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The Masks I’m Not Not-Wearing

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Department Of Before We Go Any Further

Check out the “Introducing: Resistance” podcast, hosted by the Reply All podcast.

And by check out, moiself  means put down what you’re doing and listen to it, right now.  Okay; maybe take a pee break first, if you need to (it runs a wee bit – sorry – less than 45m).

It starts out with a gabby, somewhat potty-mouth banter   [1]  between the Reply All host and Resistance podcast producer, the latter who has spent the past year following Warriors in the Garden, a New York City, youth-led activist collection. The story itself is an absolutely chilling account of head-scratching, mind-boggling, Orwellian-level abuse of authority. That the subject of the incident, Derrick Ingram, made it out alive (I don’t wanna give anything away, but I don’t want to scare you off from listening, either) is amazing.

It’s a prime example of “This is why people are protesting and this is *what* they are protesting,” especially for anyone who wonders what the fuss is about.

 

 

 

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Department Of This Guy Is So Observant – He Should Have His Own Blog   [2]

Dateline: last Saturday, breakfast table. MH, reading the previous day’s New York Times, says to moiself , “This headline makes no sense.”  The headline in question came from the article, Inspired by Trump, Hasidic Backlash Grows Over Virus Rules; it was actually the sub-headline which he found bemusing:

Orthodox Jewish leaders have seen a growing, raucous faction of young men in the community, tired of pandemic guidelines and resentful of the secular authorities.

“Hasids, tired of guidelines and resentful of authority?” MH shook his head.

That’s, *secular* authority, moiself  reminded him.  I, too, found the concept ironic, as in, Hello?!  Do y’all know we can hear you when you talk?!  ridiculous.

Unquestioning compliance with rules and guidelines and adherence to authority is what the Hasidic lifestyle – what any orthodox religious life – is all about.  Using the pretext of obedience to their god’s will, the insular Hasidic communities follow rules and regs about what and when they may eat, where they can and cannot live, what language they speak, what clothing they can and cannot and must wear – like the Shtreimel, the bizarre traditional fur hat a Hasidic man dons for religious holidays and festive occasions and those times when a guy just feels like balancing a dead gopher on his head – what they can do for a living, who and when they marry, even when a married couple can and cannot have sex – every aspect of their lives….

But health guidelines meant to protect *every* community from a deadly infectious disease?  Dude, that’s asking too much.

 

“Wear a mask? Oy, that would make us look ludicrous.”

 

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Department Of Have I Mentioned Before How Serious I Am About This?

What with the looming appointment of yet another antediluvian-minded wacko religious conservative nominee to SCOTUS, the subject of attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade is once again up for social media debate.  I like this guy’s pithy phrasing of the reality that some folk still don’t seem to understand, even as many of us – men and women, religious and secular, even a Mormon mother of six – have pointed out that all pregnancies are caused by male ejaculations:

 

 

There are, of course, reasons for abortion that do not stem from unplanned/unwanted pregnancies and therefore would not be prevented by preventing irresponsible ejaculations.  If you’ve ever known a couple  [3]   who’s had to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy due to medical reasons you’ve had a glimpse at the pain involved…and if you think that no one you know has ever been in that situation, as a wise friend said recently, “If you don’t know someone who has had an abortion, it just means you’re the kind of person they wouldn’t tell.”

What with the upcoming election, the ongoing pandemic, the stresses and pressures all of us are dealing with, I often despair at the divisiveness of our political and personal discourse. That said, I’m still going to draw my own dividing line.  If you don’t understand this point – if you are a man who favors regulating the bodily autonomy of women but not men (and if you’re a woman with the same opinions, WTF is wrong with you?) and are not willing to just MYOFB on this issue, please, stay away from me, stay away from my husband, my family, my pets, my car, lawn, my recycling bin, my pear tree….

Side note that shouldn’t be a side note, but a main talking point:
I’ve witnessed plenty of women being asked if they’d ever had an abortion, but have yet to see a man asked if he’s ever been the *cause* of an abortion.

 

 

Let’s change that, shall we?

 

*   *   *

Department Of For Those Who Wonder What Is The Concept Of Bodily Autonomy
Sub-Department of And For The Rest Of Us Who Think That Women Should Have As Much Or More Bodily Autonomy Than A Corpse

 

 

*   *   *

 

Different as in, lightening up the subject matter.  It’s time to giggle.

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Department Of The Following Joke Is Courtesy Of Sigourney Weaver  

Yeah, we’re best buds, didn’t you know?  She calls me up to share her latest jokes.  The Sigster is quite the gagster, which surprises some people who primarily think of her as a flamethrower-wielding, saving-the-world-from aliens, warrior woman.   This jest of hers had me in fits of pig-snorting laughter.   [4]

 

My doctor told me I have to stop masturbating.  I asked, “Why?”
She said, “Because I’m trying to examine you.”

 

 

 

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Department Of Trying To Be A Good Citizen….

Even as I don’t like wearing a mask, I always do when I go out. But they are a problem for me; it seems like I bought about 15 different kinds, trying to get a good fit, but no matter what the style they don’t want to stay around my ears and are always popping off.

Do you remember the “earlobes” lesson?  Maybe they don’t use that example in school anymore, but both MH and I remember that, when we were in our high school science classes, two basic human traits were used to introduce students to concepts in genetics: eye color, and earlobe shape.

 

 

If earlobes hang free, they are detached. If they connect directly to the sides of the head, they are attached.  Free/unattached is the dominant trait. Scientists used to think this trait was controlled by a single gene; thus, it was a good illustrative introduction to genetics, with students having fun comparing earlobes, and going home and doing the same with their parents and siblings. Nowadays, geneticists think it is likely that several genes contribute to this trait.

MH said that my attached earlobes make it difficult for the mask strings to get a good hold.  I’d completely forgotten that moiself  has attached earlobes, until MH was helping me with a stubborn mask, and pointed that out.  I had to pout for a moment.

I  HAVE A GENETIC DISABILITY.

I WANT MY OWN PARKING SPACE, DAMMIT.

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Pun For The Day

Never trust atoms – they make up everything.

 

“I swear, one more bad science pun and….”

 

 

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Department Of Just Thinkin’

On my early morning walks, I listen to podcasts. When a podcast ends, depending on its length/how many minutes I have before I return home, moiself  either tunes in to another podcast or switches to some music.

I’ve noticed that I walk faster, with the proverbial spring in my step, when music is coming through my earbuds.  Occasionally I wonder if someone walking behind or towards moiself  would notice the difference:

“Look at her – The Fresh Air interview must have ended and now she’s listening to The Go-Gos….”

 

 

Who could resist bopping to that?

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Department Of Th-Th-Th-That’s All, Folks

Among the many observations of #45 which are supposed to be character- revealing is the fact that he is the first president since James Polk (over 170 years ago!) who has not kept a pet while in the White House.

Not true, sez moiself . What about his lap dog, William Barr?

 

*   *   *

 

May you have more bodily autonomy than a corpse;
May you take pity (but not patronizingly so) on we recessive freaks of nature
who have attached earlobes;
May you remember that, when it comes to boppin’ out to The Go-Gos, resistance is futile;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] But why the fuck would anyone who reads this blog object to that shit?

[2] Or, at least he should get mentioned in several footnotes.

[3] Or you yourself have been part of that couple.

[4] Okay, so I actually saw this on a NY Times link to famous people telling jokes…but I want Sigourney to know I would be a good audience for her humor, and we should hang out, some time soon.  Unless she has a problem with PWAE (People With Attached Earlobes).

The Good Old Days I’m Not Remembering

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Department Of The Joke I Wish Was Not So Spot-On Descriptive

Q. How many Republicans does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None; #45 just says it’s been changed and the rest of them sit in the dark and applaud.

 

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Department Of The Good Old Days Are More Old Than Good

Why is nostalgia like grammar?
We find the present tense and the past perfect.   [1]

Thanks to the podcast Curiosity Daily, moiself  has learned that there is a classification for the nostalgic lens with which my mother viewed the stories of her childhood. In the podcast’s August 13 episode, one of the topics was nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations…..
Nostalgia’s definition has changed greatly over time. Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning “homecoming” and “pain,” nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.
( excerpts from Wikipedia entry on nostalgia )

Specifically, the podcast focused on the fact that the folks who study such things (nostal-geologists, as I like to think of them) have classified nostalgia into two types: restorative versus reflective nostalgia.

Restorative nostalgia is when you feel like things used to be better in the past, and you long to relive or even reconstruct the way (you think) that things were.  Reflective nostalgia involves recognizing your wistful feelings about how things used to be, and admitting you sometimes long for the old days even as you accept the fact that the past is past and that your perceptions of that past are probably biased.

 

 

I had an immediate, visceral reaction to hearing the names and descriptions of the two types of nostalgia;  Moiself  felt like I’d won a jackpot of sorts, in having a spot-on term for the kind of “looking back” my mother preferred to do.

My mother was quite willing to share her stories of growing up in the small northern Minnesota town of Cass Lake.  I frequently asked my parents about their childhoods, as I found their stories entertaining, fascinating, and ultimately revealing (even as I later found out about all of the concealing that was going on).  My father was the more skillful storyteller, both in the entertaining way he presented his stories and, as my siblings and I discovered in our adulthood, in his deftness at deflecting or avoiding talking about certain times of his life.    [2]   But this space, today, is for my mother’s restorative nostalgia.

As a child I’d observed that adults had this thing for “the good old days.” Although my mother didn’t present her stories with that introduction, the forthright manner in which she presented How Things Were Back Then ® made me astonished by the idea that anyone would pine for the olden days.

Restorative nostalgia: even as that kind of rose-colored-glasses/longing for the past is understandable, I’ve come to believe that it is ultimately not helpful, and can even be damaging.  Besides being unreal – you can’t and go back and make things the way they were – restorative nostalgia is, or should be, undesirable, for any rational person. When I have met people who really and truly seem to wish for “the way things were,” I sometimes want to bitch slap them into reality…

 

 

…and ask them, Have you fully considered the totality of that “safe space” you think you long for…and would you be willing to take everything else that came with it?

Those “simpler times” for which many people wax nostalgic included the not-so-simple realities of massive (and oft-times life-threatening) racial, gender, and sexual orientation repression and discrimination.

“Wait a minute, Mom – I remember you telling me…”  became my unintentional mantra, when it came to listening to my mother’s restorative nostalgia.  And after I had pointed out what, in my opinion, needed pointing out, she would respond with a somewhat conciliatory, “Oh yes, well, there was that….”

One day when I was visiting my parents back during the first Gulf War, I brought up the subject of current events.  My mother began telling me about how she found herself “pining for” the days of World War II, aka, “The Good War.”

Uh….Mom…those were days when the WORLD was at WAR.

“Oh yes, well, there was that… but, she continued, everyone knew each other in the town, and they all pulled together, and there was a feeling of solidarity….

I tried to validate that for her, then gently asked her if the pulling-together part made up for that awful day when the news came about the small town’s Bright Shining Hope:  the Cass Lake High School star athlete and recent graduate, beloved by all and engaged to a local girl, was killed in combat in Europe. The news devastated the town.  And didn’t she remember telling me about how horrible it was when the “telegraph truck” drove down Main Street, and when people saw it coming they ran into their houses, as if they could hide from the bad news, as if their shut doors would mean that the notice of a husband/brother/son/cousin who was KIA or MIA or wounded would pass on to another family….  And didn’t she remember telling me how “sick to death” she was by the adults who used the war to excuse their incompetence and blunders that had nothing to do with wartime circumstances, but if you tried to bring it to their attention or ask them to correct their mistakes, they’d sneer at you and say, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?!” and you’d be accused of being unpatriotic if you said anything after that?

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”  But things were “simpler” back then, in the old town/small town days, she declared. 

Well, maybe, I said…but “simple” doesn’t always equate to better, or even good.  And it seems far from simple – it seems complicated, even frightening, to me – to ponder much of what people had to navigate back then.

What would that be, she wondered?  She said she liked to remember the simple days, like the time when she and a friend walked back to their respective homes late one night after a school activity – they thought nothing of walking home after dark because they were safe from danger in a small town, and she’s thought of that over the years, when she couldn’t sleep until her own school-age children were home because she worried about us being out after dark….

“But wait a minute, Mom….”   you had so many dangers back then that we don’t have now. Maybe you felt safe walking home at dark, but I remember the rest of that story you told me:  the very next morning, when you went to your friend’s house to walk with her to school like you did on every school day, you saw the frightening QUARANTINE! sign on her front door.  Your friend had been stricken – overnight, seemingly out of nowhere – with polio and was being kept alive by an iron lung, and your parents were almost frantic with fear, thinking you might also be infected.   And over the years I’ve heard about children in your small town who were crippled, even blinded and deafened, by diseases for which we now have vaccines and/or cures….

 

Quarantine sign, Polio. 2005.3080.07.

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”  But still, she insisted, people were friendlier back then. They pulled together, and put aside their differences to cooperate as equals – being a good citizen meant something, back then.

“But wait a minute, Mom…. The “everyone pulling together” did not, in fact, include everyone.  Some citizens were more equal than others.  Don’t you remember telling me about “the Indian kids,” who were required by law to go to public school until age 13, after which they all dropped out, and how they all sat in the back of the class and the teachers rarely spoke to them and they never spoke in class?  You said, when I asked about their tribal affiliation, that you thought there were “at least two kinds of them,”    [3]  but you didn’t know what the “kinds” were – none of the whites did, because they weren’t interested and didn’t bother to find out, even though all the whites in town knew who was Norwegian-American and who was German- or Swedish-American…and that sometimes you felt bad for the Indians because you knew they had gone from being the majority to a minority in their own land….

And you told me about a high school girl who befriended the son of the only Chinese family in town – a family that had to constantly remind everyone during “The Good War” that they were Chinese, not Japanese – but this girl’s parents forced her to stop even speaking with him because they were horrified by the idea that their daughter might want to date “an Oriental”…. and when that Chinese family opened a grocery store because they couldn’t shop at the other stores in town during regular hours   [4]  no one patronized their store, and they were unable to make a living and moved to another town….

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”   Still, it was so much fun, the carefree high school days, she said, asking me if I remembered her telling me how she got to be lead saxophone player in the marching band (in such a small school in such a small town, if you played an instrument, you got to be in the band) and was valedictorian of her high school?  You know, back then, the teachers knew all the students and their families; they took a personal interest in their students, and everyone was so nice….

“But wait a minute, Mom…. What about the fact that your mother had to call the school principal and fight to get you into the physics class, because the physics teacher refused to “waste my time teaching science to girls”?  And then, after the principal forced the teacher to accept the two top students in Cass Lake High School – two girls, you and your best friend, Dorothy K – into his class, the teacher refused to speak to you or call on you when you raised your hand, and said openly to you and Dorothy on the first day of class that although it was against his will he’d been ordered to allow them in his classroom, and he grudgingly agreed to teach Dorothy because, “It’s obvious that she will have to work for a living.”

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

Then, without a modicum of introspection or self-awareness, my mother said, “Oh well, it turned out I never found physics to be very interesting….”

Well, of course not – why would you have?!?!?!  You were actively discouraged from being interested in it! The teacher paid no attention to you – he didn’t care if you learned anything. He had to give you an A because you read the required materials, aced all of the tests, and all the other students knew you had the top grade in the class.

And what about the way your best friend, Dorothy K, was treated?  Because she was “disfigured” – a botched forceps delivery damaged her facial muscles, causing the right side of her face to droop, as if she’d had a stroke – Dorothy was raised to accept the “fact” that because she lacked the most important feminine asset – a pleasing face – no man would ever want to date, much less marry her, and that she would need to make her own way in the world…in a world where the same men who would not consider her romantic partner material were also predisposed to not consider her their intellectual or professional equal….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….” 

And that job you had, after your junior college graduation: you worked as a secretary at the post office, and you said it drove you nuts, how the clerk was so incompetent and you often ended up doing his duties (but of course you didn’t get paid for doing so), and you knew you could do the job better but when you asked the manager you were told that, as a woman, you weren’t eligible to even apply for such a position…and how you were saving up your money to buy a car, but as soon as you were married you had to quit your job, because a married woman couldn’t work at the post office….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

and that…and that…and that…and that….

The incidents – read: life – my mother told me about…how do I explain this?  She never told those stories as examples of hardship or discrimination.  She presented them matter-of-factly, and often seemed to be befuddled by how gob-smacked I was to hear them.  To her, that was just the way things were; I heard the between-the-lines details – hardship and fear, racism and discrimination – that didn’t even, technically, require me to read between the lines, as they were, to me, glaringly overt…even as those details were, to her, not the point of her stories.

 

 

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Department Of Dorothy Is Not In Kansas Anymore

I met my mother’s friend, the afore-mentioned, legendary (to moiself ), Dorothy K, only once.  I was in college, home for a visit, and my mother excitedly told me that her friend Dorothy was returning to the States after her latest overseas trip, and had arranged to take a flight to LAX. My parents picked up Dorothy at the airport and brought her to their house, where she stayed overnight until she caught a flight back to her home.    [5]  

I was somewhat enthralled with the idea of Dorothy: over the years, I’d heard about how she was a chemist, made good money, and spent her free time travelling around the world.  When I finally met her I remember thinking how attractive I found her to be – she had “good bones,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have been, sans that incompetent doctor forceps mishap.

Part of my enthrallment came via comparing her life to my mom’s.  Moiself  (ungraciously, I know) saw my mother as a staid homemaker, someone who worked all day but never got paid and who had never been anywhere except for Cass Lake and Santa Ana. And here is her friend, with a career in science, who travels the globe….

I later thought of the ironies of Dorothy’s life, including the fact that the characteristic which made her “damaged goods” in the eyes of her culture is also what allowed her to go to college and work in fields that were closed to women in that time.  Her disfigurement essentially neutered her in the eyes of males; thus, she presented no threat of “distraction” (i.e., of them being sexually attracted to her).  Although I’ve little doubt that she faced discrimination (she shared a few stories with me, about always being the only woman in her department), it was as if she were a third gender: since men didn’t see her as a woman she was less of a threat to male colleagues, in terms of them having to consider that they were being equaled, or even bested, by a woman.

My mother (privately, years after Dorothy’s visit) admitted to me that she sometimes wondered what it would like to be Dorothy, whom she saw as independent and carefree.  And I wondered, is that how Dorothy saw herself?  Considering the culture she was raised in, instead of fully embracing her life – her career and the intellect she was allowed to develop – did she ever compare herself to, say, my mother?  Did she in any way envy my mother for having a husband and children – for having the life Dorothy was told would not be possible for her, even as it was the only/ultimate/proper life to which a girl was supposed to aspire? Or, did she look at my mother’s life and find it…tedious, and limited?

Such questions haunt me, whenever I think of Dorothy.  I wish I could ask her, but she died several years before my mother did. I can only hope that whatever nostalgia Dorothy dabbled in, that it was reflective, and brought her satisfaction.

 

 

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Pun For The Day

You know what seems odd to me?
Numbers that aren’t divisible by two.

 

 

And I also vote for more nerd puns in this space.

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May your nostalgia be reflective;
May you live in the present with your eyes open;  [6]

May you change the damn lightbulb when it needs changing;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Couldn’t find attribution for this old pun.

[2] In last week’s post, I mentioned a few of them. My father died not knowing his adult children had found just how poor (and dysfunctional) his family was, and that he’d never graduated (nor even attended) high school because his father forced all his children to drop out of school at age 13. And when I found this out, some missing pieces fell into place; I realized that all the stories Dad had told about his youth, to his children, were carefully told to hide those details.  For example, we’d made assumptions that the job he talked about having “after school” was part-time, when in fact he was working fulltime, when his peers were in school, and we never put the pieces together to realize that the school stories he’d shared were all pre-high school….

[3] The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe were “two kinds” of indigenous tribes which had settled in the Cass Lake area, centuries before Europeans arrived.

[4] One grocer let the Chinese family shop at his store early, before regular hours, so that the other (white) families wouldn’t see them.

[5] …to wherever that was for her.  I cannot remember; it was in some larger city.  She’d left Cass Lake to go to college, and only returned to that small town to visit her parents, who remained there until their deaths.

[6] Even when it too often involves holding your nose (think: #45 and his primeval toadies) and wishing for a fast track time machine to the future

The Red Line I’m Not Ignoring

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Department Of Yet Another Thing We Should Have Learned In School, But Didn’t

As part of the ongoing ruminations, discussions, and revelations   [1]  re systemic injustice, I’m going to sharea couple of redlining and racial deed restriction stories.

 

“A middle-aged white lady with such a sordid tales – that cannot be!”

Keep calm and hold on to your crumpets, Countess. It’s not exactly what you’re thinking.

Redlining, as y’all may know, is the historically documented, illegal, discriminatory phenomenon, practiced in both Canada and the USA, in which there was/is an organized denial of financial services (by federal and local governmental agencies as well as the private sector) to certain geographic areas of a community, based on demographics. The most common form of redlining is via banks, mortgage lenders and/or insurance companies “drawing a red line” around areas where they would avoid investments, most frequently inner-city neighborhoods with a majority black population.

 

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, two of my college roommates (LW and SG) and I made a day trip from UC Davis to the Bay Area, to see our former roommate who and was living and working in Palo Alto.  We had directions to her apartment but no map of the area, and when we took the University Ave. exit from 101, driver SG turned the wrong way – she went east, instead of west.

A police car pulled up alongside ours (the cop car was in the left lane of the two lane eastbound road), matching our speed. There were two officers in the car: Driver Cop was white, Passenger Cop was Latino.  Passenger Cop rolled down his window, signaled for SG to roll down hers, then called out, “Are you girls lost?”

We didn’t think so, until he’d asked us that.  SG said that we were going to Palo Alto.  “You’re headed the wrong way,” Passenger Cop replied. “You need to turn around; you’re headed toward East Palo Alto.”

I immediately thought,  Wait – this is strange. He doesn’t know us or where we’re going. One second after SG thanked the cop, from the back seat of SG’s car I called out, “How did you know we were headed in the wrong direction?”

“You’re the wrong color,” Passenger Cop replied. I could see the smirk on Driver Cop’s face as he punched the accelerator and their car sped on past us.

We were was flummoxed…and knew nothing about East Palo Alto (including, prior to that encounter, that it even existed.) When we got to our friend’s apartment and shared the story, she told us that East Palo Alto (“EPA”) was definitely *not* Palo Alto; it was an unincorporated (at that time) community on the other side of the tracks, so to speak – a high crime area with a majority Black and Latino population.

I didn’t then (and still don’t now) fully know how I felt about our encounter with the cops. We were, in fact, lost, as in going the wrong way. No GPS back then; all we had were our friend’s directions.  We’d have figured it out, eventually.  If it had indeed been dangerous for three white college-aged “girls,” two of them blonde,  [2]  to drive through EPA, then sure, we were grateful…but also, we were somewhat creeped out, both by being the subject of the cops’ assumptions, and that such assumptions could be accurate.

Fast forward, approximately one and a half years (post college graduation). I am living and working in Palo Alto, and living in the same apartment complex as the afore-mentioned former roommate.  Palo Alto was an expensive place for renters (still is, and exponentially more so), but the apartment complex I was in had reasonable rents. Turns out that that (the affordable rent) was because that particular apartment complex was in a buffer zone of sorts, between Palo Alto and EPA. Although my mailing address listed Palo Alto as my city, my zip code indicated that buffer zone, which followed the San Francisquito creek on its meandering way, paralleling and then crossing the freeway.

Living in the EPA-Palo Alto buffer zone but working in Palo Alto “proper,” I became aware of the many improper attitudes Palo Alto residents had toward those residing on the other side of the creek. On my daily morning runs I would head down the street of my apartment complex and take a pedestrian bridge across the creek, a bridge which, I learned, was referred to as “the butthole” by some of the Palo Alto residents on the other side. I enjoyed running through those residents’ neighborhoods; the houses were gorgeous, the streets wide and clean…so different from those on “my side” of the tracks.

Not long after I moved to Palo Alto from Davis I went to a Palo Alto Bank of America to give them my address change and order new checks. I filled out what seemed like too much paperwork for those basic changes. The Very Friendly Young Bank Teller scanned the various pages, asking me twice to confirm my new address and contact information.  As she began collating the papers, she gave me a conspiratorial wink. “It’s a good thing you’re just ordering new checks,” she giggled, “and not applying for a mortgage.”

Say what?  Sure, I was a bit young to want, or be able to, apply for a home loan, and even if I wanted one my meager salary would not have qualified me for such…but she didn’t know my salary, or anything else about me.  Could she tell by – what, the the way I was dressed? – that I couldn’t afford Palo Alto real estate?

“I don’t get it. Why is it good that I’m *not* applying for a mortgage?” I asked her.  She pointed toward my paperwork and said that, “with that zip code,” I would be unable to get a bank loan. Of any kind.

While often incorrectly assumed to be part of the city of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto has always been a separate entity since its founding as an unincorporated community until its incorporation in July 1983….The two cities are separated only by San Francisquito Creek and, largely, the Bayshore Freeway….
In 1990, 43% of East Palo Alto’s residents were African Americans, which was the result of redlining practices and racial deed restrictions in Palo Alto.
(from the Wikipedia entry on East Palo Alto, history)

 

“Good afternoon. What services may I deny, er, help you with today?”

 

At least two more times, while living in the buffer zone, I heard references to redlining, a practice I’d hitherto had no knowledge about.  Reference #2: out for drinks one night after work with a co-worker and his friends, one of whom was a Stanford MBA student.  MBA dude, after discovering where I live, gave me the nudge nudge wink wink  and “joked” about the fact that I couldn’t get a loan if I continued to live in “that area.”

Moiself  recently told these stories to friend RB, who’d moved to Oregon from the Midwest after retiring from her job at a bank. We were having a COVID-safe lunch in a park, talking about the Black Lives Matter concerns. I told RB I was gobsmacked by comments from so many white people who seem to know nothing of our nation’s history of systematic racism, particularly re wealth acquisition.  Specifically, I’d recently read several remarks by people who said they understood that redlining and other discriminatory practices had existed, but that that was “long ago” and “mostly in the South.”

From the vantage point of my physically-distant picnic blanket, I saw RB’s eyes roll in disgust. “Yeah, right.” She laughed bitterly, and said that in the 1980s her bank, like most banks in the US, did a paperwork audit and removed any traces of redlining and/or discriminatory language from their loan guidelines, but that “everyone” (as in, the bank’s employees) knew that the practice still existed…only then, it became harder to prove.

 

Well, that sucks.

*   *   *

Department of Racial Deed Restrictions

The first house Bay Area friends LPH and DH bought was an adorable cottage up in the hills.  When it came time for the paperwork, their real estate agent  [3]  rather sheepishly pointed out a passage in the deed that she wanted them to be aware of, before they came upon it themselves. It was a certain clause that houses built before the late 1960’s used to have in their deeds, and it was still in there, but they could have the deed redone to remove the embarrassing relic….

The clause stated that no “colored person” could reside on the property, except in the capacity of a maid or household help, and then only in separate quarters built for that purpose.  Such clauses were known as a racial covenants.  LPH’s and DH’s initial reaction was to keep the original wording, to show later to their children…or anyone who might say that such discrimination belonged to a bygone era or another geographic location, and not the “enlightened” West Coast.

“What’s In Your Deed? …. Look deep in the fine print. Many residents…have this clause in their deeds: “No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property.”


Racial deed restrictions became common after 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court validated their use. The restrictions were an enforceable contract and an owner who violated them risked forfeiting the property. Many neighborhoods prohibited the sale or rental of property to Asian Americans and Jews as well as Blacks. In 1948, the court…declared that racial restrictions would no longer be enforced, but the decision did nothing to alter the other structures of segregation. It remained perfectly legal for realtors and property owners to discriminate on the basis of race.


( “Racial Restrictive Covenants: Segregated Seattle,”
Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project )

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Meritocracy, Schmocracy

Americans are, compared with populations of other countries, particularly enthusiastic about the idea of meritocracy, a system that rewards merit (ability + effort) with success. Americans are more likely to believe that people are rewarded for their intelligence and skills and are less likely to believe that family wealth plays a key role in getting ahead.…
….one company study…examined almost 9,000 employees…at a large service-sector company. The company was committed to diversity and had implemented a merit-driven compensation system intended to reward high-level performance and to reward all employees equitably.


But analysis revealed some very non-meritocratic outcomes. Women, ethnic minorities, and non-U.S.-born employees received a smaller increase in compensation compared with white men, despite holding the same jobs, working in the same units, having the same supervisors, the same human capital, and importantly, receiving the same performance score. Despite stating that “performance is the primary bases for all salary increases,” the reality was that women, minorities, and those born outside the U.S. needed “to work harder and obtain higher performance scores in order to receive similar salary increases to white men.”
( “The False Promise of Meritocracy,” The Atlantic” )

When people talk (in both education and work settings) about rewarding merit, what they forget – what they don’t even think about – is that people often tend to equate merit with access to resources. Consider the children who had access to all kinds of experiences which make them look “well rounded” in school and job applications: dance, sports, music lessons from an early age, Scouting, summer camp and other extracurricular and cultural activities.  Yes, perhaps at a certain point those kids had to motivate themselves to practice the violin, but the thing is, their parents could afford music lessons and instrument rentals in the first place.

That idea of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps implies that you (a), have boots, and (b) the boots have straps on them.

 

 

At my father’s retirement party, a Black co-worker spoke about how my father had taken “under his wing” (championed and mentored) people who hadn’t traditionally been promoted in their agency, such as “minorities and women.” Before he retired my dad told me about a female co-worker – a secretary, whom he’d noticed had qualities which would be well-suited to the position of field agent. To the bafflement of his male peers, he recommended her for the agent training program.  Dad said that, in his opinion, prejudice against women being promoted was more unconscious than overt: it wasn’t that, when looking to promote from within, managers evaluated the available pool of talent and realized, “Sue has the mathematical, investigative and organizational skills to be a good field agent – oh-oh, Sue’s a woman, never mind.”  It’s that they didn’t even think of evaluating her in the first place, because she was a woman

My father’s mentoring of female and non-white agents was his contribution to affirmative action, although he probably didn’t think of it in those terms.

I’ve no doubt that my father, at some point in his life, used that bootstraps expression, in terms of overcoming his background of crushing poverty, under-education and family dysfunction.  [4]  Judging from other conversations we had over the years (and the fear-mongering literature from conservative religious and political organizations that I was sad to see on their coffee table, when I was visiting my parents at their home), I’m sure my father also fell for the conservative party line that affirmative action was bad and people who need aren’t qualified or don’t know how to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,” like he considered himself to have done.

Except, of course, that he didn’t.

The myth of the self-made man is just that – a myth.  Everyone who “makes it” has been helped, either actively (e.g. having mentors and opportunities) or passively (being born into an advantaged class, or at least, *not* being born into a disadvantaged class).

My father’s father was illiterate; he never completed grade 2, never learned to read.   My dad and his siblings were forced by their father  [5]  to drop out of school at age 13 (“They don’t need schooling to farm”) and contribute to the family resources.  My father had no high school diploma, and was only able to go on to school after The War   [6]  because he was eligible for the GI Bill.  He had no bootstraps to pull himself up by (except for his paratrooper boots), but that was ok, because the GI Bill gave him some.

President Bill Clinton declared [the GI Bill] “the best deal ever made by Uncle Sam,” adding that it “helped to unleash a prosperity never before known.”


For white people, that is.

The lack of access to a family home meant a long-term loss of wealth for black Americans. A family home purchased in 1946 in a good neighborhood with a strong tax base and solid schools, became financial wealth to pass onto family members, borrow against to start a business, or to send kids to college….


Historian Ira Katznelson has documented how and why black Americans received far less assistance from social programs than white Americans, and argues that the G.I bill was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow laws. He cites a study declaring it was “as though the GI Bill had been earmarked ‘For White Veterans Only.’ ”


Thousands of black veterans were denied admission to colleges, loans for housing and business, and excluded from job-training programs. Programs funded by federal money were directed by local officials, who especially in the south, drastically favored white applicants over black….
(“How African American WWII Veterans Were Scorned By the G.I. Bill”
The Progressive 11-10-17)

 

 

Despite my father’s background, he was able to go “back” to school, get an education, and apply for the kind of jobs that non-white GIs with similar (or worse, or better) backgrounds were not.

After getting a good job thanks to his GI Bill-enabled education, when my father and mother applied for a mortgage they were not subject to the discriminatory lending practices, redlining, and racial deed covenants which Black job applicants and prospective home-owners faced.  If my parents were alive I’m sure we could have many “interesting” conversations   [7] about these things, about the ways our society has been structured to promote and maintain the kind of systemic inequality that most of us (white) folks don’t think about, or even know about, because…well, because we don’t have to.  It’s not in our face; it’s not part of our day-to-day experience. Sure, there were times when money was tight and my folks worried about paying the mortgage, but they were able to get a mortgage in the first place.

As a child, my father compared his circumstances to that of other tenant farm families, and the last thing he would have called himself was advantaged or privileged.  But despite his family’s griding poverty, he was white and he was male – which in that time and place gave him a one-up over all females, and over any equally ambitious boy who may have even  been better educated but whose skin was black.  The poorest white boys was at least a white boy, guaranteed that there’d be someone (non-white or female) below him.

A (male) cyclist once offered this metaphor on privilege:

When a cyclist goes uphill against the wind, he is conscious of those obstacles. With every breath he takes, with every rotation of the pedals, he is aware that he’s going uphill against the wind. When he turns the corner, going downhill with the wind at his back, after a while he stops appreciating the advantage – he stops even noticing it. He just enjoys the ride…and eventually may even think, “Hey, I’m really fast.”

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

I got fired on my first day as a bank teller.
A customer asked me to check her balance, so I pushed her over.

 

*   *   *

May you pull someone else up with your bootstraps;
May you never have to be (or live in) a buffer zone;
May we all enjoy a ride downhill with the wind at our backs;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Well, to some white folks. Others have known about this for hundreds of years.

[2] Yes, this is an important detail, or was to me at the time.  I had noticed that in the “racially-charged” incidents at my high school, which was majority Hispanic-surnamed by the time I graduated, blonde females seemed to be particularly targeted for harassment.  More than one Chicano friend confirmed my suspicions.

[3] They do not have the original paperwork anymore, so I may not get the exact wording correct, but the story they told me was burned on my brain.

[4] that we didn’t find out about it until his kids were well grown and in fact he died without knowing the extent of what we have come to know

[5] His mother finally stood up to his father with regards to the youngest child, and said, “This one gets to stay in school!” and so my Aunt Lucille got to graduate high school. 

[6] He told us it was a college, but really, it was an accountancy trade school.

[7] At my behest, ahem.

The Cartwheels I’m Not Doing

Comments Off on The Cartwheels I’m Not Doing

Department Of One Person‘s Cool Fact Is Another Person’s Bloodcurdling Nightmare

I count myself fortunate to be in the former camp, as per moiself’s reaction when I learned about the phenomenon known as spider rain.

Moiself  had heard about spider “ballooning,” which is the way some hatchling spiders migrate and disperse.

 

 

But I didn’t know that a bunch of spiders ballooning at the same time is called a spider rain. Ain’t nature grand?

“Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off…. This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice it.”  (Rick Vetter, UCR arachnologist)

The reason people don’t usually notice this ingenious spider behavior is that it’s not common for millions of spiders to do this at the same time, and then land in the same place….In these kinds of events [spider rains], what’s thought to be going on is that there’s a whole cohort of spiders that’s ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven’t been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it.” (Todd Blackledge, biology professor, University of Akron in Ohio).

(“Cloudy with a Chance of Arachnids?
Spider Rain’ Explai
ned” livescience.com )

 

She’s ready for the spider rain; are you?

*   *   *

Department Of Celebrating That Which Also Needs Mourning

Thinking about the torturous path to women’s suffrage. As the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaches, I’ve been listening to podcasts ( e.g., She Votes! Our Battle for the Ballot) and watching TV shows (e.g., American Experience: The Vote  ) detailing the long history.  Some of it I already knew, via college classes and independent reading. And, some of it I didn’t…and, as with many civil rights issues, learning the history is both illuminating and nauseating.  The latter because of why there had to be a 19th amendment in the first place.

Two other amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the 14th  – specifically, its first section, aka The Equal Protection Clause – and the 15th amendment in its entirety, should have taken care of that.  Here are the referenced texts (my emphases

14th Amendment:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

15th Amendment:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The reason the 19th amendment was needed to give women the vote is because gender/sex needed to be mentioned specifically…because, until it was,  the14th and 15th amendments would not be applied, to women, by male jurists and lawmakers. The only conclusion possible for as to why, given the gender neutral language of the above amendments, is because women were not considered to be included in the terms “people, or “citizens.”

All together now: 

 

Moiself  has also been ruminating on the broader implications behind one of the more common arguments which was presented against women’s suffrage: the idea that the awesome responsibility of voting would take women “out of the home.”

This idea was accompanied by the usual horseshit arguments re a woman’s supposed “delicate feminine nature/sensibilities,” which might be jostled by the strain of voting and civic engagement. That is an interesting juxtaposition with the argument that the importance and rigors of child-reading and household maintaining were such that only women were qualified to do them, yet no one argued that *those* particular rigors were too much for the delicate female nature.

Education; employment; political action – anything which might distract (read: unshackle) women from what was considered to be their primary sphere – taking care of home and husband and children – was threatening to most men.   Some folks even used the lame argument that granting women equal voting rights to men would be a “come down” from women’s “superior” position  That absurdity argument held that the raising of children made women the fictional proverbial power behind the throne, and that by raising future (male) leaders and voters women could more effectively influence public policy than by actually voting themselves.    [1] 

 

 

Really; they used that argument.

All of the emphasis on The Home ®- that a loving, stable, well-run household and the rearing of children are the foundations of civilization – guess what?  No argument from moiself  on that account – although I strongly differ as to the relegation of such important work to only one gender.

But using that reason – the paramount importance of household management and child-rearing – as an argument to deny voting to half the human population holds about as much water as a cheesecloth catheter bag.

 

Yep, I’m proud of that one.

 

The thing is, men truly didn’t believe the argument themselves, or they would have taken over the management of home and children.

Yes this is so incredibly important- the most important thing in the world, actually!…but we want someone else to do it, and we want them to remain mostly invisible, and have no political power.

History shows us that anything patriarchal societies deem to be of upmost importance they also declare women as being incapable of, and/or forbidden by “nature” (read: religion), of successfully doing.

If the preparation and maintaining of a household and the raising of children were indeed considered to be of supreme importance to society, where was the remuneration for doing so – then, as well as now? Child-rearing and household management, for women at least and for the most part, continue to be all-encompassing “jobs” which have no independent financial recompense, professional status, or safety net.   [2]   

So, yeah.  The 100th anniversary of MORE  THAN  HALF  THE  CITIZENS  OF THIS  COUNTRY obtaining the right to vote…a mere ONE  HUNDRED  FORTY FOUR YEARS after their country is founded…is noteworthy, and the struggle for our country’s universal suffrage should be better known and taught.  But the more I learn about what the struggle entailed, the less cartwheels I feel like doing.

And besides, mine would look something like this.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Hate The Fact That The Analogy Is So Apropos

Friend JWW’s disturbingly astute observations, shared on Facebook, after the first presidential   [3]  debate:

I am afraid of this president. If this is how he comports himself in front of the whole United States of America on national TV….

He was threatening and says if he does not win the election then things will not end well. What is that supposed to mean? If he doesn’t win what is he going to do? This makes me very frightened about what the future holds for the USA.

I am also afraid because I am a woman and this president sounds like an abusive husband or boyfriend. I am afraid because if a woman wants to leave a guy like that, she has to be afraid that if she does leave, he will come and hunt her down and kill her and her children. There is no way out. Restraining orders don’t work. So many women are killed even when the guy has a restraining order against him.

We need to vote him out. Vote him out. Vote him out.

And even then we are not sure he will leave.

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

 

Why hasn’t #45   [4]   ever finished a novel?
Because he always gets stuck in Chapter 11.

 

*   *   *

 

May you remember to vote him out;
May you remind everyone you know to vote him out;
May you convince total strangers at the grocery store to vote him out;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] There were some women making the same argument, which should not be surprising, considered that they as well as men were subject to the same cultural mythos, forces and expectations.

[2] Other than via financial dependency upon a spouse, which can disappear at drop of a hat (as in a divorce decree or death certificate).

[3] There was nothing presidential about #45’s deportment.

[4] Aka Little Chief Bunker Bitch, and other assorted monikers employed by those of us who love our country and thus cannot bear to use the given name of the man who shits all over it.