Friday, October 26, 2012

I just broke one of my own rules: I argued about vaccination with an anti-vaxer on Facebook.  Vaccination issues (and the vaccination opponents) are one of those topics that it is wise for me to avoid in person and online, because I can get nasty.  I managed to be civil, demonstrating the flaw in her argument and backing up mine with statistics from the World Health Organization.  Of course, the fact that she is a friend of mine helped in that regard.

Go me.

Two more posts from Chris Kluwe

Panem et Circenses: about the moral bankruptcy of our current economic system; and Matthew 22:39: an open letter to the Archbishop Neinstedt and Pope Benedict about acceptance and tolerance of lesbians and gays, using actual quotes from the New Testament to support his positions.

I find both well worth reading, even though I have heard similar opinions expressed by other people.  Some truths need to be repeated frequently.

We few, we happy few...

Happy St. Crispin's Day.*

*It is also the anniversary of the Battle of Balacava.

Friday, October 19, 2012

One ringey-dingey... two ringey-dingey...

"The secret to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made."  Jean Giradoux.

My father once said that all honest labor is honorable labor.  I wonder what he would make of my latest employment.

I have become a paid phone bank staffer for political campaigns.*

That's right, I am that chipper voice who interrupts you just as you are sitting down to a romantic dinner of linguine ala carbonara and pinot noir with your girlfriend, to ask you to vote for Frank Smith** for dogcatcher.  I and my colleagues are some of the most hated people in America right now.

Phone banking is telemarketing -- salesmanship with a veneer of political idealism laid on top.  I have worked on four different campaigns thus far,*** each with its own scripts to recite and personalize.  I have trouble with this, not with the recitation part, but with not sounding like I am reading a script.  Oddly enough, the less connection I feel with a campaign, the more likely I am to detach and be loose.  We are told to smile when we call -- apparently research says you sound friendlier when you do -- and it is easier to do so when you only know what's on the script and you don't have any real skin in the game.  The more you care about an issue (and some of these I care about very much), the stronger the temptation to argue with naysayers on the other end of the phone.

Because different campaigns are being run out of the same location, the same phone number shows up on people's caller i.d.s.  As you can imagine, this makes the third person who calls, especially if it is a wrong number, very unpopular.

I knew it would be stressful work going in, but I don't think I grasped exactly how stressful.  Even aside from dealing with the people on the other end of the line,  I am always worried about how I am doing.  We have been told we have quotas, but we don't know what they are (at least I don't).  It's a numbers game, I keep hearing: get as many people on the phone as possible, as many people to hear the name of the candidate, as many people to hear the arguments for the measure, as many people as possible to say yes. And I worry, do the five seconds I take to politely say good evening to people at wrong numbers and where the targeted voters are not home mean I lag behind everyone else? Those five seconds add up -- but I can't bring myself to hang up on people without goodbye.  It is simply rude.

There is, I figure, a strong chance I will not make it to the end of next week without being let go for poor performance.  I am not sure how much I would mourn that.

Telemarketing is, like waiting tables, something everyone should do sometime in their life, if for no other reason that to have empathy for those poor souls who do this long-term.  It is seconds of interpersonal interaction, during which one must remain polite and alert, never argue, never take offense, repeat the talking points even when the voter keeps insisting they are undecided, followed by empty silence which can last from a few seconds to a minute or more, depending upon the calling software.  Yet that empty silence is not down time: any second the next call could come through and bang! you're on again.

My coworkers are good people.  There is a sense of shared mission, perhaps because we all are facing the same stresses.  The younger ones tend to be more idealistic, I suspect, than the older ones.  The bosses seem like reasonable people (except for one who scares me a little bit).   They pay relatively well, for this kind of job, and they feed us dinner.  Aside from the actual phone banking, this would be a lovely place to work. That is a big "aside."

You have to intrude on people, without having any way of knowing where they are or what is going on for them. I have called people at dinner.  I have called people who were walking in the door from work.  I have called and woken up sleeping shift workers.

I have called people who have moved away, and called for kids who were at college. I have called people who were sick.  I have called people who were in the hospital.

I have called homes where the voter we were looking for had died.  It is always easier the further back the death occurred: the voices of the loved ones of the recent dead are frozen and filled with pain.

In one case, I called the home of a woman I had gone to church with, who I knew for eighteen years, and who I liked a great deal and respected, only to be told she had just died.  I left my station, went outside, cried, and in under five minutes was back on the phone fielding calls, smiling as best I could.  I came away wondering what it said about me that I could go on without leaving work early that evening.

I have, thankfully, had relatively little abuse.  I have had a lot of people hang up on me, but that comes with the territory, especially the closer we get to the election and the more phone calls people receive.  Their patience runs out.  I have had one woman tell me to go to hell, and one man threatened legal action, but that was about all.  The most difficult cases can be the sweet elderly ladies who want to keep you on the phone talking to them.  My heart goes out to them because they are clearly lonely, but I need to get off the phone to move on to the next voter.

The "Yes" voters please me.  The "Undecided" voters don't bother me, and I am able to shrug off the "No" voters.  (Although the people who dismiss an idea simply because the Mercury News or Mike Honda likes it annoy me.)  But the people who ask, sincerely confused, "Who should I vote for?  Tell me, please?"  worry me. They are mercifully few, but they exist, most of them elderly.

Part of me wonders how much good all of this is doing.  I suspect it actually does quite a bit, which I find disturbing in other ways:  for every person we place on the phones, the other side has at least as many, maybe more. The fact that "it's a numbers game" may be true, but makes me faintly despairing of the state of the electorate.

Intellectually, I am not naive: I know that the more a person hears of a candidate spoken of favorably, even if it is just by a random stranger on the phone, the more likely they are to vote for that candidate. My voice may mean the difference of several votes, and contrary to popular convention these days every vote does count, especially in local elections where there are not that many votes cast to begin with.

I know how important it is to get people to vote.  I know how important it is to get people to vote for candidates and measures that will make our communities stronger.  This is where it all starts.

That's how the conservatives have become such a power in state houses and Congress: they started by running candidates for city council and school boards.  They fought for their agenda in city and county ballot measures.  They understood, in ways that progressives seemed to have forgotten, that real political power wells up from below, not descends from above.  (This thought, by the way, does not originate with me -- if I could remember where I read it I would link.)

And as one of the bosses said to us, this is just the beginning of the process.  It is our responsibility to follow up, to make sure that our elected officials did what they told us they were going to do.  It is part of being an involved citizen.  What he didn't say was how hard doing so can be.

Politics is such a messy game. I know this is naive, but I just wish it were not so.

*I am not sure how Dad would feel about this, but then again he was dubious about me becoming a lawyer, too.
**Not a real candidate.
***I am not going to identify the measures or the candidates, other than to say they fall generally in line with my political views, with which long-time readers of this blog are familiar.  I could never work for campaigns or candidates I disrespected or opposed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Work scraped tonight.

There is never a good way to find out that someone whom you liked but had not seen much in the past few years has died recently, even though she was elderly.

But finding out because you called her house while doing phone banking for a political campaign is particularly saddening.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Card game du jour.

Tonight I spent a couple of hours playing "Cards Against Humanity: The Party Game for Horrible People."  The most commonly repeated line of the evening was "This is just so wrong."  An Amazon reviewer, commenting on the first expansion pack, stated "Imagine if the family card game 'Apples to Apples' was re-created by Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Manson on an ether bender. That's what you get with 'Cards Against Humanity'. Highly recommended to adults with filthy, filthy minds."

The opening question sort of set the tone:

Question: "What's that smell?" Winning answer: "Dead babies."*  (I never said that my friends and I were not sick people.)

My favorite question and answer was not in the least gross or suggestive, however:

"This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
not with a bang but with

____________________  "

Winning answer:

"The inevitable heat death of the universe."  (The second time this card came up, the winning answer was even better:  "Ominous background music.")

Highly recommended for your really twisted inner teenager.

*I usually find "dead baby" jokes really obnoxious.  The only one I've ever liked was "Why did the dead baby cross the road?  It was stapled to the back of the chicken."  That one I like for its complete bizarreness. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


I used to sing in the car all the time.  Somewhere over the past year I stopped, turning instead to the dulcet tones of NPR, letting my right brain slumber undisturbed. But recently I started again.

I have always had the irrational thought that my iTunes -- or my Amazon MP3 player -- was psychic.  It picks up on my mood.  So now, looking at the emotions conveyed by the songs that come up, I have to wonder what they mean.  They keep communicating...


"Together we'll could break this trap, We'll run till we drop, baby, we'll never look back."  Bruce Springsteen, " Born to Run."


"I wanna be a producer, 'cause it's everything I'm not."  "I Wanna Be a Producer," The Producers.


"The past is stronger than my will to forgive, forgive you or myself, I don't know." "Shawn Colvin, "Shotgun Down the Avalanche."

Fear of death.

"And it's go, boy, go, they'll time your every breath, and every day spent in this place is two days nearer death."  Great Big Sea, "The Chemical Worker's Song."


"There's a pain in my chest but I wish you the best, ah.. F*** you!"  Cee Lo Green, "F*** You"*


"Help me if you can I'm feeling down, and I do appreciate you being round..."  The Beatles, "Help."


"And the people who love me ask me, when will you be back in town, and I answer quite frankly, when they stop building roads, and all God needs is gravity to hold  me down."  Allison Krauss and Union Station, "Gravity."

All of these songs reverberate with their own fierceness and odd determination (other than possibly "Help!").

I realize that there is a tremendous amount of confirmation bias going on, that I only am hearing the songs that are resonating with my own feelings -- still, I wonder what my iTunes and my brain are telling me.  Maybe it is because it is October, which brings its own issues, as much as I love it.

October is a strong, restless month.  Maybe it's rubbing off a little..

*There is of course the expurgated version of this song, but it is far less cathartic.  I was playing it once, and the Not So Little Drummer Boy was very scornful. "No, mom. Just no."

Monday, October 08, 2012

Letter I want to send

Dear History Channel:

After listening to your ad for "Custer's Last Survivor," in which you state: "New evidence is highlighted that there may have been a lone survivor of the iconic Battle of Little Big Horn whose account of 'Custer's Last Stand' changes our view of that historical day..."  I would just like to note...

Plenty of people survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  They just didn't have white skins.

You might want  to think about these things.


Speaking of bumper stickers...

I have one for my van that I snagged on Saturday from the people at

"Earn your right to bitch:  VOTE"

My only hesitation is I don't want to corrupt the language of other people's children.


It gets really old: Vincent the black Mustang was vandalized again. Vincent has had its tires slashed twice, had acid dripped on it twice, been keyed twice, had a beer bottle thrown at it and spit at while the Rocket Scientist was driving it, and in the most recent episode, had the air let out of one tire, which has also happened before.  Nothing like this has happened to any of our other vehicles.  In fact, it only started a couple of years ago.

I'm sure that the fact that, unlike our other vehicles, Vincent has a "No on 8" sticker (opposing the proposition that outlawed same-sex marriage) on its back bumper has nothing to do with it.  No, not at all.*

*Of course, the fact that Vincent has a vanity plate with RS's gender neutral name followed by my gender neutral name, looking like it is owned by a same-sex couple, might have something to do with this, too.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Music memories.

Today was Day 2 of the Hardly Bluegrass Music Festival in Golden Gate Park.  I was there and it was wonderful.

There were all sort of people: young hippies with long hair wearing tank tops and straw hats with rolled up sides, old hippies in tie-dye, clean-cut collegiate types in chinos, young women in sundresses, older men sporting fedoras, younger women sporting fedoras, old guys with military bearing and crew cuts, suburbanites in polo shirts.  A middle-aged woman in Lands' End cords and tee.

We sat next to a circle of about ten young people, all with tattoos and most with multiple piercings, almost all dressed in black.  They leaned back, each with a large dog beside them, and passed joints and smoked cigarettes and drank PBR.  Several of them had a hairstyle I had never seen before -- what the Rocket Scientist christened a dreadhawk -- shaved sides with a strip of dreadlocked hair in the center.  Behind us sat a family of four: a young couple with toddlers, two sweet little girls who blew bubbles and refused to take naps.  There was a man who walked by selling homemade samosas, three dollars each or 2 for 5.  The Resident Shrink bought several: crunchy exterior, soft-spicy interior. We were in an ocean of people: some dancing and swaying to the music; others, much to my annoyance, talking.

After a while, we moved closer to the stage to hear the act we had really come for, The Chieftains.  I lay back, closing my eyes, feeling the cool ground beneath my shoulders and breeze on my face, smelling the grass -- and the occasional waft of the other grass (it is San Francisco, after all), hearing the whine of the fiddle and the lilt of the flute and the sharp rap of the heels of the Irish dancers.  I opened my eyes and saw people dancing... dancing is contagious, the same as laughing.

I kept thinking about another concert ages and ages before, when I was another person in another time.

I sat on the damp ground on the Esplanade in Boston facing the bandstand, hours before the annual Pops 4th of July concert. We were there, holding spots so we could be close enough to see the stage clearly. The rain had stopped for the moment, although it would later recur.  I was joined by my boyfriend (the future Rocket Scientist), our friend Rob (who would later be the best man at our wedding) and our friend Eric. Rob brought the imperfectly spiked watermelon (the vodka had only spread through one third of the fruit), Eric the chicken Kiev.* I had never had even heard of chicken Kiev before, and although it was cold it was delicious.  Eric was a budding gourmet and quite decided on matters of food -- he told the good Catholic girl that Jews did not eat mayonnaise on anything.** We had sandwiches and drinks, and waited through gray skies and occasional showers for the Pops.

It was worth it -- the 4th of July concert always is, if for nothing other than Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."  The church bells, the fireworks, the cannon; no one does this better than the Pops. In spite of the fact that I got slightly sick, probably from spending so much time wet and chilly, I had a blast.  It is one of my sharpest memories from college which, given that my memory is a hunk of swiss cheese, is saying something.  More than the day I arrived on campus, more than the night I broke my ankle,***  more maybe even than graduation, that 4th of July stands out clearly in my mind.

So much time has gone since then. I am not the woman I was, nor yet the woman I expected to become.  This memory, as small as it is, is such a part of me, who I was, who I am, who I will become.

Maybe I'll remember today just as well years from now.  I hope so.

* Eric is Jewish (and proudly so) but it only occurred to me today... chicken Kiev is not kosher.
**Eric was quite decided on many things, in the way that very bright 21-year-olds at elite colleges tend to be. Once, standing in the Los Angeles home of his best friend's mother-in-law (who was from Vegas), he grandly announced that no real culture existed in America outside of the island of Manhattan. That statement didn't go over too well.
***Of course, I was really drunk when I broke my ankle, so that could be part of the reason it's a little fuzzy.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Pre-election blues.

I missed the debates on Wednesday: listening to the media analysis after the fact, it appears that Romney won, perhaps by exceeding the media's somewhat low expectations for him.  I am not sure it matters to me.  I have no intention in voting for the man; but a good performance from him would reassure me that the country will cope if he were to get elected.

I will be so happy when the election is over.  I am sincerely hoping that my Facebook friends (all people I know in person and, for the most part, care about), who have a wide variety of political views, will give the partisan wrangling a rest.  Yes, I know in many ways I am as bad as others, but I am trying to be more understanding of differences between us, and not post the most inflammatory and insulting material.

We could all decide to discuss something else, like the potential looming bacon shortage.  You know, important things.

One of the things I said in my Stanford Lawyer piece was that "I learned that good people with honorable intent can look at the same problem and come up with wildly divergent answers. I learned that disagreement does not always mean someone is wrong and, more importantly, that someone being 'wrong' does not mean that they are 'evil.'"

As a nation, we forget this at our peril.  The result is loss of national cohesion and identity.  We become a nation whose identity is so wrapped up in our political tribal affiliations that it becomes impossible to find common ground. Furthermore, frenzied rhetoric can result in the less stable among us becoming violent.  People can die.

As a person, I forget this at my peril. The peril is that I will lose relationship with people who I care about. (There is a reason that my family in Mississippi and I do not discuss politics.)  I have lost too many people in my life, usually through my own carelessness and feelings of shame and unworthiness; I can ill afford to lose more.

That said, maintaining equilibrium in these turbulent political waters is difficult.  The rhetoric which has flown around the ongoing fights over women's reproductive rights has been particularly nasty.  It gets tiring be called a baby-killer; and the "war on women" label is exaggerated.  Do I think that people such as Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are wrong? Completely.  Terribly.  Dangerously.  Do I think they are evil people? No, even though the legislation they push forward may have evil consequences.

Is it okay to call out Todd Akin on his views on women? Absolutely.  Is it okay to challenge the ethical implications of Paul Ryan's budget plans?  Absolutely.  But both of those can be done in a manner that still recognizes the basic humanity of the men in question.

When I am tempted to engage in simplistic rejections of people whose opinions differ from mine, I think of two people.  The first is my eldest sister, who is very conservative, opposed to abortion and birth control and ... capital punishment, on the grounds that nobody but God has a right to take a life.  I do not agree with some of her opinions, but at least she has a coherent .ethic supporting her political views.  I like to think, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that more people do than one might suppose.

The other is a woman with whom I used to go to church.  She is conservative, and strongly Republican.  She opposes same-sex marriage, for one thing.   It would so easy to dismiss her, to reject her as a person.  I have more than one friend who would heap scorn upon her, who would question my views simply because I would be willing to associate with her.  But this woman, on her own dime and with her own hands, helped renovate and support an orphanage in Tijuana. She is honestly following Jesus' command to care for the poor, more than I have ever done.  How can I not respect her?

Jon Stewart, who along with Stephen Colbert is one of the sanest political voices in America, in an interview with Rachel Maddow,  observed that "it is easy to grant amnesty to those whose political views we agree with, and overly demonize those who we don't." He's exactly right.

So I will struggle through the next few weeks.  For the most part, I will try to refrain from posting insulting and inflammatory things on my Facebook or LiveJournal or here, for that matter -- although I am sure I will fail at that at least sometimes.  The trick is to state what I believe without calling into question the humanity of those who disagree with me.

It is possible to disagree without someone without demonizing them.  I need to remember that.


It is amazing how small things can change my opinion of people. The man at the next table in Starbucks who was loudly (if intelligently and emphatically) correcting a colleague (or more likely a subordinate) just looked over and smiled warmly at me.  Given that I had just discovered myself dancing in my chair to "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" by K.T. Tunstall, I gave him a small, sheepish smile back.

He's kind of cute.  Not that I would ever go over and introduce myself, and besides, he's being loud enough that I have to  listen to music from my iTunes rather than listen to the sound system.

Sometimes lately it seems to me that I have lost my brain.  There are things going on, including continuing volunteer work (hi, please give us money), and job searching, but finding the intellectual energy to be able to say anything intelligent has been difficult.

I read Google News, I read SCOTUSblog (at least occasionally), I read other people's blogs.  I just feel like I have nothing at all to say.

But hey, it worked for Seinfeld, right?  Maybe if I keep saying the nothings that come to mind I will find something substantive in there, hidden under anxiety about my resume, and rumination about my life choices, and worry about my kids.

Speaking of SCOTUSBlog, and the Supreme Court, one of the first cases they heard oral argument on  was the "when is a vessel a vessel case?" -- Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach -- that I blogged about a while back.  The oral argument sounds like it was quite amusing -- at least if you were not a party to the proceedings, or their counsel. As Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog said. the Justices were having "boatloads of fun" with the case. *rimshot*

There's a great takings case out of the Federal Circuit, Arkansas Fish and Game Commission v. United States, involving federal liability for flooding caused by releases from a dam if the flooding is only temporary.  I am really eager to see how the Court rules on this one -- takings cases are such fun.  Usually I am on the side of the government in takings cases, but here it strikes me that the government position --  essentially, "Flooding happens, that's what you get when you live on a river" -- is a bit broad, to say the least.

Twenty years ago I would have felt differently.  I have actually gotten more conservative over the years -- I am now simply a crazy pinko progressive rather than a radical leftist. Actually, I was never either: merely a person with liberal social views whose politics have become more nuanced as she has aged, and who is willing to admit she's changed.

Ah, politics.  I am so tired of them.

The tree across the street is starting to change color.  It won't be long before the first rains, and the ginkgo trees will blaze bright gold.  The crape myrtles, with their lacy flowers and exfoliating bark, are in full bloom; just another reason to love fall.

The days are shorter, and although the weather is quite warm (normal for  early October in the Bay Area), cooler temps will be here soon.  Halloween, bittersweet now that I no longer have anyone to make costumes for (even though I was never really very good at making costumes anyway), will be here before you know it.  The challenge these days is  not to buy too much candy, so that we are not swimming in snack-sized Milky Ways and M&Ms until Thanksgiving.

It is time to buy the ghost pumpkins to make pumpkin-date bread with.

It is time to go home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Tonight, in addition to the Presidential debates, Cory Doctorow was at a local bookstore, and I really wanted to go to.  So I ... went to the Parent Orientation night for the Community College Railfan attends, an event I only found out about when I retrieved the mail this afternoon.

Being a responsible adult just sucks, sometimes.

On the good side, because the glitch in the delivery of the postcards announcing the orientation resulted in twenty-five people at an event that usually draws 200, I was able to both get my questions answered and score both a sweatshirt (for knowing guessing Michael Jordan's college major) and a travel mug (as a thank you for alerting them to the fact that the postcards were only delivered today).

The highlight of the evening for me was the Dean of Student Affairs talking about how academic disciplinary cases were handled. My favorite of her stories was about one instructor on campus who began each quarter telling students that they were not allowed to use Wikipedia because it was not a reliable source.  He then proceeds to make it an even less reliable source by placing misinformation in articles, the subjects of which he then assigns students to research.

I suppose I should feel sorry for his students caught in this manner, but I don't.  I do feel somewhat sorry for all the other Wikipedia users out there who may run into the fake information, but then again, this guy isn't doing anything Stephen Colbert has not done already.*

*This is my very favorite "Word" segment on the Colbert Report.** I would strongly suggest skipping the movie ad.  
**Although I really like this one,  in a similar vein.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Pennsylvania' Voter ID law was put on hold for this election.  As was Texas's, Ohio's and Wisconsin's.  The Florida voter purge died.  Things are looking good for representational democracy.

Now if we can just take care of that Republican registration fraud in Florida and California, we'll be set.