Lead and Fate

There’s an interesting article in Mother Jones, or more accurately a meta-article, which discusses the research that’s been done linking the decline in childhood lead exposure in the 1970’s and onwards to the decline in crime rates in the 1990’s, when those kids would have hit adulthood. It’s sobering reading.

I was born in Europe, which banned lead paint far before America, and I was past the whole eating-paint-chips phase of life by the time I moved here. So, by an accident of birth, I got to spend my most vulnerable brain development years safe from lead paint, while my age cohort peers in the US did not. This is especially true for kids in my age range who lived in substandard housing.

I was a smart kid. All the adults praised me and complimented me for being smart, as if it was an accomplishment, rather than an accident of birth. But now I see that, in addition to winning the genetic lottery for math ability, I also won a “right time and place” lottery for avoidance of lead. All these things I had literally nothing to do with, helped me to excel in school and get whatever success I’ve had in life.

America is a country with a strong mythos. It’s a fairy tale made by corporate backers, and then spun into the fabric of our society until its origins are obscured in the mists of time. The fairy tale says, You are more than just your circumstances, You can accomplish anything you set your mind to, Random misfortune is not going to defeat You, You can overcome anything with Pure Grit.

We’re fed these stories ad infinitum.

But if the quintessentially American truth – or should I say “truth” – is  about excelling in spite of adversity and not being defined by circumstance, the quintessential truth  keep coming back to is the opposite: how much of one’s life is circumscribed by random chance. How things that happened decades ago, in childhood, over which we had no control, can still limit our lives right now, today.

The can-do Americanism holds within it a darkness, which is the seed of judgement and rejection. If anyone can overcome anything, then your failure to overcome must be a character flaw. And if you’re just making bad decisions, then I don’t have any responsibilities to help you, as a fellow human being.

But being aware that random circumstances can have profound after effects creates the opposite feeling. There but for the grace of God go I. And with that feeling comes the responsibility to help our fellow humans, in whatever circumstance.

 

 

 

 

 

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Armageddon Problems

I expected the Apocalypse to come. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s so tacky.

Got Student Loans? You Should be on REPAYE

I’m on REPAYE. One of the best things about REPAYE is that, depending on your income, the government might subsidize part of your repayment. This is important because, in a world where you still can’t refinance student loan interest rates, it’s the only “official” way to make your effective interest rate go down.

For the sake of simple math, let’s say your interest accrues at $300 a month, but based on your income you can afford $100 (they calculate what they think you can afford). The difference between what you can afford and what you accrue is $200. They will pay 50% of that. So every month, you don’t have to pay $100 in interest.

Now, the way they think you’re going to use it is by making your minimum payment, and then the extra $100 nobody paid gets added to your loan balance, and it goes up every year. At the end of 20-25 years, the whole amount gets “forgiven” and you have to pay taxes on that forgiveness.

BUT if your goal is to pay it down, then you could still use this to your benefit. Take advantage of the $100 savings each month, and pay aggressively. Your payments will go further because you’ll be accruing less interest.

One caveat is that their method of getting the subsidy is…odd. I think they send a statement to the government every month, and then the government sends in the subsidy, which gets applied to your account. In other words, you only get the subsidy when you pay $100 a month. If you make a big payment, you don’t get the subsidy that month. (Talk to your student loan servicer to double check this, it’s pretty complicated).

Long story short, you could take advantage of the subsidy most months, then make a few large lump-sum payments throughout the year. You would then be able to pay it down more quickly than you would without REPAYE.

If you apply for REPAYE now, you then have a year until they recalculate your income. If during that year you get a raise, then you could really take advantage of that subsidy. Your payments would only be x, but you could afford 2x or 3x, and make those payments without paying all that interest.

If however your income goes down, you can contact them to recalculate even if a year hasn’t passed yet. So it’s win-win.

One more thing to note: REPAYE is an even better deal if you have subsidized loans. For the first 3 years you’re on REPAYE, the whole “difference” between what you can afford and what you accrue is paid by the US government. So in the example above, you’d be getting a 200$ subsidy every month. If you have a mix of subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you could then put your extra money towards paying down the unsubsidized loan first.

Hope this helps.

Seattle Impressions, 2018

I write this from a hotel in the beautiful, historic, expensive Queen Anne neighborhood, while listening to the shouts of a volatile and possibly unhinged man on the streets below. And that just about sums up my time here in Seattle this year.

When I lived in Seattle 15 years ago, it was a medium-sized city with large city ambitions. It had miserable weather, great coffee, and pathological denial that grunge music actually peaked in 1994. There were computer programmers, and bookstores, and people who traded tips on how to use artificial sun lamps to keep from killing yourself.

Everyone drove a Subaru.

Nowadays, Seattle is not like that. Seattle is where capitalism goes to die. Seattle is the prequel to Blade Runner.* Seattle is hyperfuturistic corporations that create their own magnificent biomes that are closed to the public almost all the time. 

For real. This is “The Spheres” by Amazon:

 

Google is here. Microsoft is here. Amazon, of course, is here. RealNetworks, Tableau, Zillow, Expedia. And a million, zillion more. Many of these software companies are working on projects so advanced that they legitimately could be viewed as science fiction. But when you leave your job making programmable sentient cupcakes, or whatever, and you step out onto the street . . . the pavement is cracked, the streets are full of potholes, and the homeless are everywhere. We do not have to imagine a dystopia where robots fly next to shanty towns. It is here.

Making matters even more stark, Seattle is a city that prides itself on being “progressive.” Unlike Boise, where movie trailers feature advertisements for shooting ranges, the assumption in Seattle is that we are all Progressive and Inclusive and Care About Human Rights, Not Like Those Other People.

Our hotel, for example, has bathrooms in the lobby with prominently-displayed signs that say “All Gender Bathroom.”

Meanwhile, in this very nice part of town, I passed 3 homeless men in just one block. So they’re progressive about everything in Seattle, except, you know, if it costs them something.

My general impression of Seattle in 2018 is that they’re fine with letting you freeze to death on the street, but they’ll make a big effort to use the right gender pronoun at your funeral.

And they’re not prejudiced — they welcome any type of billionaire, of whatever background…

…and if you do die on the street, they want you to know it’s not because you’re black. It’s because you’re poor.**

They hope you understand how very enlightened this makes them.

Seattle is an entire city full of those smug assholes I knew from college who’d say, “Well actually, I consider myself socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” ***

Seattle is what happens when a whole bunch of educated upper-income people NIMBY their way into never helping anybody at all, because, you know. Property values. “Moral hazard.” Having low corporate taxes helps us all… somehow or other.

On the plus side, there’s an amazing chocolate factory in Fremont, and if you walk within a 5 block radius of it, the air smells like truffles.

So it’s not all bad.


* And not just because it’s cloudy all the time.

** Or rather, given the rents around here, “not rich.

*** Translation: I used to be part of the Young Republicans, but then I realized I was gay.

The Things We Cannot Name

I’ve had a year where I see, finally, as if with new eyes, all the ways humans project the evil in themselves onto others.

I fear this awakening has come about courtesy of the Trump administration. Trump’s habit of accusing opponents of committing his own darkest crimes has become so standard as to almost be rote.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad now, that when he accuses an adversary of ________, I just interpret it as, “This just in: Donald Trump totally does  _______.”

So it’s gotten me thinking of the ways in which we place shame and blame on others, sometimes to the extent that we completely erase our own culpability. Here’s an example: we all know the word “whore” is the worst way you can insult a woman. But if prostitution is a terrible sin, surely using the services of a prostitute is even worse. A man who takes advantage of a woman’s poverty and desperation? To have sex with her when she would otherwise be unwilling? Doesn’t that make him the absolute scum of the earth?

Doesn’t it make him not just sleazy, but also (apparently) so repulsive that no woman is willing to have sex with him freely? Surely, this combination of World’s Biggest Loser and World’s Ickiest Scumbag must be the lowest insult in the English language.

Except, it’s not. There is a word that describes it — “john” — but it just means “customer.” It’s not even an insult. It’s just a fact.

No word in the english language exists to mean, “A degraded, filthy and disgusting man who hijacks vulnerable women’s desperation to obtain unwilling traumatizing sex.” No. We have put the entire shame of this degrading experience onto the woman, who is the more helpless one in the scenario to boot. The man gets away scott-free.

By contrast, when it comes to drugs, we realize calling someone a junkie might be insulting, but calling someone a drug pusher is worse. A junkie is wretched and pitiable. A pusher is someone who ruins peoples’ lives for his own profit. One fell into degradation; the other one stood behind him and pushed.

What about when men use gross words to describe women’s genitalia? They’re not the guys who don’t care. It’s not gay men saying all those words, all the time. It’s the kinds of men who are talking about, and obsessing about, women’s genitalia. Their idee fixe. And for so many men, that thing they want most in their lives, the thing they pine for, crave, and that brings them closest to a sense of completeness is also the thing they insult, degrade, spew vile at.

In a sense, what they are really saying is, “I am obsessed with sex and that makes me so  ashamed of myself.” Then they put the shame on the object of that obsession, rather than on the one who is obsessed.

What if we put the root meaning of all insults back on the person who spoke them?

When Donald Trump insults the intelligence and humanity of others, what if we took it to mean, “I am deeply insecure and utterly unbalanced and ungrounded and unloved, and I literally have no way to get my bearings in life other than the degradation of others?”

When a man says, “Women should not be in my field of study, because women aren’t as smart as men,” what if we addressed his true message, which is, “I am afraid that I am not smart?” “I am excluding the majority of the human race from the ranks of the competition, because maybe then I’ll have a chance at success?”

Here are some other examples of projection that we as a society don’t really talk about:

The phrase: “Black people are lazy”

Said by White People, Who Literally Sailed to Another Country and Kidnapped People to Work for Them for Free Instead of Doing the Work Themselves

The word(s): You’re weak! You’re a Pussy!  and  He’s strong and tough! He’s got Balls!

Said by a group (men) whose very sensitive genitals will leave them helplessly writhing in pain at the slightest bump; said about another group (women) who genitals are able to give birth.

If anything in the entire world is tough, it’s pussies.

If anything in the entire world is fragile and weak and sensitive, it’s balls.

The phrase: Jews are greedy

Said by anti-semites who like to murder people and take all their stuff.

I wish it weren’t this simple. I wish the entire world’s geopolitical, societal, and community structures were not basically a grown-up version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

Alas, I fear it may just be so.

 

 

 

 

 

You Go, Girl

Every few weeks, the Trump administration will nominate someone absolutely appalling for something. Sometimes it’s a woman. And then we protest and they say, Well that’s not feminist of you.

Next up: Shelob the Giant Spider for Secretary of Treasury. “What? She’s a Strong Woman!”

Aside

Boise has a place called the “Plantation Country Club.” As if “Country Club” was not enough of a racially loaded term, they were just like, “yes but let’s add the word ‘Plantation’ in front of it, even though we weren’t even part of the Confederacy.”

Problematic Naming Conventions

Aside

I only started watching Dr. Who as an adult, and that’s when I realized belatedly that the way my high school boyfriend interacted with me was based entirely on his understanding of the Doctor-Companion relationship.

Relationship by Scarf