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In an article at The Atlantic Neal Gabler cites:
In a 2010 report titled “Middle Class in America,” the U.S. Commerce Department defined that class less by its position on the economic scale than by its aspirations: homeownership, a car for each adult, health security, a college education for each child, retirement security, and a family vacation each year. By that standard, my wife and I do not live anywhere near a middle-class life, even though I earn what would generally be considered a middle-class income or better. A 2014 analysis by USA Today concluded that the American dream, defined by factors that generally corresponded to the Commerce Department’s middle-class benchmarks, would require an income of just more than $130,000 a year for an average family of four. Median family income in 2014 was roughly half that.

Worth reading the entire article.
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There is a sense in which I could claim to be self-made, to have gotten where I am only by my own achievements, to have boostrapped my way out of poverty. That sense is that no one person helped me. I didn't have a family member, coach, teacher, counselor, pastor, or friend who spotted my potential when I was young and then encouraged and helped me fulfill that potential. Nobody made me a small loan that made all the difference, or let me crash with them for a few weeks, or paid my rent while I took an unpaid internship. Hell, nobody even told me I had potential!

And yeah, any of those things would have made a huge difference in my life. Trump talks about the small loan (of a million dollars!) that started his business; there was a time when a loan of just $10,000 would have made my life different, but there was literally no one in my life who could lend me that money, even though I had a job and could have paid it back in a timely fashion. There was one week, right after I got divorced, when I mistakenly paid a bunch of bills without keeping back grocery money, and I did have a friend who rescued me that one time by buying me a week's worth of groceries. And that matters (I mean, I still remember how panicked I was and I am still grateful for that save) but it was a one-week cash flow problem and could have been solved by going to a food pantry.

But I don't think of myself as self-made or as having bootstrapped myself out of poverty, because the only reason I made it the small distance I did is because we have a society that lays the foundation, and that foundation is paid for by other people in the community. I had the advantage of free school lunch, of free public school, of low-cost public transit, of jobs protected by laws so I was safe and paid a living wage; landlords couldn't discriminate against me when I tried to rent an apartment. And yes, I worked hard and spent a lot of time worried about the future (still do).

And even if I did make my own success, nobody should have to live like I did; nobody should have to be that anxious all the time, and work that hard, and only just barely survive even so.
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I'm beginning to think that the bigger, more important difference between me and SOME PEOPLE is not ask versus guess, but honor (face) versus dignity (behavior) culture.
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As long-time readers will know, I am interested in discussions of class in the US and how it informs individual identity, values, and choices. CNN has posted a quiz that asks for your US location (state and county) and whether you consider yourself middle class, and then shows you what range of income CNN considers the "middle income bracket" for that locale. This could provide more useful information when I'm discussing income and class with people who live in places where the cost of living is different from my area. For example, the quiz states that the middle income bracket where I live is $39,287—$63,825 per year.

The tool also shows what percentage of people who guessed they were in the middle class actually are. While about 78% of people who had taken the quiz (as I write this) reported that they felt like they were middle class, over 60% of quiz takers admitted that their income was not within the range given for their area.

I wonder what it feels like to realize that you are a lot poorer or a lot richer than your perception? Of course this quiz only considers income, not assets or debts, and that leaves a lot out-you might have a lower income (comparatively) than you think but have inherited or saved and invested in assets that had extraordinary growth. Conversely someone in a higher income bracket might have overspent and feel poor because most of that high income is being used to pay off debts incurred by past overspending.

Nevertheless, the quiz provides a data point that might be useful in constructing--or reconstructing--how you perceive yourself, and might change your decision making process.
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I read blogs that vary among the political possibilities. I read progressives, and liberals, and libertarians, and even a few conservatives. And I'm noticing a lot of bad argument on all sides. But because I'm a pro-abortion woman, today I'm starting with a particular claim by Glenn Reynolds, whose blog is

He posted here that he thought the president giving a speech about abortion to Planned Parenthood was bad timing in light of the Gosnell trial. (Gosnell is accused of various criminal acts involving an abortion clinic he ran.) I just don't see why somebody being justly tried on serious accusations of abuse of the law is a restriction on discussing or supporting legal use of that same law. This one person broke the law-what does that have to do with the people who observe the law? Should all abortion clinics be closed because somebody did it wrong, even though it's a perfectly legal medical procedure?

But other people on other issues do it, too. Every crime that includes a gun use becomes a platform for anti-gun-rights people to attack legal observers of the gun laws. I have a concealed handgun license, which I've always believed was at least partial proof that I was a law-abiding person. I went to the trouble of paying the fee, taking the class, being fingerprinted (like a criminal) and having my background checked. I carry a license with my photo and other information on it, even when I'm not exercising my right to concealed carry. I don't confuse it with a license to do just anything--it's a concealed handgun license, not a license to carry a knife or a rifle or a bomb. And there are laws (that I learned in the class) about appropriate use of a gun that restrict me even though I have a concealed handgun license.

Most of the people who commit crimes with guns aren't abiding by the gun laws in the first place, and then they use their illegally-acquired guns to commit other crimes. Changing the gun laws will not stop them-they're already breaking the laws we already have.

Hard cases make bad laws. There should be more reason for changing a law than that somebody broke it and then caused horrific injury and death. After all, THEY BROKE THE LAW ALREADY. Why wouldn't they just break whatever new law is passed?
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Not really. Despite the recent Mother Jones report, according to James Alan Fox, over the past 35 years the US has averaged just under 20 mass shootings (defined as shootings with 4 or more victims) per year. In that article, an interview conducted by Megan McArdle (one of my favorite writers on economics and other national news), Mr. Fox also says mass killers don't "just snap."
Mass murderers are extraordinarily ordinary.

Most mass killers kill people they know, with a clear-cut motive. They typically plan their crimes in advance, often weeks or months in advance. They are calm, deliberate and determined to get justice for what they perceive to be unfair treatment.

The idea that they suddenly snap actually makes little sense. They snap and just so happen to have 2 AK-47's and 2000 rounds of ammunition around for just such an occasion? Hardly.
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Megan McCardle (who has moved from the Atlantic website to the Daily Beast) explains that political women hatred comes from all sides.
I suppose it's only natural that liberal woman commentators who become the subject of vitriolic attacks from men--attacks that highlight their appearance, marital status, and presumptive stupidity--would assume that this happens because conservatives are sexist. But the sad fact is that conservative and libertarians get this stuff too.

Yes, you heard me right: self described progressive men go out of their way to write me notes in which they sound like sexist jerks. They deploy words that I won't repeat, because this is a family blog, but which center around my reproductive parts, and what I might or might not be doing with them.

She resents the mansplaining, she deplores the "you betrayed your sex!" comments from other feminists, and she points out that the woman-as-angel idea is still around and still damaging.
The long term attempt to change gender role prisons isn't over yet.
But we get very uncomfortable when they contest men on skill: when they are arguing, in essence, "I'm smarter than you" or "I've thought this through better" or "My ideas are more compelling" or just "I'm in charge, and we're going to do it my way". It's not just that the women may be wrong--50% of the time, they probably are. There's a real anger that the women are daring to put themselves out there, to declaim in a space where they have no right to be.

Politics seems to me to be very definitely one of those arenas. When Stephanie Cutter does her job right, she wins the news cycle--and the people who have lost take a double blow. They were beaten, and they were beaten by a woman. It's galling.

Which is why Rush Limbaugh garners outrage and fear, while Michelle Malkin garners a sort of hysterical contempt, incredulity mixed with horror mixed with "How dare that uppity [expletive deleted] state her stupid opinions!" And why the reaction to both Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin was somewhat out of proportion to their actual faults.

But her important point is that it happens on all sides: progressives, conservatives, libertarians all attack women with opposing views by using the same shock and outrage that wouldn't be directed at a man's manliness, manhood, or body.

Worth reading it all.
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Sherri Tepper wrote a novel of that name, about a post-apocalyptic society where for the most part men and women live in different communities. The men's communities are modeled after Spartan soldiery, and they are supported by, but outside the gated walls of, the women's cities.

Coming to you in a nearby country! Because women in Saudi Arabia are increasingly educated, but are not allowed to work alongside men, a new female-only zone is being built in some cities, including the capital, Riyadh.
The inaugural one in Hofuf is essentially a female-only industrial zone that's expected to employ about 5,000 Saudi women in the textile, pharmaceutical, and food-processing industries. Women will run the companies and factories. "I'm sure that women can demonstrate their efficiency in many aspects and clarify the industries that best suit their interests, nature, and ability," says Saleh al-Rasheed, deputy director general of the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon), which is in charge of the project. The women will live in adjacent neighborhoods.
As Sarah Goodyear at the Atlantic points out,
The problem is that a segregated city will never be as productive or creative as one where the free exchange of ideas among diverse converging people is allowed. The very thing that makes cities and societies powerful will be absent.The women who get the opportunity to work in these new cities will no doubt distinguish themselves, but they will still be laboring in segregation. These separate and unequal cities will only highlight the inequity of a society that won’t allow half its population free use of the public realm.

No word on whether the men will fight to death for their cities' honor.
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It's the economy, stupid.

In the US, multiple media stories blame public employee pension systems for local and state government budget problems. And they all bury the lede.

They discuss the problem of the python swallowing the elephant (the Baby Boomer generation retiring, fewer young workers paying taxes to support more retirees), they decry public employee unions as the devil (for negotiating good retirement packages, usually by trading away pay raises), and they bemoan the necessity to cut other important government programs and to raise taxes to fund public employee pension programs. They pick at specifics like how pensions are calculated (including unused vacation and sick time), and at various actuarial assumptions (like earned interest rates and the projected lifetime of retirees).

But the real problem isn't bad negotiating by previous administrations, overgenerous pensions, or the mechanics of the pension programs. The real problem is that the pension funds are invested in the stock market, and as a reflection of the rest of the economy, the stock market sucks right now.

Blaming government funding issues on the workers distracts us from the bankers and corporate money makers who are still making out pretty well, and who donate money and lobby to protect their positions. It's obviously a calculated campaign with a carefully-chosen opponent (public employees) that is well-funded, numerous, and notoriously aggressive in protecting its interests. And it substitutes a widespread phenomenon with good arguments on both sides for what would otherwise be a narrowly-aimed war on powerful rich people. Don't be fooled.

But for me

Jul. 23rd, 2012 12:13 pm
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Some belated thoughts on President Obama's "You didn't build that" speech.

When I was 11 we lived in an apartment complex in alley behind a motel. We kids played a lot of kick-the-can in the parking lot, and ran wild in the very large empty lot behind the apartment building. Our family was pretty poor (like everyone there): we were on food stamps and some kind of welfare. I know this because we had a routine for when the welfare people would come to check on us: hide anything nice and get my mother's boyfriend out through a back window. We were adopted by a local church that winter for a Christmas tree and gifts.

And I started a business. There was a little candy and incidentals store in the alleyway, which carried candies from The Netherlands: chocolate shapes wrapped and decorated to look like flowers or animals, licorice, and the hard candies we called jawbreakers, in multi-colored and flavored layers that lasted a long time. The store sold them for 10 cents, or 3 for a quarter. I bought them whenever I had any spare change, maybe from returning a pop bottle. And I took them to school and sold them for a quarter each. That way I could afford paper and pencils for me and my kid sister that year!

Did I build that business? I didn't make the candies. But the business would not have existed but for me. Nobody else was doing it. I had the idea and I carried it out. I used the income for personal benefit. I didn't pay income taxes, either--but then, I probably made at most $20 over the entire school year.

I couldn't have created that business without the infrastructure of modern society. But that business wouldn't have existed without me. So, I did too build that business. I built it using tools and resources available to everyone, that were only available because of society, government, a system of laws, and taxes. But I still built it.

It would not have existed but for me.

A good person and a good employer recognizes the contributions of others, including employees, to her success. But a good government recognizes the contribution of the idea person, and the person with the persistence and determination to build something from what she finds.
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Judging people is a normal human thing--it's really hard not to do, and it would be stupid not to do it at least some of the time. Say when a person is running toward you with a gun, judging whether it's a law enforcement officer chasing the other person who ran that-a-way or a predator threatening you with injury or death is a very valuable judgment to make.

Some people have very clear rules for judging people in a way that's dismissive: are you a good person or a bad person? If you're a bad person, then I am allowed to other you, to treat you with disrespect and contempt, to feel entitled to abuse you. I get to feel a little better because surely I am not as bad as you. Lots of people used to use religion, because most religions have clearly stated rules you can use to judge, and designated punishments for being bad, and often also a rule about avoiding bad company or even shunning people judged to be bad. Then there was the gentleman's code; basic manners have sometimes been perverted into a test, a straightjacket for behavior and a way to exclude.

Because that's what all of this is about: excluding some people from our tribe, from the rights of an equal, from the respect and consideration we'd want ourselves. These are almost never rules people apply only to themselves, or even to themselves at all. They only use them against others. They only use them to pick somebody, a person or a group of people, who they can then target for unfair treatment, ridicule, bullying. And they can do all that, they can act evilly toward those people, without any guilt or sadness or other negative consequences, because they first qualified them into the "other" category and out of the "just like me" category. They judge the othered people not worthy of the treatment given to acceptable people like themselves.

Right now politics is a popular topic for this test, but I don't believe anything crosses traditional boundaries of politics, religion, or identity the way people's body weight does. It's being masked as health, and justified by concern trolls through a claim that fat people's medical issues cost them money (in increased insurance premiums and other ways), but it's still fat hatred. You can tell because there's no similar concern about people who are unheathily thin, or have treatable high blood pressure, or asthma, or any other health concern that requires routine medical treatment or might lead to an expensive medical intervention later in their lives.

Meloukhia points out some of the effects of this pretended concern about health. One is nosiness.
[T]hey feel quite comfortable quizzing other people about personal medical issues, and offering unsolicited advice on treatments or lifestyle. They also feel entitled to judge the activities of the people around them, even when those activities have no actual impact on their lives. And even when people are unhealthy, aware of it, and perfectly okay with that fact, with no personal diminished quality of life. A fat person eating a doughnut in Cleveland and deeply enjoying it has absolutely no material effect on my existence, just as an asthmatic who doesn’t adhere to a care plan in Miami doesn’t influence my life in any way.

What about choice and agency? Don't you get to make choices about your own life even if others don't like them? I had children and a lot of people think adding to the population is wrong, but there's no law against it yet. Apparently the health concern trolls feel free to judge every decision you make, because you're supposed to be choosing only based on health. Not pleasure, or expense, or lack of time, but only health. And not reality, not individual decisions based on your doctor's advice and your personal circumstances, but the received wisdom about what's best for others.
It’s less about how people feel—Are they happy? Are they stressed? Are they unhappy? Do they want to be healthier?—and more about how other people perceive them, as ‘unhealthy.’
Meloukhia makes other good points about backfiring and stigma; worth reading it all.
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I am excited and disturbed by the political and economic unrest in the United States right now. My local Occupy protest is only a few blocks from where I work, and it started by major disruption of downtown life during its march, then continued by delaying my commute every day and providing occasionally distracting noise levels during my work day. The first few days I mainly followed the protest on Twitter, and had several conversations with Twitter users who claimed to be part of the protest, not one of whom could tell me what their goals were. It seemed to be a temper tantrum.

Even a temper tantrum is a sign that people are paying attention and agree with me that normal political methods are failing. I don't think the political process has broken down entirely, but clearly many people think that our elected officials aren't pursing the goals we intended to further by electing them.

While the protesters are literally walking their talk, another kind of protest doesn't bode well for our community: both job-seekers and wealthy US citizens are putting their money where their mouth is and turning to Canada. Not threatening to leave the country but actually doing it!

One problem with the unorganized nature of the protests is their inclusiveness, which means even Jew-hating messages are getting media attention. Fortunately that same individualism means that other leftists counterattack the Jew haters.
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I don't have cancer--well, not breast cancer anyway. I know this because last week I had a mammogram. It didn't go well, apparently there was an area they found suspicious, so they called me back for a more specific mammogram today. And that didn't go well either, so they led me further into the maze of twisty little corridors and numbered rooms for an ultrasound. First the tech did an ultrasound, and then the doctor came in and re-ran it for clarity. But it was just an area of density; they'll track it for a few years to see whether it changes. I'm supposed to get a mammogram every year anyway (family history), so they didn't change the schedule.

I've done all this before, back in the mid-1990s, and it turned out slightly worse that time. I had a tumor. It was smaller than 1 mm, undetectable by touch, and benign--I had a needle biopsy which removed the entire body of that tumor.

I'm glad that throughout my life most of the tests and medical procedures I've undergone to rule out something really bad have, indeed, ruled out anything really bad being wrong with me. I've had an MRI to rule out brain cancer, and it did. Multiple mammograms to rule out breast cancer, ditto. Ultrasounds to rule out reproductive system stuff, all turned out healthy-normal. I've had moles and other skin growths removed and none of them were cancerous.

But I only know that because I had the tests. I had real access: not just opportunity but the ability to pay (medical insurance and enough disposable income), and a job that allowed paid time off for doctor visits.
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I wore purple today so there was one more data point in the visual field of people against bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual, and queer people.

All bullying is wrong. Wearing purple won't stop it. Interfering when you witness bullying will stop it.

I don't talk much about my experiences of being bullied because I mostly experienced it as a white person in communities of POC, and that fact tends to start negative conversations.

On politics

May. 4th, 2010 03:34 pm
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My first political awakening was the Ohio State massacre in 1970. I saw the famous photograph (probably in a newspaper) and asked every adult I could find what had happened. I was appalled. I was also 8 years old.

I've never been a fan of politics; it's not one of my hobbies. I have the luxury of ignoring most of it (largely due to white and TAB privilege) and I justify my usual disengagement with the necessity of recovering from my childhood, leading my own (selfish) life, and minor chronic illness. I care enough to engage about relatively few issues: abortion, gun rights, the welfare and rights of children, marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation. And sometimes Israel.

People who enjoy politics as a hobby, people who like to spend a lot of time on it, confuse me. We had a lunch meeting today at work--the investment guy for the retirement plans came in to talk about where the economy is and where he thinks it is going, and how to invest depending on your years-to-retirement and guesses about the future.

During the meeting, one of the attorneys questioned him and strongly disagreed with him about the deficit (related to the health care plan) and some other stuff. At one point the investment guy was talking about why money is tight right now, that the Fed is offering banks loans at 1/2 a percent and then selling those same banks bonds that pay 2 percent, so the banks would rather take the sure deal (using the 1/2 percent loan to buy the bonds) than loan the money out to individuals and businesses; the questioner loudly exclaimed that was due to Bush, a couple of other people made agreeing comments and noises, and the bunch of them nodded their heads (almost in unison! scary) and smiled broadly at each other. I really don't understand why it was so important to take time out of a meeting about our retirement plans (my personal time, in fact, since it was during lunch hour) to have a political bonding moment. Are they that insecure about President Obama? Or what motivates such behavior, if not that? (I admit I am ungood at guessing motivations.) I mean, what relevance does that have to how I invest my retirement account? NONE. It was grandstanding. Nobody in the meeting was suggesting it was President Obama's fault! I think that behavior is partly imagined majority privilege--people do it when they believe most, or all, of the group believes as they do.

I've been accused of "just repeating talking points" from people I've never even heard of, and the political hobbyists who make the accusation then dismissed my opinion as if labeling it a talking point meant they didn't have to address the merits of my argument. That's lazy thinking.

I think partly the political hobbyists just pay more attention to the other side (whatever that means, depending on their issues) than anybody who is less interested in politics, even if they are *on* the other side. I'm on the other side a lot, given that the left hates gun rights and the right hates abortion rights, and I support both. (Whenever I write about that combination online, people pour out of the woodwork to announce that they support both too, and we should start our own political party.)

I have flowers on my desk. Two vases: one with deep purple sweet peas, and the other with a few stems of lily of the valley. The two vases are on opposite sides, too.
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Struggling with not-wordiness but must get this response to fat hatred and medical punishment (by refusal to help/pay for medical expenses) for "individual risk-taking" out:

If criminals aren't responsible for their choices because they grew up in a racist/poor/bad family etc. environment and we should rehabilitate them instead of incarcerating them, why does my fat/asthma/allergies mean I made a bad choice and other people shouldn't have to pay for my health care?
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The US has a gun culture; apparently Germany has a culture of molotov cocktails.

An 18-year-old armed with an ax, knives and Molotov cocktails attacked his high school in southern Germany on Thursday, injuring eight pupils and a teacher before police shot and arrested him, authorities said.

Remember, molotov cocktails don't kill people, people kill people.
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If it weren't for the inadequate or possibly nonexistent vetting President Obama's administration has demonstrated, I would never have realized just how many Democratic Party politicians were corrupt (taxes) or paranoid conspiracy theorists (no really, you think the government knew about the September 11 terrorist attacks, specifically, in advance?).

My naivete is being sandpapered off. Or maybe chiseled!
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A list of questions and answers (when they appear) about the health care plan is here.


Question 2.3: Are Illegal immigrants covered under the plan? What is the additional cost?

Answer 2.3: H.R. 3200: Sec 246 — NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS (Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.)

Reference 2.3:

Question 2.4: Will religious organization hospitals qualify under the plan if they refuse to perform abortions?

Status 2.4: UNANSWERED

Keep checking, it's updated as more concrete information is spread.


Mar. 31st, 2009 09:42 pm
snippy: (SimonJester)
Simon Jester is an alter ego of a main character in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a book that greatly influenced me when I was a youngster.


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