there was "the Irish Resolution", which is pretty simple on its face, and which was considered unlikely. Essentially, my understanding of it from the show is that those countries with nuclear weapons can keep their technology but must not sell it or gift it to others. Those without must not seek to gain nuclear weapon technology, and all must be subject to inspections. Who would go for that? Well, in exchange for promises of protection the world went two decades without any non-nuclear countries becoming nuclear. Hunh. Who knew that would work so well?

But that key piece in there is that those with nuclear vowed to protect those without. Retaining ownership of the bomb means that our defense budget and personnel aren't just for us, they are for our neighbors too. Because the cost of NOT providing that protection is having more nuclear weapons in the world. Containing and negotiating with the governments who do have them is tricky enough. Every new player adds significant complexity to the fragile balance. And that might be worth spending some defense budget money that seems on the surface, rather gratuitous.

File this under "things that make me go hrmmmm."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Political Hot Buttons (PHB)

Maybe because some of the bloggers I like are heavily political in their updates, I find myself needing to express opinions about politics, including politicized current events. It's not really why I started the blog, especially since politics I want to talk are inherently not about happiness in the now. But to not talk about these things makes me feel dishonest. I guess I want to talk about politics because I have hope that things can improve in the future. At any rate, if politics ain't yer bag, baby, I'll try to remember to start all my political rants with PHB, so you'll be forewarned.

I first learned about the concept of Running While Black (RWB) from a white lady romance author who figured that since the was writing about Navy SEALs, she may as well write a black Navy SEAL because while she's not a SEAL nor a man nor a black man, she wants to write about all of us. I think she does an excellent job at this. Suzanne Brockmann's "Harvard's Education" included as part of the character's motivation the trouble black men have just going about their business in our society. (Ironically, it was the one Team 10 book of hers I was unable to get from the local library - local at the time meant the library was literally a block from Harvard Yard.)

While women face challenges from men in power, we tend not to get disproportionately arrested, handcuffed, or otherwise harassed by the police or others who are in authority, or who consider themselves to be in authority. Black men and teens do. It's a frustrating thing to be concerned about because as far as I can tell, the only influence I have here is to personally make an effort to treat everyone fairly, which is something I try to do anyway. But you see where this is going, right?

A teenaged boy, Trayvon Martin, was staying at his dad's place (or his dad's girlfriend's place) in a gated community. He went out to get his kid brother some Skittles. On his way home, a neighbor who considered himself the neighborhood watch considered Trayvon a threat, called 911, was told not to engage Martin, but left his car, started an altercation, and shot Trayvon Martin dead.

photo of Trayvon Martin celebrating his mom's birthday mere days before being shot

That's terrible enough on its own. Imagine your kid goes to the store on the corner, and on the way home is shot by the neighborhood watch. (Frankly, this guy sounds like one of "those guys" who you just let do his thing because it's not worth the effort of talking him out of it. Besides, he's harmless, and who can he hurt, right?) His excuse was that Trayvon looked scary, and was wearing a hoodie. The reality was that Trayvon was Walking While Black in a gated community.

Where it gets worse? The perpetrator, who absolutely shot this young man to death, claimed it was self defense and WAS NOT ARRESTED. In any situation where that boy was not black and the shooter was, the shooter would have been arrested and then hamstrung in the media. It turns out you can't even die while black without someone doing something horrible. Some popular media outlets and commenters are spewing out all sorts of the usual tripe about how Trayvon somehow "deserved" to be shot.

Way to many of the media outlets are talking about "stand your ground laws" (which, prior to previous convention, do not require you to attempt to leave the scene of an altercation before using deadly force in a public place) as if they apply primarily to the shooter ("Z") in this case. To the cops and the media, Z has the unmitigated gall to claim that after Z stalked Trayvon from his car, called 911, then left the car to confront Trayvon about his right to walk to his part-time home that they fought, Z feared for his life, and shot Trayvon. I'm sorry, but the Stand your Ground law in this case applies to the guy who was rightly concerned about deadly force being inapproprately used against him, Trayvon. Sorry Z, but if you picked a fight with a gun and started losing? Trayvon had a right to stand his own ground against you. Except, you know, he's black.

Because Z was not arrested. Not really even held. He absolutely killed that boy. The only question is whether or not it was legal for him to do so (from my perspective, that's a clear "hells to the no") and if not, how to sentence him. I'd say Z is out free, although he's apparently in hiding. Good. I don't advocate for vigilante justice here; I advocate for justice. [Hey! I just found a Justice League comic in my Lucky Charms.] Only it took bloggers and month of diligence to even get the police of that town to consider that just maybe, they'd handled the aftermath of Trayvon's death the wrong way.

There are cases of shooting someone in self defense.
This is not one of them.
This is not a case where the victim was armed with a traditional weapon; Trayvon had iced tea and a rainbow of flavor.
This is not a case where there's a question about who shot whom.
This is not a case without evidence - there's a 911 recording before the event with a dispatcher telling the shooter that the police don't need his physical help [aka, stay in the car and don't confront the victim]. If the shooter had not gotten out of his car and confronted him, Trayvon would be alive.
This is not a case where the shooter was at a clear disadvantage; not only did Z have a car, he had a gun, and about 100 pounds on the victim.

"But he was wearing a hoodie!", "He looked like a thug!", "He hit me![unconfirmed at this time]". He was a black kid, defending himself from some crazy stalker dude with a gun, who accosted him on his trip to get Skittles for his little brother, in the rain.

No cop, no civilized person, should consider those accusations as acceptable precursors to the use of deadly force.
- No matter what hoodie I wear, I will never be shot for wearing it.
- No matter what hoodie I wear, I will never be called a thug.
- No matter who I hit, no one will ever say that lethal force was justifiably used against me in return*.
If, god forbid, someone does shoot me to death, my family has high confidence that the police will
- Arrest my shooter.
- Identify my body by asking around the neighborhood to see if I lived there.
- Prosecute the shooter to determine in court whether or not the shooting was legal.
But then, I'm a white woman. If you're a black man or boy, good luck with that. Apparently that stuff doesn't apply to you.

[*With the exception of me somehow turning into a domestic abuser. I still have the option of being accused of inviting rape by wearing a short skirt, a low cut top, or drinking too much, but chances are near certain I will never face Trayvon's fate.]

Given that 'a free society is one in which it's safe to be unpopular', this doesn't speak well of our supposedly free society. Like judging people by how they treat the staff, we need to judge ourselves by how we treat those who are at our mercy. There has been too little mercy for Trayvon Martin and his grieving family, and entirely too much for the shooter. There are places that are sticking up for Trayvon; I don't mean to imply they aren't. But the ugliness isn't confined to dark corners and private chats. It's out there in volume. It has powerful legitimizers. The hate gets an airing by people trying to be "fair". We don't need to be fair to lies or echo the slander. We fought a civil war to free black slaves 151 years ago, and then we harsh on other countries for not embracing our example democracy in one generation when hand them examples of justice like this?

For further reading, my go to source on this is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Much of his late March postings cover this case. If you need to have a conversation on safety in the face of public power and force with your black son, check out his book, The Beautiful Struggle.

Thanks to everyone who has spoken up for Trayvon Martin and his family.
So what else can I do? Wearing my lemon yellow hoodie doesn't seem like a sufficient statement of support.
What can we do? How can I be an advocate? How do we make our country a safe place for average black men to do average things without fear of arrest or death?