Category: Uncategorized

A Quiet Violence

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I was one of those kids that wasn’t allowed to have toy guns.

At the time I thought this was a deeply unfair infringement on my personal liberties.

Not that it stopped me.  I was growing up in a city with one of the highest rates of gun violence in a country notorious for its gun violence.  Boys teach each other about violence on concrete schoolyards across America as inevitably and methodically as they learn about math inside the classroom.

Later, when I worked at a preschool in college, I took an almost perverse glee in confiscating “guns” made of Legos, sticks, rolls of toilet paper.  Little boys will make guns out of literally anything.  Maybe I’m still just jealous of the other kids who had cool gun toys.

After four years of working at a school, when I see news of school shootings I can’t help but wonder how many thousand times each of those kids was “shot” in games on the playground before the day they were shot in real life.  I wonder if it seemed like just another game at first when a gunman pointed the barrel of a firearm in their direction.

We think of certain types of violence as perpetuated by “bad people”, by “others”.  Oh, those gangbangers on that side of town are violent.  Those crazy men who snap and shoot up schools and movie theaters are violent.  Those people in Third World countries that strap bombs to their chests are violent.  It’s that loud, flashy, gory violence on the evening news that’s easy to put on other people.

But there’s another kind of violence, a quiet violence.  It’s a careless disregard for human life and safety deeply woven into the fabric of our society, our laws, our economy.  Maybe it’s a curse from the ghosts of the thousands of imaginary people we killed in games as kids and watched die before our eyes on the TV screen gnawing away at the bottom of our conscience until we can’t feel it anymore.

We don’t have to physically harm another person with our own hands to participate in violence.  The cold inaction of lawmakers to reduce gun violence after countless mass shootings is far more violent than the action of Adam Lanza of Connecticut.  There is a quiet violence as members of Congress trip over themselves to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy while turning an apathetic shrug to the spread of assault weapons.  It is the cruel brutality of setting priorities.  It is the calm willingness to let young men of color die in America’s streets in every day because the gun lobby is too powerful.

The same day as the Connecticut shooting there was a nearly identical rampage of a man in China who stabbed 22 children.  The difference is that while the Chinese children were hurt, none of them died.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  But they’re much more effective with guns.  Individuals with serious mental illness and violent tendencies exist across the world, but the U.S. gun culture is unique.  Adam Lanza has blood on his hands, but so in a more subtle way do millions of us as American voters, consumers of popular culture, and funders of National Rifle Association lobbyists.

The loud violence of our tanks rolling through foreign deserts and drones whining overhead drowns out the much larger quiet violence: the slow sucking sound of those trillions of dollars that could prevent the deaths of millions of children from malaria and malnutrition.

And what about the quiet violence of the thousands of people every year in poor, polluted communities who die from diseases caused by our addiction to dirty energy?  What about the quiet violence as desperate unemployed men in shuttered factory towns turn to alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide because some consulting firm decided the plant wasn’t efficient enough?  What about the quiet violence inflicted on families who lose loved ones to the rising cost of overpriced pharmaceuticals?  What about the quiet violence of teenage boys repeating comedians’ jokes about rape with their friends until one day one of them meets a girl at a party and won’t take no for an answer?

These kinds of quiet violence never make the evening news.  They wouldn’t be played by Bruce Willis or Jason Statham in an action movie.  But in the true meaning of violence, the willingness to cause harm to another human being, they are far more violent than any shooting spree.

We know how to process incidents of violence like mass shootings where guilt is clear and isolated.  We want to point to individuals as violent, not societies, not laws, not institutions.  It’s uncomfortable to think that our lifestyles or our work or our political choices or even our words can cause violence.  We defensively reject the idea that the willful inaction of people with the power to prevent harm is as violent as the willful action of people who cause harm.  But our insistence on certain privileges, our reluctance to make change a priority, and our lack of courage to envision a better world are truly violent.

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Why Are Pop Singers Fetishizing Low Self-Esteem?

I don’t want to make writing about pop culture a regular thing, but I’m particularly pissed off at the world of music right now.  In particular, Bruno Mars, One Direction, Neyo and others for treating insecurity like it’s attractive.

You may be wondering: How did Lucas end up listening to so much Top 40 anyway?  Two years ago I bought a 2003 Mazda that was too new for a tape deck for an mp3 adapter, but too old for an auxiliary jack.  I work as a regional community organizer in a rural/suburban area and have to drive a lot.  I just filed for reimbursement for 653 miles for the month of October.  That’s a lot of time to listen to the radio and slowly melt away your brain.

I know singers praising the virtues of girls with negative body image issues have always been around.  Maybe it’s coded into our genes.  (Could men have evolved to like women who think they’re ugly because they’ll be less likely to reproduce with other men?)

But I feel like it’s gotten way out of hand in the last couple years with massive hit singles like “Just the way you are” by Bruno Mars, “What makes you beautiful” by One Direction, and the offender that inspired this blog, Ne-yo’s “Let me love you“.

These songs are condescending, superficial, and sound like poorly made Ryan Gosling memes.

“You don’t know you’re beautiful/That’s what makes you beautiful”???  That’s some of the most psychologically sick shit I ever heard.

They start by talking about how surprising it is that this cute girl has low self-esteem (after all, only ugly girls should have low self-esteem right?).  They then explain to her why she should value herself.  The reasoning usually goes: a) I think you’re beautiful , plus b) Whenever you walk around outside, lots of other people look at your body, so you must be beautiful .  That’s fucking science bro.

Some people like these songs because they relate to them.  They think: “Wow, sometimes I also think I’m not beautiful.  Maybe the guys from One Direction like me too!  Or maybe not.  But at least even when I’m feeling down, there are probably people out there who think I’m beautiful.  Maybe I could be the shy girl in some hipster movie who gets the guy in the end when he finally realizes the popular girl he’s dating is a total bitch.”

But the sinister part is that even though the messages in these songs appear to be about loving people despite their insecurities, they actually promote the idea that people are or should be attracted to low self-esteem.

Okay, children don’t do everything they see in music videos.  After all, my generation’s squishy brains were molded in the era of 90’s gangsta rap when it was perfectly okay to graphically describe murdering someone on the radio, but we have historically low rates of violent crime.  But I do believe that unfortunately children get most of their love/relationship advice from popular music.  And that means a lot of little girls right now are walking around staring at the ground and flipping their hair in the hopes that it will get someone overwhelmed.  I just want to tell them: “Please, STOP THIS BULLSHIT!  Your vision is severely limited like that!  You could trip and fall!”

Here’s the thing.  No one, not even Ne-yo and his gravity-defying sideways hats, can “love you until you learn to love yourself”.  Learning to love yourself, by definition, means loving yourself whether someone else loves you or not.  If you need validation from someone else to tell you you’re beautiful before you believe it, you do not actually love yourself.   Being confident, secure and capable is not only good for you, it’s sexy as hell.

People are constantly telling musical artists it’s irresponsible to mention sex, drugs and violence in their music.  I just felt like someone needed to go after obnoxious love songs for being irresponsible too.

Lucas Zucker’s Voting Guide for CA Propositions November 2012

 

PROP 30:  HELL YES

Tax on wealthy to fund schools, colleges and vital services

After years of budget cuts, California’s education system is really at the breaking point (if not broken already).  Prop 30 raises taxes on the richest 2% of Californians, raising $6-9 billion to stop devastating budget cuts to education.   This prevents a 20% tuition increase at UC’s, 20 thousand students losing their admissions to CSU’s, and about three weeks cut off the school year for K-12 schools.  We need to restore California’s education system– it’s the engine of both economic growth and social mobility.

 

PROP 31: NO

Sketchy reforms of state budget process

I tend to be skeptical of these types of reform efforts.  They all seem to be based on something like “If only we gave more unilateral power to a chief executive to cut whatever they want, they would fix everything”.  They’re premised on the idea that all the mess caused by special interests and protesters and partisanship can be wiped out if only the smart elites could stop being held back by the challenges of democracy.  They’re always financed by billionaires without any grassroots support.  I’m mainly opposing Prop 31 because it essentially allows the governor to cut any program they feel like without a vote.  Thinking of some previous California governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Ronald Reagan?) I’m not into that idea.

 

Prop 32: HELL NO

Corporate power grab pretending to be campaign finance reform

California has had its share of deceptive propositions, but this has to be one of the most outrageous.  Prop 32 is deceptively written to look like it keeps corporations and unions from spending money in politics, but actually only affects unions and does nothing to stop corporate Super PACs.  Of course that’s because it’s being backed by wealthy corporate interests.  If it was really about fair campaign finance reform, why wouldn’t corporations be spending millions to stop it?  Why would organizations like Common Cause with histories of working for clean elections oppose it?  Why would every major newspaper in the state say it’s a fraud?  And why would it be put on the ballot by the same organization that sponsored the Citizens United Supreme Court case that allowed the rise of Super PACs and unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns?

You can also read my post about the big picture political implications of this here.

 

Prop 33: NO

Mercury Insurance scam

Prop 33 allows insurers to raise your car insurance rates if you’ve ever lacked insurance for more than 90 days, even if it was because you didn’t own a car.  Mercury Insurance has tried to pass this initiative before and failed.   Don’t fall for their bullshit.

 

Prop 34: YES

Abolish the death penalty

Prop 34 replaces the death penalty in California with life in prison without possibility of parole.  I’m morally opposed to the death penalty because I think in a justice system as imperfect as ours, you’ll end up killing some innocent people.   But even if you’re not with me on that, Prop 34 will save California $130 million a year because our death penalty system is so costly.  That’s a fuckton of money that could be better spent on other things.

 

Prop 35: NO

Increase penalties on human trafficking

This may come as a surprise, since this is one of those “how could you possibly vote no?” types of propositions.  Unfortunately California’s initiative process is full of well-intentioned but not very well thought-out initiatives.  It’s the kind of thing that seems written by amateur college kid activists who confuse prostitution with the larger and more complex issue of human trafficking.  For example, it requires anyone convicted of trafficking to become a registered sex offender.  But the vast majority of human trafficking occurs in farm work, domestic work, garment manufacturing, etc.  Many well-respected advocates for the rights of trafficking victims say this law could actually have unintended consequences hurting people who are trafficked.  Human trafficking is a serious problem, but should be solved in a serious way.  Whatever, I’m just bitching, this is going to pass in a landslide anyway.

 

Prop 36: YES

Reform Three-Strikes law

Prop 36 changes the three-strikes law so that you only face life imprisonment if your third crime is violent or sexually predatory.  If you got busted for stealing from Target, you’re not going away for life.  Since its beginning, the three-strikes law has disproportionately affected black and Latino men, resulting in an incredibly high rate of men of color in prison.  Like Prop 34, this also saves the state a fuckton of money.

 

Prop 37: YES

Require labeling of genetically modified foods

Now I’m not completely against GMO’s– I wouldn’t support a proposition to ban them.  But I do believe people absolutely have a right to know what’s in their food.  And the massive wave of advertisements run by Monsanto and big agribusiness to kill this little grassroots campaign has pushed me farther towards supporting it.  Here’s Michael Pollan’s editorial in the New York Times about it, he’s a smart guy.

 

Prop 38: NO

Billionaire Molly Munger’s crazy plan

I’m so sick of rich people treating democracy as their personal playground.  There are two competing tax measures to fund education right now.  Prop 30, which was a compromise between a coalition of grassroots nonprofit organizations and unions around the state with Governor Jerry Brown.  Then there’s Prop 38, the pet project of lone billionaire lawyer Molly Munger, which she has continued to pour millions into despite polls from the beginning saying it would lose and education advocates telling her by pushing a competing tax increase she threatened to sink both of them.  I’m saying no on Prop 38 because it raises taxes on all Californians, not just the wealthy, and only funds K-12 schools, not colleges.

 

Prop 39: YES

Closes tax loophole for out-of-state corporations to fund clean energy

Politicians create lots of laws that are so bad that you have to wonder whether they’re stupid or evil.  I used to think stupid as a kid, I now tend to assume evil.  Anyway, California law has a loophole that actually gives lower tax rates to out-of-state corporations than companies based in California.  Whether motivated by stupid or evil, it makes sense to close this loophole.  Prop 39 spends the money creating jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency.

 

Prop 40: YES

Referendum on Citizen’s Redistricting Commission State Senate districts

Before 2008, our state legislature district lines were drawn by… our state legislature.  Brilliant, right?  A proposition passed that placed that authority in the hands of a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, which produced an overall very successful state district map, putting tons of lifelong politicians in situations where they actually had to compete with serious challengers.  Ironically, the Republican Party originally supported the plan, thinking it would benefit them since Democrats control the legislature and the commission had to be bipartisan.  Then when the maps came out and they realized they would likely lose seats as a result of the new lines, they switched to being outraged by the redistricting plan.  The state Republican Party then put this initiative on the ballot to put the maps up for a vote of the people, primarily funded by Republican state senators who were in danger of losing their jobs.  They then realized everyone thought they were full of shit and gave up telling people to vote no on the new maps.  It’s a moot point now, but either way, you should vote yes and approve the maps just to stick it to them.

Are We Getting Smarter About Grad School?

The New York Times reported recently that new enrollment at American graduate schools is dropping.

This seems crazy considering that over the last decade, only Americans with advanced degrees saw any wage growth.  Even the average bachelor’s degree holder lost income.

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So what’s wrong with the kids these days?  Don’t those idiots know what’s good for them?

Well.  Are you the kind of nerd that reads an article like that and goes “I want to learn more, maybe I should download the full report”? I am, and I did.  And here’s what I found.

Graduate degrees in arts and humanities: plummeting.

Graduate degrees in math, engineering, and health sciences: still shooting through the roof.

Here’s my theory: When I was starting college, we thought we were facing a horrible crash that would recover within a few years like most recessions.  So being in school was a great way to wait it out.  The ivory tower was like an armored fortress to protect us from the evils of recession-land.  Grad school applications soared.  Now we’re realizing for some reason we seem to be stuck in a long-term stagnation and we won’t return to full employment for what’s technically known as a Long Ass Time.  Unfortunately, most grad programs don’t last a Long Ass Time, so instead those people came out two years later with a ton of debt and a still-shitty-economy.  People are no longer using graduate school as a shelter, they’re now only going if the program will actually improve their economic prospects when they finish.

A similar trend has happened as news spreads that going to law school is an increasingly bad economic decision.  Last spring I obnoxiously gloated to my law school aspiring friends that the law school bubble had finally burst— after a seemingly endless rise, law school applicants had dropped tremendously over the past year.

But then, as if Christmas had come twice, I had even more news to gloat about:  Among those with low LSAT scores, applications were still high.  The real drop in applicants was happening at the top of the LSAT score range.

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Weird, right?  Why would the best and brightest potential lawyers stop applying to law school?

It probably means the smartest people are the ones most likely to read news about how there’s a glut of people with law degrees in the labor market.  They’re the ones who hear about things like recent graduates suing their law schools for fudging impressive job placement statistics and decide to not go to law school.

Now I’m all for education having inherent value outside of pure money-making.  But higher education has grown absurdly expensive and financial aid has failed to keep up.  If you just want to open your mind or something like that, you can literally get a Harvard education for free through downloading podcasts of their classes.  There are also hella books in these old fashioned things called libraries.

It’s not that you shouldn’t go to grad school.  If you want to be a surgeon, go for it.  Maybe some other professional schools.  Only a non-professional school if you actually want to be a professor.  If you’re doing it because you “don’t really know exactly what you want to do yet”, please do us all a favor and donate your tuition to a nonprofit organization.  Seriously, here’s a link to mine, you can pay with credit card.

Bottom line: If young people are increasingly saying no to graduate programs that won’t pay off, that’s a good thing.

And Lucas has entered the Blogosphere…

Hi friends,

Between some combination of wanting to communicate with friends scattered across the country and a misguided sense of my own importance, like so many others I’ve decided to start a blog.  I am now officially embarking on a journey where many words I say will be permanently stored in the internet’s dark corners to be used against me by anyone in the world at some point in the future.

I backdated three longer Facebook posts from the past year or so to get it started with some content.  In the future, (hopefully) I’ll post shorter things more often.

The angle I’m going for here is writing for young progressive organizers, advocates, campaigners, political junkies and policy wonks to help build community and strategic discussion.

To be honest, I’ve spent the last few years complaining about the surplus of talkers and the shortage of doers among young political types.  But now that I’ve left the academic bubble, I realize that it’s about balance and we all need some time for introspection and bouncing ideas off each other.  So here goes.

-Lucas