Friday, July 27, 2007

Pharmacists Sue State Because State Tells Them To Do Their Damn Job

*Apologies in advance for the poor copyediting and generally rambling nature of this post.

Yes, this is about emergency contraception:

Pharmacists have sued Washington state over a new regulation that requires the sale of emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after pill."

In a lawsuit filed in federal court here, a pharmacy owner and two pharmacists say the rule that took effect Thursday coerces them into "choosing between their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs."

The state ruled earlier this year that druggists who believe emergency contraceptives are tantamount to abortion can't stand in the way of a patient's right to the drugs.

I hold a pretty strong opinion on this one: The pharmacists in question need to have their licenses to practice removed. Now. If pharmacists want to retain control of their profession, there needs to be some attempt at self-policing to prevent shit like this. Otherwise, I suspect we're going to see political activists put pressure on state and federal legislative bodies to craft stricter rules for pharmacists around dispensing medications, which will have the effect of taking medical decisions out of the hands of medical professionals. That, I suspect, is not something most pharmacists want to see, especially when the recent advent of the PhD in Pharmacy and the greater role pharmacists are playing in patient care.

Given that EC is just a really strong dose of birth control pills, I'm curious to know if the pharmacists in question are opposed to birth control as well. It's possible - they are Roman Catholic, according to the story - but if they, I think it would come as a shock to many people who consider birth control a pretty uncontroversial thing.

At the bottom of the story was another bit that caught my eye:

Pharmacists are also forbidden to destroy prescriptions or harass patients, rules that were prompted by complaints from Washingtonians, chairwoman Rebecca Hille said.

I'd be curious to see the exact number and nature of complaints....though I will say that again, this is a case where the fact that a state regulatory body felt the need to intervene is something I consider a net loss for pharmacists. This is something that I think should be handled at the level of the pharmacists themselves, be it their professional association or whatever. It's still in their best interests - as it is with most professions - to be able to self-regulate. The argument that these issues fall outside the purview of pharmacists since they are "ethical" or "moral" issues doesn't hold water for me; however you classify them they involve pharmacists, patients, state or federal oversight, and the public's view of pharmacists as trustworthy dispensers of medicine. And it only takes a few well-publicized cases to freak people out. should be noted that the state regulation in question doesn't force every pharmacist to dispense medication they are opposed to, just that someone in the pharmacy fill the prescription during the same visit. This strikes me as a very reasonable request that allows for personal beliefs to be respected without those beliefs spilling over onto others. However, if the reason the three people in question is upset is that they're not being allowed to fuck with their patients, then forget them. And I do think that's what is happening, based on this part of the new rules:

Pharmacies also are required to order new supplies of a drug if a patient asks for something that is not in stock.

This new regulation is only objectionable if the personal beliefs in question include not allowing women access to EC.


This, for the record, is why I'd like to see professional pharmacists do a better job of making clear what responsibilities are expected of pharmacists, and making decisions based on medical advice and not kooky personal beliefs is one of them.

In all fairness, given how much more knowledge your average Doctor of Pharmacy has about drugs and drug interactions than your average Medical Doctor, I can see a case in which the pharmacist has a better idea of what drug is appropriate to prescribe than an MD. In such a case, it would make sense to allow the pharmacist to override or change the doctor's prescription, yes? The problem is that crap like this lawsuit undermines public trust in pharmacists to make those changes with the interest of the patient in mind (leading to increased regulation by the state), which obviously has a negative effect on their ability to do their job.

Thanks to David for the hour of coffee-fueled & heated conversation in a car at 7 a.m. that helped me develop this position.

Via Feministe.

Oscar, the Grim Reaper Who Licks Himself

I don't really know what to say about's really creepy, yet it makes a strange sort of sense:

"He's a cat with an uncanny instinct for death," said David Dosa, assistant professor at the Brown University School of Medicine and a geriatric specialist. "He attends deaths. He's pretty insistent on it."

In the two years since Oscar was adopted into the dementia unit of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Providence he has maintained close vigil over the deaths of more than 25 patients, nursing staff and doctors say.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Having Your Cake and Stuffing Your Face With It Too

I hate the slogan "support the troops." I think it's meaningless tripe designed to stifle criticism and debate, and that it has no logical, moral, or philosophical basis whatsoever. And that it really fucks with how we relate to those human beings that are actually serving in the military, especially in Iraq.

A couple of recent posts and an article in The New Republic which consisted of observations regarding Iraq from an anonymous soldier made me think about this a bit more, and as usually happens when I think, I get angry. From the TNR article:

One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.


I know another private who really only enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because it gave him the opportunity to run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs. Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in America--providing him with the perfect opportunity to suddenly swerve and catch a leg or a tail in the vehicle's tracks. He kept a tally of his kills in a little green notebook that sat on the dashboard of the driver's hatch. One particular day, he killed three dogs. He slowed the Bradley down to lure the first kill in, and, as the diesel engine grew quieter, the dog walked close enough for him to jerk the machine hard to the right and snag its leg under the tracks. The leg caught, and he dragged the dog for a little while, until it disengaged and lay twitching in the road. A roar of laughter broke out over the radio. Another notch for the book. The second kill was a straight shot: A dog that was lying in the street and bathing in the sun didn't have enough time to get up and run away from the speeding Bradley. Its front half was completely severed from its rear, which was twitching wildly, and its head was still raised and smiling at the sun as if nothing had happened at all.

I didn't see the third kill, but I heard about it over the radio. Everyone was laughing, nearly rolling with laughter. I approached the private after the mission and asked him about it.
"So, you killed a few dogs today," I said skeptically.
"Hell yeah, I did. It's like hunting in Iraq!" he said, shaking with laughter.
"Did you run over dogs before the war, back in Indiana?" I asked him.
"No," he replied, and looked at me curiously. Almost as if the question itself was in poor taste.

War is hell; it messes with people. Badly. There are mountains of evidence supporting this claim, and there is no fucking evidence that anyone with any institutional clout, DEMOCRATS INCLUDED, are doing a damn thing about it (to say nothing of dealing with the same effects as they pertain to Iraqi civilians). You want a crime against humanity? Try this one, and it absolutely pales in comparison to what people who live in the Middle East are going through.

"Support the troops" doesn't really speak to the fact that war is hell, does it? It doesn't acknowledge the humanity under the helmet, and it sure as hell doesn't allow for "the troops" to behave like those noted above.

So how does this ideologically warped concept stay "pure"?

Through massive enforcement and pressure from those interested in its maintenance, that's how.

Digby makes a good point - as usual - about the backlash against the publication that printed this piece and the soldier who wrote it:

There has been precious little good writing about the actual gritty experiences of average soldiers in these wars. Everything has been so packaged and marketed from the top that it's very difficult to get a sense of what it's like over there. I have no idea if this piece is accurate, but regardless it didn't seem to me to be an indictment of the military in general, merely a description of the kind of gallows humor and garden variety cruelty that would be likely to escalate in violent circumstances. And so far, there has been nothing substantial brought forward to doubt his story -- the shrieking nitpicking of the 101st keyboarders notwithstanding.

It certainly should not have have garnered this vicious right wing attack from everyone from Bill Kristol to the lowliest denizens of the right blogosphere. They want to destroy this soldier for describing things that have been described in war reporting since Homer so they can worship "the troops" without having to admit that the whole endeavor is a bloody, horrible mess that only briefly, and rarely, offers opportunity for heroic battlefield courage (which, of course, it sometimes does as well.)

It appears that what's truly important is maintaining the narrative surrounding "support the troops" rather than providing any meaningful acknowledgment of the clusterfuck that is Iraq. Which makes perfect sense, given the context. But it's still repulsive, and I don't think people who have those damned yellow flags on their vehicles are really thinking about this when they slap 'em on.

Or maybe they are, and they're just being exploited for fucked-up political reasons. I could go either way on that one.

I just don't want to be accused of not "supporting the troops" ever again. If "supporting the troops" means supporting the shit that Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp wrote about, then fuck that. If it means supporting human beings in their quest to remain human beings, then yeah, I think we've reached a starting point. Just don't tell me that "supporting the troops" requires supporting immoral, barbaric behavior. That's a dangerous place to be, especially on accident.

Les Media

If there's one thing you understand about the political press, make it be this:

Here are the real rules:

(1) Liberals have the power of reason and justice on their side.

(2) That’s an unfair advantage.

(3) Therefore the game should have handicaps to make it more competitive. One of these handicaps is holding liberals to unfair, unattainable standards. Because...

(4) Politics is just a game with no real world consequences and it wouldn’t be as fun to play if everyone had to simply make up their mind based on the logic and arguments of both sides, since liberals would win pretty much every time.

We’re not racing F1 people, but MarioKart! Conservatives are lagging in the logic department, so of course they get the blue turtle shell. And another war gets started and another few hundred thousand people die needlessly, but hey, better than having a less competitive game, right?

As bizarre as this sounds, after paying attention the media and its detractors for six years straight, I really think this is how pundits and other elite political media figures view politics.

I guess when you are solidly upper-class, the reality of policy changes, which are the result of actual politics, are generally not as apparent to you. The result, of course, is coverage of that which seems inconsequential to the majority (John Edwards' haircut) and the lack of real reporting on things that matter for the vast majority the population (Iraq, funding for social programs). Of course, this coverage reflects the interests and values of the people who are on the television.

That, and as Jason Jones put it on the Daily Show, "do you know how uncomfortable the Reporter-Politician Friendship Breakfast will be if I do that?"

Finally, I should note that I do not think liberals have justice on their side, or least they very rarely do (however, they do exhibit far more reason than anyone who justifies the behavior of the current Attorney General). This point/post isn't meant to prop up liberals, but partly to point out how narrow televised political discourse is in the United States. One of the consequences of having the rules written as such is that not only do very few liberals get on television at all, but anyone to their "left" is considered persona non grata or flat-out crazy (this also reflects the values of the so-called pundit class). So in that sense the "game" really is between establishment liberals and conservatives anyone with a big mouth and batshit idea based on inequality, hate, and/or violence.

Cat, the Internet, and the Dominant Power Paradigm

This is, ironically, the first post to mention cats on this blog, yet it has nothing to do with the cats I live with. Go figure.

So the cats-with-captions meme has made it to Time magazine. The author of the column is sure and enthusiast, but he says something completely out of place and yet totally correct at the end of this piece:

We may be witnessing a revolution in user-generated content, but the more mainstream the Web gets, the more it looks like the mainstream: homogenous, opportunistic and commercial. It's no longer a subculture; it's just the culture. And don't we have enough of that already? Are we facing a future without a weird, vital, creative phenomenon like lolcats? Say it with me: "Do not want!"

I suspect really, really serious Internet junkies have been saying this for years. Nevertheless, I think Grossman is correct. As the Internet gets professionalized and institutionalized (and as major companies take over the hosting and running of most of the functions that used to be performed by either tiny outfits or individuals), the quirky character and constant revolution that made it so raw and unfiltered are disappearing. The Internet is beginning to recognizably match the values of the dominant paradigm now that there's a critical mass of folks involved. When it was a self-selected group that differed from the dominant ideology enough, it did have a slightly different character.

Look at it this way: For me, the 80s were a time when people didn't really know how to incorporate digital technology into culture, and the result was messy. By the mid-90s, the "problem" was solved. I think there's a parallel there to the Internet, and what we're seeing now is the use of the Internet in such a way that serves the dominant power paradigm.

(This doesn't mean that the Internet is monolithic, but that it's main uses reflect American 'values'. Certainly you can find almost anything out there - I'm talking about the main uses for the majority of people)

There will never be a constant Internet revolution until there is a constant social revolution.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Population Density

Ran across this comment, which I will excerpt:

Princeton University is located in Mercer county which has a population of 350,761 (2000) and a land area of 229 square miles. This works out to be 1,532 people per square mile. This is somewhat above the average for all of New Jersey of 1,174 people per square mile. Note that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation.

By contrast, Seoul (10.356 million people) has a population density of 44,310 people per square mile. Central Paris (2.154 million people) has a density 64,186 people per square mile. A better comparison is Urban Paris with a population of 9.645 million and 9,173 people per square mile. Greater London has 7.7 million people and 12,644 people per square mile.

The comment is left, as far as I can tell, as part of a response to Paul Krugman's column on how the U.S. has been left behind when it comes to getting people hooked up to broadband Internet. The gist is that it's a far easier task when everyone lives so close together.

I agree with this, actually, but I still think Krugman's larger point is valid: We - as in the U.S. telecoms - aren't even trying. Not to mention the U.S. government or FCC - they've not lifted a finger to make this happen.

Hopefully with the advent of newer, longer-range forms of wireless, high-speed Internet access will continue to grow in the U.S.

Bonus: Look at the numbers above, then check out those for Linn County, Oregon.

Population, 2006 estimate: 111,489 people
Land Area of Linn County: 2,292 square miles

That comes to roughly 48.6 people per square mile. Now in all fairness, Linn County is mostly agricultural and includes a lot of the Cascades foothills, but still. ~50 people per square mile vs. 12,000 for London? I can't wrap my head around that.

Benton County:

Population is 79,061.
Land Area is 679 square miles.
Population Density is 116.4 - quite a bit higher, but that's Corvallis for you, not to mention a much smaller county size.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ward Churchill

The day after September 11, 2001, University of Colorado Professor and Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department Ward Churchill wrote an essay entitled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." In the essay, Churchill explored the reasons for the attack on the World Trade Center, and made the claim that some people in the WTC bore some moral culpability for the actions of the United States abroad, particularly in the Middle East.

Churchill's essay went unnoticed and largely unread for a few years until it was discovered by some right-wing nutjob who, I think, goes by the pseudonym "Bill O'Reilly." (What? That's his real name? Someone signs their name to that dreck? Wierd.) This O'Reilly guy and his merry band of loyal followers, predictably, went nuts. Churchill was soon under a lot of pressure, and he resigned from the Chair position he held. After that, his story dropped off the face of the earth.

Not for him, of course. I imagine his life has been fairly busy, since he was dismissed today from his (tenured) position at University of Colorado.

Based on the story, it seems fairly obvious that Churchill is correct in claiming that the decision on the part of the regents was political in nature. The classic view (which is being challenged more and more often) of a tenured professorship is that the protection of tenure gives the person holding it license to say things that might make others uncomfortable. Things that aren't exactly conventional wisdom, as it were. Churchill's essay - and his larger body of academic scholarship - certainly did just that. Apparently the powers-that-be at UC-Boulder didn't like that.

I should note, too, that for many people, the right to say otherwise unpopular things is very tied up with conceptions of academic freedom. For more on academic freedom, see this great stuff.

As for the crux of Churchill's argument in "Some People Push Back," the funny thing is that it's a pretty common position on the radical left: We, as citizens of the United States, are responsible for the things that our government does. If our government bombs and starves civilians for 12 years nonstop (as it did with Iraq between the two Gulf Wars), we bear some responsibility for it, including moral responsibility. The reaction to Churchill's essay - even considering the time and place - drives home for me how unusual it is for that argument to be presented in the mainstream.

Joseph over at Engage talked about Churchill's essay some time back, and I left a comment over there that I want to reprint here, since apparently I was more eloquent then:

On the one hand, I want to say that Americans in general are of course very responsible for the war on terror and its consequences; we live in a "democracy" and we, um, elected Bush.

On the other hand, what are the consequences of making this claim? Without nuance, I think it condemns 300 million people as either being fundamentally immoral or having made one helluva moral mistake. At least the former can't be right (can it?), so what's going on here? How do we accept/claim responsibility without entering into a world wracked with tremendous & paralyzing amounts of moral guilt? If we're responsible, are we not also guilty?

For me, a more interesting question: Given the state of American government - something of a globalized corporatocracy that's responsive only to large amounts of money and/or power - are we responsible for its actions at all anymore? It's not like the government is representative of the average person anyway.

I still don't have an answer to the questions I posed in that comment. Any takers?

Rocket Science

I saw this movie the first time it came out, way back in 1998. You know, when it was called Rushmore.

...comment based on the trailer. I suppose it's possible that the trailer is just making the movie look like Rushmore, and that somebody thinks that's a good idea.

I hate trailers.


I'm experimenting with adding a little box to the upper-right hand corner of the page. In the box are the five most recent posts I've read using Google Reader that I've decided to share. I'm doing this because these are things I'm sort of interested in blogging about but not interested enough to actually blog about.

Basically, it seems to be a list of posts I want other people to see.

Google owns my soul.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Digital Future

Swiped from BoingBoing, a long series of blog posts from 2017:

The US should do what the Japanese do: track every foreigner's mobile. If he does anything freaky, jump on him.

"But Mr. Feldspar, suppose this international criminal doesn't carry a mobile?" demanded representative Chuck Kingston (R-Alabama). It would have been rude to point out the obvious. So I didn't. But look, just between you and me: Anybody without a mobile is not any kind of danger to society. He's a pitiful derelict. Because he's got no phone. Duh.

He also has no email, voicemail, pager, chat client, or gaming platform. And probably no maps, guidebooks, Web browser, video player, music player, or radio. No transit tickets, payment system, biometric ID, environmental safety sensor, or Breathalyzer. No alarm clock, camera, laser scanner, navigator, pedometer, flashlight, remote control, or hi-def projector. No house key, office key, car key... Are you still with me? If you don't have a mobile, the modern world is a seething jungle crisscrossed by electric fences crowned with barbed wire. A guy without a mobile is beyond derelict. He's a nonperson.

I didn't say any of that to the politicians. They don't want to be taught things by bloggers in public. They consider it an act of enmity.

Exactly of half of me is totally entranced by the vision of the future.

The other half is terrified, I think because these stories of a future saturated with technology suggest that real human contact has become far more limited...and that it will be a good thing when it happens. Not cool.

Read A Book....Please

This has been making the rounds, and I've decided to throw it up here....while I like most of this video, there are a few parts that I either don't get or don't agree with.

Anyway, watch it...and please leave a comment with your reaction.

Medical Ethics? What are Those?

From TPM Muckracker, questions about the role of medical doctors in all the torture that's been going on under the US flag.

For me, this is a no-brainer: Doctors who advised anyone on torture methods should lose their licenses, permanently and everywhere. Same goes for psychiatrists. Not only is that a proper response, I think it's in the self-interest of both professions.

Though I imagine that one rationale used to justify the participation of medical professionals is that "national security" or the "threat of another terrorist attack" trumps everything else. It's been a tried and true talking point for conservatives for some time, and I can see it getting into the head of people who are nominally professionals.

A much harder question to answer is whether or not doctors and psychiatrists should make themselves available to treat victims of torture, since they stand a good chance of becoming enablers.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Country Fair

I know, I know, this post is way out of date. So it goes.

A few weeks ago - or was it really last weekend? - I went with friend Matt to the Oregon Country Fair.

The Country Fair has been going on for years. Close to 40, I think. Despite that, and despite the fact that it's in Veneta, which is close to where my dad grew up - and where both my parents lived for a bit - they never said anything about the country fair while I was growing up. I'd never gone, and when Matt mentioned over lunch that he wasn't going this year because he couldn't find someone to go with, I half-assedly jumped at the chance. Matt, of course, had been for several years running.

Sunday morning came, we got tickets, we left, I drove. The fair normally runs Friday-Sunday, so we were going the last day. Even so, I expecting it to be busy....I just didn't know how big the CF is.

We got there maybe 30 minutes after they opened, and there were already hundreds, if not thousands, of cars there. That was weird, though given that it's significantly out of town and people come from all over the state, I should have known better. By the time we left, there were three large fields full of cars. I'd bet there was 100+ acres of car parking. (There was also tent camping on the property.)

Matt and I went in, and wow. Genius - the place was a veritable maze of trails lined with shops, eateries and various other stalls punctuated by small and large stages, plus some other random stuff thrown in. Matt and I walked for three hours and never retraced our steps (though we did cross our path once, maybe twice). And we hardly ever left the shade of the trees. It was an absolutely brilliant design, especially compared to most other fairs and carnivals.

According to the website, the location is almost 400 acres and takes year-round care. I believe it. The stalls were mostly wood and blended in well (some even appearing to be permanent or semi-permanent), and the whole thing had the feel of something slightly magical (and no, I was not inhaling anything). Matt decided to let me lead the way, and we wandered more or less aimlessly (I never got a map, though Matt's came in handy when we were looking in vain for the exit) for a bit. Pretty soon after we got there, I saw a musical theatre performance making fun of the idea of a revolution that's too serious and doesn't allow juggling (it featured, by the way, a juggler's remix of Gangsta's Paradise - classic!).

Let me tell you, I almost died right there. It's like someone actually produced culture with my values in mind. I could have listened to that show for the next three hours and not felt like I was missing anything, I was in such a state of bliss.

Instead, we kept wondering...and wondering....and wondering. We saw a few people we knew, though not many, and Matt got a burger (there was far more meat available than I'd expected). Other than that, we just walked around for slightly over three hours, occasionally stopping to listen to a few minutes of performance or the guy who talked about the War on Drugs, or the guy who was talking about clean energy. The stalls fell mostly into the following categories: eateries, with few to no chains and almost all local food (Nearly Normal's from Corvallis was there); shops selling hand-crafted, small items, or perhaps T-shirts (there was an iron-forged goods shop, which I am to this day amazed and delighted by); stages of varying sizes, shapes, and styles for all kinds of performances; and a few stalls with services like astrology, massage, etc. And, of course, there were people at just about every major intersection playing music.

So: location, fantastic. Stalls, pretty darn good, though too oriented towards selling for me. People?

Here's where it gets odd, or at least it got odd for me.

The people were a mix of people you'd stereotypically expect to find - old, white (almost all white, by the way...what's up with that?), grizzled, topless/nude (men and women), aging or aged hippe-types, etc., but there were also a lot of folks my age who I suspect wear designer clothes during the week...they just left them at home to blend in.

This is not, oddly enough, me trying to disparage those folks. I was happy, if confused, to see so many people my age, and of a type (there was far more dyed blonde hair there than I would have expected) I wouldn't normally associate with something my family would call HippieFest. I was just surprised to see them there, and wondered why they feel the need to wear designer clothes during the week (hey, it's an expression) but also felt compelled to change their presentation for this event.

I wore a blue T-shirt and dark tan cargo shorts, and holy shit was I out of place. I needed a piercing, or tatto, or something. The beard was not enough.

The other thing I noticed about the people was the fact that they all appeared to be zombies, with the exception of the parade that came through. It was led by what appeared to be a shirtless, grizzled, bearded, hat-wearing, wand-waving sorcerer/warlock looking guy who danced the way (he was fabulous). Oh, and a dragon.

But everyone else was a zombie. This was due to at least two factors, as far as I could tell:

1) It was Sunday, and after two hot days and two nights of hard partying, people were fucking exhausted. Can't blame 'em.

2) The trails between the trees and stalls were actually kind of narrow for how many people were there. I suspect they've cultivated the place for years to create the paths they have, so I find it more likely that the number of people is hitting capacity. Still, it led everyone to sort of shuffle along between the stall like a large pack of, well, zombies.

The other thing that's still rattling around in my head is something Matt mentioned a few times: He's heard lots of folks complaining about how much the CF has changed and become more capitalistic, more selling-oriented, in the last few years. I certainly saw a lot of stalls, but with no reference point, I can't really comment much on that aspect...I will say I suspect he's right. It's awfully hard to hold a counterculture event like that without getting some bleed from the mainstream. Oh, and the tickets were $21 apiece. Multiply that by the rough figure of 100,000 visitors (supposedly the CF becomes the second-largest city in Oregon over the weekend), and you've got $2 million. Subtract volunteers from the visitors, of which there were a lot, and you've still got a ton of money.

I wonder where it all goes?

Finally, my inner sociologist couldn't stop thinking about Renaissance Fairs. A stereotypical Ren Fair is one in which people from the local community and surrounding countryside come to town to show off their talents and sell their goods. Out of this tradition have come modern carnivals, I am sure (and plausibly even theme parks). It was interesting to see something resemble a classic Renaissance Fair so closely, from the amount of green space to the hand-made nature of many of the items (there was a lot of art there) to the amazing variety of performances (juggling, musical theatre, kid's theatre both for and by kids, spoken word, bands that used electric guitars and those that didn't, traditional theatre, etc etc). It simultaneously made me glad it existed and annoyed at things like the Strawberry Festival even more.

Overall, I had a good time. It was a good experience to have, even though I really struggled to take off my damn sociologist hat, and I think if I go next year I'd like to go with W and maybe go on Friday. I'm tired, so this post is ending here. Good night.

Quotes from Graeber

So I was rereading David Graeber's Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology the other day, and two passages caught me eye. The latter was found on page 73, and it said:

Contrary to popular belief, bureaucracies do not create stupidity. They are ways of managing situations that are already inherently stupid because they are, ultimately, based on the arbitrariness of the use of force.

This makes so much sense to me on an intuitive level I wonder if I'd just normalized this claim, and the reason it caught my eye is simply that I was made consciously aware of it.

Needless to say, writing the above sentence has also made me aware of just how much differently than other people I view the world sometimes.

So the next time you get stuck at the DMV, or at the Registrar's Office, just remember that if you misbehave, somewhere nearby there is a large man with a big stick who will come use it on you.

So! On to the second quote, this time from page 53:

"It is almost impossible to find an example of an American who was born rich and ended up a penniless ward of the state."

Not as, um, intellectually deep, but still a damn good point. It's a bit of commentary on the American Dream - we can't all become rich, can we?

The context that Graeber places it in is one of class mobility. When asked about it, he says, most Americans just think of people who get rich, and never of those who get poor. Pretty telling, I'd say.

Oooh....I just found a GREAT review of Graeber. I will try to blog on it later, I promise!

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I am agreeing with the idea that basing anything on the arbitrary use of physical force is, indeed, stupid.

Sometimes I think I need to be as clear as possible and not trust people to read between the lines. Yes? No?

Invisible Tension

I spent a few hours Sunday at the house of a relative in Salem. Some folks from back east were there, along with with my immediate family and the kids and grandkids of the host.

The host is in his late 70s or early 80s, and his grandkids are between 8th grade and 20 or so years old. The host - let's call him 'M' - had two kids there, a son and a daughter. The son, M Jr., is a very, very successful consultant. He has three daughters of his own - M, M, and M - and a wife, M. (I am not making this up. Their names all start with the same letter. It would be hilarious except of how friggin' pretentious it is.) They live in the greater Portland area, and the kids attend a private school. The wife/mother M is very, very used to being rich. The husband drives a Ford Excursion, which is second in size only to a Hummer.

The daughter of the original M, S (making the kids S & M), has two children, a son (A) and a daughter (B), one of whom is 18 and the other 20 or so. The daughter, who is the oldest, works at one location of a chain of Shari's-like restaurants in the greater Portland area. A and B, and their mother, S, are pretty damn working class. The mother works at a retirement home, the daughter, B, lives with her Mexican boyfriend, J. The father is in and out of prison and hasn't lived with them as long as I can remember.

There were lots of other people, including some of my dad's cousins, but the ones mentioned are the ones relevant at this point. Oh, and the other people are almost all either working class or lower-middle class. Most are conservative, some very much so, and pretty much everyone else is well over 40 or even 50.

In other words, there is a strong family history with being working class or identifying with working class behaviors and desires, even if it's not a conscious one; the one son, M, has broken the chain by being pretty wealthy.

When I got there, a bit late and sunburnt due to the Kinetic Challenge (I was an offishul), I grabbed some food ham, potato salad, deviled eggs, bread, and too-sugary lemonade, avoided the crowd, and found a chair. As I sat and ate, I tuned into the conversation happening between - sort of - one of my cousins, B, and the three M's, who are all sisters. The mother of the M's was also sitting in. When I say 'sort of', what I really mean is that one cousin, B, was talking at the M's at a very rapid pace (A had disappeared with my brother).

As I listened, I noticed that B was talking about her everyday life - her very, very dramatic life. I would say she used some sort of bubblegum/pop/slight Valley Girl speaking style (quick, lots of filler words, injections of perceived drama). She talked about pretty normal stuff: Babysitting a Mexican child (who I think is related to her boyfriend) and how much the child likes her (and how much she likes the child), working at the restaurant (and how much the milkshake machine sucks), hitting her regular customers, a few stories about how people she knew had been really drunk (but, of course, B thinks alcohol is gross) and various other pretty typical adventures she's had while working and living on her own at age 20. It seemed like a pretty typical retelling of her life, made hyper-dramatic.

However, according to the faces of all the female M's - mother and all three daughters - it was anything but normal. No, I think the three rich daughters had barely heard anything like what she was saying before (though I could be wrong, of course). To the best of my knowledge, the three sisters have never had jobs, all go to church, vacation in Italy, etc, etc...they are practically living caricatures of rich people for how much they have been trained to emote in public. The mother was also listening, I suspect for two reasons: First, because those were stories she had never heard before (I've never actually met anyone this bourgeoisie in the flesh before - it's awkward and crazy-intense), and half because she didn't want her daughters hearing anything "inappropriate."

It seemed to me that what other people were seeing was four teenage girls talking, even gossiping. What I saw was a living, breathing collision between two very, very different social classes. I don't think B really understood that one of the reasons her audience wasn't talking back was because they were in the midst of being exposed to a bunch of stuff they'd never really heard before due to their sheltered, private-school, upper-class upbringing, nor do I think the M's really understood that as far as I saw them, they might as well have been staring and drooling (that pretty much includes the mother).

The whole thing was made funnier by the fact that B would ask for the time every 15 minutes and, upon hearing it, shriek that she was going to be late for work, only to resume her story without moving an inch. I honestly don't think the M sisters had ever seen this before, even though I would consider it almost normal behavior for someone who doesn't want to go to work.

So yeah - I was sitting there, my sociologist tri-fold hat glued to my head (with a philosophical feather attached), trying not to laugh at how wrapped up each participant was in their part of the interaction. I was almost afraid to open my mouth because I wasn't sure what would come out.

Was this mean on my part? Maybe. Hilarious? I thought so. Infuriating? Only because the family of rich M's either isn't fully aware of the class difference or, far more likely, is doing their best to bury it to avoid feelings of guilt, because it's written all over their faces that they are slumming whenever they visit the rest of the family and no one ever talks about it.

Addendum: Despite the fact that my immediate family is probably the only real middle-class family that attends these gatherings (in terms of cultural values), I identify far more with the working-class side of things (given the choice between the two present), even though I abhor their politics and occasional outbursts of racism and sexism. Life is some complicated shit, let me tell you, and as the dude said, you don't get to choose your community.

QUICK UPDATE: I don't mean to imply that the M's were malicious or anything towards the rest of the family (with the possible exception of the mother, yikes), but more that their privilege came across in the way they acted.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to mention about this little family reunion was something the rich lady M said. She was, I think, talking about either a person who was going to rent a room in her mother's house or maybe be employed by here mother. In either case, her mother is undoubtedly into her 70s, so I can understand her paranoia about wanting to find someone trustworthy.

Turns out, though, that she gets their Social Security with their application and then proceeds to run the name and information through all sorts of online private-eye sites. She was bragging about how detailed they were ("they even found a ticket she got for wearing earphones in the car!") with absolutely no idea that what she was doing was weird, or wrong, or even creepy. She was elated that she got to run her own background checks on people and spy into their private lives (all known addresses, all schooling, names of relatives, credit ratings, basically any time one has an encounter with the law or anything "official").

Am I the only one who finds that behavior repulsive?

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