13 September 2012

The Silent Third Guy

Three white guys, late 20s, privilege written all over their hair, clothes, musculature, bearing, walking across the street as I waited at a traffic light on my bike.

Guy #1: "Nice hat."
Guy #2: "Nice bag, wonder what's in it?"  Reaches for the bag clipped to the front of my bike.
Guy #3: Follows his pals across the street.

I don't react at all.  Just stand there, stunned really, at the stupidity of it.

And then they move on.  And I'm left, sick with fury and, yes, fear.  Just for the hell of it, they've made me feel vulnerable, shown me that they can target me if they choose.

Because I'm female? Female and middle aged?  Could they tell, under streetlights at 10 at night?

Not the first incident, and unfortunately, it won't be the last.

And I'm left wondering.  What would they have done, had I reacted? cringed, spoken, otherwise responded to the taunts?  Laughed uproariously?  Physically attacked me, in view of dozens of other people?  If they'd attacked, would anyone else have come to my aid?

Did the silent third guy maybe tell his buddies afterward that they were jerks?  Have you ever been the silent third guy?

At The Offspring's school, they're teaching the kids that the bystanders have the responsibility to intervene to stop the bullying.  I wonder: does such education have the power actually to change a culture?  And could it possibly have any effect on the gender dynamics of this kind of harrassment?

10 September 2012

Health Care Reform -- Justice for All

The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest citation for "pre-existing condition" is from 1947.  Here it is:
Reno (Nevada) Evening Gaz. 14 Mar. 7/1   Many people with disabilities that formerly were not insurable can now secure this new health service and have these chronic pre-existing conditions removed or repaired.
This appears to refer to the creation of Britain's National Health Service, which occurred in 1947.  The "removal" or "repair" of pre-existing conditions sounds reassuring:  Get health care, get fixed.  Kind of like taking the car to the garage and getting a new air filter.

The  "pre-existing condition" -- a category for a person with an on-going illness -- is a new notion.  Disability theorists have long been pointing out that much about "disability" is socially conditioned, either in the material conditions that block movement (e.g. stairs for a person using a wheelchair) or in the social conditions that define people by abilities to perform certain physical tasks.

The "pre-existing condition," on the other hand, is a legal term, created by profit-bearing insurance companies for the specific purpose of avoiding giving coverage to individuals who might actually incur claims, and therefore reduce profits.

If not for emergency rooms, I'd be dead.  So would The Offspring.  But I might have been taken out of the gene pool before I got around to bearing The Offspring, so the question might be moot.  So you might argue that modern medicine, not insurance law, created The Pre-Existing Condition, by letting me live.

If you're healthy, if everyone in your family is healthy, then you get to go through life not worrying about these things.  Not worrying that if you lose your job, you'll lose your health insurance, and your ability to pay for medications or devices (manufactured by large, profit-bearing pharmaceutical corporations) that go on keeping you alive.

But for those of us who take those medications daily, twice daily, every pill and every puff is a reminder of mortality delayed.  Health care reform is a harbinger of hope that even if I have to keep taking pills, I can stop worrying that if I get too sick to work, I'll lose my health insurance. 

If you believe that society has no obligations to care for the young, the weak, the frail, and the old, then you probably think health insurance reform is government excess.  But if you think health care is a right and not an privilege, something everyone should have access to, not just those wealthy enough to pay, then health insurance reform is essential to a just and fair society.

04 September 2012

Throwing Away Perfectly Good Food

Mitt Romney and the top half of his muffin are right up there with average Americans, who, it turns out, throw out somewhere between a third and half of all food produced, depending on the study you read, and probably whether you're counting industry waste (unsold bananas) or just household waste (that uneaten head of lettuce).

As a refugee after World War II, my mother -- six years old at the time -- had to help her mother beg, borrow and steal food for themselves and three younger siblings.  My father was born during the Great Depression, and while he never went hungry, some foods were scarce and my grandmother got into a habit of Never Wasting Anything that persisted for the rest of her life.

Wasting things, and particularly wasting food, makes me crazy.  No, it's not actually true that there's a kid starving in Africa because you don't want to eat that Brussels Sprout.  But it might be true that there's a kid going hungry in Africa because of drought caused by overconsumption in North America.  

And one aspect of overconsumption is buying food you'll never get around to cooking, or throwing away the cheese rather than shaving off a bit of mold, or tossing a carton of milk because it's reached its "expiration date" without bothering to check if, in fact, it's still okay. 

The environmental hit is pretty heavy -- food waste is the largest single component of US landfills, and the amount of petrochemicals used to till the land, ship the soybeans to the cows, ship the milk to your neighborhood store and thence to your refrigerator, and finally, unused, to the dump, is significant.

So when Mitt's handlers try to pitch his cutting off the top of a muffin every single day and routinely throwing away the bottom half "because the butter sinks to the bottom while it's baking" as some kind of discipline, it makes me want to spit.

02 September 2012


So you're already limiting your purchases, buying better-quality stuff that will last for a long time, avoiding food waste, and recycling glass, paper, plastic, metal.  What's the next step in reducing the amount of stuff you send to the landfill?


My mother's compost bin is a big black cylinder with no bottom. Peelings and roots and inedible leaves and eggshells go in the top and come out the bottom as rich loam.  When it gets full, my mother lifts the whole thing up in the spring, digs in the compost, and plants stuff on the pile.  It thrives.

My cousin Harold's compost this year goes is a pile in the middle of a circle of sunflowers.  Harold is incredibly creative and his compost solutions vary from year to year, but they're always smart.  He's been seen to carry a banana peel home -- even if there's a compost bin to hand -- so it can go in HIS OWN compost pile.

I live in the bustling city of New York, and I don't have a back yard, so my compost bin is a little plastic bucket in the freezer.  (A fellow NYC composter clued me in to that trick, and it's a huge improvement on keeping a bin out on the counter if you can't empty it daily.)

A couple of times a week I go to a farmer's market at Union Square or Tompkins Square to make my contribution.  If you live in New York, here's a list of Greenmarket drop-off locations.  But there are others, if these aren't convenient: look for community gardens and ask around.  Other cities will have places to compost, sometimes in the parks, sometimes at the dump.