I said in my last essay that it could get worse. A couple days later I came down with Covid, which was a singularly unpleasant experience. It hit me really hard for two solid weeks and left me with strange after-effects that remain unresolved now a week and half later. I managed to avoid it for three and half years, which feels like a pretty good run. Missing all the previous waves wasn't accident or chance, it was prevention. I took a whole lot of precautions. And I'm sure glad I did.
Just like when my partner and I bought our house. We did one of the things you're supposed to do and got a home inspection. As is common, the result was a mile-long list of things that should be addressed with varying degrees of urgency. One prominent issue was the plumbing, which was all CPVC installed in 1994 when the house was built. At the time of our inspection it was all intact and there didn't seem to be any leaks. Unfortunately, CPVC becomes notoriously brittle over time and breaks for seemingly no reason and without warning.
Rather than move in, get settled, and find a leak later (after it had gone unnoticed for long enough to cause other problems), we decided to do some prevention. You can't really connect any other type of pipe to CPVC because the connections are its weakest point, so we hired a plumber to replace all the plumbing in the whole house. We prepared for the plumbers to do their work by removing the bathroom vanity and a section of the kitchen counter. Behind which we found... evidence of leaks! So like a lot of home repair projects, once we began to address the initial issue we found plenty of other things needing attention. So we worked through everything we could with the time and budget we had available and moved into a much healthier place to live.
In the case of our house, our instinct for prevention paid off. I wish we could enjoy equally fortuitous timing on a grander scale and prevent some future societal disasters. Unfortunately we are not in the practice of employing so much prevention as a collective. We tend to wait until disaster strikes. Then we rally the resources and find the funds, whether the disaster occurred at home or across the world. When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and Syria in February, President Biden called for Congress to authorize millions of dollars in aid. And rightly so, those people needed all the help everyone in the global community could muster.
Just in the last week there were major floods in Libya and a massive earthquake in Morocco. Every time a natural disaster happens I wonder: what if we had collectively spent those gobs and gobs of money on disaster preparedness instead? What if we had invested ahead of time even part of the money we always manage to scrape together once emergency strikes? I bet it would cost less than recovery. But when budgets are put together, proposed, and passed there never seems to be enough available to allocate to prevention.
Undoubtedly some of that stems from the extreme length of the long long list of things that need to be addressed. It's no secret infrastructure in the US is failing. Many bridges are near collapse, the water systems and the electrical grid can't keep up with the demands of modern populations. Our ancient rail lines are in need of a major overhaul. Anywhere you look you can find something crumbling.
Beyond the practical challenges, it also comes down to deserving. Everyone seems to agree that people experiencing a disaster deserve help. What about the disaster of being born into poverty? We’ve got to sort out that particular mental & emotional conundrum. Otherwise it doesn’t matter what economic system we have or which form of government, we’re going to end up back in the same place we are right now. With some people or some sets of circumstance more highly valued than others for no other reason than that’s what someone decided and what we all keep agreeing to. We can definitely do better.
Information and Inspiration
Perspective is an amazing thing. This week's heatwave in the PNW killed two people, broke records, and all the scientists say we better get used to it. Summers will just keep getting hotter and the heatwaves will just keep lasting longer. Watching the temperature climb, all I could think was: it could be worse. The summer before last we had a murderheat wave called a heat dome. Many people fled to the coast and all the hotels in-town were booked. For three days the city essentially shut down while everyone who could, hid inside wherever there was air conditioning. 96 people died.
Two friends stayed with us because neither of their homes had air conditioning. We put up black-out curtains on all the windows, didn't turn on the stove or oven, and tried not to move too much. I covered my young tomato plants and watered my poor garden three times a day, careful not to get water droplets on any of the leaves. When the heat finally broke and the temperature began to drop it was like an entity had finally left the area. Our 30 year old air conditioner lasted until the next morning when it finally croaked. That brave little AC unit gave its life so we could make it through that weekend.
That heat dome was a once in a 1000 year event, even though we seem to be having a lot of those nowadays. Like the catastrophic wildfire that just scorched the island of Maui. Over 2,500 acres and almost 3,000 structures burned. 1,000 people still missing and over 100 confirmed dead. And before the ash has even settled, real estate developers began offering victims paltry sums for their fire-blackened land. As if their home burning to the ground wasn't devastating enough.
Fortunately that despicable, exploitative behavior didn't fly under the radar for long. People spoke out. People pushed back. It's been all over the news and social media. The Governor says his office is doing everything they can to protect the people from the predators. As ruinous and traumatizing as this disaster is, apparently it could be even worse.
As has happened many times, asshole capitalists are making an already untenable situation even worse. Just like climate change. There are so many ways every industry could function without destroying our one and only planet. That's just not how we have been doing things so far. Making those shifts will require investment in new infrastructure. Governments will have to tax billionaires (hopefully out of existence) and companies whose sole purpose is to produce profit will have to set a different Number One Priority.
Ironically, focusing on sustainability will ultimately generate greater profits. This is well known and has been discussed and documented many times by many experts in many areas. The problem is sustainability is a long-term strategy that doesn't always produce short-term gains and our current economic system demands short-term gains for investors. So, for a very long time we have extracted those gains without carefully planning to mitigate the harmful future consequences.
One of the reasons we're still doing it is because this is what we've been doing so far. Which is the very worst reason to keep doing something. Another reason we haven't switched to something else is a lack of creativity. I don't mean the people working on these kinds of issues are not capable of creativity, or that they're failing to exercise their creativity. I mean the people who are in charge are steeped in the current systems and there are not enough other people involved in crafting new ways to tackle the biggest challenges of our time.
Consider as an example the sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water." A key plot point of the first movie was when the military dude grew beyond his military mindset by experiencing a completely different way of being and then helped the native people fight off the invaders. This facilitated his becoming one of the native Na'vi. But in the second movie, the military mindset is back and at full volume. And the thing that makes the least sense is NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING ABOUT IT. The main character's Na'vi family is a character of a dysfunctional, patriarchal American military family.
This family are being chased by military dudes who want revenge for loosing in the first movie. So MainGuy decides all by himself that what makes the most sense is for the whole family to leave their tribe and seek refuge with another random tribe. Never mind that it would have made much more sense - given the kind of interconnected tribal community they live in - to consult the rest of the community for other creative solutions that might be on somebody else's mind. Never mind that the tribe was still in danger from the angry military revenge dudes, and once the family left there also went the one person who was an expert in those angry military revenge dude tactics. And never mind that showing up to some other random tribe and asking to blend-in also puts the new random tribe in the same kind of danger as long as the family is still being hunted.
This is why one person cannot actually solve community problems. This is why things that affect us all need to be addressed by all of us. That is the entire point of community: our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. It is also the only way humans can survive. A solitary human cannot make it very long in the wild, we need support from one other. There are billions of us on this planet right now, which means billions of potential creative solutions to the struggles we are facing. So why are we still letting only a few people steer the ship?
Overall, the average life experience of a human on Earth has improved over time thanks to science and technology. The benefits of these advancements just haven't been shared with everyone. Modern life could definitely be worse, and sometimes not as bad as it could be is as good as it gets. But it's time for some deliberate redistribution of resources and power. So let's all come together and figure out how to do things differently than how we have been. If Paraguay can figure out how to generate 100% of its power from renewable sources, then we can follow their example.
Information and Inspiration
There’s an alternate timeline in which I studied linguistics in college, learned multiple languages, and now that me works as a translator for the UN or something. There’s another timeline version of me who didn’t have an abortion, became a parent at age 19, and still works the same dissatisfying job because of the benefits and retirement plan. Another alternate timeline me didn’t stop with a bachelors, stayed in academia another decade, and is now a professor at some college or university. I think about these other potential me’s sometimes, but not with any regret.
I'm glad I took the forks in the road that brought me to where I am right now. And I enjoy the thought exercise of what outcomes could have resulted from different choices. I realized this week that it’s still possible to walk some of those alternate paths. I've been in the tax and forensic accounting profession for the past 20 years, but the only thing keeping me in this industry is the choice I make every day to continue doing this work. There's nothing that says I can't do something completely different for the next decade of my existence.
Granted there may be other barriers to some of the alternate options. I loved building stone walls, steps, and other features in my garden the last few years, so I could start becoming a stone mason tomorrow. But I’m about to be 39 and that line of work is intensely physically demanding. If I want my one and only body to accompany me all the way to old age (assuming we still have a planet to live on), it might not be the best choice to start wrecking it now. Then again, maybe my accumulated experience with physical movement, my strength, and my body connection would facilitate learning a physically taxing job in a way that doesn’t wear-out my body prematurely.
That potential outcome will likely remain a mystery because I don't actually want to become a stone mason. I'm not sure I want to stay as an accountant forever, but the longer I linger the easier it is to just keep on staying. Learning a new trade or starting a new business would take effort. Probably more effort than it takes me to continue my current career path. But that's the beauty of cross-over skills. All the things I've learned doing one thing in my life don't only apply to that one thing.
Just like martial arts principles. They obviously have an application in fighting and self-defense, but they also apply just as readily to regular life. Take set-ups as an example. When I'm sparring I want to set myself up mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I want to set my opponent up with fakes and by using distance, timing, speed, etc. In the workplace I also want to set myself up mentally, physically, emotionally. I want to set my bosses and colleagues up to see the good work I'm doing and to feel comfortable providing me feedback. I want to set my clients up by communicating appropriate expectations. Outside work I want to set my relationships up with clear communication, agreements, and check-ins.
Employing martial arts principles everywhere I can in my life has resulted in some enjoyable outcomes. I ended a toxic marriage and began to heal those wounds. I started a business, maintained it through a pandemic, and continue to grow it seven years on. I have built a supportive community at home and around me. In a similar way, I'm sure I can apply just about everything I've learned as an accountant, investigator, and business owner to some other profession.
One thing is for sure: whatever timeline I’m in right now will become the result of all my accumulated choices, actions, and inactions. Just like the dock brawl in Alabama that everybody is talking about this week. A couple jerks refused to move their boat and decided what they should do instead was attack the riverboat employee who told them they needed to relocate. Then a lot of other people decided to participate. Some helped and some just made things worse for themselves or others. A whole bunch of people making choices. And a whole pile of consequences resulting from all those choices.
I'm working diligently to make sure wherever Future Me ends up is somewhere I intended to be. My future may not look exactly how I envision it now, but that's not as important as getting there. And significantly less important than how I got there. I'm not going to help build a new kind of world where everyone is free and taken care of by using the tactics of oppression and exploitation our current world is made out of. I've got to make different choices. We all have to make different choices.
And the small, personal choices are where it all begins. I have to choose to take care of Present Me in order for Future Me to thrive. I have to work through all the trauma from my past to unburden my future of all that baggage. I have to practice being present in the current moment before I can hope to be present for the moments coming next. And I have to remember that I can choose something different at any moment for any reason. We're making it all up as we go anyway. And none of us know what's coming until it gets here.
A lot of what we think matters doesn't actually matter. You could go so far as to say nothing matters. Nothing matters, so everything matters. Every single moment is an opportunity to create something; anything. Whatever we want! It's not too late to live-out some alternate timeline version of my life. I really can do and be just about anything. I can be everything if I want, I just can’t do it all at the same time. So I'll choose something for now. And then I'll chose something every next moment for as long as I continue to exist on this planet.
Information and Inspiration
When I was in school, I participated in a tradition widely practiced throughout the US education system: cramming. The night before a test I would re-read my class notes and review my highlighted and sticky-noted text book, attempting to cram every bit of fact or figure into my brain. The next day I would sit for the test and regurgitate as many of the details as I could recall. Then, as soon as it was over, all that information would leak out of my memory like soap bubbles down the bathtub drain.
I vividly remember that time in college I sat in the hall 10 minutes before class memorizing the order of a particular financial statement. I wrote it out and re-wrote it and re-wrote it and wrote it again. The second we got into the classroom, I wrote the order out on the top of my answer sheet so I could refer back to it during the test. Having that structure to visually reference helped me remember all the other tidbits I needed to explain the structure’s functions. I guess that's a shout-out for open-note tests.
I'm sure cramming happens in a lot of places. It seems like a pretty universal reaction to a rigidly structured scholastic testing mechanism, which unfortunately exist in many countries. Japan puts students through highly intense testing beginning in middle school. My first experience of my teacher teaching to the test was in 3rd grade. The UK likewise begins academic testing in grade school. So all around the world students are regurgitating data in predetermined formats so adults can run statistics and make decisions about things like resource allocation.
Which all seems weirdly contrived and counter-productive. If the point of the testing regime is to capture a snapshot of how well students are navigating their learning journey, why on earth would you tell anyone what was on the test? And then, if this bizarre exercise was actually meant to accomplish its stated purpose, why would executing the testing system require teachers teach and students learn in the least effective way for humans to actually learn things? It seems like yet another example of people in official roles working very hard to make it look like they are solving problems without actually having to solve any problems.
How humans learn best is no secret. The internet contains mountains of observations, opinions, and studies from teachers, education experts, and students of all subjects. If you’ve every successfully learned anything, you probably have a good idea about what worked and what didn’t. Little bites of information consistently over a period time is a common theme. Opportunity to try things, make mistakes, and try again also pops-up a lot. As well as having a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow in.
The same things plaguing society are also the things preventing our overall education system from providing a glorious learning environment to all students: we're running old protocols from a bygone era. When our current education system was designed, it was meant to produce factory workers. The world has since moved beyond the industrial revolution of the early 20th century, but our schools are the same. Wealthy and resourced districts can afford to work around the limitations of the current education system and provide actual education for the world of tomorrow. Schools under the thumb of poverty and racism aren't so lucky.
And we seem to be doing this to ourselves just about everywhere. We need to reshape cities to better manage the effects of hotter and longer-lasting heat waves. We need to restructure the global shipping industry to stop it continuously contributing significantly to climate change. We need a different kind of economy to equitably distribute the benefits of modern living to all people everywhere. And yet we continue perpetuating our current systems while we send delegates to conferences to sit around and talk about resolving the causes of climate change.
We're still cramming for the test because that's the system we continue to operate in. As a society we have not taken the time to craft new systems; we just keep patching-up the old ones and crossing our fingers. And we've been doing it for so long that all the patches are springing leaks. We're now so busy running from crisis to crisis it's hard to find the time to consider an alternate system. If we let more people from broader subsets of society work on the problems, I bet we could make some progress. But that requires the people in power give up the complete control they have enjoyed for a very long time.
We have more people from a greater variety of backgrounds on this planet today than when most governing bodies were established. To solve the big big problems we're all faced with, we need to hear from everyone. We need more people empowered to create change at every level from their local communities, to national governance, to the collaborative efforts of the whole world. Otherwise we're going to hop from crisis to crisis, cramming for each test as it arrives. Then we'll look back at our ruined, uninhabitable planet full of starving, dying, and diseased populations and not know how we got there.
Information and Inspiration
I am a very decisive person. Probably because I frequently have an eye toward the future. I do not struggle to imagine future outcomes and I am well practiced at taking those future outcomes and walking them back to connect with the options of the present moment. Does the group need to pick a place for dinner? No problem, I have a method. Trying to arrange couches in your new space? Easy peasy, try this and see if you like it. Responsible for crafting a health and safety policy in the midst of the ever-changing Covid situation? I got you, here's a framework.
As adept at decision-making as I am, I still sometimes get stuck in an OODA loop. OODA is short for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It describes one kind of decision making process humans go through. First we see or notice the situation (we observe). Then we orient ourselves to it, drawing on past knowledge and experience. Once orientated, we can decide what to do about it. Finally, we take the action we decided to do. It's a concept I have written about before and explored in a martial arts context.
One way I enjoy taking advantage of this natural human process in sparring is to shift my attack strategy constantly so my partner can never fully orient to what I'm doing. If I can switch-up my timing, speed, intensity, or strikes in an irregular pattern, my partner will have just oriented to one thing when I'm throwing something completely different and they have to orient all over again. If they never get to the decision part, they probably won't get to the act part and I can score a point before they fully realize what's happening.
These days, a lot of political "discourse" feels more like sparring than conversation. Maybe it always did, depending on who you ask. But for me (and a lot of other people), trying to engage in a discussion with someone who holds conservative political or social views is like being stuck in an OODA loop. I have tried to engage with curiosity, but they switch tact at the speed of light employing one logical fallacy after the next. Just trying to stay on-topic is a mammoth task, let alone untangling the spaghettimess of logic holding a dehumanizing worldview together.
And it's difficult not to lose patience with that process. I have definitely given up on some people who are determined not to meet me anywhere remotely near common ground, ultimately deciding it wasn't worth continuing to beat my head against a wall. But what about the times when giving up is not an option? Take the current situation in the PAWMA martial arts community I wrote about recently. The current board continues to insist their nonsensical tale is the full explanation of what's really happening, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The board has attempted, in an increasingly desperate manner, to control the discourse within the community and silence dissent instead of engaging with the honest inquiry from membership who can see their story doesn't add-up. They have also tried making "positive only" posts in the Facebook group to drown-out the posts and comments from the membership asking for accountability, transparency, and explanations. It isn't working because pretending you don't need to answer to the community doesn't make the community stop having questions.
I called the tone of one such "positive" post into question and the author edited it to include the statement "this is not political." She is clearly failing to understand that everything she does (or doesn't do) in the community space is political, whether she wants it to be or not. The situation is highly contentious and she is in a position of power and influence. Pretending the problem is something different than it is and giving all dissenting voices the electronic silent treatment is a political statement no matter what inspirational videos or memes you post.
The board continues to make incorrect or harmful statements, so I have to continue pointing out the problems. In the public discourse, I am basically playing the role of broken record: your explanation includes inaccuracies, your statements don't make sense, please be accountable and transparent, please accept this loving feedback and consider the consequences of your actions for our fellow community members. It's important for someone to be doing this part of the work because combating injustice requires diversity of tactics, but this battle of rhetoric alone cannot resolve the issue.
Ultimately, there needs to be a power shift. How to accomplish that with the community intact is the challenge. To explore some options, I joined a discussion group for the book "From Conflict to Community" by Gwendolyn Olton. It's a book about resolving conflicts in ways other than simply outsourcing resolution to an authority. One of the major take-aways I have from this book is that it's only possible to use a different system if the parties in a conflict all agree to try something different. Unfortunately with PAWMA, the current board started out by wielding their power and engaging an outside authority.
In an oppressive system, you can only engage in change-making through peace if the oppressor agrees to participate. Otherwise, you're left speaking softly to a wall. That's why everything we do is political. No one in modern society has the luxury of abstaining from the system. It's critical you remember that every choice you make furthers a particular outcome. Whether that's an outcome you want to create or just what eventually happens, it's the culmination of your every action and inaction. You don't have to change the world all by yourself. Fortunately, all our individual choices add together with everyone else's choices. Please make sure your contributions are the ones you want to be contributing.
Information and Inspiration
Yesterday I spent the morning doing something entirely different than what was on my calendar. I sat in city hall watching a City Council work meeting. If you haven't already heard, two members of Portland City Council want to make some last-minute changes to the new city charter we all voted on last November now that it's been mostly implemented. Their timing is terrible. Instead of waiting to see how it works out and making any adjustments based on actual results, Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan want to break it before we even have a chance to try it. What's worse is they want to call a special election to do it.
For almost three hours I watched all the experts and city employees explain to the Council members that their proposal to make changes now is going to end badly. Calling a special election for November will cost the city over $600,000. There won't be enough time to educate voters on the proposed measurers. All the concerns Gonzalez and Ryan have with the new charter were discussed at length in the time leading up to the last election when it was on the ballot. The way they want to change the ranked-choice voting will result in more confusion for both candidates and voters. Almost all the work to implement the new system has already been done.
A whole commission of smart and capable folks spent two years working on the question of how to reshape Portland city government. They heard from (and listening to) Portlanders from across the city, and spent time crafting a proposal for a structure that took into account all their concerns and hopes for city government. The result of all that work was 26-228, which 57% of voters said yes to. Now these two individuals who happen to be on the current City Council are discounting all that effort and thoughtfulness. They seem to want to make the new structure resemble the old structure as much as possible.
I think it’s because the current system is working for them. They are scared they might not be re-elected under the new system. If we make elected office too accessible then the political elite in our town won’t have a strangle-hold on governance and policy-making. If they allow the unwashed masses to govern ourselves, how will they maintain the status quo that protects the interests of the wealthy and propertied? The current City Council cannot seem to solve the very pressing issues facing our city. The answer is more representation from a broader swath of the city, not the same in-group that keeps managing to hold a majority of council seats. When we voted-in the new city charter, we voted for a shift away from how things have been done to date.
Gonzalez and Ryan were concerned about a 12-member City Council being too many seats because it would be difficult to "find enough quality candidates." I wish I were exaggerating. But those words came out of their mouths... multiple times. They also wanted everyone to know that because there are non-white people and one non-man person on the City Council, Portland doesn't have a problem with representation. They even made a powerpoint presentation showing the racial make-up of City Council and comparing it to the racial makeup of Portland to show we don't have an all-white council. Maybe they forgot Jo Ann Hardesty was the first black woman ever elected to Portland City Council and that only happened in 2018. Too bad they didn't do a breakdown by income or wealth. Or by physical or mental ability. Or queerness.
I witnessed a particular phenomenon during that work session which I see most often from men with some kind of privilege in positions of power or authority. In voicing their concerns it was as if these two city counselors were saying I wasn’t in-charge of this thing so it can’t possibly have been done in the most best way - there’s no way whoever put this thing together would have considered all the most important considerations because it wasn’t me. Staaaaaaaaahp already. A group of smart, capable people spent a lot of time and followed an intensive process to craft the thing we all voted on and which passed definitively.
This kind of I know best attitude plays out in a variety of ways all over society, most of them with dire consequences. Like the Italian judge who determined a school caretaker's groping of a teenage student was not a crime because it lasted only 10 seconds. 10 seconds that student will remember for the rest of her life. This is why representation matters. This is why we need to hear from everyone in the room, even if they are children.
Equally disturbing to me is that as a society we have decided it's okay for doctors or parents to decide how to reshape the genitalia of babies born with multiple or ambiguous sex presentation. So it's okay to mutilate the bodies of children who don’t fit into the current gender body classification before they even know they exist, but we can’t bring ourselves to believe that children know a little bit about who they are when they’re old enough to tell us? We need to majorly re-examine how we allow people with authority to make decisions that impact the lives of our fellow human beings.
Another unnerving example is all the anti-aging work currently being done by doctors and technologists. I recently heard an interview with one such doctor on the BBC program OS. He is a member of the Live Forever Club, an organization formed to "research practical ways of living long enough to live forever and to promote equal access to longevity treatments to all human beings." On its face, that sounds fascinating and future-focused.
But to me it begs the question: what makes you think YOU living longer is such a good thing? What are you doing to make the world such a better place that it seems like a good idea for you to stick around it for a lot longer? The only hope I have for a better world sometimes is that a lot of people currently in positions of power who are constantly working to maintain the problematic status quo will eventually die, taking their horrid anti-humanity worldviews with them. Their absence won't solve any problems, but it will make space for other people to try something new.
Information and Inspiration
A few weeks ago I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee, listening to the news while navigating morning traffic and a story came on about Afghanistan. The suicide rate for Afghan women is up drastically since the return of the Taliban. Of course it is, I thought to myself. One minute you’re a person with hopes and dreams and a future going about your life, the next moment you’re not allowed out of your house. And there’s no end in sight. Empty promise after empty promise from the Taliban about how and where they will let women and girls participate in society. Just last week the Taliban ordered beauty salons to close. One less place women are allowed to exist.
I want to think all these women killing themselves would get the Taliban’s attention. That this incredible travesty would convince them to reconsider their policies. But no. That would require thinking about women as people instead of as objects, which the Taliban is clearly not about to start doing. From the moment they returned to power they have systematically removed women from all parts of public life while blatantly lying to the international community with vague intentions of things that sound kind of like equality.
The BBC interviewer asked one Afghan psychologist what they are saying to their patients to help them cope. "I ask 'who is your hero?'" they explained. Nelson Mandela is a common response, so the psychologist offers, "Nelson Mandela spent a long time in prison, but he was eventually freed and went on to change the world. He survived and so can you." The reality of the survival option the psychologist presented to these women and girls breaks my heart. 27 years is too long to ask someone to keep hoping for freedom without any method or opportunity to affect their own circumstance.
At this point I can only hold the most cynical view: the Taliban are doing it on purpose. The women who are killing themselves in isolation are the ones the Taliban doesn’t want around. The independent thinkers, the people with aspirations and ideas and dreams that have been crushed. The once future leaders of a more gender-inclusive Afghanistan. Without even getting their own hands dirty, the Taliban are culling the herd. Culling the hers. It makes me sick.
But it's critical to acknowledge that this group of people in power is seeing this outcome of their actions and is taking further action not to mitigate but to make it worse. When a pattern presents itself, it does us no good to consider each compounding incident in isolation. Like every horrid assault the previous US president has ever perpetrated publicly. And just like the entirety of the American food and healthcare systems.
There are countless foods (or food components) sold freely in the US that are banned in other countries. For example, 160 countries have banned US pork because of the growth hormones given to almost all pigs raised in the US for food. There are only about 200 countries in the whole world. That means roughly 80% of the countries across the entire planet have determined US pork is too harmful to consume as food. That's most of the rest of the world. And our own Food and Drug Administration has no problem with our poisoned pork. That's absurd.
If we're going to allow such toxicity in our food, it would be nice if we had a robust healthcare system to treat all the resulting ailments people develop from a lifetime of eating US food. Obviously we do not. Quite the opposite, in fact: our healthcare system is downright predatory. Insurance companies bend over backwards to avoid paying for reasonable or necessary procedures and medication. Doctors, hospitals, and other providers send inflated bills to patients, who over-pay for service because they are unaware they can (and should) question the charges. Providers rely on consumer ignorance of the incredibly complex system (they helped create), so it sure seems like they are doing this on purpose.
A more localized example of potentially intentional malfeasance recently came to my attention. It's no secret that people without indoor housing is a big problem in Portland. It's a big problem in a lot of places because capitalism sucks for most people in most places, and it's especially true after the pandemic obliterated a lot of people's livelihoods. What's new is an organization called Loving One Another that appears at first glance like they are doing something to help. They provide food to people living on the street and connect those people with shelters.
That sounds great, people without food and shelter need access to food and shelter. The problem is this religious non-profit organization is owned by the same guy who owns a private security company. The same private security company on contract with many downtown businesses and the Pearl District neighborhood group. And a new rule just came into effect that punishes anyone camping on Portland sidewalks who refuses to move to a shelter with fines or jail time. Aside from the utter absurdity of fining someone who can't afford housing, this poses a giant conflict of interest issue.
Now the pairing of one capitalist's for-profit private security firm and his non-profit religious organization are in the perfect position as both carrot and stick. The non-profit outreach team can offer a person a trip to a shelter, and if they don’t want to go for whatever reason (like they get harassed there or worse), the enforcement squad can just detain that person instead of leaving them alone. But private security are not cops, so the (very minimal) protections of the current judicial system won’t even be there to help someone who is already vulnerable avoid mistreatment by these private enforcers.
It's a situation rich with opportunity for extortion and exploitation. Just plain profiteering off the housing crisis would be distasteful. But this guy has gone a few steps further and is playing both sides in a way that will ultimately exacerbate the problem since getting people out of doorways and into temporary shelters does not address the root cause of homelessness. All it really does is make it look like someone is doing something so the city council members can pat themselves on the back while people starve and go un-cared-for in a slightly less visible way. And all because the City Council refuses to do the difficult and necessary work of actually taking care of people and solving the problems of poverty. Almost like they're avoiding that work on purpose.
Information and Inspiration
The past few weeks have been especially challenging for me. One of the places I thought was safe from a certain kind of bigotry turns out to be just as in-danger as everywhere else and it exploded my head a little. There's so much anti-trans hate and hate-fueled anti-trans legislation all over the country, but all of that is happening outside my personal bubble of trans-loving, queer-centered existence. So when this time the call came from inside the house it was like stepping on a rock I thought was solid and ending up neck-deep in the icy river.
At the end of last year's PAWMA camp I was excited the community decided to address what it means to be a "women's organization" serving a community that includes non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming folks. In true martial arts fashion, we planned to face that question directly. A gender justice committee was formed to guide us all through these challenging and important considerations and the new board included some folks who were non-binary or trans (or both). It seemed like as a community we were setting ourselves up to journey together into a more inclusive future.
And then everything went horribly wrong.
After just a couple months, half the board resigned rather than suffer bigotry and abuse from their fellow board members. The half that remained manufactured a crisis to cover up their problematic behavior and overshadow their incompetence. The community initially tried to come together to help solve the issue, but the board refused. They refused information, they refused to sit down with other community members and talk it all out, and they refused accountability. Instead, they used organizational funds to hire a lawyer who sent out letters instructing certain people to shut-up about PAWMA, which was supposed to start a dialogue (their words, not mine).
To hear the current board tell it, some Bad Actor tried to forcibly take over the organization and they heroically thwarted the plot and saved the day. In reality, they made-up an imaginary hostile take-over which they "stopped" by performing a hostile take-over... the irony is not lost on me or anyone else in the community. The board battened down the hatches and then told everyone there was a storm coming. None of the explanations they provided for their behavior make any sense at all, but they just keep insisting their version of reality is what's actually happening.
The whole thing is absurd. If it wasn't unfolding before my very eyes, it would be unbelievable. It's like the plot of a bad made-for-tv movie. The board finally held a community meeting where their "experts" gave mini presentations that also didn't make much sense and mostly failed to address the matter at hand. It was a complete fiasco. And it made their narrative make even less sense. But somehow all the push-back and honest inquiry from the community they claim to be working on behalf of has not shaken their resolve to die bravely on this hill of poor choices they built themselves.
So that's what I've been working on in all my spare time (and a bunch of my non-spare time) over the last few weeks. Standing up for justice and accountability in one small place I may have a little bit of influence. Initially I didn't want to write about this situation because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to. I didn't want to tarnish PAWMA's reputation unnecessarily. I have come to realize this is necessary. Keeping quiet only serves to further invisibilize the people who were harmed in their service to this community and discount their experience.
Part of why it took half the board resigning and a pretend-data-breach for the majority of us to catch wind of what was happening is because those people didn't speak up about what was happening while it was happening. And I don't blame them. They probably didn't know whether the community would take their accusations seriously and provide them support, or do what happens in a lot of the rest of society and try to convince them the oppression they were experiencing wasn't real and it was all a big misunderstanding.
I should have known sooner. We all should have. And once we kick these bigoted folks off their current perches of power, we will have to put some systems in place to prevent bigots from running away with the organization ever again in the future. And we'll have to do it all out in the open. There is no such thing as saving face with this issue at this time during this moment in history. The only way for PAWMA to survive this scandal is by acknowledging the totality of this dirty, rotten, TERFy mess and restructuring to address and eliminate any future potential for its resurgence.
Maybe we could have accomplished the same ends with less collateral damage if the Gender Justice Committee had been allowed to do its work. Maybe they would have performed the mission the community tasked them with last fall. Maybe not. Maybe the community didn't understand how real and pressing this issue is inside our magical PAWMAland and it would have always erupted into an out-sized mess. Regardless of what could have been, this is where we are now: playing catch-up.
Catch-up seems to be the theme of this whole year so far. I thought it was just me until I came up for air and talked to some other folks experiencing a similar thing. All the authorities say the pandemic is officially over, so now it's time to actually process all the worry and fear and frustration and whatever other feelings we set aside during lockdown so we could make it through each day. That's a whole lot on top of regular, everyday life in modern times.
I also put a lot of personal life things on stand-by between January and May because tax season was off-the-charts busy this year. I barely had time to eat and sleep most days; I couldn't even fathom socializing. So the last two months I've been trying to re-learn how to exist in social spaces. I'm trying to be a human in the world who isn't working 100% of my waking hours and it's been a surprisingly challenging transition. And because I'm trying not to lean-in to my old protocols of control and containment, I'm sometimes not sure what to do with myself.
I'm trying to be gentle with myself about not yet getting to all the things I haven't gotten to yet. A lot of those old survival techniques included not letting anyone else know anything was wrong - a technique known as masking. Because I'm trying to reroute my survival systems, my default masking protocol doesn't always match up perfectly with what's happening, so the mask has been dropping itself in some unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Which is both new and scary in a good way and also sometimes makes it hard for me to just get shit done like I'm used to.
That and all the new catastrophes that just keep popping up. It would be super great if folks could stop finding new ways to set the world on fire for like five minutes so I could get all the way through my to-do list and take a nap. Then you can fire z missiles. So don't mind me, I'll just be over here crying for seemingly no reason and working through the backlog. If you also have a backlog, I hope you're being gentle and kind with yourself while you work your way through it.
Information and Inspiration
Maybe you heard the US didn’t default on its debt obligations last week. Isn't that nice? What a responsible and ordinary thing to do. Although I am glad my ridiculous country didn’t tank large swaths of the global economic system, it hardly seems like something worth celebrating. The only good thing I can say about the deal is the complete suspension of the limit until 2025. At least we have a year and a half reprieve before we will need to re-experience this particular madness again.
The rest of the deal gives me heartburn. The spending priorities contained within its pages are completely absurd. For starters, theres a freeze on all non-defense spending. Why the hell are we spending so much on defense? We’re not actively at war. We’re not really participating in anybody else’s war. We have peaceful geographic neighbors. Apparently we are preparing for some potential future battle.
Meanwhile, in the here and now we have people without housing or who live in places where the going wage is not enough to survive on. We have people with good-paying jobs who can’t enjoy a commensurate quality of life because they are buried under high-interest student debt. And we have people dying needlessly because they can’t afford life-saving medication while medical debt remains the most common reason people file for bankruptcy.
Clearly our national leaders have their priorities out of order. Which is not a total surprise since the vast majority of congressional members are way out of touch with what it’s like to actually live in this country as a regular, non-wealthy, wage-earning person. There are a frightening number of people in congress who don’t think every human being deserves access to medical care, education, housing, and food. At this rate we’re going to have the world’s most massive military ready to defend a country full of unemployed, uneducated, sick and dying citizens.
Anytime budget priorities and allocation are discussed it’s quite clear conservatives in Congress want to eliminate social programs altogether. Despite the constituents in conservative states using those programs at high rates. Conservative lawmakers advocate for less funding allocated to those programs and more stringent requirements to access assistance. My question is always: to what end? What are they hoping to accomplish? All those restrictions do is make life even more difficult for people who are already suffering. It’s asinine to punish people for accessing the assistance specifically designed to mitigate the circumstances they are experiencing.
What we should be doing is making the social safetynet more plentiful and easier to access. If we did that, people would experience fewer crises and overall need the system less. Look what happened during the pandemic - millions of people received extra unemployment each week (more than they made from their regular minimum wage jobs) and you know what happened? People started businesses. People hired contractors to make repairs and improvements to their homes. People took classes and learned new skills. People did what people do when they have access to resources. They used those resources to make something.
The tight-fisted stewards of federal funding are willing to cut off our collective financial nose to spite our financial face. Republicans didn’t want to fund the IRS (the organization who brings in the money). They also recalled the unspent Covid funds, even though it would probably do more good to allocate them toward covering the next vaccine. It’s all part of this misconception that numbers are more important than people. That productivity can somehow save us from total collapse or unwind all the problems we’ve been causing ourselves for centuries. But just as quantitative metrics are not the best way to measure productivity in the workplace, GDP and other numerical measures are far from the best way to measure how we’re doing as a nation. It’s the human condition that matters.
What’s the point of financial security if it’s derived from the suffering and exploitation of others? That's not stability. That's a facade. And it's not sustainable. This is the same problematic territorialism in some advocacy organizations who actively oppose rights for other marginalized groups. Like the feminist organizations who excluded black women from their ranks. Or the gay organizations who threw trans folks under the bus of public opinion.
It’s perfectly fine to want a space for a subset of humans who share a particular life experience with you where you can just exist or find community and camaraderie. And it’s perfectly fine to create that space to the exclusion of other people who don’t share that similar life experience. It’s not okay to pretend those spaces are more broadly inclusionary than they are. Ignoring or invalidating the experience of others doesn’t further the cause of liberty for anybody.
Just like all the “women’s organizations" excluding trans women because they are not "real" women. There are almost as many ways to be a woman as there are women. No one subset of women has the right to define womanhood for everybody else or set some arbitrary standard by which all other women are measured. The patriarchy shouldn’t get to decide what womanhood is, which is what women everywhere have been fighting against for centuries. So why should we police what it means for each other? What does that accomplish? Only more discrimination and bigotry. I want more liberty instead.
Information and Inspiration
The last couple weeks I have been traveling in a country where English is not the primary language. Although not fluent in the local tongue, I do speak, read, and understand enough to conduct myself successfully through the world. Plenty of people here also speak English, but part of why I came to Germany was to speak German. So that’s what I’m doing. And when I need help remembering a word, I can just ask the translator app on my phone. Sometimes the word I need bubbles up to the front of my mind in the moment, before I look it up, which is very satisfying.
An interesting side effect of immersing myself in another language is that I am also thinking in that language. I wrote a postcard home and it was a challenge to stop myself from automatically slipping-in some German sentences. A few of my English sentences were even structured a little differently than usual. Not quite German construction, but call it English with a nod to stylistically German grammar.
Thinking differently is an interesting (and enjoyable) experience. Over the years I’ve taken workshops designed to facilitate out-of-the-box thinking in various ways, but they have all been entirely in my native language. It’s been fun for the language itself to be the catalyst on this trip. A great example is the difference between how American English and German each express clock time. To describe 3:30 in English, we might say “it’s half-past 3.” In German, “it’s half to 4.” The main focus for the English structure is the past, the hour we are leaving behind. The German structure is future focused, identifying the hour we are heading toward. I don’t know enough about German culture to extrapolate a grander meaning, but it’s interesting to consider.
I have also been re-reading Ursula LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” on this trip, which includes some interesting discussion on how language is shaped by (and shapes) the way people think about themselves, the world around them, and the people in it. The story takes place in a fictional universe 7 generations after anarchists left their home planet to create a new kind of society on the moon. The formerly-home-planet is fertile and rich in natural resources (like earth), while the moon is habitable but less hospitable.
The colonists left not only the economic, government, religious, and other societal systems behind, they also left their language. 7 generations later, when the story takes place, one of the anarchists must learn the language of the abandoned planet so he can visit to share scientific knowledge and information with the capitalists who still call it home. This character remarks that his (anarchist) language has no possessives, so they don't say things like "this is mine, that is yours." Instead, he explains, they say "I use this one, you use that one."
I definitely possess things and describe my objects as such. This is my sweater, these are my shoes. When I share the ownership of an object with another person I include that data point as well by saying "this thing is ours." This week I have been reflecting on how I also claim certain connections to other people. My father, my best friend, my sibling. I don't feel like I own any part of these people because people are not things, but I do feel like I am making a claim on the connection we share when I use a relationship-oriented title.
I don't think this is a problem, usually a person's position relative to me is relevant when I describe them in this way. But it is objectifying in a sense, so I'd like to be doing it consciously. Just like using all the relatively commonplace honorifics we use in English (or any other language you speak). It's important to consider who bestows titles like Mr, Mrs, Doctor, Professor. It's important to ask how they are assigned? And just as important to ask who is left out? When are they excluded? And why? Language is one of the many ways to uplift or oppression each other, so we should take care how we wield that power.
People are doing things differently in the different places they are living. They are using different languages and speaking differently about people, places, and things. Because language is also constantly evolving, the way we express ourselves is growing and changing all the time. Technology has connected us globally and instantaneously, so we seem to be changing at a faster rate than the humans of prior centuries. I would like us all to examine what those shifts mean and to choose as many as we can with intention.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.