Saturday, January 27, 2007

I knew something was missing ...

From the HRC Weekly Update from Joe Solmonese delivered to my email Inbox yesterday:

Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and Senator Wayne Allard, the lead sponsors of the discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment, have announced that they will not be re-introducing the proposal. They say that it's futile in the new Democratically-controlled Congress. Anti-marriage activists will surely shop the amendment around for new sponsors, but the message from Allard and Musgrave was clear: we're not wasting our time anymore.

The news was made that much sweeter by this year's State of the Union address. For the first time since 2003, President Bush did not mention his support of the FMA in his address before Congress. Perhaps, he's finally realized he has little to gain by using his bully pulpit to attack our families. It also would have made for an awkward image from the podium, since he was flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both opponents of the FMA.

Of course, being a glass-half-empty kind of guy, I couldn't help but be disgusted by the news that W. had mentioned the FMA four years in a row.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"There's discrimination in the tax code."

W.'s latest proposal (and, NO, it's not in any way to get you talking about something other than Vietnam -- I mean, Iraq) is to allow folks who pay for their health insurance directly to deduct that cost on their tax returns. People who get their health insurance through their employers are already not taxed on that part of their compensation. W. would pay for the new tax break by taxing those with "gold-plated" employer-provided health insurance.

W. actually said, "there's discrimination in the tax code." Because some people are taxed on the cost of their health insurance and some are not.

Now let's set aside for the moment that the number of people without insurance in the U.S. is the same or greater than the entire population of Canada and that this plan will not realistically help anyone who is not already insured.

Forgive me for beating a dead horse and I know it is far from being the world's greatest injustice, but there's another disparity in that very same tax code in regard to health insurance.

Alan and I are very fortunate in that his employer pays for most of my health insurance, recognizing me as a "domestic partner." The total cost of that insurance IS taxed because I am not a legally-recognized spouse. (The company has to calculate the value and put it in a separate box on the W-2.) Also, Alan can have a health care spending account which allows him to set aside pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket medical expenses. We were told that I cannot participate because I am not a legally-recognized spouse. This is not the fault of the company (as they make clear in an annual letter); it is due to federal law.

W. didn't mention that discrimination that will not be remedied by his plan.

And (I just can't help myself) why should availability of health care be affected by one's employment or marital status anyway? The U.S. spends more money per capita on health care than any other nation but does not have the best even for those lucky enough to have insurance. The employer-provided insurance model has failed. But heaven forbid the U.S. join all those socialists in the rest of the more-developed world.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Spy-tracking Toonies?

Have you seen this?

In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

Full story here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Do you love Walmart?"

"Do you love Walmart?" I was watching a special about Walmart on CNBC. This question was asked by a Walmart company higher-up to a floor worker at one of their stores. I was appalled. It's not enough that you pay them five or six bucks an hour and make them wear that smiley face. The debasement comes, too, in a test of your loyalty and faith: do you love Walmart?

An employer has a reasonable expectation that an employee will perform well and when that includes customer service, service with a smile. That's part of the job. But that's not enough for this company: Do you love Walmart?

How is that person expected to respond? What is she going to say? "No, I think you suck and I'm doing this because I can't find anything else right now." So what's the purpose behind the question if there's realistically only one answer?

Other memorable scenes: employees in a newly-opened store in China clapping and chanting the Walmart slogan. In another store, they were singing Walmart's praises -- to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." OMFG.

It's not enough that they own most of your life anyway, they want your soul. Perhaps it could be amusing if they weren't one of the nation's largest employers and one of the world's largest retailers. And if it wasn't part of an overall trend of the degradation of workers in the name of capitalism and free trade. Here's a thought: if you really treated your employees well, you wouldn't need to force them to say good things about you.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

wedding bell blues

Alan and I attended a church wedding yesterday. I had been dreading it; I hate weddings and try to avoid them. But the bride is a friend who has been very kind to us. She is the one who drove Alan and me up to Vancouver on short notice a year ago to be legally married. So, I felt obligated.

Once upon a time, I could just ride along with the ceremony and get into the spirit of things. Now, all I could see behind the words was the oppression they have been used to justify, including that of women. I have always balked at the masculine pronoun for God, so I just felt pummeled yesterday. And overall, it just feels that the whole "traditional" wedding thing is a show that most people don't really believe in, but if it's a show that doesn't hurt you personally, then you don't care.

One part that especially galled me was when the officiant said that marriage was, among other things, for the procreation of children if it be God's will. I know for a fact that the sentence is optional in the ceremony -- and it was omitted in the booklets that were printed for the attendees. I don't know if it was a political statement on the part of the clergyperson or not. I do know that the couple yesterday are beyond child-procreation age. Besides the obvious, I also wonder, what about adoption? "Procreation of children" -- I guess adoption is the consolation prize for the lesser children of God.

Why do they have to take love and narrowly compartmentalize it? Why, when there are so many different kinds of families that exist (some of them even functional), does society cling to a stereotype that doesn't work for most people?

Anyway, I am happy for the couple and I do wish them the best. But I have to admit that sitting through the service was a chore. I can sit home and feel alienated; I don't need to go out of my way.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Labels -- December redux

December is not the easiest month, as I'm sure many feel. This last one I spent a lot of time being irritated and I know a large part of that is because the waiting on Canada is getting to me and because of my current irregular work/income situation. But also, I'm sick of the stupid "culture wars" that surround the holidays in December. The nattering that pretends to be a debate is never very honest, never very good-willed.

I am, by birth and upbringing, bi-cultural. Society is not good at dealing with those that do not neatly fit into categories. People want to classify other people and I find that often it is not in the hopes of understanding that person better, but in order to be able to project their pre-conceived notions of what certain labels mean or should mean -- whether for the ultimate purposes of bigotry or chauvinism (the flip side of bigotry, not as ugly), but still not constructive.

Having said the above, I make the following observations/opinions:

A Christmas tree is not the same as a crucifix. It's a green thing with lights and shiny things that is brought indoors in a time of darkness and dormancy. It has become a cultural symbol. Yes, it has roots in religion (but more pagan than Christian) -- but what doesn't? Shall we ban all the names of months and days of the week because they're named after gods? On the radio, I heard a leader of another religion talking about how Christian a Christmas tree is with the sap being the blood of Jesus Christ. I have NEVER heard of such a thing, although I'm sure you'll find some believers out there. But that's not the common understanding -- and he knows that.

Hanukkah (or however you'd like to spell it in English) is not the "Jewish Christmas." First, Christmas is not the central Christian holiday; Easter is. Christmas was created by popular demand for a birth holiday and to compete with previous (pagan) winter celebrations. Hanukkah is a minor post-biblical holiday. The primary Jewish holiday is the Sabbath (which, yes, occurs weekly), followed by the High Holy Days. Shoving a Hanukkah menorah next to a Christmas tree does nothing to promote understanding or to educate folks about the religious/cultural traditions of others.

Suggestion: In a public place, such as an airport, couldn't we have rotating displays -- throughout the year -- of different cultures and traditions?
Instead of promoting false equivalences, how about showcasing the uniqueness of each community and promoting better understanding? (And, yes, guidelines should be hammered out.)

It is not a crime to be a minority. Nor is it an offense to be in the majority. People in the majority should be respectful of those who are not. And those in the minority cannot expect those in the majority to wash themselves of all identity so as not to "offend." Let's just give an easy example: I don't expect male/female couples to hide their affection; it would be nice if I felt as comfortable holding my husband's hand in public without fear.

Well, now that I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound and I'll just continue to venture into shark-infested waters. I've had this idea for a post for the past month or so that I would call, "I'm not an atheist, but I play one in public."

I have always been attracted to, for lack of a better word, the spiritual. I believe that there are big questions and issues that are unknowable, that humans have often untapped capacity for good, that the whole can be more than just the sum of its parts. I don't think that any one culture or tradition has a monopoly on truth. That being said, there have been great people who have showed us glimpses of the best of humanity that do come from particular traditions and to separate them from their traditions is to not respect or understand them.

I think we need to judge people by their actions, how they treat other people, and not by their labels. (Don't get me wrong, organizations are very much on the hook for the ideas they promote and/or the lies they spread. And political parties are, by definition, about policy so backing one or another is about how people are treated.)

The scientific method is the best way we've come up with yet for exploring our natural world. Through science, we have greatly improved our lives. It doesn't answer questions of right and wrong; science is descriptive. What we do with the information is up to us.

When it comes to public policy in a pluralistic society/world, we have to stick with the tangible. There's no other way to get along. We need to look at how things affect people and the harm or help a policy will have on people. We'll never agree about the nature of things that we can't see and there's no point arguing; it only gets ugly and separates us further. I believe in the process of the scientific method. When it comes to public policy, I am an atheist.

But I don't like to apply that label to myself because it is not how I feel inside, it is not how I approach the world or the Big Questions. I'd really just like to be free to not know and to seek.

Those who claim to Know the Truth (such as by talking to God) scare me. Because, by definition, they can't be wrong in a debate. A scientific statement (one that is within the scope of the scientific method) is not one that can be proven true -- but one that can be proven false. That is, there is a way one could devise to show that this statement is incorrect if that's the case.

I've known a lot of people that have various approaches when it comes to religion or spirituality. Sometimes, they take on the labels of a particular tradition or practice. Sometimes, they lean one way or another, but shy from identification. Atheists. Agnostics. The people I respect have respect for others, care about others, do not demean others.

I'm uncomfortable giving religions a "free pass." One can't justify any behavior and say "that's my religion." One can't enslave others into compliance. I believe in a pluralistic society and we have to find a way to get along. Bringing religion into public policy debate is not helpful; it only serves to divide. Those kind of politics are about power, not the betterment of the community. And doing better and being better should be what it's all about, in my opinion. When it comes to public policy, we need to stick with the tangible. When it comes to someone's internal life, we shouldn't let that come between us; it's personal.

I don't know if this post is well-structured or coherent. But it feels good to get it out because I've been sitting on it for weeks now. To anyone who's made it through these ramblings ... well, I hope it hasn't been too arduous.