Town Hall

My Congressional district is the Illinois 10th.  We seem to identify as Moderates, which has us sending the following people to Congress:

2010:  Robert Dold – R

2012:  Brad Schneider – D

2014:  Robert Dold – R

2016:  Brad Schneider – D

There was redistricting in the middle of that, too.

Since the election, I have been rather more engaged with my elected officials, and I have listened in on recent town hall conference calls with both Brad Schneider and my state Senator.  In both cases, a short introduction was made with a summary of some current events and then there was Q&A.  I remember hanging up with two feelings:

  1. People aren’t asking questions – they are putting their opinions out there in the form of questions.  And Ugh – who wants to listen to that?
  2. I appreciate hearing what my representative has to say and am glad that no one is being nasty.  Wait.  Are the questions being vetted before they are asked?  There have been no follow ups, are people being cut off?

Huh.

Well.  Today, I decided to show up to one in person.  I arrived..perhaps 20 minutes early, and was the fourth person to sit.  The staff was friendly, thanking us for coming and asking us to sign in.  Rep. Schneider arrived, with apologies for being late (I hadn’t noticed.  He said that his staff made him get a haircut.) and then dove right in to his talking points about the congressional committees on which he serves.  This included a side note that the Judiciary Committee is where Articles of Impeachment happen.  Smooth.

Then to the Q&A.  A guy from Arlington Heights went first, with one of those multiple-part questions about health care.  I stopped listening about halfway through when he said, “And how do you expect to do that without the doctors in the room?!”  I might have tweeted something snarky at that point.  Several questions were like that.

Nothing was particularly contentious or confrontational.  Wait, there was one guy that tried to challenge Schneider’s “flip-flop” on the Iran agreement.  I think I heard him ask if the congressman had even read it.  I almost snorted.

I was keeping mental notes on how many men as opposed to women were given the opportunity to speak – and where in the district each speaker lived.  Eight men and three women was my count.  None of the women were asking five part questions, either.

The first woman exclaimed, “We are losing our rights!  What are the Democrats doing about it?!”  I have a Republican friend that would have dismissed her as an hysterical liberal, but the question, “What are Democrats doing?” is perfectly valid and, in my opinion, led to the only small bit of tap-dancing that Schneider did.

The second woman was rather long-winded, but asked what was being done about the hyper-partisanship in Congress right now.  Schneider answered that negotiations are happening, but always behind closed doors.  Apparently, some Republicans need the cover of darkness to reach across the aisle.  (OK, maybe some Democrats, too.)

The third woman asked about the erosion of Voting Rights, which I thought was a great question because that is something we take for granted in our part of Illinois.  Schneider noted that in some rural areas, the offices to obtain the official state identification needed to vote are prohibitively far away.  He noted the rural poor in Alabama, in particular, just have no way to get to those offices in person.

Overall,  I appreciated the meeting.  I wish that more women were given the microphone, and that’s on the staff, not on Rep. Schneider.  I will stipulate that women were somewhat more tentative in raising their hands, but there was absolutely no shortage of women looking for a chance to speak.  I wrote up a comment card on the way out.

Discussing Gun Control and Other Important Matters

At a conference last week, I walked in to the hospitality suite to find a group watching Fox News. I almost turned around and left. Somehow, I landed in a discussion about gun control that led to my feverishly Googling for statistics on my phone while my friend Tim did the same on his. I couldn’t find the chart I wanted, so I asked Facebook.

The immediate response from my friends was Get. Out. Of that. Discussion. But Bill found it for me:

 

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Then my friend Steve, a conservative and a scholar, asked me to consider this one:

 

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Which, of course, did not help my argument.

I went several rounds with Tim that night over statistics and several more with Steve the next day on a topic where people are unbelievably entrenched. With Tim, I had to concede that you can generally find statistics to prove anything you want. With Steve, I had to concede that statistics generally don’t prove Cause and Effect. But I left both of those discussions feeling good and believing that there are plenty of people on the other side of this issue that are also trying to be thoughtful and realistic and engaged. Here are my conclusions:

  1. We should all do a better job of doing our homework and considering different points of view.  This isn’t going to get resolved in one conversation, or with one new law. It’s going to take lots of conversations to hash out.  It is going to take some compromise.  And there might be unintended consequences to address.
  2. We will only be able to do that if we believe that we are all in this together.  Acting in good faith.

Sometime online, during the election primaries, I was on a thread about how the world is not going to end if “the other one” is elected.  No one is really moving to Canada and Texas isn’t actually going to secede from the Union.  We’d better find a way to work things out.

The Least I Can Do

The news broke last night that a Grand Jury determined not to indict the officer that shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.  At about the same time, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal in Florida.  Ms. Alexander was facing decades in prison for firing a warning shot – hurting no one – at her abusive husband.  Her case has been held up in contrast to both George Zimmerman’s in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a few years ago and this recent case in Ferguson.  As you can imagine, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with..conversation.  In a lot of ways, these cases demonstrate the title of this blog.  And with all of my white privilege, I have a sense of despair.  But I am trying to listen more than I talk.

24 hours later, Ferguson is still burning and there have been a lot of suggestions tossed around about What We Can Do.  One that I saw more than once was something like, “Ferguson schools are closed today, but its library is open. Donate to help the community.”  Now you all know I am in favor of voting with my pocketbook, and I think libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.  But somehow, my head keeps going back to Marissa Alexander.

Domestic violence.  Self-defense.  Stand your ground.  Oh, how I hate guns.

Crowdrise, my favorite online giving tool, is having a – very well sponsored – fundraising campaign over the holiday season.   I used it to donate to the WINGS Program.

The WINGS Program is “one of the largest domestic violence service and housing providers in the state of Illinois.  Single women and women with children are able to receive temporary safe shelter through WINGS housing while staff provides one-on-one, individualized assistance that allows women to set personal goals that will enable them to work, continue their education, and care for themselves and their children.

Instead of fighting racism, I am helping women.  Instead of helping Ferguson, I am going local.  But this Thanksgiving week, this is where I can find some meaning in the madness.  I hope you can find some, too.

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My Own Private Mind Tricks

(I am going to write about the vacation, I swear.  But I really want to get this out.)

I read a lot of personal finance stuff online.  A lot. I don’t actually learn a heckuva lot these days, because the truth is that saving money is a lot like losing weight.  We all know how to do it if we could just do it.  But every once in awhile, an article has a small piece of insight that hits home.  Remember when the talking heads first started yammering about “the Starbucks effect”?  That we could all save a bloody fortune if we just gave up that stupid $4 cup of coffee?  That’s what I’m talking about.  For example, my friend Jodi quit smoking not long ago, and she can tell you with a lot of accuracy how much money that has saved her.  

So Huffington Post online has an article called “Nine Habits that Will Put You on the Path to Wealth” and I clicked.  Number three struck me:  Adopt your own private mind tricks.  It said, in part:

“Also known as ‘heuristics,’ these rule-of-thumb strategies we create for ourselves — such as not spending more than $15 on an item of baby clothing, or more than $50 on a pair of shoes — can help simplify the many choices we make in a day.”

I totally do this.

Notwithstanding dropping my own personal “Starbucks effect” – which was magazines at the checkout line of the grocery store – I have used several mind tricks and none of them involve freezing my credit card.

The first rule I made was that if I wanted anything from an infomercial or “as seen on TV” or QVC, I had to watch the informercial or program at least three times before buying it. This worked wonders and now I buy almost nothing from TV because:  1.  I have pretty much stopped cooking and 2.  I have pretty much stopped watching television in real time.  I don’t even need this rule anymore.

The second thing I tried was a brief moratorium on stupid shopping mall stuff that I was mindlessly buying.  Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle seem to go together in every full sized shopping mall and strip mall that I know and it is so.  freakin’. easy.  To just go in and spend $25 on stuff I don’t need.  The trick I decided on was that I would only shop at these stores during the semi-annual sales.  The one after the holidays and the one in June.  I did this for three or four cycles, found I survived just fine and have pretty much broken the habit.

I had a $25-a-week Barnes and Noble habit and now I volunteer at a Used Book Store.  I still need to stop buying books.  But never mind that one.

Right now I am working on rules for the fabric stores.  The trap I have fallen into is that since it is “for charity” – i.e. Project Linus, it doesn’t bother my conscience that I am spending money needlessly and the spare room that I was using for a library is also storing a completely unreasonable amount of yarn. 

Yarn 2014

 

This does not include the bin, large basket and two overflowing bags in my bedroom.  I’m not in the habit of buying anything fancy, and I am all into the double up on the deals while shopping, but still.  This is a lot of yarn.  (Albeit not enough to impress the Project Linus ladies, I imagine.) 

I remember my friend Bob telling me that he and his wife were getting into fights about money because he would drop a couple hundred dollars on electronics without consulting her, but she would spend just as much money over a few weeks buying nonsense for the kids at Target.  It led to a really great conversation about the different ways that money was spent in the household.

I have a financial planner and he tells me that spending money is fine, as long as we do it thoughtfully and genuinely need or enjoy the stuff we buy.  Emotional spending is like emotional eating, I guess.

So just like mind tricks for the diet, we can have mind tricks for the spending.  Do you have any?

In Which I Learn to Insert Tweets

For those of you not in Chicago, there is a major construction project on a major highway heading into the city.  An entire bridge is being replaced, and if I understand correctly, the plan was for the road shutdown and detour to require only three weekends.   This is the story.  Suburbanites were warned:

  1. You really don’t want to go into the city this weekend.
  2. If you do want to go into the city this weekend, take public transportation.
  3. If you don’t want to take public transportation, plan on major delays.

#Carmageddon.  Seriously.

This morning, a friend posted on Facebook that he had to be in the city for a work thing and he cruised right in.  Such that he was an hour and a half early for his project. Then I switched over to Twitter and saw this:

This isn’t someone I follow, but the Chicago Tribune re-tweeted it.

Now, I suppose that Ms. Manchir could have been referring to people in the passenger seat, or assuming that traffic was at a dead standstill – which she would know wasn’t true if she’d turned on a radio this morning – but I was bothered. I hit Reply and politely requested that Michelle Manchir and the Chicago Tribune not encourage the people that text and drive.   I went about my day, but checked back on it later.  Seems it was still bothering me.  The Tweet was still there (don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be), and it looks like this reporter spent the day tracking the #Carmageddon story.  That wasn’t much of a story.

Incidentally, a few more people posted negative responses to the Tweet.  The snarkiest was:

Which I am ashamed to say made me smirk.  Then I went to my niece Ainslie’s baseball game this afternoon and the coach’s wife was saying that they went downtown this morning for their other son’s event and cruised right in (although the ride back was pretty bad).  Another mother said that she also drove into the city that morning and didn’t have any trouble.  And now ABC News is reporting that the project is ahead of schedule.   It is a good news day!

Want to see a great tweet about the I-94 construction?

Instead of trying to surface the cranky weekend commuters, I hope someone is doing a story on how a construction project of this magnitude gets done in such a short time frame with minimal disruption.  There are already some great pictures out there. How much planning it takes for engineers and logistics people.  How that fine made its way into the contract.  How many people working how many hours.

Knock on something, because it isn’t done yet.  But this is work that people can be proud of and, in my opinion, a story that a journalist could be proud to write.

Although to be fair, I’m not trying to sell newspapers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Culture of Humiliation”

Many of my “real life” friends will recall that I laughed my head off when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, inasmuch as I couldn’t stand the Clintons. However, I always had some sympathy for Monica herself, particularly since she is my age and I couldn’t fathom the fear or shame she must have suffered.

Example:  When word hit the street that she had DNA evidence on that blue dress, the world decided that she had been trying to trap the President into some kind of blackmail scheme all along.  Her explanation was that when she got home that night, she had hung up the dress.  The next time she tried it on, she had gained weight and it didn’t fit.  She crumpled it up in frustration, tossed it on the floor of her closet and forgot about it for the longest time.  I remember thinking, “Well, I would have had it cleaned right away, even if I hadn’t known about the stain.  But I know exactly what she is talking about.”

I wouldn’t say I liked her, but I believed her.

She just wrote this piece for Vanity Fair, drawing some parallels between her experience and the Culture of Humiliation we have going online. And some stuff about misogyny that she couldn’t even have known would be so relevant right this second.  And about how women turn on each other.   Good Lord, how women turn on each other.

It is worth reading.  And also?  She looks fabulous.

 

#YesAllWomen

Compared to most women over on Twitter right now, I have exceptionally little to complain about.   I have never been raped.  I don’t walk around with any serious fear for my physical safety.  I had kind of chalked it up to the fact that I was never all that pretty.  Guys only assault pretty girls, right?  (Rolls eyes at self.)

Even in college, at my absolute most attractive, I was more charming than pretty.  This weekend, Twitter has taught me that I have been lucky, because “charming” could very easily be mistaken for overt flirting which, it seems, can be taken as an open invitation to sexual assault.  But that isn’t what I want to tell you.  I want to tell you two stories – from work – that illustrate the extent to which I have adapted to male bullshit regarding women.

First.  It will surprise no one that in my seventeen years working in Human Resources, I have investigated one or two sexual harassment complaints.  I am happy to say that they have generally been matters of cluelessness rather than malicious intent and the “accused” have generally been genuinely sorry to have made someone uncomfortable and wanted to apologize more than anything else.  One case in particular struck me because I worked rather closely with the “accused”.  I was asked whether I ever felt like the guy was talking to my breasts.  I hadn’t noticed.  I’ve had people staring at my chest since I was 10 years old.  I stopped noticing sometime in high school.  I never once gave an “Eyes up here” or made a complaint or even offered a knowing glare.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to ignore that behavior as a general practice but, hell.   I don’t have the time or the energy to get upset about that stuff, let alone confront it all the time.  So I block it out.

I am not proud of this.  It is just how I have operated.  I am a bit ashamed, now that I am typing it out loud, that with my general confidence and competence and ability to confront people that I have been too lazy or weak to do so.  But there it is.

The second one is worse.  A few years ago a young lady in my own department told me that she had a troubling experience when she went to speak at a conference.  The weather had been bad and she’d gone to the bar to watch a game and get a burger for dinner.  Harassing experience ensues.  She wasn’t physically threatened, but felt way uncomfortable and the dude was, by extension, a client.  My first reaction, God forgive me, was “I wouldn’t have gone to the bar by myself to watch a game and have dinner.”

Seriously.

How m-f brainwashed am I that the thought even entered my head.  How brainwashed am I that I wouldn’t even consider watching a game by myself in a bar on the road over dinner?  I sit in bars by myself when I am waiting for people.  I eat dinner in restaurants by myself all the damn time.  I have stopped in front of random televisions in a thousand public places, by myself, to watch some sportsball item or another.  I have gone to sporting events by myself.

This isn’t even a conscious decision.  This is an “it would just never occur to me”.  Is it some great hardship?  No.  At the same time, it is only happening because I am female.

So.  Yeah, yeah.  Less than a First World Problem.  But if you are asking the question, “Really?  All women have been affected by a male culture of sexual dominance/violence/intimidation in this country?”

Yes.  We all have.

 

P.S.  I sorta want to delete that last post about guys in bars.  But I’m not going to.