Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Re-Electing Obama in 2012 Matters to Me

Right now, Chris Clark has a very insightful post on Faultline, entitled "Why I'm not voting for Obama in 2012". He starts off by talking about the candidates he voted for in prior years, starting with Jimmy Carter. Even though he has disagreed with many of the Democratic nominees, he still voted for many of them. At times, he engaged in strategic voting reasoning that it was at least the "lesser of two evils", but sometimes he reasoned differently.
I haven’t always voted for the lesser of evils. I mean, I did vote for Mondale in ‘84, Dukakis in ‘88, and Kerry in 2004. But when it’s been prudent to do so — for instance, when my adopted state of California was not in play — I voted my conscience, or or at least I did as closely as I could. I voted for Nader in 1992, ‘96 and even 2000. I might have voted differently in 2000 if I hadn’t been living in a state where Gore got a 12-point lead. I don’t know.
He also points out that Nader isn't the reason why Gore wasn't elected. I agree with him there. However, I think our views branch into different directions when he posits that even "1972 Nixon" would be a better Democratic candidate for the 2012 Presidential race than Obama.
It’s a worse choice every single time. Every single time the difference is clear, and every single time both candidates are more loathsome than their counterparts four years previous. How many people reading this wouldn’t vote for 1972 Nixon in a heartbeat as the Democratic candidate in 2012?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, Nader isn't even worthy of consideration given his unabashed racism. Personally, I wouldn't vote for "1972 Nixon" if he was the candidate today, because I feel sick to my stomach when I think about this nation's historical racial imbalance with regards to positions of power.

The reality is that no one who is electable will represent my views, so my only options are to stay home on voting day, vote for someone who hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected or vote for someone who will carry out policies that I disagree with. I don't see how voting for someone who can not be elected is anything other than a waste of time, so it seems that the only real decision I can make is to stay home or vote for someone I disagree with.

For most of my adult life, I've felt that it was better to stay home than to help put someone into an office knowing that they would engage in activities that I oppose. I'm still not certain that this isn't the most ethical stance to take. However, I started to reconsider my position when I started reading about and contemplating the consequences of neutrality. Even if I stay home, I think I bear a certain amount of responsibility for what the person in office is able to get away with.

So, I wonder if it might be worth voting for someone that I disagree with if I think that they are at least capable of making rational decisions and might be open to listening to what people like me have to say about the direction we want this country to take. History has shown that there is absolutely no reason to believe that voting for white, cis*, non-disabled men will result in revolutionary change. I think that the further we get from that model, the more likely we are to see changes in political policies that will prove to be positive for the communities that I identify with. The only way to find out is by having more people of color, more people with disabilities, more queer-identified people put in office. We've seen what white, cis*, non-disabled men have to offer and I don't see how people like me have anything to gain by continuing down that road.

Obama's term in office has certainly encouraged that view. It has changed the lives of those around me in ways that I didn't even anticipate. It has activated people I know who had never before expressed an interest in politics. I have seen it motivate young black professionals to run for office in Louisiana. I watched as Michelle Obama almost single-handedly changed the way that young black and brown girls in the USA viewed physical education class. Her presence at the side of the President has made it infinitely easier to tell our daughters that brown skin IS beautiful. These are things that electing a 1972 Nixon would not accomplish.

Barack's identity as a mixed-race/mixed-ethnicity person of color gave my child something that every white child in America has been able to take for granted their entire lives: the ability to see someone who looks like her in the White House. The exhilaration and triumph that Irish-Catholic Americans felt when they got to see photos of the Kennedy family eating together, playing together, working together, and just being there now gets to be experienced by families like mine. It changed the way the entire nation eventually felt about the idea of having more Irish-American Presidents.

I suppose if an individual already had what most people of color didn't experience until Obama became President, his re-election might not be a very thrilling prospect. Maybe there isn't much for them to personally feel excited about. I can definitely understand that. However, having witnessed unprecedented positive changes rippling through every facet of my communities, I see many reasons why it would be beneficial for Obama to be re-elected.

I think it also needs to be understood that the first person of color to occupy a role in our society is never a true radical. A truly radical person of color would never have been elected President. Even the self-identified liberals and progressives wouldn't have allowed it. Sadly, it seems that the traits that made Obama electable in the eyes of white America are now the very same ones that many progressives and liberals are unhappy with. I wish that I could explain to some of my loved ones who are white that Obama's role is not to enact the kind of revolutionary policies needed to fix this society. His role is to make it possible for that revolutionary to be accepted by white America. It isn't Paul Robeson that changed the way white American sports-lovers viewed black athletes. It took Jackie Robinson to do that. Robeson was too revolutionary for most of white America to accept, but Robinson was malleable enough to endure the kind of abuse that America requires people of color to tolerate in order to achieve new levels of (begrudging) acceptance. Being anything other than a complete milquetoast and even white liberals and progressives will label a person of color "too angry", "uppity", or a "loose cannon".

In my eyes, Obama is doing exactly what people like me need him to do. We need him to be "Jackie Robinson", so that a "Paul Robeson" can eventually change the problems created over the past few centuries by those who shared more than just superficial traits in common with Nixon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cutting Out the Cursive

Today, I read an article written by a mother who is concerned about the fact that some schools have decided to stop teaching cursive handwriting and replace it with keyboarding lessons. I don't think it's a big deal, but judging from this article and the majority of the responses that it received, lots of folks disagree with me.

There was an interesting point left by a commenter who wrote from the perspective of a left-handed person. I am also a lefty. I don't think most right-handed people understand how cursive writing is designed for them and not us. It is absolutely impossible for a left-handed writer to use the proper form and shape the letters properly in cursive. It's one of the reasons why, in my father's days as a schoolboy, children who were left-handed were often forced to write with their right-hand. Is the nostalgia that some feel about cursive writing really worth continuing this kind of abuse? I'd say no.

My mother-in-law has beautiful handwriting. I mean, she's the person that everyone comes to when they want a sign or poster created for an event. I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, so I've never been able to match her handwriting skills--I'm not even going to dwell on how ridiculous it is to expect students with mobility issues and other disabilities to attempt to excel in it. Anyway, I once asked her how she learned to write so beautifully and she told me about how she went to Catholic school as a child and the nuns would rap them across the fingers with a wooden ruler whenever they were caught writing with their pencil at the wrong angle. I was shocked!

It seems a little silly to say that a practice that's becoming increasingly outdated (i.e. changing your name when you marry) might be a good reason to hold on to another practice that's already almost completely outdated (i.e. writing in cursive). At one time, it was thought unnecessary to teach girls how to read. After all, teaching them to read would take away from what was considered really important to adults back then: learning how to make jam and darn their husband's socks, grind corn into meal that's just the right size for making griddlecakes, and make sure that every floorboard was properly scrubbed by hand at the end of the day.

At some point, technological advances made it possible for people to get through their day just fine without needing those particular skills. The same thing is happening now. Most teachers realize that cursive writing isn't really practical knowledge and doesn't matter as much as content in today's world. If an English teacher has to read and correct 30 term papers, they need those papers to be typed so that the class can move on to the next assignment in a timely manner.

Students today need to know a lot more than students did a long time ago. Nobody is going to graduate with honors and get into a good university by having great handwriting skills. I don't think that learning how to write in cursive is useless, because I don't think that any knowledge is useless. It's just not practical. If students want to learn it, then I think it's fine for schools to offer it as an elective, just as it's perfectly okay for schools to offer painting classes and embroidery classes as electives. However, we'd be doing them a grave injustice if we sacrificed those lessons that they need, but aren't receiving, just so that we can feel like the world hasn't changed to the point where much of what we learned is irrelevant.

Let's Have an Intelligent Discussion About Grammar Policing on the Internet

Ironically, I have yet to see a genuine expert in the English language engaging in the policing commonly carried out by those often referred to as "grammar nazis" (see: the definition at UrbanDictionary.com ) on the internet. If a person takes even a few courses in linguistics, they can't avoid the fact that without the violation of supposed "rules of grammar" man can not create poetry. It is the violation of grammatical "rules" that transforms words into art.

Of course, every generation has its share of folks who would dismiss any form of art that is not easily understood within a narrow framework. Dadaism, impressionism, and surrealism (along with many others) all faced the same kind of criticism. Poohbahs derided them all, in the beginning. Then, when the "right sort of people" began to praise it and join in, the poohbahs inevitably jumped on the bandwagon and tried to pass themselves off as expert advocates of it.

This isn't something that one only witnesses in the world of graphic arts. It's just as common in the literary world. How many people here would say that a limerick lacks artistic value? How many would claim that a haiku can't be beautiful or worth pondering? When they are the most creative, neither haikus nor limericks are easy to understand at first glance. That is what makes them art!

I always feel sad when I meet people who can only find beauty in that which is familiar to them. Some of the most exquisite joys I've ever experienced came when I let go of my preconceived notions and embraced something outside of the ordinary and the mundane.

I recently read some articles about how many schools have decided to forgo the teaching of cursive handwriting. It's pretty apparent that there won't be much use for it in the future. In a world that is increasingly digital and tends to value speed more than format, it isn't hard to understand why text-speak has become so common that even reluctant folks (e.g. me) are gradually coming to grips with the fact that complaining about it won't make it go away.

I've never been an early adopter, but I'm still too young and sexy to allow myself to go the way of the dodo bird just because I refused to figure out how to roll with the punches. LOL

Friday, August 05, 2011

Just to Avoid Being Held Responsible

I'm still seeing arguments about the news story that I mentioned in my last post. Sadly, a significant number of them are making the same preposterous classist and ablist assertions that bothered me yesterday.

The area where I'm from is known as Cancer Alley. For over twenty years, this area has had outrageously high rates of incidence for cancer, including very rare types that most doctors go their entire careers without ever encountering. It's a heavy industrial area that produces enough air pollution that it strips the finish off of cars in the area.

Should people who have developed cancer due to the carelessness of others just suck it up and move on? And the idea that in this life you have to work hard is utter nonsense. I live a much better life than the average person who gets cancer down here in Cancer Alley. Does that mean I worked harder those who don't have what I have?

What about personal responsibility? Why are so many people afraid of it? To me, that is a much bigger issue than the idea that there are people in the world who want things handed to them. Those folks mainly ruin and waste their own lives through sloth. However, people that run around behaving carelessly and believing that they shouldn't be held responsible for their actions pose a threat to those around them, too.

Because of people who are essentially self-centered and self-absorbed, other folks wind up with a lower quality of life, a diminished ability to earn a living, and sometimes we even die. And our willingness to work hard couldn't prevent us from being affected by people who spend their time being impressed with themselves.

My hubby was working for a delivery company 60+ hours a week and going to school full-time in the honors program, majoring in Electrical Engineering. He worked hard to care for a disabled wife, our child, and to pay for school. One day, he was delivering a package and the homeowner decided to let his dog out of the house when he went to get the box. The dog promptly attacked my hubby and when he went down, he hit his head on the side of his delivery truck and then on the ground. He was knocked unconscious and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of hitting his head.

As soon as he was out of the hospital, he tried to continue working, even though he was still healing from his wounds. We desperately needed his income. We weren't on any government programs; we had no welfare check or food stamps or childcare vouchers. We were just a working class family, barely eking out a living and trying to improve our circumstances through education.

Those who love to claim that folks who sue others are just looking for a way to get out of working hard can feel free to explain how we were being lazy or sue-happy when we were forced to deal with the fact that my husband now has significant loss of ability to remember things and a spine with crushed vertebrae. He had to quit school and he couldn't keep his position at work because it required a level of functioning that even the company agreed he no longer had, as a result of the attack.

It's really easy to defame individuals with disabilities when you can only see yourself in the eyes of the person(s) who caused the damage. However, is it really so hard to give the damaged person the same benefit of the doubt that these folks provide to those who caused it?

This is an issue of social justice. If someone ruined that doctor's hands, do you really think that he'd just give up the career that he's worked hard for and the earning potential that he had and just move on with his life? That's just laughable to think about! He'd sue the pants off of the individual who damaged him. And his social status makes him nearly immune to the kind of criticism leveled at poorer people who seek justice.

Anyone who thinks that there is some pervasive phenomenon where folks are using lawsuits to get rich without working obviously have no first-hand experience with the subject they're talking about. It took nearly FIVE YEARS just to get the dog owner's insurance company to pay for my husband's medical bills.

When their lawyers were trying to make claims about how much his injury cost him in earning potential, their calculations didn't include what he would have been making as an engineer. They didn't even include how much he made in over-time each week--that alone constituted more than a third of our income at the time of the attack.

If he and I didn't have well-to-do relatives who could dole out money to us each month, we would have become homeless. Does that sound like fun to y'all? Do y'all really think that this was an easy way to live? If so, you are seriously deluded.

Taking responsibility for your actions is what ethical/moral people do. Making others pay for your carelessness is cruel and contributes to the degradation of society. If you hurt someone, then you shouldn't even force them to go through the suing process. Unfortunately, suing is often the only recourse that exists because there are increasingly large segments of society (folks with the attitude that some are exhibiting here) who will do anything--that includes blaming the victim--to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Responsibility is not the same as Blame

I saw this post today that was written by a fellow person with disabilities. It pissed me off to no end. It's about a woman, named Halina Jane Gillet, who now lives with Erb's Palsy, because of the actions of the doctor who delivered her. Unfortunately, this blog post reveals a certain lack of empathy that is rather disappointing to see. She writes,
For such a case to even be possible, proceedings must begin before the child reaches 21. Now 25, Halina’s case began 5 years ago, with just enough time to scrape into the time constraints.

Now, I’m not saying that Halina’s life hasn’t been hard, and that what happened to her could’ve been prevented, but I do think that sometimes things in life ‘just happen’ and maybe her life was meant to be this way. And I don’t think taking down a well respected Professor will make her injury go away. Sure, it’ll make things easier financially for her, if she is successful, but I don’t think that what she is doing is right.
It doesn't matter why she decided to do it now. Perhaps, she's just starting to see how much her disability will affect her earning ability or quality of life for the next half of a century.

If a mechanic caused damage to you car, you'd hold him liable for the results of his shoddy work, wouldn't you? If a seamstress didn't properly sew the stitches on your pants and they fell off of you while you're on speaking on stage, would you just say that it was all "meant to be" and let it go at that while pictures of you in your bare panties floated around the internet for the rest of your life?

It's very sad to see people with disabilities so critical of one another instead of supporting our sister. How much damage should a doctor be able to cause without being held responsible? He screwed up. Holding him responsible is not being mean or greedy or unreasonable.

How "well-respected" he is is irrelevant. Well-respected people are just as capable of inflicting harm as anyone else. Is his life somehow more important than hers? What if someone damaged HIS arm? That would certainly impact HIS ability to carry out the duties associated with his career. This isn't looking for someone to blame and it's awful to hear someone make this kind of claim.

There's a world of difference between blame and responsibility. Even if no one ever blamed him, his actions are still the reason why she is disabled today. You're free to take a "meant to be" attitude when it comes to YOUR body, but it's pretty awful to tell someone else what they should be willing to put up with.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My Queer Positions

I found a link on the Facebook page of a much-beloved social justice activist named Kay Olsen.
On it, there was a quote:
Some will read “queer” as synonymous with “gay and lesbian” or “LGBT.” This reading falls short. While those who would fit within the constructions of “L”, “G”, “B”, or “T” could fall within the discursive limits of queer, queer is not a stable area to inhabit. Queer is not merely another identity that can be tacked onto a list of neat social categories, nor the quantitative sum of our identities. Rather, it is the qualitative position of opposition to presentations of stability—an identity that problematizes the manageable limits of identity. Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white-hetero-monogamous-patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalized, otherized, and oppressed. Queer is the abnormal, the strange, the dangerous. Queer involves our sexuality and our gender, but so much more. It is our desire and fantasies and more still. Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.
It was taken from a manifesto called "Toward the Queerest Insurrection"

Perhaps, this will help people understand why I am not jumping for joy each time I hear that gay marriage has been legalized somewhere. Fighting for "marriage equality" is fighting to be included in an elitist institution. "Marriage equality" is not a social justice issue. "Marriage equality" postulates that elites within gay and lesbian communities deserve to be able to participate in and contribute to the marginalization of those whose relationships the government has deemed unworthy of the benefits accorded to married people (e.g. couples that include trans* folks, people with disabilities, polyandrous/polygynous househoulds).