Archive for January, 2011

Bachmann’s SOTU response left out a few statistics

January 28, 2011

I love statistics. So when I heard the Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address — given by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) — something seemed amiss. Specifically, the unemployment numbers — they didn’t seem to be telling the whole story.

She compares unemployment numbers in 2001, 2008, and 2009, all in October  and all using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). October 2001 had a 5.3 percent unemployment rate, October 2008 had a 6.6 percent unemployment rate, and October 2009 had a spike of 10.1 percent.

Bachmann uses them to illustrate the poor state of the economy, wanting to dump the burden entirely on Obama and the until-recently Democrat-controlled Congress. But these statistics leave out some other important ones — like unemployment being on the rise since April 2008 and being 7.8 percent when Obama took office in January 2009.

Bachmann wasn’t lying about the numbers she used, those were all legit — but unsurprisingly, she used the statistics to paint a picture with specific colors, leaving out the ones that might stain her message, such as the fact that unemployment was on the rise throughout most of the last year of Bush’s presidency and was nearly 8 percent when he left office. Can we find a way to blame that on Obama?

Anyway, I figured I’d include some other BLS numbers to provide better context.

 

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Teen Mom: Don’t expect your ex to wait around for you

January 27, 2011

An interesting tidbit from Teen Mom 2 this week was Leah’s friend’s reaction to Leah and Corey getting back together. Even though Corey broke up with Leah because she cheated on him, the friend claimed it was sketchy that he had gotten with other girls since the breakup. “If he did care, he wouldn’t have been with other girls,” her friend told her. Uh … what??

First of all, here’s some background: Leah dated Robby for two years, they broke up, she hooked up with Corey as a rebound, and a month later, Leah was pregnant with Corey’s babies (twins). After the twins were born, she hung out with Robby again and cheated on Corey. Corey broke up with her. Leah wants Corey back now, but Corey doesn’t trust her.

Now, to address the friend’s comment: That comment would make perfect sense if Corey really did just break up with her to date other people. Or if he had just wanted a break for some other reason, and he was taking advantage of not officially having a girlfriend and hooking up with other girls. But Leah cheated on him, and Corey rightfully ended things.

Maybe it’s the movies that make us think that if someone truly loves us, they’ll put up with as much bullshit as we throw their way, stay alone and miserable, and just wait for us to return. Though even in The Notebook, Noah eventually starts hooking up with someone else when it’s apparent that Allie isn’t going to return his letters. Either way, the argument her friend introduces is ridiculous — you can’t treat someone like garbage and expect them to sit and take it forever. That’s not exactly what I would call “romantic.”

Coal miners shouldn’t have to sacrifice safety for paycheck

January 21, 2011

This story from NPR is tragic — it is an interview with the sister of Dean Jones, a coal miner who was killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 people on April 5, 2010, and it outlines not only the importance of safety precautions in coal mining, but the exploitative nature of the job because of the poverty and lack of jobs in Appalachia.

Dean’s sister Judy said he was obsessive about safety for his workers (Dean was a section boss) but Massey Energy — the company that ran the mine — wasn’t as concerned. In fact, Dean’s mother-in-law testified before Congress that, after stopping a mining operation because of safety concerns, the higher-ups threatened to fire him:

Jones stayed on the job, his sister says, because his son has cystic fibrosis, and might be difficult to insure if his dad switched jobs.

Dean wasn’t alone in worrying about the safety of the mines — many of Massey’s coal miners made similar complaints to family and friends about the poor ventilation and other safety concerns, but said they were afraid to speak up because it could mean losing their jobs. Some were even afraid of violent retribution for bringing up safety concerns — the wife of Michael Elswick, who was killed in the April explosion, said that her husband “always told me, ‘I know too much. If I get killed, it will not be my fault. If I get killed, hire a lawyer.'”

Steve Morgan’s 21-year-old son Adam was killed in the explosion, and Adam often confided in his dad about the terrible conditions. When he finally did tell his boss, his boss “told him if he was that scared, he needed to rethink his career.” And that attitude — the attitude that this is just the way things work, and if you can’t take it then get out — keeps Massey rich and workers quiet. They keep quiet because they need the jobs — the highest poverty and unemployment levels in Appalachia are in the areas with the most coal mining.

It is absolutely terrible and unjust that a company can exploit workers this way, and make them risk their lives to make a living every single day when those safety precautions exist and can be implemented. This is why the environmental justice movement exists — people are forced to work or live in toxic conditions, and their opposition often goes unheard or unsaid because they are poor and can’t afford to lose their jobs. Again, with the lack of jobs in Appalachia, for every person who wants to speak out about the safety conditions, Massey knows there are plenty of unemployed workers who would gladly replace that person.

The average number of coal-mining-related deaths per year seems to hover around 30, and no doubt, Massey sees such deaths as chump change — and I mean that literally, as I’m sure whatever profit it gains by working instead of stopping production to fix safety problems makes up for the settlements it doles out to families of the coal miners who are injured or killed because of those safety problems. It’s unfortunate for a company to view its workers this way, but the demand for cheap, coal energy is so high that it knows it can get away with view its workers that way.

The government has been right to conduct surprise and seemingly more thorough inspections, as with previous safety inspections at Massey mines, the second an inspector came, word went out and workers were instructed to make unsafe conditions momentarily look passable. According to Gary Quarles, who has 34 years experience in the coal mines and lost his son in the April explosion, workers also often felt out of place reporting safety violations after inspections:

In fact, for a miner working for Massey, the feeling is, “If an MSHA inspector fails to say anything about all these safety problems, what right do I have to say anything about them?” he said. “And I definitely would be terminated or retaliated against if I said anything.”

These surprise inspections are definitely necessary, as is some kind of protection for whistleblowers. The Mine Safety and Health Administration now has a hot line (877-827-3966) that people can call and leave anonymous tips concerning Massey safety problems. A safe working environment should be the rule, not the exception, and coal miners don’t deserve to be blackmailed and put in danger simply because Massey knows they can’t afford otherwise.

For a list of news articles concerning the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, visit http://www.wvgazette.com/News/montcoal or http://www.npr.org/series/131960177/massey-mine-investigation

Teen Mom: Is it wrong to date while still living with an ex?

January 21, 2011

Living with an ex isn’t easy, as Kailyn discovered this week on Teen Mom 2. She lives with her ex Jo and his family, shares a car with her ex, and relies so much on his family that she is constantly walking on eggshells when in comes to her personal life. When Jo found out she had a new boyfriend, he was furious, and his family followed suit — and from the looks of the previews for next week, they are kicking Kailyn out. But is this fair?

You can read Kailyn and Jo’s back story here. Obviously they are in a predicament, because Kailyn has nowhere else to live, Jo is the father of their baby, and Jo’s family has established that they think of Kailyn as family. His parents seem to be mad because they considered the break-up something temporary — Jo seems to be mad for other reasons, particularly that he thinks Kailyn is disrespecting him by dating someone else while living under his (parents’) roof.

But Jo broke up with Kailyn, which makes a big difference when it comes to the question of whether it is disrespectful or inappropriate for her to be dating while living with him in his parents’ house. Kailyn shouldn’t feel so reliant on his family that she remains in an unhealthy relationship for fear of retribution, but it would be presumptuous for her to break things off with Jo and then expect his family to babysit every night of the week while she hangs with her new beau.

Because Jo ended things, his parents really shouldn’t have so much animosity toward Kailyn — they are mad at her for moving on, but shouldn’t they focus more of that disappointment toward Jo? Also, when you end a relationship, you can’t be mad when your ex starts dating other people. Should Kailyn be forced to stay in relationship limbo, with Jo basically controlling every aspect of her love life because (1) he doesn’t want to date her but (2) doesn’t want her dating other people? Definitely not. Jo’s parents are the ones who truly have the last say because they own the house, but their son broke up with Kailyn — why punish her for it?

Things get messy when you are living with an ex, but when you are the dumper, you need to have some sympathy for the dumpee and even make some sacrifices (e.g. give up the bed and sleep on the couch for a while …) — as long as the dumpee wasn’t cheating or abusive, in which case, go ahead and have no sympathy. You also need to communicate and create ground rules — e.g. no bringing significant others back to the house — that allow for civility and respect, and you can’t assume one of those rules is going to be “no dating other people.” If you both agree on that rule, then great, but you can’t expect to break up with someone and then also prevent them from dating other people.

And, even though Jo’s parents think them being together is best for the child, they can’t force the relationship to work (definitely not by kicking Kailyn out for dating other people, at least). I’m sure they think they know best, but a child having two parents together is great in theory — not so great in practice when those parents do nothing but fight and yell at each other all the time, teaching the child that that is how a healthy relationship functions.

‘Jersey Shore’ couple shows forgiveness isn’t easy

January 14, 2011

While Jersey Shore might seem like nothing more than a show dedicated to working out, tanning, doing laundry, and partying, I actually am quite fascinated by Sammi and Ronnie, the couple of the Jersey Shore house whose relationship dynamics never cease to amaze me. On last night’s episode, the couple showcased a common relationship problem — forgiveness.

For those of you who don’t watch Jersey Shore, let me provide a recap: the show started as a reality show based in Seaside Heights, N.J., where people often spend their summers along the Jersey shore. Eight people lived in the house (well, one left almost immediately, but anyway), and Sammi and Ronnie started a relationship.

Next season, the show moved to Miami. Sammi and Ronnie were in a limbo kind of state regarding their relationship, and Ronnie would go to the clubs with the guys and make out with a bunch of girls, then come home and snuggle up with Sammi and tell her how much he loved her. They got back together, he said he wasn’t with any other girls in Miami, J-Woww and Snooki left her an anonymous note saying he did, drama ensued.

Now for season three, everyone is back in Seaside and Sammi and Ronnie are secluding themselves from the group. Actually, Sammi is secluding herself because she is pissed at the other women in the house for hiding knowledge of  Ronnie cheating, and she is guilting Ronnie into being secluded with her by bringing up what happened in Miami. And now we arrive at the topic of forgiveness.

Sammi wants to be with Ronnie and “forgive” him, but she also wants to use his cheating/lying to her as leverage when she wants something. In the house, she feels alone — she doesn’t want to lose her only ally, Ronnie, so when he decides he wants to hang out with the group, she immediately goes for this ammo — the problem is that it’s unfair to use the past as ammo if you’ve already agreed to forgive and try to move past it.

“It’s got to get to a point where it’s either get over it or move on,” Ronnie told Sammi. And he has a point — of course Sammi can feel sad or betrayed or angry, but if she is going to give him a second chance, she can’t keep beating him over the head with all the mistakes he has made. It’s tough to forgive and rebuild trust, which is why if you’re constantly going to use those incidents as weapons, you need to re-evaluate whether you want the relationship to continue — a reconciliation shouldn’t be a battlefield.

This is a common problem in relationships, and a lot of it is about evening the score. People on the surface want to accept apologies and offer forgiveness, but deep-down what really makes people feel better is a revenge of sorts — “you made me feel terrible, and I won’t feel better until you feel equally as terrible.” Sammi probably thinks that accepting Ronnie’s apology is letting him off the hook too easily, so she wants him to repent to her by doing whatever she says and proving his loyalty to her by ignoring everyone else in the house.

Of course, this attitude just leads to an unhealthy cycle of resentment and anger — now Ronnie feels treated unfairly by Sammi, who rather than making an attempt at moving past her feelings of anger and betrayal is keeping them in storage for use against him whenever he crosses her again. So then Sammi continues to feel betrayed because Ronnie isn’t showing undying devotion, and nothing progresses because the relationship is stalled in mutual feelings of anger, dishonesty, and bitterness.

Rebuilding trust is hard — I don’t blame Sammi for feeling unsatisfied with a simple apology and not thinking Ronnie understands her pain — but nothing can be rebuilt if you’re still stuck in the debris of the past. There comes a point when you have to choose between sitting in the rubble or clearing it and rebuilding — because you can’t build anything strong or stable on a rocky foundation.

Gender-neutral dorms don’t promote heterosexual cohabitation

January 13, 2011

There’s a new gender-neutral housing policy at my alma mater, Ohio University. Of course, the immediate opposition for some is that heterosexual couples will take advantage of gender-neutral housing and try to live with their significant others. Not only does this argument miss the main purpose of gender-neutral housing, but it also shows some ignorance about college life at public universities.

By the latter, I mean this: Heterosexual couples shack up all the time. They stay at each other’s places, they sexile their roommates, and they even could choose to live together off-campus when the time arises. If you think that gender-neutral housing is going to be what causes an epidemic of pre-marital sex and unplanned pregnancies, then you probably haven’t attended a public university recently.

But does it promote or advocate these things? Also, no. These policies discourage couples from living together, and honestly, most couples probably wouldn’t want to live together anyway — and the opportunity already exists once you’re eligible to live off-campus. How many unmarried couples did I know who lived together off-campus (and we’re talking planned it as they were a couple, not lived together and became a couple)? Zero. That’s because in college, people usually want to live with their friends, not significant others.

The people who would likely sign-up for gender-neutral housing would be LGBT people whose sexuality/gender identity doesn’t necessarily jive with the same-sex set-up that dorms typically have. Aaron Teskey, an alum of George Washington University, praised his alma mater for its new gender-neutral housing policy and shared some personal insight:

Like many queer students, I finally came out to my friends and family while at college. It was definitely a process though, and while at school students should be focused on learning, not worried about potential harassment or feel forced to hide their sexuality or gender identity from their roommates.

Teskey’s point identifies the core reason gender-neutral housing is necessary — because there is a very real danger of harassment with the forced same-sex living arrangements. You risk living with someone intolerant or homophobic, and for transgender people the level of intolerance is much worse. Students need to feel safe and comfortable in their living environment, and a gender-neutral living option can provide that.

Week 2: MTV still isn’t re-airing ‘No Easy Decision’ abortion special

January 7, 2011

In case you didn’t see my post from last week, MTV aired a special called “No Easy Decision” that documented 16 and Pregnant teen mom Markai through her decision to have an abortion, also interviewing two other young women at the end of the special who also had abortions. It was 30 minutes long, aired at 11:30 p.m., and aired once — its premiere — and not again during the next week. UPDATE: It’s not airing again this week, either.

I cannot reiterate enough how annoying this is, and how it’s obviously symbolic of how MTV (and many other people) feels about discussing abortion. Let’s just sweep it under the rug, because if we start talking about it too much then things will get heated. MTV was preeminently sweeping it under the rug, as it wasn’t even promoting the special before it aired (the link unfortunately underplays the lack of publicity and airtime).

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad the special exists at all — but I can’t wrap my head around why MTV went to the trouble of making such a groundbreaking special if it isn’t going to promote it, air it more than once, give it a prime time slot, or offer more than 30 minutes for the entire story to be told. Did it instinctively know that the opportunity to document someone’s decision to have an abortion was too important and relevant to pass up, but get cold feet when it had to face the possible wrath from advertisers and anti-abortion activists?

It simply continues to boggle my mind. There’s even a comment on the MTV community feedback website asking MTV to “please remove this show from your programming” (posted 15 hours ago, as of this blog post) — oddly enough, this viewer’s wish was granted long before the special premiered, as it wasn’t scheduled to be in MTV’s programming for very long at all.

This commenter likely didn’t even watch the special, as she complains that it glamorizes abortion — yeah, it looked like Markai was having a really great time deciding whether to have an abortion. It’s called “No Easy Decision” for a reason: it doesn’t glamorize abortion, but rather details how difficult of a decision it is. Maybe if anti-abortion activists actually watched the special, they’d learn something. Too bad they have to seek it out online to actually see it.

To watch the special online, go here. If you want to let MTV know how you feel about the lack of reruns, try Twitter: @MTV, with the hashtag #noeasydecision.

10 lessons I learned from having my purse stolen

January 6, 2011

Last weekend, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, someone stole my purse. When I told my mom this the next day, she said, “Well, I hope you learned something from all this.” At first, that really pissed me off — someone had stolen my stuff, and she was chiding me. After I simmered down, however, I realized she was right — this whole experience has taught me quite a bit, and maybe some of this information can help other people prevent a theft or be better prepared if they experience a theft (or just lose their wallet/purse).

1. Watch. Your. Stuff.

This was the obvious lesson my mom was hoping I learned, as the thief didn’t directly steal the purse from me, but snatched it from the table I set it on when I wasn’t looking. This seems like an obvious lesson to already know, but people grow a little too trusting. And people grow not very observant — my friends and I were at a bar, which wasn’t very crowded, and the purse was on a table right next to us. Between the five or six of us there, no one saw anyone come by and take it.

And this kind of theft — the kind where you don’t see someone take anything or it wasn’t physically taken from you — is classified as “lost property” to the police, which makes it even lower on the rung of priorities. It also makes it much more frustrating as the owner of said property, because I know that I didn’t “lose” anything, but I also know that in the eyes of the law, I lost it because I put it in an “insecure” location. Holding onto your stuff is a preventative measure that’s easy to take — I looked away for five or 10 minutes at the most, and it was gone. This goes for coats, too, if you put important stuff in the pockets when you go out.

2. Cancel your cards — immediately

I sent a very colorful and anxiety-ridden e-mail to my older brother as soon as I got to a computer, and he immediately responded that I needed to “calm down” and that cancelling my credit cards was a little bit drastic. I’m sure that this was because he didn’t know the situation, but it turned out that immediately canceling those cards was the right choice — someone tried to use my credit card that very night, but it was declined because I’d already canceled it.

3. File a police report

I was really hedging on filing a police report — I knew that the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, as the purse was long gone and it wasn’t physically taken from me, but snatched indirectly. It seemed like a lot of hassle for nothing, and I was already stressed out enough being without my ID, cash, and any access to my finances. But it was actually my boyfriend who convinced me to do it, and I’m glad he did.

He made a good argument — sure, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything with this case, but simply letting them know there was a theft means that it’s on the books. If no one filed police reports, the statistics would falsely show that the city is without crime, and problems wouldn’t be known about or addressed. It serves a community purpose to report crimes, and it could add to highlighting a specific crime that is increasingly common or crime in a certain area that is growing.

You should cover all your bases to track down your stuff, and you’ll also feel better knowing there’s an official record of the theft.

4. Keep some spare cash or a credit card at home

One of the worst things about someone stealing my purse is that I lost the cash I had with me, all my debit/credit cards, and my ID — I had no way to pay for anything. What I should’ve always had was a rainy day envelope of money in my house, so that if something like this did happen, I’d have the spare stash to use until the ID, debit, and credit card were replaced. Even a spare credit card would work — just something to tide me over.

Also, some banks will issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Chase does this) to tide you over til the new one comes in the mail, which would be extremely helpful, and other banks don’t issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Bank of America mails temporary debit cards — that is extremely dumb and counterintuitive, since they are mailing the regular debit card, too), which would not be very helpful at all. Anyway, that’s another path you could try if you lose your card or it’s stolen.

5. Debit gift cards — write that number down

If you’ve ever gotten a debit gift card and thrown away the receipt, think twice next time — there was a debit gift card in that wallet, which came with a card holder from the bank listing instructions on what to do if the card was lost or stolen. I actually had to dig through some garbage to even find that card holder (don’t throw those things away!), and when I did find it, it only had the last four digits of the card number on it.

Luckily, my dad — the one who got it for me — was able to go to his bank and track down the card number and have it canceled with only the last four digits. But I could’ve easily done it myself had I written down the full 16-digit number and the security code on the back of the card.

6. Temporary phone — very helpful

So another reason that spare cash under your mattress or emergency credit card is important is because, aside from buying you food or possibly paying your bills, it can get you a temporary, prepaid phone. As someone who doesn’t have a landline and only uses a cell phone, you don’t realize how important a phone is until it’s gone. And not because I can’t text or play Angry Birds, but because I simply can’t accomplish tasks that would help me toward restoring my stuff.

I used my boyfriend’s phone to cancel my cards and talk to the police (and he was kind enough to get me a phone with some prepaid minutes for emergencies), but there are other tasks that I can’t do without a phone, all of which revolve around replacing my stuff or dealing with the stolen purse. This becomes very frustrating. On the plus side, my mom is now using gchat to talk to me, and that can be pretty hilarious. (My mom, on gchatting:  “This is pretty good. Just like texting!”)

7. Keep your social security card at home

I used to carry my Social Security card around with me. I needed it for some job in college, and just kept it in my purse. I randomly needed it a few other times since then, and I thought it was nice to know where it was. Then last year, I took it out of my purse and put it somewhere safe, which I am glad I did — that thief could’ve done a lot of damage knowing my Social Security number, and I’m sure replacing a Social Security card is quite annoying. So — best to lock it somewhere safe, except the few times you actually need it.

8. Password protect your phone (if possible)/iPhone users — get the Find my iPhone app

Just before going out on New Year’s Eve, I put my passcode on (it was off so my mom could play Scrabble on my phone, obviously), and I’m glad I did. I didn’t even use the passcode before my older brother’s iPhone was stolen (actually stolen, like, “Here’s my gun, hand over that iPhone,” stolen), and I almost didn’t have it on the night it was taken. I don’t need some stranger having access to my e-mails, contacts, etc.

But the really nice thing was the Find my iPhone app that I had installed just a week before. This free version of the MobileMe app allows you to track your phone remotely, lock your phone remotely, wipe all your data from the phone remotely, and send messages/sounds to your phone remotely. Though the tracking only works if the phone is on, I was able to remotely lock the phone and display a message (OK, my brother was able to, as I was in a state of panic and was dealing with canceling cards) that the phone was lost/stolen and a number to call.

Though it was obvious the thief wasn’t going to return the phone, the app was helpful in two other ways. By tracking the few times the phone was on, I could make better decisions about how to proceed. The first time, it was very close to the bar where it was stolen, so I wasn’t sure if it was still there or not — the second time, it was in a completely different location, so I knew it wasn’t just sitting somewhere or ditched. And I knew it wasn’t coming back.

Which brings me to point number two — being able to remotely wipe your data. I should’ve wiped the data when it was obvious that the phone wasn’t coming back. I knew the thief wasn’t using it much and figured s/he couldn’t get through the lock, and it was my pride that was keeping me from just erasing everything. Once I erased everything, the thief would have full access to the phone in factory-sent format, and I thought that’d be letting him/her win.

In retrospect, I had to cut off service eventually anyway and get a new phone, so I should’ve just wiped the data when I had the chance. The Find my iPhone app is really helpful, especially if you just lose it in your house and can’t find it (you can remotely have it make a sound for two minutes to help find it), but it’s addicting if the phone is gone because it leaves you with this sense that you can still find it — it also leaves you feeling especially frustrated, because you can see where the phone is, but you can’t just drive over and pick it up. So, install the app, but don’t get carried away.

9. Documents — keep them all somewhere

This theft has also brought to my attention that I really do not keep track of important documents very well. Instead of having a filing system or one place for everything, I have folders, bags, and boxes each containing random pieces of mail or important documents — this is not very helpful when you know the document exists, just have no idea where it is. Especially if you’ve recently moved — keeping everything together will save a lot of hassle.

10. Don’t shy away from help — take it

I hate asking for help and have hated feeling so dependent on other people this week, but I’m glad to have those people to depend on, because otherwise I probably would have had three anxiety attacks simply from worrying about how to replace things and how to go about my daily routine without any money whatsoever. I acknowledge that it could have been much worse and that people go without money and other necessities everyday, but these were my personal circumstances, and I want the people who have been helping me out to know that I really, really appreciate it.