Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Thoughts: Enrique's Journey


Finished reading Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario over my lunch break today. I found the book to be a very insightful read. The general premise of the book is pretty simple - it details the decisions of members of one family to leave their native Honduras for the United States. Specifically, it tells the story of one mother who leaves when her youngest son is 5, and that son's subsequent decision to leave for the United States as a teenager to find his mom. While the mother sent money back home, and talked on the phone, the boy, Enrique, wished to see his mother and so he left.

The book details the harrowing journey Enrique must face to reach his mom. The violence he encounters once into Mexico, dealing both with gangs and the police. The inherent danger that is faced by riding on tops of trains to travel the entire length of Mexico. The multiple failed attempts, the multiple injuries incurred, and the eventual success of his journey. Along the way the author, Nazario, provides many other stories from other children traveling on tops of trains to reach their parents in the United States, as well as stories of various groups that seek to assist these children in their journeys. Nazario also provides stories about what happens to the families left back home, the children, babies, wives, husbands, mothers, aunts, etc. She paints a vivid picture of the situations these people face, and how it underlies their decisions to pursue such a dangerous, and emotionally painful, journey.

The book is consistently powerful regarding everything that surrounds these events because nothing is sugar coated. The difficulty of the journey, the physical injuries that occur, the raw emotion that the journeys invoke on every side, the struggles by family left behind and by those who felt they had to leave, and the struggle for reconciliation to occur among all those involved. A great book, deeply insightful, and while it may not change anyone's politics regarding immigration, I definitely think its an eye opening read on the subject, dispelling a lot of myths, and will lead to great empathy and understanding among those involved in the immigration debate.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Shouting Mr. Wilson

Last night President Obama addressed both houses of Congress, and due to the actions of Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina, most of the discussion today is about his outburst rather than the actual content of the proposed legislation. Not to be too cynical, but it seems like the Republicans are pretty good at doing everything imaginable to distract from real discussion. I wonder what they are afraid of?

Anyway, Rep. Wilson's outburst was to yell that the President was lying when he said that the plan would not cover illegal aliens.

I reference Section 246 of the proposed text of the bill in the House.

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.
So, the text of the bill states no federal monies for individuals who are not lawfully present, President Obama says his plan will not fund health insurance for illegal aliens, and Rep. Wilson says Obama is lying. It seems to me that either Wilson is the one lying, or he is just ignorant. Neither is reassuring.

I understand the argument that some will make that if someone shows up in the emergency room it is currently against the law for a hospital to deny emergency treatment. Thus, illegal aliens would then get treatment, and somehow those costs will be paid for. Right now, its through all the collective premiums we pay to our private insurers. Through the proposed plan, its through the premiums paid for the public option insurees. Doesn't seem to me to be a substantive difference.

In any event, do people really want that law changed to absolutely make certain that no illegal aliens get treatment at a hospital that the rest of us pay for. This either leads to some form of national ID card (which can be faked just like a social security number/card or driver's license), or some other form of national identification. Of course, because of the risk of fake IDs, hospitals will have to have a prolonged check in routine for emergency room patients. Imagine, are the people that are so upset about these possibilities willing to have their own treatment and care delayed because they have to prove they are a proper citizen of the United States? I doubt this is the case.

It seems to me that Rep. Wilson should do a better job of reading legislation that is proposed before making a fool of themselves on national television. It seems Republicans, for the long term health of their party, would be better served by some intellectual honesty and less fear mongering. And it seems that we would all do better if we thought things through before jumping to conclusions.

Never buy from the man who's selling you fear.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Lesson to be Learned

This is really an extension, or a continuation of the last post, but I felt it was getting long and it would be nice to have these two thoughts stand alone.

I've only been through the first half of "Boom," but there were two thoughts that really stuck out to me. The first I believe was by Nora Ephron, and the idea was something along the lines of "As long as we characterize family issues as women's issues, nothing will ever change." Ephron is speaking from the feminist perspective, but I think, because I believe this to be true, that its very important for men. Our society, for all the progresses made in attempting to achieve gender equality, still has a ways to go. I think part of that is in our language and perception. When one hears the words housekeeping, cooking, child rearing; I bet the majority think of a women. Women have traditionally fulfilled these roles in our society, so to some extent, its only naturally. The problem though is that language, and the corresponding perceptions, allow many to fail to take responsibility. How many men fail to do anything in the home because its the "women's domain." Similarly, how many women won't let a man do anything in the house because they'd "just do it wrong."

Maybe it seems harmless, but I think it allows people to take themselves off the hook for any responsibility and not feel guilty about it. If a boy/man gets a girl/women pregnant, he can easily walk away thinking its not his responsibility. After all, child rearing is a women's issue, not a family issue. So the man feels no responsibility. I'm not suggesting that changing our language to reflect issues of home life and child rearing as a family issue will cure everything. Obviously not. But I do think that being more aware and conscious of these issues as being the responsibility of the family to address, rather than just a women's issue, could possibly make a difference in our society's attitudes. Maybe it will create the sense of responsibility in some men that they would not have otherwise. Maybe it will allow for a more balanced and ope viewpoint on the roles within a relationship. Anyway, its something that stuck out and I think carries much truth.

The other thought is directly related to politics. I am unsure if it comes from Brokaw himself or someone he interviews, but the gist of the thought is: The failure and downfall of the Left following the 60s was due to the fact that they were incapable of viewing anyone and any idea that disagreed with them with anything but hate. This became particularly evident in the Left's attitudes towards those who fought in Vietnam. I tend to look at as there are three distinct political groups in the country (an over-simplication, I know). There are those that are on the Right and will always be on the Right. There are those on the Left and will always be on the Left. And there are those in the middle, that kind of go back and forth, they tend to dislike extremes, and react to the political spectrum accordingly. In the 60s, the fringe, the extremes of the Left became the vocal part of the party. It was impossible to associate the Left with anything but the violent and extreme behavior shown by those fringe groups. Because of this, many believe the Left is still hurting and hasn't recovered, as many people in that middle group were turned off by the extreme behavior.

My own naive political observation wonders if the Right is not currently trending down the same path and failing to learn the lesson the Left suffered. For the most part, the most visible and vocal part of the Right is the fringe elements. That part is incapable of viewing anyone on the Left, and any idea on the Left with anything but hate. I believe part of the reason for the large victory by the Left in the last election is that the aforementioned middle group, similar to the group that was turned off by the extreme Left in the 1960s, was turned off by the extreme Right.

My curiousity is: if the Left is still in a bit of disarray, as they are nowhere near as united as the Right was in the 1960s to oppose the fractured and extreme Left, and the Right is now headed on a path where they are alienating people due to the vocal nature of their fringe and extreme segments, does that leave room for a third party to emerge; does the Left magically come together and end their own divide; or do we proceed as a nation we two deeply fractured parties and a middle group in the country with the inability to strongly identify with either.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Talking Politics


A while back I finished a book called Dreamers of the Day: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell as part of our local library summer reading/discussion program. The story itself centers on a schoolteacher from Ohio who loses her entire family to WWI or the great influenza epidemic, along with almost dying herself. Due to those events, she comes into a small inheritance and is able to travel, to Egypt. The bulk of the novel focuses on her experiences where she encounters and interacts with T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), Winston Churchill, and Gertrude Bell before and during the infamous Cairo Conference of 1921.

Naturally, at least I thought it was a natural progression, the discussion trended towards current politics in the Middle East, both domestically for those nations, and the U.S.'s foreign policy and involvement in the region. And as with any group, there was disagreement over the history, or rather, the meaning of the history, the causes of the issues, what were issues and what were not, and general policy towards the region on behalf of the U.S. But most importantly to me, there was no shouting, no insulting and ad hominem attacks on others, no calling others unpatriotic or stupid for having ideas disagreeing with your own. The discussion was at all times respectful, and I truly believe very informative for everyone involved.

Last night, a new series started at the library dealing with the 1960s, and the first lecture and discussion was based on the first half of Tom Brokaw's Book, "Boom." The first part of the book shares many personal stories of individuals who were involved in different facets and different positions of the various movements and events of the tumultuous decade. But because politics was so volatile then, and it seems to have gotten that way again right now, the discussion trended towards the similarities and differences in the political and social areas of the nation now compared to then. They were many differing viewpoints once again (particularly when it came to discussing the concept of mandatory national service), the tone was always respectful. Everyone displayed an interest in listening to others, and no one had to fear being yelled at our called a insulting name.

I bring this up because these experiences seem to be too rare. On the national scene, it seems anything proposed by someone with a (D) in front of their name is indoctrination, evil, or somehow on the way to socialism. (Digression - people really don't understand socialism, do they - I mean, in a country where there are very, very, very rich people, and very, very, very poor people, the idea that we are a step away from socialism is laughable). We have individuals who show up at town halls with guns (I get that its a right, but it shows a lack of respect). We have people drawing Hitler mustaches on our President, because somehow suggesting universal health care is akin to killing 12 million people and attempting to eradicate an entire race. Do these people really believe that these actions are comparable? (Another digression and something to think about - Medicare is essentially government run health insurance for those over 65; the VA Health System is essentially government run health care, the significant majority of all employees and doctors in the system are government employees. If one is against universal health care because it will be by the government, shouldn't they also be attempting to repeal these programs?).

Locally, we have had our share of non-civil discussion. The local representative in the House, Mark Souder, had a town hall meeting on health care. Seemed somewhat pointless considering he had stated beforehand that he would not vote in favor of health care reform, regardless of what changed in the proposed legislation. But people went, and there was once again mentions of socialism and government taking away our freedoms. This claims were not supported by references to the bill, or to even a news story, but were taken as fact. And as always, there is never a suggestion of what to do instead. Is the status quo in health care good? We even had the ubiquitous reference to "death panels," the lovely fiction created by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich in their attempts to scare people away from having rational discussions about the bill. I, of course, agree with Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich, I think death panels are a horrible idea. I think almost everyone would think so...which is why its nowhere to be found in the bill. But why let facts bother you when fear is such a more powerful political weapon.

Another neighboring town recently had two lengthy council meetings with public input about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination ordinance. As with most social issues, it became highly controversial, with one local radio station promoting people from all over to come to the meeting to speak against the inclusion, even if they didn't live in the area affected by the proposed change. The discussion, however, rarely centered on the legality of such inclusion, or who it would affect and to what extent. Rather, fear was once again used. Claims that one would not be able to fire a child care worker because he or she was homosexual, because everyone knows all homosexuals are pedophiles. Fears of perverted men dressing up as women so they could enter a women's bathroom (a failure to understand the difference between cross dressing and having a diagnosed psychiatric condition); and not realizing that putting these terms into a non-discrimination ordinance in no way creates a defense to criminal action. I'm not stating that there is one right or one wrong answer to this particular question, but I do believe its disappointing when fear and ignorance tends to dominate the discussion rather than logical ideas and rational thought, along with respectful discussion.

I am in favor of health care reform, and in particular, universality and a public option. I had no problem with the change in the town's non-discrimination ordinance (I don't live there anyway). But I can respect people and their ideas who are on the other side of the fence. But I guess my respect is limited to those ideas based on reason, not fear. And its limited to tactics that are respectful, not akin to fear-mongering. After the health care debate the last several weeks, along with our local scene, I was very disenchanted with people, growing more cynical than usual. Remembering the book group's discussion several weeks ago about the Middle East, and in large part due to last night's discussion of the 60s and politics, gender, and race, I'm not so down. There's still a ways to go to get to the point where we can have respectful disagreeable discussions, but its nice to know that it can happen, and experience it every now and again.

Oh that's right, I have a blog

My blog posts the past few months have been few and far between. Its not for a lack of things going on (in large because there has been much going on, particularly at work), or for a lack of items I've been thinking about, the blog just tends to play second or third fiddle to many other items in life, so I get there when I get there.

Anyway, yesterday I took the day off from work. This was exciting for me because its the first day I took off from work, and really took off - no work at home, no thinking about Brief arguments, no checking email - to do what I really wanted to do, just a day of relaxing at home and around town, in about a year and a half. (I know that each June I go camping with my family, but I do not particularly enjoy camping, and each of the last two years I have taken work with me - although I am trying to make a concerted effort to have a better attitude and perspective towards this trip in the future to make it more vacation like). It was a great day, something I feel like I really needed and something that really did what I needed it to do.

In the morning was running out to get an overdue haircut. Then came back home, laid on the couch, listened to some music, and read while Ellie slept right on top of me. Then, before grabbing lunch, took Ellie for a ride to Krider Gardens here in town, and we went for a nice walk around the place, enjoying a gorgeous day outside. (This of course reminds that I need to do a better job at taking pictures). After picking up some Taco Bell (its the simple things), came back home and just chilled for several hours before Jackie got home from work. Played with Ellie some, read some more, nothing too exciting, but great for my mind to just unwind and leave all the stress at work behind. It was a great day.

Now, I am finishing up this post, looking forward to cooking some Ribs today, watching college football (so geeked!), and just some more overall relaxing. Beautiful day outside for grilling. Tomorrow I get to head up to my sister's for a cookout and see her family along with my parents. Then another day off Monday (which will probably be filled with some yard work). I think it will be a very rejuvenating four day weekend for me.