And Another Thing…

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It’s over! It’s over! Woo-hoo!

My two cents on the election:

My title is sincere. I have known for the past 10 months that I would be happier about the end of the election than about whoever won it.

Within 50 years of the civil rights movement, we have seen a black man win a presidential election. There is something undeniably wonderful about that.

The next person who whines in my presence about having to wait in line to vote is going to get a punch in the throat. Millions of people around the world live in Third World toilets where any clown with enough men and guns can declare himself “President for Life”. What do you think citizens of such a country would endure to have a vote? How dare any American gripe about minor inconveniences when so many people risk their livelihoods and lives to cast a vote, or don’t get to vote at all?

McCain delivered a classy, humble, and moving concession speech. This is the John McCain that everybody loved in 2000. Where has he been for the past two years? I hope that he will have the opportunity to rehabilitate his image and reputation before he retires.

Is it just me, or did McCain actually look relieved and Obama somewhat solemn? I wonder if Obama is starting to think “What have I gotten myself into?” I sure would if I were him.

Jesse Jackson, that ambulance chaser of American race-relations, was there last night, his eyes red and moist. I wonder if he was crying from joy or because he knows that he could never have had the moment that Obama is having?

Brian Williams is okay, but I didn’t realize what a big hole Tim Russert’s passing left until last night.

If your candidate won: proceed with caution. Don’t put too much trust in any leader.

If your candidate lost: take a breath. The future is not nearly as bad as you expect.

Finally, this article, which aptly expresses how I and many other believers have felt about this election.

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Filed under: Politics, , , , , , ,

“The Turnaround” by George Pelecanos

A few years ago a good friend turned me on to the work of a local writer, George Pelecanos. I immediately took to his books for several reasons. He is a local, born and raised in Silver Spring, MD. Because his books are set in and around D.C., I always recognize the references to local places, music, and culture. He always writes about life-long residents of the area and what life is like here for people who aren’t involved in politics.

Most importantly, of course, Pelecanos can write. As my friend says, the man has style to burn; and many critics include him in the newer school of mystery writers (such as Dennis LeHane and James Lee Burke) who deliver all of the goods: great stories with action, humor, and twists; believable characters; meaty (but not too wordy or contrived) prose; and social and spiritual themes. 

I just finished Pelecanos’ latest, The Turnaround, and I think it may be his best yet. The story opens in 1972 when three white teenaged boys pull a rather stupid stunt: driving into an all-black D.C. neighborhood, shouting epithets at passersby from their car, and then plan to make a quick getaway. Unfortunately for them, they drive into a cul-de-sac (the “turnaround” of the title) and are trapped by three teenaged boys from the neighborhood. As one might expect, violence ensues; one of the white boys ends up dead, another gets beaten within an inch of his life, and two of the black boys end up in prison.

The story then picks up 35 years later when two of the survivors of the incident encounter each other through a shared interest; their interaction draws in the other survivors of the incident as well.  Pelecanos does a great job of showing how the incident affected each person involved with sometimes tragic consequences. He also convincingly shows how these once-cocky kids have grown into (mostly) admirable men and their halting, awkward efforts to lay the past to rest and to try to set a mistake right. Of course, one of the boys has grown up into a thug who sees the chance reunion as an opportunity to settle scores and make a profit. One of Pelecanos’ consistent strengths is his antagonists; though dangerous and cruel, none of them are the type of high IQ super villains one normally gets in a crime novel; they are often as stupid and pathetic as most real-life criminals, which makes them all the more frightening.

There are certain other things one can always expect with Pelecanos: painstaking attention to local and period music (the man practically writes a soundtrack into his novels), a preoccupation with the responsibilities of fatherhood, wrestling with questions of morality and what makes a good man (especially in a sometimes bad time and place), details about the work his characters do for a living, affectionate descriptions of all ethnic cultures (especially Greek culture), and characters trying to find redemption and make up for bad mistakes.  Furthermore, he never tries to make his violence cool; it is always shocking and abrupt, and it always has consequences.

I recommend all of his books if you like crime and mystery stories; but I recommend The Turnaround if you like large-scope stories with big themes, and an ending that may even bring a tear to your eye.

Filed under: Books, , , , , , , ,

Irony, thy name is NPR

I have absolutely no regrets about going back to school get my MSW. It has been a mostly pleasant experience, i’ve enjoyed the work, learned a lot, and I have made some great friendships in the process. However, like any other educational experience, one must take the meat and leave the bones.

For instance I have learned a great deal about behavior, mental disorders, public policy, statistics, research, and families. This is the meat. On the other hand, I have also had to resist indoctrination (in some classes and among some peers) about how the rich white cabal that secretly runs this country does everything in their power to continuously oppress women, non-whites, and every other person besides the destructive and over-privileged rich white male. Being a white male, I have yet to experience the phenomenon that my professors keep talking about where the world is handed to me for no other reason than my being a white male. This, obviously, is the bones.

I don’t deny that times are hard. I don’t deny that the power-brokers of our nation are pathetically out of touch with the working class. I don’t deny that honest, hard-working people sometimes get hosed. All it takes is a catastrophic illness or being downsized by their employer to push a lot of families into desperate financial straights. I believe that poverty is largely cyclical, passed on from generation to generation like a curse. I don’t even deny the existence of residual, institutionalized discrimination, although I don’t believe it is as widespread or prevalent as some would have us believe. And I believe that any civil society must make provisions for those at the bottom in the hopes of helping them transcend their circumstances. This idea goes back at least as far as the Old Testament, when God commanded the Israelites to leave some of their crops unharvested so that the poor would have access to them.

However, I also believe that people must participate in their own survival. I believe that any honest work, even work that is below one’s capacities, is more honorable than not working. I believe that welfare, while sometimes necessary in the short-term, robs people of their dignity and self-respect in the long-term.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I present this story from NPR. Read the story below, giving special attention to the part at the end where it talks about buying groceries, then click underneath it for a picture of the folks profiled in the article. One hopes that NPR photographers will be more careful about how they take pictures of the subjects of articles in the future.

For Some Ohioans, Even Meat Is Out Of Reach

Her father worked at General Motors for 45 years before retiring. Her mother taught driver’s education. Nunez and her six siblings grew up middle class.

Things have changed considerably for this Ohio family.

Nunez’s van broke down last fall. Now, her 19-year-old daughter has no reliable transportation out of their subsidized housing complex in Fostoria, 40 miles south of Toledo, to look for a job.

Nunez and most of her siblings and their spouses are unemployed and rely on government assistance and food stamps. Some have part-time jobs, but working is made more difficult with no car or public transportation.

Low-income families in Ohio say they are particularly hard-hit by the changes in the economy, according to a new poll conducted by NPR, The Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. Two-thirds of lower-income respondents, or 66 percent, say paying for gas is a serious problem because of recent changes in the economy. Nearly half of low-income Ohioans, or 47 percent, say that getting a well-paying job or a raise in pay is also major problem.

‘I Just Can’t Get A Job’

Nunez, 40, has never worked and has no high school degree. She says a car accident 17 years ago left her depressed and disabled, incapable of getting a job. Instead, she and her daughter, Angelica Hernandez, survive on a $637 Social Security check and $102 in food stamps.

Hernandez received her high school diploma and has had several jobs in recent years. But now, because fewer restaurants and stores are hiring, she says she finds it hard to find a job. Even if she could, she says it’s particularly hard to imagine how she’ll keep it. She says she needs someone to give her a lift just to get to an interview. And with gas prices so high, she’s not sure she could afford to pay someone to drive her to work every day.

People tell Nunez her daughter could get more money in public assistance if she had a child.

“A lot of people have told me, ‘Why don’t your daughter have a kid?'”

They both reject that as a plan.

“I’m trying to get a job,” Hernandez says. “I just can’t get a job.”

Hernandez says she’s trying to get training to be a nurse’s assistant, but without her own set of wheels or enough money to pay others for gas, it hasn’t been easy.

‘What’s Going To Happen To Us?’

Most of their extended family lives in the same townhouse complex. The only employer within walking distance is a ThyssenKrupp factory that makes diesel engine parts. That facility, which employs 400 people, is shutting down and moving to Illinois next year.

The only one with a car is Irma Hernandez, Nunez’s mother. Hernandez says that with a teenage son still at home, the cost of feeding him and sending him to school is rising, and she can no longer pay for the car.

She’s now two car payments behind.

“I’m about to lose my car,” she says on her way to pick up one of her daughters to take her to Toledo. “So then what’s going to happen to us?”

So Nunez and her daughter are mostly stuck at home.

The rising cost of food means their money gets them about a third fewer bags of groceries — $100 used to buy about 12 bags of groceries, but now it’s more like seven or eight. So they cut back on expensive items like meat, and they don’t buy extras like ice cream anymore. Instead, they eat a lot of starches like potatoes and noodles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Politics, School, , , , , , ,

Stepping in it – Updated

Have you ever made a seemingly innocuous comment that still managed to offend people? I may have done that Thursday night in class. This summer I am taking Group Therapy. As part of the course, we have groups during class time and then journal about the experience afterward.  This was our 4th meeting and the group seems to be gelling. Its a diverse crew, as most of my classes have been.

The discussion tonight turned to life in and around Washington D.C. with most of the participants saying that they would rather live somewhere else. One member said that she and her husband chose to move here from rural New England where they grew up in order to experience some diversity (apparently, rural New England is pretty white). Someone mentioned something about the Pacific Northwest, and having lived there I pointed out that the Northwest is pretty white in its own right. I told them how when I moved out there I realized after about a week that I had not seen any ethnicity other than whites and a few Asians, so I asked a long-time resident, “Are there any black people in the Northwest?”

This was not a value judgment or criticism, just an observation as to how different the environment of the Northwest was for me. However, some of the group members appeared uncomfortable after I made my remark. Shortly after, we ran out of time so there was no real follow-up to my comment. This leaves me wondering: Did I step in it? Was I out of line somehow? Was I wrong to use the expression “black people” instead of African-American? Afterwards I asked my classmate and friend Sean (who as it happens, is black) if anything I said was offensive, and he said no.

Update:

It all turned out to be nothing in the end. The next time we had class nobody said anything about or treated me any differently. I was worried over nothing (which, as Christine will attest, is a bad habit of mine). Regardless, thanks for your feedback.

Filed under: School, , , , , ,

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