Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An odd feel...

I was reading a friend’s blog this morning – and just as a frame of reference, this friend lives in Brooklyn, on the border between Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, one neighborhood heavily gentrified and the other becoming more so – and it occurred to me the “feel” that is Portland. This city that I’ve moved to is a very nice and livable city, don’t get me wrong; and it has a certain Brooklynness in its neighborhood feels, but there was also something else that I’ve felt since I’ve moved here, but I could never put my finger on it. Then, while reading his article, it suddenly dawned on me what it was.
Portland feels like one huge gentrified neighborhood. Or at least a collection of several gentrified neighborhoods together. It’s not only the lack of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity that I’m speaking of; there is also just this general feel that everywhere in Portland is pretty much nice. Housing prices are fairly even across the city, and no matter which neighborhood you’re in you can find great strips of nice boutique shops, great places to eat, and a yoga studio.
Now the definition of gentrification is a somewhat nebulous term; and even if it weren’t, I’m not trying to indicate that Portland neighborhoods – and of course not the whole city itself – is gentrified, I’m just saying that everywhere in Portland seems to have that feel. Walking around, you can wander through neighborhoods that you can tell at one time did not have nice boutique shops and yoga studios, but instead had laundry mats and liquor stores. But now those neighborhoods have community gardens, Nike basketball courts (Nike is based in Beaverton, OR - just outside of Portland – and has built basketball courts all around the city of Portland), and about a dozen brunch places.
Just to clarify, I’m not making a value judgment here about either Portland or gentrification, the thought just came to me while reading my friend’s article, and I thought I would share it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Evidence of things not seen...

I think it is imperative before I begin to state that I am not religious. I don’t necessarily believe in God (although the truth of the matter is that I have no clue), and I’m not even a very “spiritual” person as many non-believers claim to be. Not to be cliché, but I look at the universe from a more scientific perspective, and see no evidence for or against the existence of God. Thereby, in accordance with Occam’s razor, I deduce that no god or higher power exists (although I suppose the Occam’s razor argument could be used against me, by saying that the existence of God is simplest explanation – although I would counter that the creation of existence of God is too immense a concept to be called simple).
But that is not what this post is about. Although I personally do not believe in God, and am skeptical of religious institutions, I still have an immense amount of respect for people’s personal beliefs, as well as the concept of religion as a whole. I’m of the opinion that the majority of religious (and non-religious) people in this country hold their beliefs to themselves, and are not actively trying to push their religion, religious views, or religious moral framework onto others. It’s true that there is a vocal and active minority that do, but I think their representation is exaggerated by their passion.
I think for many people religion can be a helpful, and even necessary, form of structure in their life; where they otherwise might feel lost. The world is crazy – especially the modern world. But people find religion as something steady in a world so crazy, and therefore are comforted by the steadfast framework by which they can live their life. In addition, religion has saved many people whose lives have spun out of control; whether drugs, alcohol, other addictions, marital or relationship issues, or general malaise, religious beliefs can give them a direction in their lives that they may have lacked.
Also, I’m almost envious of people to be able to believe in something so strongly, even without any evidence of any kind. I have a hard time believing that strongly in anything (that’s my burden to bear); so I respect believing in anything so strongly, but especially in something which cannot be seen or proven. But I think that’s exactly why the belief is so strong and so easy to remain steadfast. Because no one can ask God why something happened, it is always assumed that the purpose is beyond our belief. And that comforting in a way. A baby dies, it was in his plan. A child is born, it was in his plan. A mother is killed saving her child, it was in his plan. A mother saves her child and they’re both safe, it was in his plan. No matter what happens, there was some reason, but it’s beyond our comprehension. I’m not saying this to mock religion; I’m honestly saying this as an attempt at understanding the appeal.
Personally, I don’t really have faith in any institutions in modern life. I love politics, but I have no faith in political institutions or the political process. I think aid organizations are great, but I have absolutely no faith in their ability to avoid corruption or act completely benevolently. Schools and education are wonderful, but they’ve become so bureaucratic and broken down, that I have little faith that they can actually operate for the full benefit of the students that they are trying to serve. I think family and love are the solid rock upon which most of us live, but you see over and over throughout society the breakdown of families and disintegration of the familial bonds.
To conclude, I want to say that I envy people with unshaking religious faith (although I might question their critical thinking on the subject – but that’s not what religion is about), and I envy the belief in the concept of religion, but I wish that religious beliefs would remain personal and introspective, and stay out of our public life and institutions.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alright, I don’t want to start a cultural/religious war here. But I have to say that it is absolutely ridiculous the rhetoric that is coming from the religious (specifically Catholic) right about the Obama administrations so-called “war on religion”, by requiring healthcare plans associated with religious healthcare organization to provide birth control for women. I won’t even go into the argument of how ridiculous it is for Catholics to denounce birth control, while they still have an international uproar raging over a generation of priests molesting boys, and the upper echelon of the church attempting to cover it up (without punishing the priests).
Social conservatives are against abortion, they’ve made that abundantly clear. So in an attempt to avoid unwarranted pregnancies and the associated abortions, birth control pills were created. Yay!! But wait, social conservatives are also against birth control. Hmm…that doesn’t seem to add up. How do we stop from having unwanted pregnancies if we don’t use birth control (the Catholic Church is also anti-condom)? Oh, right, abstinence is the answer; because that is a realistic approach to the worldwide problem of HIV and AIDS, as well and overpopulation and unwanted pregnancies worldwide (ironically, abortion numbers would actually decline if birth control was cheaper or more widely available). Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The moral majority conservatives (and Catholics) can have all the kids they want, and reject any message about birth control and abortion (even while pushing abortion numbers up), but they should not have the right to deny employees full access to heath care. If an employee of one of these institutions is a Catholic or a social conservative, they can choose not to purchase or use birth control; but other employees who are not of that faith or ideology should have the choice to receive a full range of healthcare options when it comes to birth control.
In addition, to call this a “war on religion” is absurd. The president did not make this choice as an affront to the Catholic Church or any religious institution in general, his purpose was to expand the healthcare options provided to literally tens of millions of women across the country. Of course it was inevitable that this was to become a political issue, but I applaud the president for doing this in the face of blustery politicians who politicize everything the president does, regardless of who and how many it helps. Obviously the cleavage between Republicans and Democrats is so large that anything the president does is wrong (to be fair, it was the same under President Bush, but almost everything he did WAS wrong...see).
If our nation is ever going to be back on the right track, we’re going to have to quit looking at all of these issue through such an ideological (or religious) spectrum, and instead start to think (like the president has done in the circumstance) about the broad impact it will have on the citizens in this country. Good work President Obama (and I’m honestly not trying to put my finger in the eye of religion) for standing up for the interests of the people, instead of for political interests.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

While Republicans have been the main focus of my ire during almost the whole Obama administration, I have to say that I received something yesterday that really angered me.
After Barack Obama was elected president, his campaign warchest still had a ton of money left in it, and a lot of excitement to go with it. Therefore, the people that were involved in the campaign started a political action committee called "Organizing for America". That PAC has since become (with the upcoming election) "Obama for America". I have no problem with this, as they wanted to continue to campaign for Obama's policies, and they knew they were going to have a tough election fight in 2012.
However, what I do have a problem with is that I received an email from them yesterday telling me that they were going to be supporting an Obama super PAC called "Priorities USA". What??!! Excuse me??!! I typically just delete these emails, but I after reading the subject - "We will not play by two sets of rules" - I knew exactly what they were going to say. The person whom the email was supposedly from was "Obama for America" campaign manager, Jim Messina. Messina basically spends the first of the email explaining about the awful decision (which I fully agree) in Citizens United, and how Republicans have been raising and spending massive amounts of super PAC money. And how the majority of that money spent has been on negative ads, and that Republicans are looking to raise about half a billion dollars in super PAC money before this election is over.
Alright...I'm with you so far.
Then, he goes on to say that because of this, we (Democrats, I guess he's saying) need to put aside our disdain for the Citizens United decision, and just go ahead and support super PACs. He says that this election is too important to NOT support super PACs, and that while we disagree with the decision and want it overturned, we will need the money to compete with Republicans. I CALL BULLSHIT!!!
Are Republicans going to raise a ton of money from super PACs...sure. However, even without the support of the "Obama for America" or the Obama administration, the president would receive tremendous super PAC support for his re-election. Legitimizing these awful entities by saying that it's necessary to support them, is only going to make the argument against them that much more difficult.
Obama's whole message in 2008 was that he was receiving massive numbers of donations for small amounts that were adding to a huge flood. That was a good message, and I think it could be again. Once these super PACs become a "necessity" to combat the other side that is using super PACs, they'll be a mainstay in the political process. Just to be clear, super PACs undermine our democracy, and should be made immediately illegal.
I cannot believe that "Obama for America" would take this stand, and it makes me seriously question their ethics as an organization and their view of the political process. I will support President Obama in the election, but I will give absolutely no money to "Obama for America".

"I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it." ~ Eugene Debs

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Forget about it...

The other day, after the Florida primary, I heard possibly the greatest political metaphor I've ever heard, in reference to Newt Gingrich's reasoning behind staying the Republican primary race.
Chuck Todd, Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, was talking about why Newt Gingrich, and for that matter Rick Santorum, were staying in the race, despite the fact that their changes of winning the Republican primary are essentially nil, and diminishing (the reason I don't bring Ron Paul into this - and neither did Todd - is because he never had a shot at winning the nomination anyway).
Todd used Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the metaphor. He said that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum (and Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry) had seen that golden goblet (poll numbers rising, winning straw polls, excelling in debates), and could almost grab it, but then they watched their chances slip away. It was so difficult for them to then turn their back on it (well, it's so difficult for Newt, specifically, to turn his back on it), because they had almost tasted it, almost had it in their grasp. While in the movie, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) pulls Indy back from edge of the abyss, telling him to forget the goblet, no one as of yet has been able to have the same effect on Gringrich. Even as a lefty, I think that Gingrich should get out of the race for the good of his own party. His purpose for staying in the race now is nebulous, because as saave a political mind as Newt Gingrich has, he has to know that his primary campaign is over.
I just thought of another movie metaphor that illustrates the same thing. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams, is speaking to an old ball player that never got a chance to bat in the majors. "Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within... y-you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they'd consider it a tragedy." That is what Newt is feeling right now.