Do we have to change our state nickname?

California, the Golden State.  Do we need to change the name?  Are we now considerably less than Golden?  Perhaps the Nickel State.  The Tin State?  Bronze?  Well, anyway, you get the idea.  We’ve got no money.  Our schools suck, our social services are falling apart, our parks might have to close, our state workers only get to go to their jobs occasionally.  It’s a fucking mess.  So I figured that since I know EVERYTHING I should probably offer an opinion for the world to ignore.

Let me start by telling you why you should care.  If you’re in Ca the answer should be obvious.  But frequently I’m surrounded by NYers so I’ll use small words and simple concepts in easy to read list form:

A- California runs your economy.  If we fail, you will fail.  We’d be the 8th largest economy in the world without the rest of you.

B- California sets the trends for everyone else.  What ever we do now, you’ll do in a couple of years.  That’s why we seem whacky.  We’re leading the charge.

C- There are a lot of us.  That’s why we get the biggest congressional delegation.  It might be better if we’re educated.

D- We’re smarter than you.  We moved OUT of the snow.

So, now to the real problems.  To absolutely no thinking person’s surprise making an Austrian action hero the Governor wasn’t such a good idea.  However there are three giant flaws in our current system that must be addressed regardless of who holds what office or which dumbass party is in charge.  Until we get serious and fix these three things, NOTHING will get better.  So pay attention.

Problem One- Prop 13:  Prop 13 is killing this state.  Our property tax revenue is just too low for the simple things we need to pay for like fire engines, schools, and police officers.  It is also inherently unfair.  The Getty and Haas families pay less in property taxes than somebody who just bought a three bedroom home in suburbia.  As long as they keep those giant estates in the family they’re the only ones who are golden.  I understand the principle behind prop 13.  It helps keep fixed income residents in their homes.  But it also allows home prices to fly all over the place by screwing up supply.  It also helps rich older people while screwing young families.  It is wrong and needs to go.  No politician has the balls to say so even though they KNOW what the reality is.

Problem 2- Jails:  We spend a huge percentage of our resources locking people up.  Mostly people from the inner city.  And this is a double hit.  Locked up people cost money and they don’t contribute anything.  So we need to lock up a lot fewer people.  The easiest and safest way to do this is slowly release and pardon ALL inmates charged with possession.  After that we can begin to release, on parole, anyone charged with distribution of narcotics.  If they commit some other crime we’ll lock them back up, but we’ll stop arresting people for drugs.  We’ll save billions, and make millions more when we tax their use.  (More on legalization in a later post.)  There’s even an added bonus because the resulting surplus of law enforcement resources will lead to better enforcement of things like rape and child abuse.

Problem 3- The political culture of entitlement.  Let’s say I go out and get elected to my local city council.  Bingo, I never need to get another job again.  After my term I’ll run for DA, or maybe tax assessor or some damn thing.  I’ll eventually get to the State Assembly, and once I’m termed out I’ll run for the State Senate.  If I lose my buddies will place me on some well funded commission like the Solid Waste Board where I’ll make 130K for doing very little while I raise money to run for assistant insurance commissioner or maybe mayor of Oakland.  After that a friend might end up close to the Gov and I’ll get a judgeship or some county job.  If things go badly I’ll be stuck as an airport administrator or lobbyist.  But I’ll never do another real job again.  Why do you think that bills raising the luxury tax on yachts never pass regardless of how badly we need the money?  The rich pay for a permanent class of legislators to protect them.  This has got to stop.

Do I think any of these three things will happen?  NO.  But don’t blame me when India steals our jobs because their kids learn science or when your house burns down because the Fire Station on your block was furloughed that week.  If you don’t deal with the big issues, the little ones will never matter.

Finding God

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”  -Naguib, Mahfouz

Who am I to ruminate upon God.  Who am I not too?  I’m not a Christian.  I follow no religion and while I think there is much of interest in the bible, I don’t believe it’s the literal word.  It’s man’s interpretation, and therefor fallible.  If pushed I probably wouldn’t use the convention of God at all.  Too anthropomorphic for me.  But I have my own version of faith and I do think about it a lot.  And here’s what I’m thinking today…

I think people are asking the wrong questions.  Atheists ask if there is God.  I think that’s an irrelevant question.  We aren’t going to prove it either way so why waste time with that particular mental masturbation?  Shouldn’t you try to live an ethical, kind, compassionate life regardless?  Competing religions as how is God.  How do we worship?  What does he/she want us to eat?  What’s the best way to pray?  I can’t imagine an omnipotent and omniscient force would take that too seriously.  Sounds like a man made conflict to me.  Some religions ask where is God?  Where is the sacred space?  Where is the temple?  Who cares.  I suspect God finds all areas to be equally sacred.  Philosophers ask what is God.  Good luck with that one.  Ask Job.  No, I think there’s only one good question, and I think we avoid it because it might ask too much.

The real question is and should be ‘Where Is God’?  Not as in ‘where does he live’.  But where in my life is God?  Where in the actions of my day is he represented?  A much harder question.  Is God there when I teach?  I think so.  Is God there when I get angry?  Probably not.  God is in my life when I’m compassionate, centered, kind, joyful and appreciating beauty.  God is nowhere around when I’m petty, mean, or mad.  He’s not there because I’ve banished him with my actions.  Fortunately he is forgiving and immediately reappears when I calm down.  That’s what I think.

Look at your life.  Bring some awareness to it and ask where is God?  Is God present while I’m cursing some idiot who cut me off or undercutting a coworker?  Is God there when I vote to bring misery to some group of people?  Is God there when I laugh and hug?  I think a lot of supposedly ‘religious’ people might find this a daunting task.

MJ part 2

I got this thoughtful response from my friend Brent.  Thought I’d share it and my response.  Thanks, Brent!

Hello Angus,

I want to begin by saying that this is not mean’t in any way to debate you, but I was inspired to respond.

I just read your blog on MJ. While I don’t necessarily agree on all of your observations, I give you a lot of credit in the way you articulated yourself. I happen to be one of those people who chose to reflect on his incredible career and how much he entertained me. While it’s true that he was a peculiar individual, I personally have never believed all the crap that he was accused of…I just think of him as a child in a man’s body who never had the chance at a “normal” life. I don’t think he is entirely to blame but I agree he had to take responsibility for the way things turned out.

I agree with you…where were all these people when times we’re tough? Its a sad reality that a child can randomly accuse someone of abuse and everyone is quick to jump to conclusions without knowing ALL the facts. It’s downright scarey.


Dear Brent

I think reasonable people can disagree without it becoming personal and I almost always welcome debate. I work with severely abused kids all the time and so that is clearly my bias.

I don’t think MJ thought he was doing anything wrong, but I do think that the testimony is pretty clear that the things he did had a detrimental effect, intended or not, on the kids he cared for. Sometimes poor boundaries can be the worst kind of abuse.

This doesn’t make him an evil person, but it is part of his past and I’m bothered by how much it is being ignored. Wouldn’t it improve his legacy and help the children he loved if his death brought about a real discussion of child abuse and what constitutes proper contact with kids, in particular boys?

It just seems like an important teachable moment has been missed in order to unnecessarily shine a reputation. His body of work should be able to withstand all the facts and perhaps even make his body of work more remarkable in context.

I also admit that conspicuous consumption is a pet peeve of mine and that might have been a less than fair attack!

Mr. Jackson and some Difficult Questions

All right, I just can’t help myself.  The whole country seems to be mourning the death of Michael Jackson.  I should just shut up and let people do whatever they like.  But that’s not really me, is it?  So please be advised.  If you’re a huge Jackson fan this might piss you off.  Maybe you should go read something else.

I wasn’t a huge Jackson fan but neither was I a hater.  I had a couple Jackson 5 albums when I was a kid, I have a couple songs on my ipod, and I loved the physicality of his dance.  I also appreciate how he helped break the color barrier on MTV and refused to be neatly categorized in his music.  I don’t care at all how many times he had plastic surgery or what kind of weird-ass estate he lived on.  I’m sorry he died.  But come on.  Here are some uncomfortable facts and questions:

1-  Let’s have some perspective.  He was not a member of your family.  He was not your friend.  He was not involved in your life in any real way and to pretend otherwise is a little sad.  He was an entertainer.  In fact, he was an entertainer who’s best work was long since past.  His last hit was DECADES ago.  Your day to day to life will be completely unaffected by this death.

2-  All of those famous people who slobbered all over him couldn’t be found a few years ago.  When he was on trial there was no one who stood up and defended him.  None of these limelight seeking whores got in front of a camera at the trial.  None of them sat in the courtroom by his side.  But now there his best damn friend.

3-  He set a precedent for using the vast wealth generated by entertainers for self indulgence.  While this trend isn’t his fault, he must carry some of the responsibility for it’s wide spread social acceptance.  His was the original MTV crib.  And many other entertainers have pissed away their money on huge houses, ridiculous jewelry and 50 cars rather than go back and help out the communities that support them.

4-  He was repeatedly accused of child abuse.  I know he was found innocent of the one charge, but he paid a couple of other families a lot of money to be quiet.  There is no question he had “inappropriate” contact with young boys.  Why is this being ignored?  Why is everyone choosing to sweep it under the rug by saying “I prefer to remember the good stuff”?

5-  One can’t help but wonder if the real lesson here is that we, as a society, don’t take child abuse seriously enough.  I doubt that when Phil Specter dies people will say “sure he killed a girl, but…”.  Michael Vick can’t get any forgiveness for mistreating dogs but we can just forget all about groping little boys?  Bullshit.  Child abuse is second only to murder and equal to rape in it’s severity.  Why don’t we acknowledge this?  Shouldn’t his death be an opportunity to talk about abuse?  Are we too weak to do that?

6-  Here’s an even more uncomfortable question.  Does the fact that he abused boys get him some slack?  If he’d molested little girls would these same members of the glitterati be ignoring his ‘darker side’?  Or would it have been harder to ignore?  If a male teacher touches a little girl he immediately, and correctly, faces the hatred of society and the full force of the law.  When a female teacher has an extended love affair with a male child it becomes fodder for late night comedians and every dumb fuck in the room makes a joke about wishing they had that teacher.  Are the emotional lives of little boys less vulnerable?  Is their pain less important?  Did this help him skate in terms of public opinion?

I know, Michael was a great entertainer and an inspiration to many.  He was also self indulgent, immature, and had inappropriate contact with children.  Why is that suddenly okay?

Sex, Part 2

Okay, so as usual I’ve been thinking about sex.  And let me just say here that if you’re sensitive or squeamish about sex, don’t read this post.  Because of the issue I’m exploring it may get a little graphic.

In an earlier essay I wrote about how this society was slowly being destroyed by sexual repression (See Newsflash, ATS, 2/01/09, Pop Culture section).  Surprisingly enough the world didn’t take notice and immediately change it’s behavior to please me.  Shocking, really.  So I guess I’ll try again.  Here’s my question- What is sex?  At what point can 2 (or more) people said to be having sex?  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Wait just one cotten-picken minute.  It’s harder than it looks.  (You knew I couldn’t get through this without some puns, didn’t you?)  And the ramifications of that answer turn out to be really important.

The standard answer most people give is that sex starts when the penis penetrates the vagina.  Well, not so fast.  What about anal and oral sex?  Do these count?  Turns out that according to some recent studies most teenagers don’t think so.  They’ve been raised with an abstinence only curriculum completely devoid of factual information.  They call themselves virgins simply because there’s been no penis-vagina contact.  While that might be technically true, it doesn’t matter much to STD’s.  These kids can’t understand how they got syphilis since it’s a ‘sexually’ transmitted disease and they didn’t have ’sex’.  Now you’re beginning to see why this matters.  And besides, this narrow definition would mean most every homosexual was a virgin and their sex didn’t count and that’s just silly.

Okay , so the whole penis in the vagina thing isn’t a good definition.  And it turns out there doesn’t seem to be any agreement on what to use instead.  Let’s take a fictional teenage couple, Dick and Jane.  At what point in their relationship do they become officially sexually active?  As long as they stay dressed?  Well, you can make somebody come through clothing.  As long as there is no penetration?  What about hand jobs?  Maybe if there’s no genital contact?  So if Dick sucks on Jane’s breasts while fingering her ass until she comes they aren’t having sex?  How about contact below the waist?  So if Jane comes while grinding on Dick’s leg while dancing in jeans does that count?  Or vice-versa?  Does someone have to come?  If so I think there are women with six kids who would qualify as virgins.  Does all penetration count?  Nope, not unless you want to count pap smears.  If Dick has a foot fetish and comes when Jane tickles his feet, would that count?  Most people would agree necking doesn’t count, but if you saw your spouse going at it with stranger you might change your mind on that one too!

It turns out to be kind of a difficult question, doesn’t it?  (Kind of hot, too!)  And it gets worse.  Most people change their answers depending on the situation.  Let’s go back to Dick and Jane and look at sex from the perspective of Dick’s father, Dick Senior.  (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself.)  Dick Senior has at least 4 definitions.  If gets a quick blow job from a hooker at the local bar he might not consider that sex.  If his wife blows his best friend, it would be sex.  If he knew Dick Junior was fingering Jane, he probably wouldn’t count it.  If the exact same act involved his daughter it sure as hell would be sex.  Wow, what a mess.

There’s a temptation by some to step in here and use the Supreme Court definition of obscenity.  I don’t know what sex is, but I know it when I see it.  Wrong.  There are several urban dance moves that the average middle class suburbanite would absolutely declare as sex even thought the actual participants would disagree.

We, as a culture, are so repressed and fucked up when it comes to sex that we can’t even settle on one definition.  The subject is so taboo that we can’t even have a public discussion about it.  Religion, public policy, sexism, racism, fear, and sheer stupidity all get influence while science, joy, human behavior and common sense get ignored completely.  Before society can properly define sex we have to embrace it as a culture.  Sex is good, healthy, joyous and fun.  Anyone who represses sex is an enemy of humanity and needs to be smacked around a bit.  Sex education should be mandatory and based upon FACTS and SCIENCE, not religious mumbo-jumbo and superstition.  This must change and it must change NOW.  I don’t want to have to tell you people again.

By the way, here’s my definition of sex- The physical manifestation of love or lust by consenting adults in order to experience joy and make the world a little less cold and lonely.  So there.