Monday, June 25, 2018

Calling NYC 311 About a Downed Tree at 3:22 a.m. with My Dad in the Car Went as Expected

Me: *dials 311 on speaker from passenger seat*
Cheery Female Robot: Hello! Thank you for calling 311! We’re here to help! If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Otherwise, press 1 to continue in English. Press 2 for other languages.
Me: *presses 1*
Robot: Okay. Let’s get started. What can I help you with? Say what you need, like, “jackhammer noise” or “left violin in cab” or “tax preparation.”
Me: Tree in road.
Dad: *from driver’s seat* Tell her where it is.
Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.
Me: *speaking slowly and loudly, as if to a half-deaf moron* THERE’S A DOWNED TREE ON THE RAMP TO THE OUTBOUND GWB AND IT’S BLOCKING THE ROUTE TO THE BRIDGE AND YOU CAN BARELY GET AROUND IT AND IT’S GONNA CAUSE A HUGE TRAFFIC JAM IN ABOUT TWO HOURS.
Dad: Tell her Riverside Drive.
Me: Oh my God. ON RIVERSIDE DRIVE.
Robot: We seem to be having trouble. Let’s try this again.
Me: Let’s not. *smashes 0 on keypad 100x*
Robot: Okay, please wait while I transfer you to a representative. This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. *hold music plays*
Me: No good deed goes unpunished.
Dad: *cackles uproariously*
Surly Human Female With Thick NY Accent (SHFWTNYA): 311 can I help joo?
Me: Yeah, I’m just trying to report a tree in the road.
SHFWTNYA: Okay ma’mm dass gon’ be department a parks and recreation so lemme trans—
Me: No seriously I’m just trying to stop a big traffic jam because there’s a tree in the road.
SHFWTNYA: Okay where’s the tree at ma’mm?
Me: Riverside Drive outbound ramp to the GWB.
SHFWTNYA: Okay ma’mm is it like a limba da tree or wha happen?
Me: No it’s like the whole tree. I think it blew over in the storm last night. It’s lying across the road.
SHFWTNYA: Okay it’s lying IN the road? 
Me: Yes.
SHFWTNYA: Oh dass gon cause a yooge backup in a coupleah howahs.
Me: DASSWHATIMSAYIN!
SHFWTNYA: You know wha? Imma bring in 911 on dis, cuz dis sound like a hazard.
Me: DASSWHATIMSAYIN! *hold music*
Dad: *now collapsing over steering wheel in hysterics as he passes Kearney exit on the NJ Turnpike*
911 SHFWTNYA: 911 what’s your emergency?
Me: Well it’s not really an emerg—
911 SHFWTNYA: I can’t hear you m’aam. Wasssa address?
Dad: Tell her 1051 Riverside Drive.
Me: 1051 Riverside Drive.
911: SHFWTNYA: Wha happen?
Me: Okay, so there’s a tree in the road ...




Friday, June 22, 2018

No Time to Hate

The opposite of love, it’s often said, isn't hate. It’s indifference. The older I get, the more I appreciate the meaning of this adage and its relationship to time.

Time is a diminishing resource. When you’re young, though, time feels infinite. For example, I think about the twelve years between first and twelfth grades. How long they seemed. How much I changed. How much happened. Then I think about the last twelve years, and they just feel like a blur of work and parenting with fewer immediately noticeable changes.

One change, however, feels very noticeable to me, and that’s the confidence with which I use my time and my voice. 

How I use my time and how I use my voice feels like an increasingly critical decision with every passing day, especially now. I’m careful and thoughtful (or I try to be) with my time and my voice, in order to maximize the likelihood that the uses to which I put them will ultimately feel good and right to me.

To that end, I’ve cultivated a sort of numb indifference to bigots and propaganda-peddlers who are wholly immune to facts, data, science, or reason. I don’t “hate” these people. I feel sad that they themselves are consumed with hate, motivated by anger, and living in ignorance and fear. I’m horrified that their ideas are apparently shared by so many of my fellow citizens. I try not to let my social media accounts serve as a platform for their vitriol.

But I’m ultimately indifferent to them, because anything short of indifference is a waste of my time and my voice.

Every minute I spend reading or responding to an insane comment or trying to change a bigot’s mind, or defending myself and my ideas and actions through direct engagement with a bigot, is one less minute I have with my family. It’s one less minute I have with my friends. It’s one less minute I have for my own writing and activism. It’s one more impediment to the tiny little dent I try to make in issues of social justice. It’s one more distraction from everything that matters.

To invite these futile interactions into my life is to allow bigots to rob me of my most valuable resource: my time. And time, more than ever, is of the essence.

Like the song goes: Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait.




Wednesday, June 20, 2018

This is All Very Black and White

The artist and activist Bree Newsome wrote on Twitter today:
The issue of immigration in the United States is and always has been inherently racist. It’s an issue of a white colonialist state enacting policies designed to maintain a white majority that has only ever existed due to genocide and colonialism.
Every sovereign nation-state has borders, but the current immigration crisis isn’t about American sovereignty. It’s about racism. Full stop.

Every non-indigenous person in America was an immigrant here at some point, including, of course and very recently, Donald Trump’s family and his own third wife. But that doesn’t matter, because their skin is white.

Let it not be lost on us that the current family separation crisis impacts—nearly exclusively—brown families. If these were white families, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all, because white babies would not be in internment in America, separated from their parents, with no guarantee of reunification.

Period.

And that is because America as a matter of policy and culture values white life over brown life. That is a fact. It’s not a secret and it’s not subject to debate. It’s true as a societal matter, it’s true on a microcosmic and macrocosmic scale. It doesn’t mean people with white skin don’t struggle or aren’t poor; it means that their skin color does not present an independent impediment to their lives or immediately devalue them in the eyes of society.

I’m acutely aware of my own “white-passing” privilege. I call myself white and I consider myself white, although many other white people don’t consider me to be white because I’m Jewish. But I have lived my entire life in America benefiting from white skin, and unlike other members of my family, was lucky enough not to be born in Eastern Europe in the 1930s.

Ask yourself this:

In an administration that employs open white nationalists, secured the white nationalist vote and earned the vocal support of the KKK, calls Nazis “very fine people,” and targets the “economic anxiety” of “working class whites” for its support and most insidious propaganda, do you really think the immigration debate is about anything more than racism toward poor brown people? The myths—the lies—that this population takes jobs, drains resources, or commits crimes at any greater rate than the native-born public is rooted in simple white supremacy.

This article in the FAILING NEW YORK TIMES gives a good breakdown of immigration myths and global realities. Here’s an interesting snippet from it:
A study based on surveys in the United States and a variety of European countries by the economists Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva found that people across the board vastly overstate their immigrant populations. The overestimates are largest among particular groups: the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right. They overstate the share of immigrants who are Muslim and understate the share of Christians. They underestimate immigrants’ education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. Almost a quarter of French respondents, as well as nearly one in five Swedes and about one in seven Americans, think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. In no country is this true.
But in all of these countries, it’s true that whiteness retains primacy and supremacy and is code for all that is good and right, while brown skin is meant to signal the opposite of these things. The world has limited resources and at least on a macro-global level, people with white skin have plundered way more than their share of those resources for centuries, at the expense of brown people’s lives and bodies, based on a sense of entitlement derived from their white skin.

It’s not at all surprising that they’re trying to retain the status quo.





Monday, June 18, 2018

Y2Kray

I’m old enough to remember all the hype at the turn of the century—Y2K—when, with the flip of a switch at 11:59 on December 31, 1999, all of civilization as we knew it was supposed to instantly crumble when clocks, computers, and other date-reliant mechanisms would suddenly quit working. I was at a concert off the grid in Florida then, and I remember calling my dad from my Nokia cell phone early in the morning on January 1. 

“Is the world still turning? What happened?” I asked. Nothing, of course, was the answer.

I’ve thought of Y2K often in relation to the specter of creeping authoritarianism and disregard for constitutional norms that we're seeing with the Trump administration, and ask myself if it’s possible people are “overreacting.” But, as the writer Virginia Heffernan said recently on Twitter, she cannot identify a time in history when a population has “overreacted" to corruption and kakistocracy on this scale.

I don’t actually think America is the next “Nazi Germany,” if only because—and this is Trump’s saving grace—the man's mercurial self-absorption and lack of coherent ideology hopefully foreclose the kind of cold, calculated extermination efforts we saw there and in other genocides. Which is not to say that irreparable damage cannot be and is not currently being done to people who are not you or me.

And this is critical, I think. I’m seriously disturbed by my so-called “friends” on social media who are defending the family separation policy: 

“These people are breaking the law!” No they’re not, many are seeking legal asylum, or being intentionally prevented from doing so through legal means. And anyway, Jim Crow and slavery were once “the law” too.

“But kids and parents don’t get to stay together in America when parents go to jail!” American kids and parents aren’t separated from each other by armed agents, without a trial, with no assurance of reunification, with no idea when they will ever see each other again, and "lost" to unknown persons. 

“But it’s the law, and prior administrations did it!” No, it’s not the law, and no, prior administrations did not have a “zero tolerance” border policy that led to family separations. Also, of course, the United States has a looooooong and ignoble history of forcibly separating families of color.

I almost can’t blame my "friends" for being misinformed, though I pity their lack of compassion amid a lot of professed piety and religiosity, might I add. Part of the difficulty of living in this time is the confusing, conflicting, and endless stream of information we get 24/7 from sources ranging from downright insane to generally credible. That makes it very hard to get to the bottom of what the “truth” is, and that, of course, is one of the tools used by propagandists to confuse the public.

The point is, I know three things for a fact: (1) A lot of VERY wrong things are happening in this country right now, mostly to people of color; (2) Only but for the Grace of God do none of these very wrong things directly affect me right now; and (3) IDGAF what I have to do to make it stop.

Geoff says I should focus on local things, stuff here in Juneau. Well, I do that, I serve on the AWARE board and do pro bono cases locally, among other service and volunteer work where I can. But now I’m committed to ending this family separation policy and working on immigration issues because, to paraphrase the Martin Niemoller poem, first they come for "them", and no one says anything; then they come for you, and no one is left to help.

I’m partnering with people in Alaska who do immigration work right now to see what I can do remotely until the winter when, if help is still needed, I plan to travel to the Southwest and lend whatever elbow grease I can to this issue.

Maybe I and other fortunate people will be able to say “no big deal, this was just Y2Kray,” but for lots of human beings, this administration is already the totally un-American humanitarian disaster it’s been hyped up to be.





Friday, June 15, 2018

The End of Mystery


So I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How in 2018, we are really and truly at the end of mystery. Here’s what I mean.

When I graduated high school in 1995, if you lost touch with someone, that was it. You might be able to call 411 or look them up in the White Pages, but if a person moved away from your immediate orbit and went off the grid, that was it. They were gone. You never heard from them again, and you had no idea what happened to them. For all you knew, they could have died in a fire.

When you took pictures, you had to wait to develop the film. The best you could hope for was a one-hour photo booth, but beyond that you had no idea what was in that little envelope of prints and negatives until you’d flip through it quickly in the CVS parking lot and be like, “oh yeeeeeeah, I remember that party from three months ago, God I was so wasted.”

And if you were intimate with someone, what was under their clothes was a black hole (no pun intended). What color are their nipples? Do they have a 70’s bush? Is their dick weird? You weren’t going to find out the answers to these questions until show time. You were going in blind, and you’d better have your game face on at the moment of the big reveal.

No more. 

Now because of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, you have the answers to all of these questions instantly. What’s more remarkable, even, than the volume and level of information you have access to is the size of the gulf between the total void of information that once existed, and the absolute granular level of information that exists now.

Let me illustrate this with a few scenarios:

Scenario 1: The Photograph

1995: I wonder what’s on this random roll of film?
2018: OMG DELETE

Scenario 2: The Make-Out

1995: I wonder what s/he looks like naked?
2018: Send nudes.

Scenario 3: Whatever Happened To?

1995: I wonder if so-and-so is still alive?
2018: I haven’t spoken to so-and-so in 30 years, but yet somehow I'm privy to the fact that they have an 18-month old son named Nate who ate strained carrots for dinner last night.

I’m not really saying this is good or bad. I’m just saying it’s 2018 and mystery is dead.

Sun Rays Through the Tree Leaves and Mist

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summiting Denali with Isaac is an Insurmountable #LifeGoal

I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to know that there are simply some things I’ll never do. Things that other people do here routinely like they’re NBFD.

For example: surfing in 35-degree water, kayaking across the Gulf, shooting caribou hot dogs on the North Slope, or summiting Denali—the highest peak in North America. I wouldn’t do it with a guide. I wouldn’t do it with my son. I wouldn’t do it in the spring. I wouldn’t do it with a fling. I wouldn’t do it with my mom. I wouldn’t do it all alone. Just pretend Denali is green eggs and ham, except covered in snow year-round and based in Talkeetna, and at the end I still refuse to eat that shit.

That doesn’t mean I’m not awestruck by adventurers who have the balls to do something as daring and brave as summit Denali, much less a MOM who does it with her teenage son and no guide. 

Beth Bragg’s report in the Anchorage Daily News that Canyon Tobin, 19, and his mom, Nora Miller, 50, summited Denali together in likely the first unguided mother-son duo to bag the peak got me thinking about a couple things: (a) how incredibly badass this was; and (b) how the likelihood of me summiting Denali with Isaac is about as high as me winning the lottery and using the prize money to buy new boobs. Not that I’ve considered this. I just maybe know someone who has.

Point is, this is light years away from an activity I imagine myself doing with Isaac, who granted is only 7, but who based on our current relationship seems highly unlikely to acquiesce to something like this in his teen years or any other time.

According to the article, Canyon was named after Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, where Nora and her ex-husband, Carl Tobin, went on their second date. Nora fell 110 feet and Carl saved her life.

Well see now there’s your first problem.

Isaac is named Isaac because I was originally going to name him Jude, but then decided at the last minute that Jude sounded too much like “Jew” for a Jewish kid who is growing up in Juneau. I kept muttering “Jude, Jew, Juneau” over and over until I landed on something more Gentile. 
Then I waddled home and took a sterile shower to ready myself for my scheduled C-section the next day. I think Geoff brought me a jar of jalapeno-stuffed olives at one point during that weekend, and I might have said “OMG YOU FUCKING SAVED MY LIFE WITH THESE,” but that’s where the similarities end. 

Canyon and his mom “took turns pretending to pull each other out of a crevasse” in their garage. I can’t even get Isaac to find his cleats and lunchbox in our goddamned garage. And I can’t get him to summit his bunk bed at night without both of us losing our shit within 15 seconds.

So the thought of being “roped together for nearly two weeks” and “sharing a small tent and spending very little time apart” with “never any big tension between us” seems improbable, at best.

The last time Isaac was roped to me, it was with an umbilical cord. And I think that’s exactly how he’d like to keep it. Oh he’s athletic enough. After all, he tempts fate and paralysis daily in baseball, snowboarding, and leaping from high places for no reason at all. His sense of self-preservation is non-existent, so it’s not that I can’t see him becoming a mountain climber (despite the fact that making him walk three blocks is torture). It’s just that I can’t see him becoming a mountain climber with ME. Not only because of my complete ineptitude, but because of Isaac’s desire to get as far away from me as possible, as frequently as possible.

If I so much as try to kiss Isaac on the top of his head he screams “NO KISSES!!!” and pretends he doesn’t know me when I leave him with his teenaged snowboarding instructor. He criticizes my pitching, claiming I throw inadequate “breaking balls” and “sinkers.” When I recently recounted the story behind a scar on his forehead, and the quick-thinking mothering that followed, he rolled his eyes and said “please don’t remind me of such a dark time in my life.”

In short, Isaac already thinks I’m a hopeless source of mortification. So if I told him he had to be roped to me for nearly two weeks—for any reason—and live in a tent with me and only me while we were climbing to the top of a mountain, he would probably collapse in a hysterical heap of snot and tears at the mere thought of it.

So mad respect to Canyon and Nora for what seems, to me at least, an impossible Mother/Son Life Goal.





Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Open Letter to Senators Murkowski and Sullivan on ICE Family Separations

Dear Senators Murkowski and Sullivan,

You have been shamefully silent on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy (i.e., not a law) of allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to forcibly separate children from their parents at the country’s southern border, with no explanation or assurance of reunification, and your constituents want to know why.

You are both parents yourselves, so surely you understand the fear and heartbreak that immigrants to our country—many of whom are legally seeking asylum from unspeakable conditions at home—are facing. Attorney General Sessions' current policy is more reminiscent of Nazi Germany's Gestapo than it is Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty that have made America a beacon of hope to asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees for decades.

We want to know if, or why, you are apparently okay with what’s happening here, and with being complicit in your party’s human rights abuses of children.

We want to know if or why you are okay with a policy that the American Academy of Pediatrics called “appalling” in its “sweeping cruelty” and warns can “cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short and long-term health.”

We want to know if or why you are okay with children crying themselves to sleep because they don’t know where their parents are.

We want to know if or why you are okay with a father committing suicide in ICE detention after his three year-old child was taken from him, in hysterics.

We want to know if or why you are okay with ICE agents lying to parents, saying their children are being taken for questioning or baths, until it dawns on them that their children are not coming back, and they have no idea how or when they will be reunited.

We want to know if or why you are okay with ICE forcibly separating children from parents, even though the parents are LEGALLY presenting themselves for asylum at U.S. ports of entry.

We want to know if or why you are okay with children being warehoused in unsanitary and dangerous conditions where they are subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of ICE agents, and later “lost” to human traffickers. 


In America.

We want to know if or why you're okay with President Trump erecting "tent cities" (i.e. concentration camps) to house unaccompanied children?

Again, in America.

We want to know if or why you're okay with this policy, even though it's more expensive than keeping families together, considering that you're "fiscal conservatives?"

We want to know if or why you are okay with a “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy—NOT A LAW—that weaponizes children in an immigration war begun long ago, but waged with a new and breathtaking heartlessness by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, and built on fear, bigotry, misinformation, and white supremacy.


We want to know how you can live with yourselves knowing these things are happening on your watch, by your party. In America. Is this America in 2018, or 1933 Berlin? Your constituents and basic principles of human rights demand that you answer these questions and that you answer them now.



John Moore/Getty Images