when the status quo frustrates.

A Story of Privilege

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

For a couple of months now, I have been driving a young teenager from her home to her high school and back again (about 22 miles one way) for 15 dollars a trip a. Recently, I have also started doing laundry for $12.50/ hr. at the same house. So, at the end of the month, this family pays me a little under a grand. The girl has had almost all privileges a young girl can have- her parents are both corporate attorneys, she has traveled the world, she lives in a lovely McMansion, she has been exposed to culture and goes to one of the best local charter schools. For the most part, she is quite blessed.

This family would be easy to point to and say “Look how easy they have it! Of course this girl is going to succeed, she’s going to have ample opportunity too!” But this is not a story about her, or her family. This is a story of my privilege.

It is harder to look at the things that you have that you don’t deserve. It’s easier to go “I deserve so much more because I work so hard” or talk about all the difficulties but you have had to face. But, even people who have had legitimate difficulties (and I imagine there are quite a few of them) mixed in was all the stuff that institutions have favored about you, the headache that you don’t know that you don’t have*, and sheer dumb luck. I’m female, bisexual, poly and I’m currently lower-middle class. I’m also white, cis-gendered, grew up middle class and grew up in the United States. Your life is always going to be intermixed with what you do, and what happens to you.

I was reminded of that, very strongly, when reading this post from “Forever in Hell”. The post talks about a poor business owner who’s 2 miles away from the nearest bus station, and because of it can’t find anyone to work for him because he needs people to have a car. The relevant part here:

But you have to be able to drive. That’s an odd way of putting it, isn’t it? Why would you need to be able to drive to be a metal fabricator or a welder? What Mr. Isbister means to say isn’t that you need to be able to drive, it’s that you have to be able to afford a car.

Where I live, bus riders are divided fairly evenly between three groups: people too young to drive, people too old to drive and people too poor to drive. Mr. Isbister isn’t talking about the first two groups, he’s talking about the third group, and all of those people are fully able to drive. I have a driver’s license. I know how to drive a car. I just can’t afford to own, maintain, repair and gas a car. That’s expensive and I just don’t get paid enough.

Neither, I would guess, do Mr. Isbister’s employees. And that’s the problem. Henry Ford was a racist asshat, but he did get one thing right: he paid his employees enough to afford the product they were producing. He was only doing that to create a demand for his product (can you imagine a time when you had to create a demand for cars?), but the point still stands.

In order for businesses to be able to pay low wages, they depend upon our tax dollars to provide services to their employees that their paychecks just won’t cover. Low wages won’t cover the cost of owning a car, so your tax dollars pay for public transportation to get employees to work. Low wages won’t cover the cost of food, so your tax dollars pay for food stamps and WIC*. Low wages won’t cover the cost of housing, so your tax dollars pay for housing assistance*. Low wage and part time jobs don’t cover, or even offer, health insurance, so your tax dollars pay for health insurance for their children. And on and on and on.

My job is to drive a kid back and forth. I got this job, because I graduated with honors from high school, and this was my parent’s gift to me, so while I have been paying for the insurance and upkeep on it for the last 7 years or so, I never purchased it. Last month, my car which hadn’t had any problems before, suddenly had the timing belt break on me. The mechanic told me it would be at least $600 dollars to repair**. This is the third major expense on it, and Hubby and I had already decided before this happened that if there was another, that we were just going to junk it for it’s pathetic $200.

$200 dollars is not enough to buy a new car, and my job, it should go without saying, requires me to have a car. Had I not had my husband’s car to fall back on, I would have been flat out screwed. Did I do anything to deserve this luck? No. It’s just what my situation had available for me. We went with one car for awhile, and we could have stayed a one car family, but it was turning out to be really difficult with our wildly divergent schedule. So, Hubby’s family lent us their second truck, a manual. Did I do anything to deserve this? No, it was luck that’s Hubby’s family is wealthy enough to do that and that they could offer it to us. Now, Hubby’s car is starting to sound funny, so we’re taking it in to the mechanic’s. The second truck is a stick, which I of yet don’t know how to drive, so Hubby’s grandparents are lending me one of their vehicles for the couple day’s it’ll be in the shop. Again, did I do anything to deserve this? Did my hard-work lead good things to me? Did I even pay for it in any way? Absolutely not.

If someone else would have been in another situation, they would be flat out screwed. They’d have to quit this job, and lose the painfully meager salary. I have the privilege of a) having a car to get the job b) having a back-up when that fell through c)having in-laws that were in a position to, and willing to***, help me out when this car needs preventative maintenance. This is a privilege that I have that others do not, and one that I’m going to be taking advantage of. And I wish people who say things like “I’ve worked for what I have” could recognize where they didn’t work.

It is more than likely that Hubby and I will eventually be middle class, and probably upper middle class, at least if our parents and grandparents life-path’s are any indication. And I just hope, when and if that happens, that we can keep the knowledge of our assistance, and apply it to everyone else, not just who we know.

*Ani Difranco “Shroud”
**And already had called a couple junk yards to give us quotes on how much we could get for it, demonstrating that he didn’t think it was worth fixing.
***My in-laws confuse me. When it’s everyone, it’s “people should rely on themselves, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” conservative tripe. When it’s their friends and family suddenly it’s “Everyone needs a little help in the beginning”. I’m not sure how they live with the disconnect.

Sucker Punch Review

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

A couple of weeks back, Hubby and I went to go see “Sucker Punch”. The movie has a pretty involved plot line for something that is at its heart an action fest. For the people who haven’t seen the movie, this trailer does a pretty good job of explaining the feel of the movie. I don’t normally do this, but heavy trigger warnings.

The rest of this post after the fold is going to be heavy on spoilers, so it goes after the fold.
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The Price of Being Broke

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The economy is crap right now. Everyone who has a passing connection to the economic world is aware of that fact. Everyone says it- to reassure one another that our unemployment isn’t because we’re unemployment, or to respond to that despondent friend, family member, or acquaintanceship when you sit comfortably from the valued ranks of employment.

But, it is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe when you tell it to yourself. It’s hard to believe when your parents ask if you have a job yet. It’s hard to believe when you fill out your 65th application for employment. It’s hard to believe that there just isn’t something wrong with you, and everyone else is doing fine (even when you take a look around at your friends and see them not doing fine as well). If the economy is so bad, why are there all of these job applications? If the economy is so bad, how come I’m not seeing boarded-up windows? Logic can tell you plenty of things, and your eyes plenty more but that doesn’t stop the very strongly internalized message that employment is a major source of someone’s identity, and money is a major determination of a person’s worth. I’ve sold things, things I didn’t even know were valuable to me, to get thorough my uneven periods of employment. I’m not even talking about my harp and a DVD Player. That sucks, but less of the loss of the items. I’m not even talking about the extortion at the hands of Sallie Mae, whom I’ve just ended up throwing away $150.00 so they could stop harassing me for a whole three months about the loans I am in NO position to pay back. I’ve sold a few of my morals.

A friend of a friend of mine is pretty high in a particular non-profit. In December, we were at a mutual Christmas party, and when he heard about my job difficulties, he told me to send him my resume after the Christmas season, and he’d see he could find me something. Last week I did. This weekend, I need to drive my dad about 3 hours away and spent the night at our old family friends, the Olson’s*. I have fond memories of the Olson’s of when I was a child, but I have less-than-fond feelings towards them as an adult. They are high in their respective fields, seemingly have no memory of being in their early 20s and struggling (for our middle class versions of struggling), and sneer at the fact a good chunk of scholarships are for “People who would rather not work rather than hardworking people”. They live in a place that I feel could easily be described as a “mansion” on a lake, take long, exotic vacations at least once a year, and have enough money to complain about taxes. I smiled politely at them when I was there, swallowed anything I had to say about how “lazy poor people are”, and quietly excused myself when they started talking about “Hajis”. I also sent them a Thank-You card for letting them stay at my house and to send me an email if they hear about any job openings.

I know a good chunk of the world would say “So what? You’re starting to network, that’s how you get jobs”. A few of you might even consider it maturing. But, think about what that innocent little word means. “Network”: I am not spending time with you because I like you, or because I enjoy your company, but for what you could possible get me. “Networking” doesn’t just mean that I’m possibly taking a job from someone equally or more qualified than me just because I’m tangentially connected to them- it also means that I’m viewing someone as a means to an end. They have gone from a friend and companion to the equivalent of a line on my resume.

And I don’t know where it’ll stop. I’m slowly selling values, and that doesn’t just cause cognitive dissonance. But I start wondering where it ends. A friend talks about a temporary job her company does that they don’t really advertise and I get it. Well, that’s okay, it’s just a temporary job. I start having friends-of-friends take my resumes. I write birthday cards to people I don’t even like so they can keep me in their mind. Pretty soon I’m censoring everything I say on a blog, or stop blogging all together, because that’ll keep me from having jobs, and deciding that red isn’t professional enough. Eventually I internalize it to the point where I think “Well, of course it’s reasonable to businesses to ban tattoos and earrings”. Or “my company really needs this by tomorrow, I guess I’ll just have to be late for my husband’s birthday because, hey, I got to have a job”. Slowly, but surely, I’ll start washing over, rewriting, and forgetting any morals, not because something has come up to change my mind, but because of fear. Cowardice will overwhelm any moral code. And that has to be the most expensive thing I could think to sell.

*Name changed to protect the family. Or, if it wasn’t, do you realize how many Olson’s there are around here?

A Job is Not a Gift

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I am moving to a new city at the end of the month, seeing as I hate where I live and also because I’ve decided to flee the world of academia for a little while (possibly forever). Hubby and I already have a new apartment, which is nice and close to where he works. But, new city means I have to do the unthinkable; get a new job.

I always hate getting a new job; mostly because I have to beg to get a job that I know is going to make me miserable. It always seemed wrong to me; I have to do all the work of constructing an advertisement for myself so I can submit to giving up the bulk of my waking hours doing menial shit that I’m never going to see the point of. But, unless this lottery ticket pays of, and since I’m awful fond of being able to pay for the rent on this new place and eating (and paying off the jackals at student loans) I’m searching for someone who wants my skills.

Probably the worst thing about job searching is the advice that I should take the first job someone is willing to give me. I am sick to death of people saying a company “gives” you a job. I am also sick to death of pundits saying that tax cuts means that more “investors” will “give” people a job. I’m also sick to death of companies seeming to think that employing people is a barrier to their wealth and growth, and talking about it as if employing people was some sort of altruistic action.

It isn’t. This goes double for the government. When they’re debating this “stimulus” package, they need to know that this is them investing in the health and growth of our own country.

Employees are where owners get their money. I realize that this sounds counter-intuitive to some, and completely “duh” to others. But without employees, businesses don’t DO anything, don’t produce anything, and surely don’t make money.

Take, for instance, the airline industry. Airline travel has decreased 7 percent, or so it is projected. Now, a bunch of different airlines have laid of employees, and shut down whole wings of airports. What is the result of this? Well, first and foremost, it means that their quarterly stock price goes up 2 percent*. In the mean time, it means a few different things. First and foremost, getting a plane down, unloaded, and off-again (called “turn arounds”) are much, much longer. This means that customers have a greater level of irritation with the flight (because no one likes waiting in a plane). But, I suppose, more importantly for the businesses, this means that they are losing money by the boatloads. Take 350 lbs of jet fuel/ hr, per side for an engine at idle on a CRJ-200, one of the most common commuter jets. Axillary power unit unit, extra 150 lbs fuel/ hour. Then there is battery power, or an external power source.

To sum; you have four different places you can get power for a plane; the engines, the APU, a battery, or the external power source. If you have people on the plane, you want some source of power, (you need lights on). Ideally, if you’re on the ground, you want to be connected to an external power source as opposed to burning fuel of any kind. But, in order to get connected to the external power source, you need a ground crew to maneuver you into position, and to hook you up. If you have very few ground crew people, each plane’s going to be going off the APU or an engine longer. A rampie costs $12/hr (if they have some seniority time; I believe they have been advertising a starting wage of $9/hr). Jet fuel costs 4 dollars a MINUTE (240 dollars per hour- this is a Hubby and Captain calculation, and they should know). A time savings of 3 minutes pays for the rampie’s wage for that whole hour. This is just one example in one industry of how less people means less money.

Additionally, having less employees also means that traveling is going to be more uncomfortable, with longer lay-over times (because of fewer flights) and more crowded planes. In the long term, this is going to mean that less and less people will be inclined to fly commercially if they have other options (like businesses deciding it’s in their best interest to get private jets) and other people foregoing the vacations entirely. So, to me, it looks as if they’re trying to fix a cut by cutting off their whole leg. If you cut off your employees, you’re cutting off the people who make your whole company run.

That’s why I say we should change the entire look of jobs; these aren’t gifts, and you shouldn’t be grateful for your company for hiring you. If I’m grateful to a company, it’s what they gave to me that they didn’t need to (additional training above the job I was hired for, flex-time, and actual interest in my well-being, bennies that weren’t there in lieu of a pay-check raise), not the stuff I contracted to do for them.

*Can anybody explain to me where these prices come from? Seriously, I’m nearly convinced that these numbers are voodoo and magic but I never went beyond microeconomics in class, and people frequently say the same things about other “soft” sciences, which I know isn’t true because I learned about them.

The Passion of Ayn Rand

Monday, April 27th, 2009

That is the title of her biography, written by one of her ex-adherents who also happened to be the wife of a man Ayn had a long-term affair with–given all that, one would expect the tone of the book to be rather more unsympathetic than otherwise. However, that’s not really the case. I read it over a decade ago for a college class–the one and only women studies course I ever took required us to choose and write an in-depth paper about an influential woman of the first half of the twentieth century. I chose Ayn Rand, for three reasons: first, because she fit the criteria as presented; second, because I have a rebellious streak and knew full well that we were expected to choose a feminist, regardless of what the criteria explicitly stated; and third, because I was genuinely interested in the woman behind Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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SmackDOWN!

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Just beautiful. ::sniff!::

Oliver Twist – starring Ford, GM, and Chrysler

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

You know who I won’t shed a single damn tear for? The electric-car-squashing American auto industry. These are the same people who buried their inexpensive, reliable plug-ins once it became clear people actually *wanted* them (and thus the reduced need for marked-up dealer maintenance that comes with dumping the fragile combustion engine).

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But as with so many old-fogey corporate institutions right now, the automakers are in peril. And the Democrats want to help:
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Won’t somebody think of the Multi-National Corporations?!

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

As Barack Obama and John McCain heap unending criticism on lobbyists in their race for the White House, an association representing the public policy advocates is trying to remind everyone that lobbyists are people too.

“What I have trouble with is the hypocritical nature of these comments,” said lobbyists’ lobbyist Brian Pallasch. “Both candidates have worked with lobbyists, recognize the value of their input, received legal campaign contributions from lobbyists, and yet never hesitate to throw us to the wolves when it behooves them to do so.”

Analysis below the fold.

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Peak Banana

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I don’t like bananas, but even if I did, I wouldn’t eat them. United Fruit, the reason that we have the bananas that we have today, is basically the template for ruthless, evil corporations, pursuing unimaginable profits as the cost of human rights and the environment.

Within the next few decades, short of a scientific miracle, the bananas that we’re used to will cease to exist. That’s also United Fruit’s fault, incidentally. Check out Johann Hari’s fascinating article on the subject.

Is there a parable for our times in this odd milkshake of banana, blood and fungus? For a hundred years, a handful of corporations were given a gorgeous fruit, set free from regulation, and allowed to do what they wanted with it. What happened? They had one good entrepreneurial idea – and to squeeze every tiny drop of profit from it, they destroyed democracies, burned down rainforests, and ended up killing the fruit itself.

Anyway, it turns out that the banana-as-we-know-it is not so much the atheist’s nightmare:

…as it is a freakish creation of mankind’s greed and cruelty. Sorry, Kirk Cameron!

Glenn Beck would also like to thank rapists everywhere for doling out all that free sex

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Hello, sunshine! Hello, birds! Hello, Glenn Beck!

We all want to live in a world that’s clean, healthy and prosperous.

Whoa. That’s the most number of words Glenn Beck ever strung together with which I can agree. Though I’m sure his Ralph Lauren-soaked definition of the word prosperous (“A McMansion on every plot, Bennigans leftovers in every fridge”) differs somewhat from mine (which is more about equal/free/bountiful education, basic services, and so forth).

We all want to hand that world off to our children in slightly better shape than we received it. No one, even the supposedly evil oil executive, has any reason to want anything different.

“Our children.” Not all children. Just theirs. Beck sure sums up the conservative agenda in one lazy turn of phrase, doesn’t he? Fortunately, if the oil-rich Bush family is any evidence, Glenn can rest assured that the world of delightfully well-adjusted oil-exec offspring will be filled with all the coke parties, public offices, draft dodges, baseball teams, and second chances a kid could ever want.

Everybody else’s kids will just have to take their minimum wage and uninsured injuries working the rigs and like it.

Congress has picked “Big Oil” as their enemy of the week. These companies inexplicably put profits above people, ravaging the environment and financially assaulting the poor to put another couple of dollars on their balance sheet. That’s the storyline we’ve all been taught.

I never could understand why Beck or any other corporation worshipper wasted their time worrying about who Congress blathers about these days. Our Democratic Congress has teeth so dull they probably couldn’t take a bite out of tissue paper, much less Big Oil. But I sympathize with Beck, because heaven knows we’ve been inundated with so many “teachings” about the evils of oil execs, who clearly lack the power, money, and tee times to influence the agendas of our media conglomerates.

Yes, times are tough for many. Sure, oil companies make a lot of cash. But, for that money, they get us to work, get ambulances to the hospital, keep our homes warm, and employ thousands of our friends and neighbors while financing their retirement, paying their health care, and providing energy to millions.

…IN OTHER WORDS, we all know schools, hospitals, and the working class can’t function without their product, so Big Oil cheerfully gouges them when they could easily be charging half of what they do. Way to sell your case, Beck.

Because of capitalism, they have the incentive to do that.

Do what, exactly? Form an impenetrable oligarchy? Aggressively addict the country to their finite resource? Double their prices just because they know they can? Fuck with ambulances, airplanes, and school buses for fun? Start wars? At this point, Beck’s making Big Oil *and* capitalism look pretty stupid.

I’ve yet to see what our government does for us with their rather large chunk of each gallon of gas we buy, and I’ve yet to see them offer to return it or suggest a gas-tax-windfall-tax-tax.

Tax-tax-oil-plebes-tax-oil-tax. Let’s just string some words together into nonsense, because if it’s long enough, it’ll make me look smart. And if I say tax enough, everyone will remember how much the government sucks! Never mind that fact that even if a gas tax is being spent inefficiently by a government, at least people have some power to influence that process. When it lands in the pockets of oil corporations, it usually just goes to private militias to kill innocents overseas. Tax-no-tax-murdering-spree-windfall!

But enough about oil, let’s drop the red herring for our real target: truth.

The other villain of the moment is the global warming “denier.” Anyone who disagrees, even in the slightest, must be ridiculed. On “60 Minutes” last weekend, Al Gore said: “They’re almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the Earth is flat. That demeans them a little bit, but it’s not that far off.”

So Beck, who somehow thinks people can be bamboozled into THANKING oil companies, would now like to shake a fist at Al Gore for daring to call global warming obvious. Beck makes the following arguments:

1) not many people believe the moon landings were fake
2) not many people (21% in his cited poll) believe that greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming
3) that mean’s Gore’s calling you a stupidhead (statistically speaking)
4) Al Gore’s house uses lots of power and is ONLY NOW outfitted with solar panels
5) Shouldn’t his farm ALREADY be on wind power?
6) Why is he spending $300 million on ads if everyone supposedly believes in global warming?
7) Never mind oil money, be suspicious of Gore’s money and where it came from!!

Can you see any remotely sensible path of logic there? Because, um, I hate to break it to Beck, but a majority of American are NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. See: Election, 2004. See: America, before Pearl Harbor. See: right. fucking. now. on pretty much everything.

So, yeah, Gore calls people with their head in the sand naive. And maybe that’s a majority of Americans. But you know what? Gore never argues that point one way or the other. So all of Beck’s blow-harding about Gore buying all his ads doesn’t make much sense… unless he’s just hoping the audience is stupid and won’t see how convoluted and empty his position is.

Defending oil execs is just weird. Using is as a sneak attack on global warming is ever weirder. Then again, Beck’s just another in a long line of remora fish feeding off the scraps of big business while everyone behind him has to eat his shit.

Videos for you

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Here’s one, from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, that should put a smile on your face:

Of course, we here in Canada recognize this as satire. I’m not sure that it reads that way to Americans. What do you think?

Hat tip: Audra Williams

And here’s one that really won’t put a smile on your face: American soldiers in Iraq: Protecting you from terrorist puppies.

(Warning: animal cruelty.)

Hat tip: mercenarytoast

American consumers partially compensated by DeBeers, Africans still shafted.

Monday, January 21st, 2008

If you were a lawyer representing consumers in a class action lawsuit alleging that DeBeers has, for decades, kept the price of diamonds artificially high, how hard would it be to keep yourself from coming to court with no argument prepared except an index card that reads, “come on, people, fucking duh!”

Anyway, if you were that lawyer, you would have won for what it’s worth (and it’s not worth very much).

If you bought a piece of diamond jewelry — or jewelry with a diamond in it — between Jan. 1, 1994, and March 31, 2006, you may be eligible for a refund as part of a recent settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging that De Beers, the big South African diamond company, had cornered the market for diamonds for decades, keeping prices artificially high…

Theoretically, a $10,000 diamond ring is eligible for a $4,500 refund. But realistically, lots of competing claims will dilute that payout considerably. There’s no way of knowing yet how big a refund the $10,000 purchase could bring, says Tabacco…

If you paid less than $96 for jewelry with diamonds only, or $166 for a piece that includes stones other than diamonds, your refund wouldn’t reach the $10 minimum payout, so don’t bother.

While this is somewhat good news for consumers:

The settlement helps the whole industry, Bates says. “It shows that diamonds are no longer controlled by a cartel. It’s a sign of a more modern industry, that people can have greater confidence in the price.”

PAB would like to remind you that this settlement in no way addresses the fact that every time you buy a diamond, a child gets his or her legs blown off by a land mine.

An exaggeration, maybe, but still, just because consumers will be getting slightly less hosed at the jewelry counter is no reason to not do your research before you shop.