Friday, November 30, 2007

homegrown terrorism, public hysteria

I haven't been here for a while. I have been having too much fun on the new Elderwomanspace.

However, Ronnie Bennet at Time Goes By has again had some posts about the new idiocy that seems to be sweeping our so security-conscious national legislators that it has passed the House with on a vote of 404-6 with only those favoring the act speaking during the 40 minutes allowed for comment. I was curious enough to get into the Congressional Record on line and print out the text of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (which is now in the Senate as S1959 by the way) and the comments concerning it.

I have several complaints concerning this piece of legislation besides the fact that it establishes a committee to study a phenomenon which is being actively studied both outside the government and within it. As one critic noted they could easily take a field trip to any Barnes and Noble store and find shelves of books on this subject. Or they could simply buy copies of Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements." The book was published in 1951 and Hoffer clearly had no use for mass movements of any kind, social, political or religious. He listed as potential candidates for recruitment the poor, the misfits, the inordinately selfish, the ambitious seeking wider opportunities, minorities, the bored, and the sinner. That just about covers it. And, from what little I have read about the recruitment into urban gangs, religious cults, white supremacists, militias, the pattern still holds. Why do we need a commission to study this that will spend, according to one estimate I have read, $22M. And then the establishment of the Center(s) for Excellence that would be established after the commission finishes its work would spread more money around to which ever academic programs happen to be the pets of whoever is in the White House at the time. More wasted money.

My next objection concerns the incredibly sloppy language. The term 'violent radicalization' targets the thought process itself. What else can it do when the term means 'THE PROCESS of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system.' Under this definition just the process of adopting a belief system, not just violent actions that arise from that belief system, can become a crime. And this is before we get to the definition of 'ideologically based violence' under which almost anything goes. In a country in which a significant number of child development specialists think Bugs Bunny cartoons are 'violent' can we really expect a rational and reasonable determination of what constitutes the potential crime of ideologically based violence?

I could continue but I have found an increasing number of good analyses on various blogs. Consider the Nov. 26th essay by Philip Giraldi on the Huffingtonpost. Giraldi discusses the Homegrown Terrorism Bill within the context of American History from the Alien and Sedition Acts of the early Republic through the Executive Order of April 17, 2007 by which President Bush authorizes the siezure of the property of anyone who 'threatens the stabilization of Iraq' leaving it up to the Jutice department to define what threatens stabilization and provides no means of challenging the information on which the determination is made. I think he is right when he notes at the end 'What is not needed is groups of Congressionally empowered vigilantes roaming the country at will lookin for homegrown terrorists.' We had that in the 1950s. It was the House UnAmerican Activities Committee under Senator Joseph McCarthy. Unfortunately, Terrorism appears to be the new Communism.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

politics, What Debate?

I have just slogged through 9 pages of the transcript of the latest debate between the Democratic candidates. I can't believe they call that crap a debate. Everyone agrees that immigration is a problem. Everyone agrees that health insurance, or rather the lack of affordable alternatives, is a problem. They all agree that Iraq is a problem. They all agree that we must address our energy dependence. But where are the specific proposals to meet the problems?

Clinton suggested we spend a lot of money on a nonspecific proposal to address part of the energy problem. I think it was some sort of energy pool, what ever that means. Obama described interlocking aspects of the immigration problem: border security, employers who hire undocumented aliens, etc. However, he gave no concrete proposals to address the issues. Richardson had barely gotten started when I had to stop reading and though Biden and Edwards had been brought in on the 'debate' none of them had anything specific to say.

At present none of them have given me any reason to vote for them. If the Republicans weren't such a repugnant bunch, I would consider one of them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

unconnected ideas

I ranted some time ago about how hard it has become to find the things we (Mom and I) want. Trying to find an uncomplicated face soap become an extended education in reading labels. The one we once liked is no longer made--Thanks a lot, Ponds!!! Everything else has additives and features we don't want. The same for laundry products. Try finding something that doesn't have bleach, fabric softener, or scents. We usually go for the cheapest because we don't need heavy cleaning power since nothing we wash has grease, heavy grime, or stubborn stains.

Yesterday we got another kind of education, or perhaps I should say reinforcement of earlier educational experiences. We decided over the weekend that we wanted pot pies for dinner yesterday. Many years ago we would have considered Banquet or Swanson. However some time ago we found that those were fairly cheap, you definitely got what what you paid for. There was very little between the crusts. So we switched to Marie Callender or Boston Market when we could find them. Often we couldn't find them at all or only in the turkey variety which neither of us likes much.

Well, there were no Boston Market pies at all. Marie Callender was only available in chicken and turkey, so we took the chicken. To say those pies were disappointing would be a gross understatement. They were smaller than the last ones we bought and calling them skimpy would have been a compliment. The carrot slices could have come from the same baby carrot. There were no peas at all. We each found two small pieces of green stuff which we tentatively identified as broccoli. The only veggie in the pies were slivers of red pepper. The chicken we found was supposedly grilled and since there were scoring marks that looked like they were from a grill I guess we will give the makers that. However the chicken was as tasty as cardboard and just about as moist and tender. We have decided we will make our own from now on.

Several of the bloggers I usually read have written about the Bush Administration's continued attack on civil liberties in the name of security. Ronnie at Time Goes By has posted twice in the last week concerning the proposed Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. It evidently has passed the house (sponsered by an alleged Democrat). I am deeply suspicious of it for several reasons. First, why is it needed? Acts of violence and terrorism are illegal under numerous laws and can be prosecuted. And this doesn't really add any teeth to existing laws because it calls for a committee to study the 'problem' for 18 months and report to congress on its findings. This is simply another waste of money and the taxpayers who will be funding this will only be given a 'public version' of the report. Second, the preamble claims it is needed to prevent radicalization and for 'other purposes.' What purposes? I don't like such nebulous catch phrases. It basically means anything anyone wants it to mean. Third, why does author mention the internet so prominently? Is this merely a backdoor means to controling the internet?

A commentator on one of the blogs, and I regret that I can't remember which one, noted that we often compare the current situation in the U.S. to the fall of Rome but he thought that a better comparison may be Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. Actually both are good spotlights and for the same reason. Most people think of the fall of Rome as the end of the Empire. However, Rome 'fell' three times. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire fell to Turkish forces in 1453. The Western Roman Empire fell to Gothic invaders in 476. However, the Roman Republic fell in 37 BCE but not to a foreign invader. Instead, Augustus ended the Republic and and became its first emperor in all but name. He called himself priceps not emperor or king, but he was an autocrat all the same. Though the senate remained as did the elected offices of the republic they were essentially powerless. The forms were there but not the substance. Most Romans probably cheered Augustus and his 'reforms' because for the first time in at least three generations they had peace and stability and safety.

I wasn't so sure about Japan but have been reading Toland's Rising Sun, a history of Japan from the late 1920s through WWII. A series of military insurrections culminated in expansion in Manchuria and China and unrest at home. Most of these rebellions were not delt with harshly because the rebels themselves claimed to be acting for the good of the nation and in the interests (though not with orders from or consent of) the Emperor. Neither the political nor the military leadership had any clear idea of how to handle the situation. In the end the Army gained a preimmenince in the government and the ability to stymie the prime minister simpy by refusing to serve with any civilian minister in the cabinet they found unsympathetic to their goals. When the diet passed legislation which removed any military policy and funding from its consideration all civilian control of the military ended. Again the forms remained but the substance disappeared.

For the last almost two decades the increasing polarization in our legislative branches has led many of our legislators to value party above all else. Bush's administration has been able to push the notion of a 'unitary executive' to unheard of lengths thanks to Republicans (and a few odd conservative Democrats) who don't mind castrating themselves so long as ideological ends are advanced. In the end we may wind up with the forms of our Republic but without the substance.

Monday, November 5, 2007

aging, social pressures

Monday, Nov. 5

Ronnie at Time Goes By had an interesting piece today about 'letting go.' It is concerns elders who seem to withdraw and concentrate on matters closer to home as they get older. Family and friends are the most noted areas of such concentration. Relationships that had taken a backseat to the general whirl of living suddenly become much more important. A couple of weeks ago she featured a piece inviting readers to write in with accounts of things they gave up doing as they got older. Elderwoman presented a similar theme when she talked about the difficulty she had with simply sitting still, with being instead of doing.

These are, I think, related themes. One reader took exception to Ronnie's request for lists of what her readers gave up doing. In an e-mail that reader equated the giving up with going slack, with a lowering of personal standards. Somehow, those who gave up wearing pantyhose, ties, shaving their legs, or getting their hair dyed no longer cared about their appearance. I think I noted this particular post in an earlier one of mine. But it bears some repeating. Especially because the reader was deaf to the theme many responders sounded: they gave up something that no longer mattered significantly to them in order to gain something that mattered a great deal. Often it was comfort: no longer wearing high heels meant wearing instead comfortable shoes. Giving up the monthly hair coloring meant gaining time that would otherwise have been spent at a beauty salon or treating the hair at home as well as saving the money that would have been spent. Many readers noted that they could better spend both on something else.

That is the important point. They gave up something no longer valued for something they came to value more. But as the e-mail Ronnie described shows all too clearly, too often others put meanings on what we have given up that can both intimidate us into questioning ourselves and which says a good deal more about the critics fears and insecurities than about us. Most fear getting old and cling desperately to the things of youth forgetting the passage in the Bible telling us to put aside childish things and that to all things there is a time and a season. If there is a time and a season appropriate to all things it follows that there is a time and season appropriate for letting those things go. It would be unfortunate if we let the fears and insecurities of others stop us from doing something we value or keep us doing what we no longer value.

Friday, November 2, 2007

job hunting, age discrimination, interviewing

I had a job interview earlier this week that has awakened some old memories and a bit of foreboding as far as this latest job hunt goes. I will get back to it in a moment; first the memory.

The first time I encountered age discrimination was almost thirty years ago when we really did not have a label for it. I was finishing my first BA (in biology) and was thinking about what my next step would be. I considered Med School but was a bit worried because my GPA (grade point average) was only a 3.0 or a B. A low B actually. The Med Schools were big on chemistry at the time. Having received a D in Organic the first time out, I took the class a second time to get a B which gave me an overall C. That, of course, would not have impressed a selection committee. However, that was not the factor which decided me against applying. I realized that I had neither the passion nor the temperament to be a good physician.

However, while I was still considering the possibility, my advisor noted that Med Schools at the time limited the number of people entering who were over the age of 25. I was outraged at the thought that, even if I had the grades to make the cut, I was over the hill at 27. My advisor told me that the committees looked for younger people who would spend 30 or 40 years in the field. And they would simply find someone with similar qualifications who was younger. In other words they would employ the same tactics they had used previously to ensure a limited number of women, blacks, and Jews were admitted.

I don't recall being aware again of any kind of discrimination until a few years ago. That doesn't mean I wasn't discriminated against. Just that I wasn't aware of it. I was interviewing for jobs as a paralegal. It was a long and frustrating job hunt; and I just couldn't seem to get my foot in the door. During the eight months of that job search I put in about three dozen applications and got maybe five interviews. One called me in for a second interview. However the constant refrain was they felt I was 'overqualified.' By this time I had two BA degrees, 2 MA degrees and was almost through with the work for an AA in Paralegal studies. It didn't matter how often I explained that I was changing career directions and had no experience as a Paralegal. It didn't matter how often I noted that my previous academic work would be an asset in what was a new field for me. I was over qualified. I didn't realize then what has become a dirty little not so secret fact that 'over qualified' simply means 'too old.' And I was only 52 at that time.

The interview earlier this week was for a seasonal part-time sales. I never expected to get the 'over qualified' routine in this interview. After all, I got my first sales job after my first Bachelor's and first Master's degrees were under my belt. I got my second such job with 2 Bachelors and 2 Masters degrees on my resume and my third with the addition of the Associates as well. My educational background was never an issue when I applied for sales jobs earlier.

However, this time it was almost the only topic of discussion. The interviewer could not believe I was serious about applying for this job. I didn't expect the job to last forever. I knew it was seasonal and all I expected was something to tide me over for the next couple of months while I kept looking for something permanent. I wonder if they were serious in asking me in for an interview and just wanted to meet this deranged person with all these qualifications who was silly enough to apply for such a piddling job. I think 'over qualified' was mentioned in almost every other sentence. I will say that she was very good. She made it sound so like a complement that I actually thanked her.

The only difference between this last sales job interview and the previous one was four years. I am now 58 instead of 54. And now I find myself in the quandary I have been in so often before. If I apply for jobs my education seems to fit me for I either never hear back or they want work experience I don't have because I was getting educated. If I apply for jobs that require no experience and minimal education I am told I am 'over qualified.' I don't know how to win this game. Does anybody??