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Of Politics, Sports and Sex

OK, so there won't be a LOT on here about sex, but tell the truth, that's most of the reason you entered this site, right? So, I'll slip some things in from time to time just to keep you coming...back.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Maybe a benefit of an open mind is that it both lets in new thoughts but also lets some old thoughts spill out


This coming weekend, I am going camping with a bunch of Quakers – a couple hundred of them/us. Some fun, eh? It’s something I’ve been doing off, but mostly on, for close to 50 years, since it was held at Camp Hilltop in Downingtown, a camp than no longer exists except in our dulled, but fond, memories.
When I was a teenager and had to go to these camps, my friends Martin, Eric, Dennis, Chris and Brad, among others, made a fine art out of skipping the workshops and “fun” activities the parents had worked hard to organize to help teach us big issues about the world, probably involving lots of Peace, Love and Understanding. Our favorite trick was to walk in one side of the meeting hall, sign in, and then, while they were still signing kids in and getting organized, we would walk out the other side, at which point we would head for the ball fields or basketball court or just up to the woods for a while to lay low and talk about sports or girls, honing the fine art of exaggeration in both cases, no doubt.
But I digress…back 45+ years I guess. Fun while it lasted…both the digression and our times at Camp Hilltop, that is.
Anyway, that intro is to put in minor perspective, the irony that is the fact that this weekend when I attend the grandchild of Camp Hilltop, now held at a Brethren Camp out past Harrisburg, I will be hosting a workshop, not escaping from one.
The workshop I described in the brochure as:

2A “ Race Relations – Discussion to Action”

MAIN HALL, handicapped accessible

(Jamie McVickar, Downingtown)

We have been asked for decades to have a national discussion on race. This workshop will briefly be part of that, then we hope to spend a majority of our time developing ideas for specific actions we can take or lead others to get involved with. Please come ready with ideas, suggestions and an open mind, though not so open that things fall out.

My fear is that the discussion will take the form that every workshop on race issues has taken since I was in college, where a bunch of like-minded folks sit around wringing their hands over how terrible it all is, observing that It’s just terrible what those people have to go through every day, but what can we do?!

Two weekends ago, I attended a 4 hour session in West Chester, described as

Courageous Conversations: A Community's Effort to Understand and Overcome Implicit Bias

And it was courageous of them to put the program together but I was pretty disappointed in it. It consisted almost entirely of telling us things we already knew, primarily about the concept of White Privilege, a concept I see as real, but over-rated as a hindrance or benefit in any of our lives. I barely snuck it into my top 10 list of privileges when I was asked to make such a list at a similar event in Philadelphia month or so earlier.
Here was my quickly jotted list on a scrap of paper, with “privilege” being defined as a “right or unearned advantage” in no particular order:

 -         good health, despite needing to lose a pound or 30
  -        being born in the USA
  -        born to caring, loving parents who emphasized a good education
  -        an amazing, supportive, fun extended family
 -         relatively good finances, though I’d argue that’s probably earned, not unearned
 -         being raised a Quaker with good values
 -         an incredible wife and family of 7 or so, depending on one’s definition
 -         being born in the 20th, and now living in the 21st century
 -         a decent IQ (though I worked for many years with people in the double digits in their IQs and some of them seemed way happier than I'll ever be!)
 -         a particular skill set, or aptitude for numbers
 -         an ability for introspection and desire to work to be a better person
 
Ah right, and then there’s that whole being Born White thing. I may be na├»ve, but I believe that if I had been born as a Person of Color with the above same attributes, that I’d certainly have more challenges than I currently do, but not challenges that would be debilitating, and I believe my life would not be demonstrably worse than it would be if I hadn't been given the other things on that list. Oh, I am pretty sure I’d get pulled over by the cops more often though. And then maybe shot for no freaking reason, but I’ll call that an outlier scenario.

We were then asked at the conference in Philly to make a list of ways we can use our privileges to address racism, and I came up with this list:
-         witnessing – in the Christian sense. Fight it; recognize it; Define it; point it out when you see it; don’t allow it.
-         Educate kids, family and friends
-         Hiring
-         Social media
-         Educate myself
-         Political
    o   Fight for equitable school funding (PA is worst in the nation in that regard)
 
After that day in Philly, I was asked by a friend to write a column for the local paper about it, unfortunately required to consist of no more than 600 words. I'm not terribly proud of it, particularly because of the word-count restriction, but it can be found here:


This is probably already my longest ever post, and I haven’t even gotten to the one thing I wanted to post here! So I’ll post this and then move to the rest of it.
 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

If you have to ask if something is racist, does that make you a racist?


So, here is what the post above was meant to include, until that post got a little unwieldy, I decided to cut that one off and make this a separate entry, partially because of the nature of this one.
This is in reference to the workshop I am leading on Race, described above and again here:

2A “ Race Relations – Discussion to Action”

We have been asked for decades to have a national discussion on race. This workshop will briefly be part of that, then we hope to spend a majority of our time developing ideas for specific actions we can take or lead others to get involved with. Please come ready with ideas, suggestions and an open mind, though not so open that things fall out.

(Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever led a workshop before, but ah, there I go off on another digression.)
So again, a goal of the workshop is to not go down the usual path such discussions take, where we are all of the same mindset and we spend the whole time patting each other on the back for how upset and concerned we are and where no one feels comfortable saying anything controversial or provocative. And apologies in advance, but this list, and the discussion on Saturday will generally, though not exclusively, focus on issues between whites and blacks (and will generally use the word "blacks" instead of "African-Americans" only for brevity purposes), because that has been what we've most been aware of and had to deal with in our lifetimes, though I do think it is important to acknowledge that there are many forms of racism against other minorities, and other -isms, all of which likely stem from similar places in our individual, and hopefully not collective, souls.

So my first priority in this discussion is to provoke folks a little bit so they maybe get a little agitated but also are comfortable not being the worst person in the room, regardless of what they say. I think one of the biggest hindrances to the National Dialogue on Race, as President Clinton called for about 20 years ago, is that people are afraid to say what's really on their mind, without being attacked or made fun of, and I think we need to recognize that growth only happens in an atmosphere of acceptance and support and love.
My second priority is to define the word racism.

My third is, once we have addressed, if not necessarily exhausted, that topic, to move into how to figure out how to try to address racism in our day-to-day lives, but that isn’t necessarily the goal of this email.

So with priority numbers 1and 2 in mind above, I thought I would read this list to the group to see how they react, perhaps with nodding understanding, or confused outrage or maybe even some additions to the list:

What is racism exactly?
Is it racist if you…

-          Meet a person for the first time and feel guilty because the first thing you noticed about them is that they are black?

-          Smiled at a black person mostly just because they are black and you want to show them that you aren’t a racist?

-          Had no problem describing the skin tone of a white person as particularly light or dark-skinned, but would never do so about a black person for fear referring to their skin color would “prove” you’re a racist?

-          Have been in your car and found yourself in a dicey part of town and locked the doors and then wondered if you were being racist for doing so?

-          Laughed at a racist joke just because it’s funny even though you tried your hardest to be indignant about the joke? And would you have laughed just as hard if you substituted the word Quaker (or insert the name of your faith here) for the descriptive noun in the joke?

-          Found yourself agreeing with Bill Cosby’s lectures to blacks about what they need to do but felt that if you were to say the same things you’d be accused of being a racist?

-          Have been in a situation where you were the only white person in a room of minorities and felt weird about it?

-          Tried to remind someone of who you’re talking about, and the person you’re describing is black, but you describe every other thing about them trying as hard as possible to avoid saying that they are black, even though you know that if that was the first thing you’d said to describe them, the person would know exactly who you were talking about?

-          Have seen young black men walking toward you on the street and finding yourself reacting a differently than if they were white kids?

-          Have wondered why it’s ok for blacks to use the n-word but you can’t?

-          Have wondered if it is racist to think that blacks, in general, are better dancers/singers/jumpers/runners/athletes? And wondered if, that being a compliment, why it’s a bad thing? And wondered, if you believe that to be true, if there is a genetic reason they are superior to the rest of us, is it then also ok to assume there are possibly genetic reasons that they are inferior in some ways? And is it racist if you find yourself wondering if they are better at those things because they are descended from slaves where only the strongest, most physically superior survived?

-          Get a mental picture of a welfare recipient, and you immediately picture the person as black, even though a majority of welfare recipients are white?
 
-         Think that using racial profiling to pull people out of line at airports might actually keep us safer? Does it make as much sense to pull a little old lady or child out of line as it does a young person with a 1-way ticket to the destination?

-          Find yourself wondering if welfare as we currently practice it has done more harm to minorities than good?

-          Read a story about an inner-city kid “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” and wondering why they don’t all do that?

-          Wondered if affirmative action and minority set-asides do more harm than good? Or think they are unfair?

-          Think “reverse-racism” is not as big of a concern as what we call racism instead of considering that they are equally bad?

-          Only define racism as involving blacks and not other minorities…or majorities?

-          Wonder if it’s fair to call Barack Obama black, when he’s just as white as he is black?

-          Meet a black man and immediately assume he is a sports fan?

-          Find yourself being surprised when a black athlete is interviewed on TV and he is more articulate than you expected?

-          Describe a black person as “articulate”, especially when, if the person were white, that description wouldn’t even have entered your mind?

So, there's the list. I hope I haven't offended anyone, but I do hope I've provoked some of you. My own sense that it is OK to think all the things above and it's a shame we can't explore all those thoughts out loud and examine them and work through them in a non-threatening atmosphere to consider, but not necessarily agree on their relative validity. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Brush #1: The Raging Bull

I don't have much time, so writing, and maybe even reading this post will take longer than the amount of time I was in the presence of this boxing, and eventually, movie icon: Jake LaMotta, aka the Raging Bull.

As I was walking up the Spectrum press box steps, he was starting to walk down, and he graciously waited to let me pass.

Either because he was being a gentleman, or more likely he was intimidated. By my Quaker aura, I mean.

Who's getting what is (was) in your wallet?!

I strongly believe that a huge percentage of people who vote Republican, do so because of their anger over giving low-income people financial assistance...or, as I hear it from people: "giving THOSE people part of my paycheck for sitting around and watching TV all day, while they spend my money on $400 sneakers and lobster dinners".
 
But they seem to overlook how their adopted party gives way more attention and benefits to the uber-wealthy:
 
NEWS ITEM: Republicans will vote Wednesday on a bill repealing the estate tax. WaPo: "A tax cut that would exclusively benefit individuals with wealth of more than $5.4 million and couples with wealth of more than $10.9 million. That’s a tax break for only the 5,500 wealthiest households in the country each year... Never in the history of plutocracy has so much been given away to so few who need it so little. This is the ultimate perversion of the tea party movement, which began as a populist revolt in 2009 but has since been hijacked by wealthy and corporate interests."
 
As I (believe I) have observed previously - there are people who vote Republican because of their outrage over the government helping the poor...and there are people who vote Democrat because of our outrage over the government helping the rich. Which side are you proudest to support?
 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Good News - a new post! Bad News - it's politics...as usual


Sorry dear readers, for, well, the past, present and future. The Past, because I haven’t posted here in weeks and weeks, and The Present and Future, because I am going to start doing again the thing that a few of you requested that I stop doing: Posting too many politically-themed entries.

But with it, I’ll make a promise to get back on track posting some of the more non-political items of interest as well, more frequently. I’ll also reference something else one of you, OK, it was Laurie, requested, which is that I post some of my past Brushes With Greatness, as David Letterman used to call them. Times I ran into someone, incredible though it may seem, even more famous than me!

---

So here’s my first post of any kind for awhile, but skip over it if politics don’t interest thee:

From today’s WaPo (Washington Post):

Quote of the day: "Our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999." -- Sen. Rubio, in announcing his candidacy for President.

CHAIT: Actually, the government was running a surplus in 1999. "In 1999, the economy was booming, yielding wage gains up and down the income spectrum that the subsequent Bush recovery never produced. The government was not, in fact, borrowing at all, but instead running a large surplus. The best criticism of that era’s economic policies is that both parties giddily acquiesced to deregulation of the financial industry that played a role in the crash eight years later. But that criticism represents the opposite of Rubio’s charge that government engaged in excessive regulation. The line is perfectly emblematic of Rubio’s worldview, which axiomatically associates prosperity with a reduction in taxes and borrowing and regulation, with no need to reconcile its assumptions with real-world results."

And as I’ve pointed out in comments below, although there are those who still are doing contortions trying to blame Dems for the housing crash, it is widely acknowledged that President Bush could have changed the policies that led to them with the stoke of a pen, or a simple change of philosophy communicated to his HUD Secretary, who championed the approaches along with members of both parties right up until the crash.

But more importantly, it wasn’t even the loose mortgage policies that primarily caused the crash. It was, as noted above, the deregulation of the financial industry, and the associated excesses of Wall Street greed, but most of all, Bush and Cheney cutting billions in revenue through tax breaks to the wealthy, while spending trillions on unnecessary wars.