Tag Archives: personal politics

Things I find unforgivable

A couple of years ago I was at a Fourth of July potluck outside of town. Some inebriated in-law of a cousin of a friend of the host showed up and, as I spooned tabbouleh onto my plate, began lecturing to several people around me that all people of Middle Eastern descent need to be deported from the U.S. He didn’t stop there, insisting that those of us who didn’t happen to believe that the country should bomb other parts of the world into the stone age were ignorant and sure to be slaughtered.

Now, I’m a person who, in my more adventurous reporting days, did things like take a handgun class with NRA members, and spent hours in personal conversations with Fundamentalist Christians – two groups that may as well have been Martians to me, ethically speaking. But those reporting exercises put me past knee-jerk disdain and into a place where I could sometimes locate some hard-won common ground. I’ve had mostly civil conversations with Republican relatives and friends, even if I sometimes walked away with my ears burning. I sought out extremely different opinions from my own when I began to interact with people online in 1997. I try my best to get angry with actions and policies, not people.

With a checked-shirt man advocating genocide and racism at an Independence Day picnic, standing feet away from my toddler son, I didn’t keep my cool so well. I felt this anger rising from the pit of my stomach and I simply bellowed at him:

“PLEASE GET YOUR DISGUSTING HATRED AWAY FROM MY SON. NOW!” (I did say please.) He moved away a little, though not enough for me, and I took us as far away from him at the party as I physically could. Being tolerant of political difference, in my view, does not require me to be tolerant of a person advocating violence or fear.

Earlier this year, when we went to a public venue where we could look at stars and planets through telescopes, a woman started speaking heatedly to one of the resident scientists, who maintained a remarkably calm and polite demeanor.

“This world is going to end,” she hissed at him. “Armageddon will be here soon and you’d better get yourself right with God before that happens.”

She spoke of floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and rapture while standing maybe five feet from my almost four-year-old who I think deserves to have faith in the fact that the Earth has a future, no matter how tumultuous. He deserves to have his dreams of piloting spacecrafts unimpeded by some self-righteous person who had no thought in her head that the things she was yelling could frighten the crap out of a small child. Thankfully, he was so wrapped up in a computer that takes you through the universe that he didn’t absorb it (now that he’s truly four and dealing with mortality questions, he would). Luckily, the conversation stopped just as my husband asked her to quiet down because, you know, if you want to convince your children that this world is a goner and isn’t worth participating in beyond stepping up to the next level, that’s your faith and your business and God bless. Please don’t make it mine.

This week, I took my son to the Health Care Reform Now rally because I am sick of this bizarre impasse our country has skidded into and sick of struggling with our current system. The first sign I see as we drive in is a swastika with Obama’s name inside and I turn into Aunt Mildred and I stick out one finger and I tsk tsk tsk at the crowd. Shame on them. That sign, to me, is just a subverted way of advocating violence against our president wrapped in the guise of free speech. Because of the first amendment, you can make it and parade it through the public square. And because of the first amendment, I can say “shame on you” and “I think that’s a subverted way of advocating violence against our president wrapped in the guise of free speech,” and that’s not me censoring you, that’s me countering your opinion.

I’m sick of the media giving “balanced” time to groups of thirty versus a group of over 1,000. The fourth estate should be giving more time to those who are better equipped with research, facts or true stories about actual people instead of covering every political rift with less depth than they give the average football game. Seriously. I sat there and I listened to a story about a 17-year-old girl who can’t get health care coverage because of her parents’ medical conditions. I listened to promises that the public option is not negotiable, which I hope is true because my family is counting on that. But almost all of the coverage I found gave the 30 people outside the same amount of time or column space as the much larger group inside.

What are people thinking, anyway? I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had their health care insurance costs get jerked up and certain costs turned down arbitrarily for years – and unless we’re independently wealthy, it’s cost us way more than any of our taxes. Recently I had a lovely experience when a $500 bill showed up in my mailbox from a doctor’s appointment I had about a year and a half ago. In one conversation with the insurance company way back when, I was told that nearly all adult preventative care had been dropped from our policy (take heed if you have OSU student health insurance, ladies, a pap smear or illness is all you’re allowed), so a blood panel, and in fact, my whole appointment wasn’t covered, even though it resulted in a referral to a surgeon and eventually, surgery. My doctor’s office communicated that there was actually medical treatment for an illness on this visit, and suddenly, after all this time, the insurance company decided to pay an additional $15.00 (why even bother?) of the bill and pass the rest back to me. Now I have more arguing to do, or I have to pay a bill I really didn’t expect or think that I should owe, which makes me feel sick.

So, stop telling me that the fact that I want universal health care makes me anti-American. The free market has zilch for health care choices. The ranks are closed – if you are an American like myself, who has been resolutely independent for most of my career, you are basically screwed by the current system. If you are like my husband, who has a preexisting eye condition and has also always worked for himself, screw you too! When people like us are lucky, maybe our local chamber of commerce will offer a plan with premiums less than the size of our mortgage payment or we can stick to catastrophic coverage.

We are all most free to work for big corporations that have little or no loyalty to employees in order to get insurance from corporations that have shown us their priorities – getting out of paying what you pay them to take care of is more important than anyone’s actual health. That’s…. freedom?

It seems to me to be as awful or worse than, say, taxation without representation. I have to pay corporations that I didn’t elect and that I can’t vote out of office. Corporations have more rights than me! The government won’t make it more bureaucratic. It simply can’t possibly get more bureaucratic than it already is.

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Practicing “less meatatarianism”

I had the world’s greatest dinner arrangement when I was in college. I lived with six other people in an on-campus apartment, where we stuck to a vegetarian food supply and participated in a food co-op that kept our groceries on the cheap. Each of us took responsibility for all of the cooking and all of the cleaning exactly one night a week, which meant we could come home to a fully cooked meal on the other six.

Some of my housemates were vegetarians with conviction, some of us, like me, were vegetarians for the sake of convenience and frugality. I respected my friends’ wishes to not use our pots and pans to cook meat, and if I did eat it, it was outside of the house. Looking back, I think this was one of the healthiest periods for me and food, who have had a rocky relationship.

This year, I made Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating one of my first reads. Without the least bit of preaching, he puts forth a history of U.S. food and FDA politics that made me reconsider why I think certain things are nutritious that may not be, and what a healthier diet might look like. He gives a lot of sensible advice about how to shift towards better choices in a reasonable and sustainable kind of way.

Among the layers of facts that he puts out about the over-consumption that developed nations indulge in are these: over fifty percent of American crops are devoted to growing soy and corn to feed the massive amount of livestock we consume every year. If those fields were used to grow crops suitable for human consumption, they would produce enough to feed the world several times over. That says nothing of the massive amount of land and resources we devote to raising and slaughtering livestock. Bittman does a good job of laying out the environmental impact of that industry without moralizing. He convinced me that the mere act of eating more plant-based foods and fewer refined grains, sugars and animal products is both good for my body and the future of the planet. And he made unintimidating suggestions about ways to do that.

For the past few months I’ve been moving towards eating little meat or dairy during the day (except half and half for my coffee), loading up on snackable produce and generally attacking the vegetables on my plate first when I have dinner, so that if I have meat, I have much less of it than I might have before. If I end up somewhere for lunch with minimal choices (or a meat choice that I really want to try), I try and make dinner my vegetarian meal. I’m experimenting with grains like bulgur and quinoa more often and using olive oil in lieu of butter.

All in all, these changes actually aren’t that radical for me – they are just more conscious decisions than they used to be. I also don’t make myself crazy over them. I worry more about buying local and learning to cook with in-season foods than I do about buying organic (although I do try and make as much of the dairy and meat I buy — especially to feed to my kid — organic and hormone-free as I can). I really can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods and, as Bittman points out, while organic food is a sound choice, elevating the consumption of plant-based foods is no small stride toward a healthier body and planet.

These choices aren’t frying the fat off of my body. And frankly, I’m not coupling them with enough exercise or even avoiding cake during a period that is rife with family birthdays. I feel better, though. My skin is healthier. I feel more energetic and active. A couple of pounds have gone AWOL and I’m enjoying food more. It’s summer in Ohio and the choices from the vine are glorious.

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How to be decent when people you know are laid off

I’ve been watching with sadness this week as our local daily newspaper announced the layoff of 45 editorial staff members, including two people that I’ve known (and did a fair amount work for) for years, along with many others that I’ve been less formally acquainted with.

I’ve gone through the experience of a layoff twice in my career. Once when the alternative weekly I wrote for folded, and again when the national corporation that owned the online city guide I edited decided to roll up most of its local offices. Both experiences were hard for different reasons, and good things did come out of them. They also made me keenly aware that a lot of people are clueless when it comes to talking to someone who has just lost their job.

Since the job loss news just keeps coming, here’s my unsolicited advice about how to be decent to people you know (or worked with) that have been laid off:

1. Don’t treat them like they are contagious or too fragile to touch. If you think you don’t know what to say but that person has meant something to you professionally or personally along the way, making the effort to call or write or somehow say even “I don’t know what to say” is better than not hearing from you at all. Losing a job (even if the job was awful) deserves some kind of ritual observance because an era of that person’s life has been extinguished. I know that the people who took the time to say “you were really great at X, and I’m sorry this happened” to me, or who offered any kind of assistance when I was on the unemployment curb, no matter how small, gave me memories that are more vibrant to me now than any of the bad stuff that’s happened in my career.

2. If you offer yourself up as a listening post, make sure you’re prepared to actively listen and expect that the person may have some intense feelings. It’s disconcerting when someone offers up a shoulder to cry on who really just wants an excuse to hear him- or herself crack-wise and to drink a lot. (That said, some people cope best through humor, in which case the cracking-wise/drinking plan may be in order.)

3. Point out silver linings if you see real ones, but avoid the pat “everything happens for a reason” line. Sometimes that reason is the shortsightedness or mismanagement of people who still have a job. And even if it isn’t, it may be years after you’ve received that pink slip before you are able to see it.

4. Call them again in a few weeks. If you’re laid off en masse, you sometimes have people to commiserate with immediately, but that support system may fade. Once you’ve made it past crisis mode, that’s when things are sometimes the hardest.

5. Buy them lunch. Pay back that $5 you borrowed now. Write a letter of recommendation (or maybe a quick reference on LinkedIn) while you’re thinking of it. And don’t offer to do any of these things in a moment of sympathy if you aren’t really going to follow up.

Anyone else have some advice to share?

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