Memorial Day

Today is another patriotic holiday, and my Facebook newsfeed is full of posts about it.  Some are respectful and post about those who have fallen in war; some are respectful but don’t quite understand what the day is about; a lot post about the food they are making and the fun they are having.  None of those really bother me, but what does are the lifestyle ones.  You may know the ones I mean; always from someone who makes more than any general ever has, thanking those who served for protecting their lifestyle.  They make me angry; nobody has ever gone off to war so you can own a pool or buy $10-a-pound hotdogs (both taken from actual FB feeds).

The men and women who have fought are protecting aspects of your lifestyle, and a byproduct of that may be that you have wealth.  Patriotic holidays are not the time to show off your wealth and to talk about it; this is a day to remember that those who died protected your freedoms.  Post a photo of you with your best friends who enjoy freedom of association.  Post a video of your friends talking bad about a government official without fear of recrimination.  Post your gun collection, a woman you love with a proudly worn “I Voted” sticker, your favorite place of worship or even the absence of such.  Those are elements of your lifestyle that men and women have died for.  Your pool is not.


Richard Sherman

Until this week, I did not know who Richard Sherman was.  Sure, I like to watch football most weekends, and can really get into it sometimes, but I don’t follow all the players, and I don’t know all the stats.  The Seahawks have really never been a team I cared about. My husband, however, is a San Francisco fan, so I was watching as their hopes died due to a brilliant play by Richard Sherman.  Still, I probably never would have known his name if it weren’t for a reporter sticking her mic in his face and asking him to describe that play.

If you are with me so far, you probably know what happened then.  He ranted about Crabtree (another name I’d never have known otherwise), and he was loud, and he was angry AND HE DIDN’T ANSWER THE QUESTION.  It was shocking, startling, and really, a little bit funny.  It was something I had never seen happen after a game before.

I had all but forgotten the incident when my Facebook started lighting up with stuff about Richard Sherman.  The first thing I read was a blog post about the incident, which had somehow become about race.  To me, that was shocking and surprising.  Race had not entered my mind at the time, but people had apparently been tweeting and talking about it in racist terms.  Honestly I don’t think it should have been about race, I don’t think that should have entered the debate in any way.  Richard Sherman is just himself, Richard Sherman.  He is not the ambassador of his race, and really should never be made to feel that he is.



This is my second attempt at this post.  The first one had a lot to say, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to say.

Recently, I read a blog post by John Scalzi entitled “Being Poor” and every one of the more than 300 comments that followed it.  It was fascinating, infuriating, enlightening, and difficult to read.  At times I wanted to shoot back angry words at commenters, or even at Scalzi himself.  The post was written in response to people asking why so many people stayed in New Orleans during Katrina.  Katrina is a hot-button topic for me on many levels.

Let’s get that out of the way first.  I lived through Hurricane Ivan, which was a very similar to Katrina in terms of the storm itself.  It was devastating and horrible and many people I know lost their homes.  A year later, Katrina was on-target to hit us again, but made a late turn and hit Mississippi, ruined much of Coastal Alabama, flooded New Orleans, and gave Pensacola’s west side some hurricane-strength winds.  Many people in Pensacola still had blue roofs.  Many people in Pensacola were still in FEMA trailers, living in tents, or in sub-par housing.  We had not yet been able to get contractors in for many of our repairs.  However, the people of Pensacola gave everything they could to those more affected by Katrina, setting up collection stations for food, repair items, diapers, formula, etc, just as the people of Mississippi and New Orleans had done for us a year earlier.

We watched on TV and got mad that nobody had really tried to save so many people.  Buses sat in New Orleans rather than having rounded up people and taken them out of there.  The governor called a state of emergency, but did not sign control over to the Federal National Guard as needed to get the supplies in there that were needed.  It was a mess on a local, state, and federal level, but only the feds seemed to catch flack for it.

Then they came and took the FEMA trailers while there were still no homes to be had in Pensacola.  The contractors, whom we still desperately needed, left.  Pensacola was forgotten, Ivan was forgotten, but still, we understood that others had it worse right then.

Alabama had never been given much thought, but then Mississippi was forgotten.  Coastal Mississippi had been demolished, but within months, they were forgotten.  Admit it, if you don’t live along the Northern Gulf Coast, Katrina is all about New Orleans.  Here’s the thing:  New Orleans in terms of physical damage was not that badly hit.  So many people dying was awful.  The Superdome problems were awful.  But many other places were much more physically damaged.

Now, back to the original topic.  Poverty, being poor.  I have been there and I never want to go back.  Scalzi’s original post was a list of simple sentences on being poor.  Beautiful, powerful, and awful, all at once.  I could relate to many of them, as could many of the people who responded.  Most of them dealt with the feeling of being ignored, having to hide the shame of poverty.

Of course, others chimed in who had not ever been poor.  Scalzi handled these comments well, moderating the discussion so that it did not become a rich v. poor flame war.  Of course, in doing so, he kept much debate from happening, and I think a debate is necessary.  There are too many people living in poverty, too many children and women living in poverty, and there really just is no good excuse for that.

Reading through the comments, everything seemed so simple.  There are rich people and there are poor people.  There are people who are responsible (and therefore, rich) and there are people who are irresponsible (and therefore, poor).  Poor people could become rich if only they think positive thoughts.  Poor people should not be allowed to procreate.  People who might someday become poor through life circumstances should have known that they would become poor and planned for it.

Poverty is much more complex than that.  Poverty isn’t a one-size-fits-all word.  Some people are poor for a very short time, some are poor their whole lives.  There are people who make a conscious choice to do something knowing it will lead to poverty, but most don’t.  Some are born into poverty and will die in poverty, while many others will be born into relative affluence and descend into poverty, and far fewer will be born into poverty and become affluent.  Causes of poverty are varied, which means that getting out of poverty will require different treatments.

Let’s get one thing straight right now, though.  No matter how poor you are, you have the right to love, to romance, even, and the right to choose whether to have a child.  Many would say that the poor should not have children, but that is a mean way of thinking.  Children can be the only bright spot in a parent’s day, no matter how poor they are, and they can and do grow up happy and healthy despite poverty.

One of the first things we should do as a society is to stop the insanity that gives the most resources to the most affluent school districts.  Those are the ones that need those resources the least, but I’m not advocating turning the tables, just a more equitable distribution of funds and talent.  Kids in the poorest district are often the ones who are most entrenched in poverty with the fewest resources to turn their lives around.  For them, knowledge is even more important than having their physical needs met (although they need that, too).  They need to be surrounded by teachers who will speak to them in standard American English, who will spend a little more time understanding what is making it difficult for them to learn rather than giving up because they don’t learn, and who will read to them over, and over, and over again.  In short, the very best teachers should be going to the poorest districts, not the richest.  (I have plenty to say on the subject of teacher education and support, but I’ll leave that to another post).  If richer people start moving into these districts for their good schools, so much the better.  Greater contact between socioeconomic lines means greater understanding and opportunities for everyone.

Similarly, we need to look at Head Start and see why it is not the success it should be.  My suspicions are that finding better-trained teachers will go far toward improving the program, but also that perhaps it should not be a separate program at all.  With the rise in VPK programs, perhaps it would be better to integrate the resources so that there are not programs for poor people and programs for rich people, but simply high-quality programs for all.  Foster a sense of community from the beginning that will help erase the shame of poverty.

Starting with better education for everyone is very much in keeping with the ideas of our founding fathers.  One of the most basic precepts, Freedom of the Press, is based on the idea that knowledge is necessary for democracy to work.  Education is not a handout, nor a luxury, but a right of everyone.  By denying that right to certain sectors of the citizenry, we are denying ourselves a strong and vibrant government.

Advertising & the Economy

I was recently chatting with a group of friends, when I mentioned that despite having many skills to be successful in advertising, I have a moral issue with the profession.  To me, advertising as a profession is about fomenting desire in people to have new things.  There are times when it is used to shape public perceptions, such as in tobacco ads, and there are times when it is to let people know where to find something they may have been searching for, but by and large, it is to make people want more stuff.

When I said this, one of my friends first commented that advertising lets you know what’s out there.  True, and sometimes what’s out there is something that people have been wanting for a long time.  She then commented that getting people to buy things is good for the economy, just before we each had to leave.

That comment made me think.  Or at least, that comment added to my thoughts of the economy.  It seems to me, and has seemed to me for a very long time, that we have a false economy to begin with.  Somehow we have an idea that the economy has to grow, and that what is important in an economy is the growth of wealth in monetary terms.  Both of these concepts seem to be very skewed to me.  

Many people have an idea that we must always be striving for more in everything.  I would venture to say that society in general has this idea.  There is a huge human toll in this concept, however, which results in broken psyches and even broken bodies.  When we are always pushing for more, we forget to look at what we have, and we can never reach peace within ourselves.

The other falseness we encounter again and again is that money is a means unto itself.  It is not.  A truly strong economy is not one in which there is simply a lot of money circulating, but one in which the needs of the people are met.  

As a business, advertising does our society great harm, from the excessive waste of items bought and discarded because they looked so cool on TV, to the health issues fostered by the constant barrage of food advertisements, to the body image issues faced by almost every woman in this country and now many men as well.  It never ceases to amaze me that junk food purveyors use images of slender young women to sell food guaranteed to make them gain weight.

Advertising pervades nearly every minute of our lives.  Most likely, as you are reading this, there is an advertisement at the bottom of the screen.  When you watch a movie, there are product placements every few minutes, your clothing has labels, your t-shirt has your favorite products, your lunch is emblazoned with logos.  Very few of these advertisements are helping you reach your goals; in fact, they are most likely talking you into spending money that you could be saving for a house or a reliable car. 

Are these advertisements really helping the economy?  It seems doubtful to me when I look around and see so many people working at very low-paying jobs for the companies that are advertising the most.  No, this isn’t a scientific survey, and I will admit to not having delved deeply into it, but WalMart, McDonalds, Burger King, and Olive Garden seem to be some of the most prolific advertisers, yet not one of these companies is paying their lowest workers a living wage.  Is that really helping to create a strong economy?



The Question For Miss Utah

Miss Utah flubbed her answer.  We can all agree on that, right?  The question, though, shows how badly our society has flubbed on women’s issues. Did anyone even bother to listen to the question?  Did it make you think?

One thing I am likely to say over and over and over again is that poverty is a women’s issue.  It is the main, most important women’s issue we face, and one of the hardest to overcome.  At every step of the way, women are less likely to have control of their own money than men are, are less likely to obtain jobs to make as much money as men do, and are more likely to be blamed for a lack of money than men are.

How many of you remember a few years back when a study showed that the most effective way for a woman with children to rise above poverty was to marry?  Think about that for a second.  What does that mean?

Politicians, yes, mostly Republicans, ran with it.  Women should get married.  We should make it easier for women to get married.  All our problems can be solved by just making marriage more important!

Can we back up, please?  Can we look at what it means that women must get married to rise above poverty?  Can we look at the fact that men can live comfortably by leaving their children to be raised by a woman whom they do not support financially?  Can we look at the fact that a man with a child can still get a job that pays as much as a non-father while a woman is unlikely to do the same?  Can we look at the fact that with or without children, a woman is unlikely to ever be offered the same salary as a man?

There is something terribly wrong with this scenario, and there is something terribly wrong with the way we view women’s issues as a whole.  On Facebook, those who are most vocal about women’s rights speak only of reproductive rights, meaning the right to have an abortion, to have access to free birth control, and to have sex as casually as men do.  None of those are really the issue, here, and in fact, they obfuscate the true issue.

Men do not have to choose between children and careers, or children and a decent standard of living.  Women shouldn’t either.