Friday, February 19, 2010

On Voting And Not Voting

Please note that this post is about no candidate or person in particular. It just exists on its own in a little blog vacuum. Not a dyson vacuum, just, like, a dirt devil vacuum. One with less suck.

So, why and how should we use individual's voting records to evaluate their qualifications for a particular job, to determine their character, or otherwise judge them? Should we at all?

A few things seem clear to me.

First, I can't think about individual voting records without recalling my first day in Gov 20 at CMC. Professor Pitney pushed us all to defend the argument that every vote counts. You want to piss off and frustrate the hell out of a class of government nerds, by the way, this is the best way to do it. We all but shouted "yes." We used the "if everyone picks a flower from this garden, eventually it will be bare, thus of course each individual action matters" argument.

But you know what. In most elections (and there's a big * here, post 2000, of course), a single vote doesn't count. That's not say it doesn't matter, in the virtuous sense, but it probably doesn't count. Again, in most elections.

Second, I used to be angry at non-voters. Really, viscerally angry. Until I realized I should thank them. Every person who doesn't vote makes my vote that much stronger. I'm happy to be left to make the decisions, thanks.

Anyway - what's clear to me . . . .

There seem to be one main reason and one main excuse employed by non-voters. The reason: I was busy. The excuse: doesn't matter anyway. Is either the reason or the excuse valid? Ish.

Some people really are busy. I'd argue no one could ever be too busy to register to vote, but perhaps one could be too busy to cast a ballot.

What's the more, er, politic excuse, however? Certainly not "doesn't matter anyway." A candidate can't use that line and go on to ask for electoral support.

A better excuse: I didn't get it before! I was so moved by 9/11/Obama/California's budgetary woes/abortion/marriage equality/whatever that I just couldn't stay home, finally paid some attention, and got my ballot in this time. We love a lesson-learned narrative in this country, no?

What if, however, we tweak that a bit? What if, instead of "I had a come-to-Jesus moment with myself," the candidate instead explains that, while facing business challenges stemming from government regulation, the candidate realizes that "politics" is perhaps the only route to success?

What do we do with that explanation?

Do we allow a candidate to use politics and government interchangeably? Are they interchangeable? In all cases?

In the absence of a lesson-learned narrative, what will we accept as a legitimate storyline?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Many Important People In My Life Are Democrats, Too

It's much, much too soon to be writing another post like this after Will's death, but I am again grieving the loss of another mentor and role model - Charmette Bonpua.

I met Charmette during my Assembly Fellowship on the first day I reported to my assigned office - then Assembly Member (soon to be Speaker) Herb Wesson. I had been warned by the previous fellow not to try to talk to Charmette before she had her morning coffee. Soon enough, in stormed a short, fiery Filipina with a single, burning mission to get some coffee. She may have grunted hello, but not much else. Ten or so minutes later, coffee in hand, she came over to my desk full of fire for the days work and enthusiasm over my arrival. The difference that coffee made was impressive.

Charmette was Herb's chief of staff and most trusted aide at many levels of his public service - most recently as he serves on the LA City Council. They were great friends and partners in politics - a perfect match of skill and temperament and vision.

The woman was scary smart. Emphasis on the scary. Well, and the smart, too. She passionately devoted her life to public service and whatever time was left after her day job went to working with young people and encouraging others to think past low expectations, to aspire to great things. I recall her once saying, tearfully (in a rare display of that sort of emotion), that she was told once she'd never amount to much in the US because of her accent, because she was just an Asian immigrant female. I think her core mission was making sure every girl in the state knew she had the potential to lead and affect change. And man did she have fun and love her job.

Charmette was only 44 when she died.

Rest in peace, Charmette, you will be greatly missed. Thank you for your service and your example.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sex Ed's Biggest Failure

I can vividly remember my high school sex-ed instructor showing us slides of genital warts. Really, really bad cases of genital warts. There were slides of genitalia infected with other sorts of sexually transmitted diseases as well, but the warts earned the biggest gasps and yelps of any photo flashed up on the screen. These were heinous cases: gardens of complex fungal structures like something you'd grow in a crystal growing kit Santa brings you in the fifth grade. Except on your junk. Certainly, those images helped convince many of us to wait and all of us to use protection.

I wonder, however, why pregnancy isn't more fully discussed in sex ed classes.

Yeah, it's discussed: you can get pregnant after just one sexual encounter; condoms aren't 100% effective; pregnancy will derail your college plans; babies are expensive. Yes, the notion that childbirth as a teen is something to avoid is well established. But I don't recall PREGNANCY being fully discussed at all. Or even glossed over, really.

Before we get to what details I'd like to see shared, I'll ponder why educators don't dwell on pregnancy more. First, I think there's a predominate "oh it's not THAT bad" opinion amongst many mothers whose shining babes erase from their minds the memory of how much pregnancy actually sucks nuts. Second, culturally, how could we expect young women and girls to continue to strive for the feminine ideal of motherhood if we spent a good chunk of time discussing its medical realities, rather than its romanticized ideals. Third, gotta procreate, so let's not make it seem ALL bad, mmm k? And motherhood is SO rewarding, why dwell on the other stuff?

But aren't we missing out on a key tool in the fight against teen pregnancy? How have we managed to take pregnancy out of the fight against teen pregnancy?

I keep looping a scene from a recent Private Practice in my head. In the episode, the 15 year old daughter of a main character admits to her parents she is pregnant. After much fighting and hand-wrining, the mother pulls the 15 year old into a birthing suite at said private practice and points to the panting, suffering, sweating, screaming, pain-riddled woman in labor and asks the 15 year old, roughly, look at that! Is that what you want?

A moment later, out pops a newborn, the woman stops moaning, and the 15 year old says, "yeah, but look at THAT." Read: look at the miracle of life mom, recognize what's really important.

Even if we take that as true for a 15 year old, does that negate the bad that comes before it?

I'm going with no and I think we should stop hiding the ball from young women about what pregnancy means, how taxing it is, and just how committed they'll need to be for 40 long weeks.

This blog has a good run down of stuff THEY won't tell you about pregnancy as well as the really awful, demoralizing way in which people respond to you if you bring up how crappy pregnancy is.

Not for one second has the notion that "it's okay, you'll forget the pain, the hormones have a good amnesiac effect and you'll just be in love with the baby" made what I'm going through NOW any better. That's great, later, but it's not great now.

The duration of recovery, what's involved in recovery, pregnancy sickness (good luck getting me to call it "morning" sickness), tearing, contractions, tearing, swelling, bleeding, crying, irrationality, weight gain, did I mention tearing?, and that final moment of actually birthing the child . . . . we don't think ANY of this might convince a girl to either wait to have sex or to tell her partner she doesn't care how much he needs proof of love or how much of a downer condoms are, it's condoms or no deal?

Are we cheating young woman out of information they should have to help make decisions about their sexual behavior? I think we are.

Yet even I am made to feel defective for "complaining" - as it is labeled by others; explaining as I would label it - by some people who are very close to me. And even I fear that I'm giving pregnancy a bad rap - because it's not supposed to be that bad and it's all supposed to be worth it, right? Our culture has a strong hold on us, ladies. I can barely fight it in my own head.

Parity, Childrearing, Expectations, And Stuff

Where's all the female entrepreneurs at, yo?

With no demonstrable differences between men and women when it comes to motivation and education, what's left to explain why the Valley (and like areas) are dominated by men and nearly devoid of women?

One writer says: It's the babies, stupid. The overwhelming assumption that women have babies and leave the workforce prevents them from being taken as seriously or expected to hang around long enough to put in the hours and years required of a successful venture:
We can bemoan a scarcity of female role models in tech, entice women into the math and science professions or even blame women who leave the work force to take care of kids for the lack of gender diversity, but to fix the problem, we're going to have to discuss the lack of parity between men and women when it comes to raising children.
Sounds about right to me.

Nothing emphasizes all that more for me than last night's birthing class. It was - blessedly - the final of five classes, a wrap-up edition covering whatever questions were left as well as what to expect after you've delivered. It was one of the more enjoyable evenings out of the series, complete with that great last-day-of-school feeling. Yet, the swirl of foregone conclusions and generalizations left me - predictably - thinking less about the mechanics of my impending labor and delivery and recovery and more about These, Our Times, And What Is Expected.

The instructor devoted a notable amount of time to warning Dads that they should be prepared to jump in and help as soon as they get home from work. If they need 10 minutes to unwind after a day at the office, better do it in the driveway before you come in the house.

The teacher explained most of the stressful aspects of adjusting to life with baby from that vantage point: woman home on maternity leave, man home, maybe, briefly, man back to work, woman stressed. Maybe woman goes back to work, maybe not.

I should mention that the discussion made me more appreciative than ever that my partner won't be going back to an office and will be able to stick with me during the first few moths. So very, very appreciative.

But then I started to worry: who will support him when I go back to work? The local hospital has a mom's group. The only "parents'" group is some random evening up in Roseville. Unlikely. My husband will be in completely uncharted territory - or at least, infrequently and inadequately charted territory - once I'm back at the office. The birth class narrative doesn't suit him any better than it suits me.