Thursday, October 27, 2005

Traditional Roles

Besides men were far better at domestic roles than women, they had a knack of keeping the domestics operative, whereas women rarely had the will nor the interest
Dorothy went off occupied for the rest of the evening. She was glad to have Jack as a husband. He was a very handsome man and the envy of her friends. Good looks were important in a man these days..
A cool story: by John Saringer of Mysthaven.

Neolithic Noodles Unearthed in China

Apparently solving the argument of who invented the noodle, stone age noodles were recently uncovered by archaeologists in China.

And here I thought the food in my fridge was old!

More Science Fun

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

Today's Rant on Poverty and Class

It is slightly disturbing to reflect upon the fact that our world isn't naturally and magically overcoming the vast inequalities that exist; we aren't racing towards a golden future.

One of the related questions that keeps popping up lately is: How much personal responsibility should someone take for a poverty-stricken life?

One thing is true: taking reponsibility is empowering. Not taking responsibility leads to being and feeling trapped. However, there is only so much room to maneuver in any given life situation. I would argue that, it is absolutely an individual's responsibility to maximise opportunities, but at the same time, it is not up to anyone else to judge that individual for "failure", because no one else knows the circumstances of this individual life. No one knows the starting point, or the obstacles faced by this individual.

A little analogy related to my favourite sport: Imagine a 10k running race. The start line is not at the 0k position for everyone. One runner (Joe), starts 2 kilometers before the start line, meaning he has to run 2K to even reach the start. Bill starts at the start line (0k). Sally starts at the first kilometer (1k head start). Is it certain that Sally would win the race? Of course not.

If Joe runs a 3:30 Minute kilometer, he will complete the race in 42 minutes. Sally might run a 7 minute kilometer (like Leigh and I did at the Niagara marathon this past weekend), which would give her a finish time of 63 minutes, so she would not beat Joe even though she had a head start. Bill might trip and twist his ankle, allowing Joe to pass him. In other words, there are many variables other than starting position to determine how someone will place in a race. That doesn't change the fact that starting 1k behind someone else is a disadvantage. No one would dispute, that all other things being equal, a staggered start is very unfair. If all runners were to run a 6 minute kilometer, the finish times would be 54 minutes (Sally), 60 minutes (Bill), and 66 minutes (Joe).

In the gut, this feels very obvious, doesn't it? As though it isn't even a question. So why does a comparable discussion of class and poverty elicit such inflammatory comments so often? "She is poor because she is lazy", "I worked for everything I have, why should someone else deserve a hand out", "There will always be poor people so why do anything about it", "rich people are better and more important than poor people".

At the finish line of the 10k race, no one in their right mind would say that Joe lost because he is slow, or lazy. No one would dispute that Sally ran her best race: she ran as fast as she can. Bill, too, ran as fast as he can, but he neither the right to feel superior to Joe because he beat him, nor should he feel as though he didn't earn his 60 minute finish. The point is, they all ran exactly the same speed and should be considered equal winners.

A person has a responsibility to run the best race possible, but should not be judged on the basis of the final finishing time.

I am (rather unsubtly) talking about the lack of class mobility here, which tends to contradict the much-spouted idea that capitalism is a meritocracy.

It is a fact that, at least in the US, there is a Growing Gulf Between Rich And Rest Of Us. There is a huge tendency to blame the poor as a group for this, without considering the individual challenges any given poor person might have had to face. Yes a poor person might be lazy, but so might a rich person. For example, by the standards of the majority of the world's income levels, I am rather well to do. Even by the standards of my own society, I am certainly comfortable. I am sometimes lazy. I have been homeless, and probably worked harder back then than I do now.

The world is infinitely complex; questions of poverty, disadvantage, and other social ills are equally so. Rather than be so quick to judge, perhaps we should exhibit some understanding and work towards collective solutions that benefit everyone.

More on Poverty & Class Issues

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bush TV conference With Soldiers Staged

"It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions
President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday's vote on a new Iraqi constitution."

Not that this is new. (check PR Watch for countless other examples of reality bending) What is new is how red-handed the catching was, due largely to the newsmedia jumping all over this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Save rich people first?

Right-wing yahoo Neal Boortz believes it is a priority to save rich people rather than poor people if faced with another disaster. He says:
who do I want to save first? The rich. Save the poor first. Then, when everything's over, where are you gonna go for a job?

He goes on...
Well, hell, yes, we should save the rich people first. You know, they're the ones that are responsible for this prosperity.

I guess the people who work at jobs aren't important, it's the guys who play golf and pay other people to do work for them who produce the things we need and enjoy in our economy. Where would a boss be without workers? How many cars are built by the shareholders or CEO of Ford? How can someone actually see production this way? It's like saying that if you have a choice between saving the food factory or the food farms, you should choose the factory because it makes all the food.

If the poor could eat pomposity, they'd never go hungry in the good ol' US of A.

At least people can see what the true beliefs of these greedy b*stards really are.

Anyone else notice class is becoming a topic for discussion again?

Thanks to Court Fool for this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blame the Victims

I'm back from hiatus, with a BIG topic today. It is so big, it will probably spill over to other entries on other days.

As oft pointed out on The Rational Radical website, blaming the poor for their own poverty is a popular right wing technique. This survey shows how prevalent these views are. I believe this goes even farther - blame the victims. Many ultra-conservatives blame minorities for racism, blame women for sexism, blame the third world for colonialism, blame murder victims for being killed... it goes on and on. What's next, blaming children for child abuse? It's only a small logical step away.

This is a pretty big topic, so I'll only discuss a few highlights today.

Firstly, let's examine the blame the poor argument as it applies to women.

There is a rather strange prevailing thought which assumes that poverty is the direct cause of specific negative personality traits, such as laziness. Often a moral correlation is also assumed, so that wealth can be seen as an indication of moral worthiness. The "blame the poor" argument often stems from this. It is assumed that money is EARNED by those who deserve it. Therefore if is poor, one does not deserve money. Poor people are lazy and morally corrupt.

The poverty rate among women in the USA is higher than the poverty rate among men. In 2001, 11.6% of adult women compared to 8.5% of adult men (ages 18-65) live in poverty, and, significantly the disparity increases among senior citizens: 12.4% of women compared to 7.0% of men (65 and over) live in poverty. Is this because women are lazy? They don't work as hard as men? Women are morally corrupt? They do not deserve to have money? Any woman reading this is likely laughing right now. On average, women work at least as hard (some will say harder and longer hours) than men. The idea that women are morally corrupt hardly is worth commenting on. To those who believe that, there isn't much to say.

So let's look at some real causes of poverty among women.

Unequitable pay. Women employed full time still make less than their male counterparts, approximately 75% of the wages men make. (excellent article on this).

In 2003, the median income for men was $40,668 and for women was $30,724. Why? One reason is that often women are unlikely to be promoted, and stay at low wage jobs much longer than men. Middle management positions are much more likely to go to men rather than women. Most employers treat women who are mothers very differently from men who are fathers. Women may need maternity leave, which highly reduces the likelihood of promotion.

Also, the jobs in which women are overrepresented are traditionally low paid. Cashiers, housekeepers, receptionists, waitresses, child care, etc. are still overwhelmingly female. Many of these jobs pay minimum wage, which in most parts of the USA, is well below what is needed to keep a family out of poverty. Can you truly say that a male office worker in middle management works any harder than a female cashier at walmart? That a female housekeeper is lazy compared to a male janitor? Could the pay disparity be reflected in the value of their work? Is a nanny's work, caring for our future generation of kids, less important than, say, a welder's work? Is the nanny lazy or morally corrupt while the welder is a hardworking upright citizen?

The working status of women. Families headed by a single woman have a 26.4% poverty rate. That means more than 1 in 4 of all single mother headed families are poor. Being the single female head of household means often choosing between caring for the family and gainful employment. Without adequate and affordable child care, the choice actually becomes moot. Even if they want to and are able to work full time, single mothers are often stigmatized, and have hard time getting well paid employment, even with high levels of education and experience.

Does any of this mean that women are more lazy or morally corrupt than men? If anything it means women work harder for less! It is an unjust and meaningless argument.

I've hard arguments with people who say that being a single mother is a choice. They point to the high divorce rate, and teen pregnancy as a cause of women's poverty. While statistically this is absolutely true, does it not mean that these unfortunate individuals should be helped? Are they less deserving of a decent existence than a woman married to a wealthy husband?

The effects of poverty among women are serious, and as so often happens, children are disproportionately affected. The crime rate is far higher among children from poor households. Health is far worse. Education levels are lower. All of these things only perpetuate the cycle, as it is statistically very difficult, nearly impossible, for children to rise far beyond the economic level of their parents.

When ultra-conservatives say they are pro-family, I wonder why they are against policies to help the majority of families (who are low and middle class). Policies to help poverty among women, such as inexpensive child care, more progressive taxation, stronger wage laws, national health care, and housing subsidies, are frequently blocked. The "blame the victim" strategy simply provides a smokescreen for the greed that truly lies behind the blockage of these policies.

(All stats from US Census, 2003 and 2004)

To be continued (next to study "blame the minorities")
More on Poverty and Class Issues and Family & Women's Issues.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Eyesore of the Month by James Howard Kunstler

Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month, June 2005 "Is it really necessary to have twelve foot chain-link fence around this [school]yard, turning the space effectively into a cage? What is the message we are sending to ourselves about our society? Do the children ever apprehend that they are being treated like caged animals?"

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Take: Film Review

Finally saw this last night. I thought it was quite well done.

Elements that struck me:

1. It was made apparent how political decisions from "on-high" affect regular people. This is something to which I feel we apathetic Canadians and Americans, in particular, need to pay attention. How often have you heard people say: "I'm not political. Politics doesn't affect me. I just want the government to leave me alone."? Unfortunately this apolitical attitude eventually causes problems, sometimes huge, because if we don't fight for our own interest, no one is going to do it for us. The people who were at demonstrations in The Take were from all demographics: young, old, poor, middle class, women, men, mothers, teenagers.

2. The brief mentions of IMF policies. If you have read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Perkins), or pretty much any critiques of globalization, you will likely be familiar with the terrible policies the IMF and the World Bank force upon countries (mass privatization, deregulation, corporate handouts to encourage foreign investment, etc.). In many ways, these policies were responsible for the economic crisis in Argentina. I would have liked a bit more analysis of a) why countries are pressured to adopt these policies, and b) specific effects of these policies. However, this was not the purpose of the documentary.

3. The real alternative not only presented, but acted upon by the workers. This is direct action, folks; to use a cliche - they took things into their own hands. It is wonderful to see democratic cooperative workplaces, decentralized yet linked by a common bond of fraternity. The individual workplaces are democratically run, with all decisions being made by vote. All workers are equitably paid (equal pay in most of the co-ops). The various workplaces seek advice from others, and come forth in solidarity to support each other in the case of police or government interference. They support, and are supported by the community. It is a small, and probably temporary, experiment of almost my EXACT political ideals. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

So, if you haven't yet seen it, Buy or Rent it now. It is well worth an hour and a half of your time.