September 2011


This is my response to Melina Kennedy‘s appearance today on No Limits. Ms. Kennedy is a mayoral candidate. No Limits is a local radio program.

I asked a question about immigration and mayoral initiatives regarding the issue, and was pleased to hear of Ms. Kennedy’s support of the Indiana Compact and keeping immigration under federal purview. Unfortunately, it seems that in many ways immigration is off the radar locally. While Ms. Kennedy referenced SB 590, which pitted state against federal authority, she did not address other initiatives like HB 1402 or the international tuition rates to be charged students without documentation (regardless of how long they’ve lived in the US: if they had been raised here, attended school here, graduated here, paid state and local taxes here, and so forth – you could call it the Anti-DREAM Act, if you like).

Also: the man who presented HB 1402 had no evidence that universities had a problem with students tuition rates, or any data about what percent of students the law would pertain to, or what effect it might have. This was just some guy who thought it would be more fair even though he didn’t previously know that immigrants without legal documentation pay the same state and local taxes that support our universities as do legal residents of Indiana – residency is a tax status. OK, big breath – in, out – and carry on.

I am looking for initiatives in my community that address these issues. The issue is not whether immigrants are or should be here, because they are here. Indianapolis is promoted by the governor, businesses, and economic development committees alike as a “global city” – how will we respond to the changes in our city? Will we renew old allegations surrounding “white flight” with gentrification and continue to marginalize minority groups and the poor? Or can we find new and creative ways to meet this issue and discover approaches wherein we all benefit?

Ms. Kennedy said today that she hopes improvements in early childhood education will be a hallmark of her tenure as mayor. To achieve this goal, she will have to address a myriad of issues plaguing IPS. Getting people to think of IPS as a place to educate their kids is part of that; there are also a whole host of kids already in IPS whose performance suffers from all the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed. We need to improve our neighborhoods and to show our kids that there are opportunities for them in life. Many of those kids just lost the opportunity to go to college, no matter how well they do in primary and secondary schools. What will they do instead?

“All the traditional reasons that urban students fail to succeed” are in key ways amplified for children of immigrants. If we cannot find ways to address immigration at a local level, we will continue to have a large group of people who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options (in addition to the other groups who are poor, disenfranchised, with few options). I agree that the Indiana Compact is a good start; Indiana has no business looking to reform federal policy. But if the State Congress can so severely limit the ability of good, hardworking kids to attend university, surely there are other proactive steps we can take as a community to build up all the residents. We need to act – and create policy – according to the understanding that people are human regardless of citizenship, and no person can be “illegal.”

International Law tells us that countries have a duty to protect all  people within the territory of that country. We learned this lesson from atrocities like genocide. We also learned that policies leading to atrocities begin with institutionalization of “otherness,” of hierarchies of belonging and citizenship. Slavery was possible in that the slaves were considered three-fifths a person – less than human – and that was a constitutional compromise. Society has changed, but it still regards many of the people who come here chasing the American Dream to be less than citizens. There are clear reasons for maintaining precise methods by which one may become a citizen. Yet, if we regard a group of people as ‘illegal’ and therefore unworthy of citizenship, we go beyond promoting legal entry and instead castigate and marginalize that group of people, and alienate others who identify with that group. There are institutional tiers that deal with different aspects of immigration: international treaties; federal laws, regulations, and enforcement; state laws (like tuition accessibility); yet we still live and function at a local level. What can we do here, where we live, work, play, and learn, to build tolerance and support structures in our communities? Can we integrate the still-disparate groups in our communities into one thriving, multi-cultural, beautiful and safe place to be? Those final steps of community building can only occur at a local level. I would hope any mayoral candidate would be willing to pursue that kind of community as a point of policy.

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Woot! It’s co-op day! Every Tuesday I’m like a kid in a candy store, only with fruit, veggies, and other awesome deliciousness! In honor of my giddy excitement to see what the week’s order will bring, let’s hear it for food-themed Tuesdays!

If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I am totally one of those hyper-intensive food moms. Really a hyper-intensive all-around mom. Not the kind that follows kids around with de-germ-ifyer, but the kind that will spend hours trying to figure out how exactly to make a balanced diet that her kids (including the larger-than-life grown-up one) will actually eat. I remember growing up with stories about all the food my great-grandma would make for the family, and how she taught my grandma to cook, but the foods I remember eating as a kid are frozen pizza, macaroni-and-cheese, and Kids’ Cuisine frozen dinners. My mom was always really good about making sure that we had fruit and vegetables with dinner – I definitely remember trying to hide brussel sprouts under the napkin! But she was busy, worked long hours, and needed easy dinners.

I have felt compelled to relearn all my nutritional knowledge over the last few years. The springboard for this was when I was “spilling sugars” when I was pregnant with my youngest. We had awesome midwives, and they really helped me to understand what was going on as a long-term trend, rather than a temporary condition called “Gestational Diabetes.” In short, I had a really poor understanding of what parts of food become sugars. I mean, sugar is a sugar, but so are carbs, starches, etc. So our awesome cheap-food diet was working against me. For all those who have ever wondered how poor people can be overweight, it’s right there in the processed food box. Pasta, rice, white bread, potatoes, and on and on… Inexpensive foods you can find at the dollar store because your neighborhood lacks a real grocer. Pretty much all of those foods-in-a-box break down into sugar.

I also learned there are simple and complex carbs, some foods have a lower glycemic index, and ok so I’m still a bit fuzzy but I know to buy colored potatoes and whole grains. I also know if I can find the blue/purple potatoes, my daughter will eat them! I know to work in leafy greens, and try to use a variety of vegetable-colors. I also figured out that molasses is a good iron source, but I have a harder time keeping straight how to get the kids calcium and iron but not together…

It’s not as simple as avoiding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in favor of more “natural” sugars either. While the jury is still out on the effects of HFCS compared to cane or beet sugar, I think that a survey of the nutritional info on the side of our food packaging suggests at least one certainty: we put sugar in everything, in large quantities, a lot. Soda may use HFCS instead of cane sugar, but we also started drinking cases of soda each week, and a lot of other sweetened foods as well. It takes crazy amounts of work to find food that doesn’t break down in some fashion to sugars. And by “crazy amounts of work” I mean the easiest, most consistent way has been to just prepare our meals from scratch.

*GASP* (Yeah, “from scratch” is the crazy part.)

But I make a mean spelt pizza. And some other stuff, although I almost never start out with a recipe. I have basic categories that I fill with appropriate food. My kids will eat fruit and dairy all day long, so dinners are protein and veggies, and maybe some decorative flavoring also. And it’s working. My daughter knows she has to eat certain kinds of food to fill out her diet, to turn food into energy she can use. When she came home from school upset because someone called her fat (!!!) (also, she’s a freaking string bean – I’ve worried about her being underweight since she was a baby) we talked about what it means to be healthy, how you can be overweight OR underweight, and neither is healthy. As we talked about what foods are healthy foods, I realized: she has no conception of any other dietary practices. She doesn’t see commercials. She knows she likes Pop-Tarts but can’t have them, but all those other cereal-candies aren’t even on her radar! You have to realize, this is the same kid who ate fast food three nights a week when I was an undergrad and didn’t know what else to do; she doesn’t ask for McNuggets anymore. We’ve come really far, and I’m really, really excited about it. But it has been a journey.

The good news is that nutrition is a really good way to direct my neurotic tendencies in a way that benefits my family without overwhelming them. They just get to eat really good food. Except for last night – it turns out that the purpleness of cabbage does not compensate for the vegetableness of cabbage, at least in my daughter’s opinion.

Immigration is an issue that I keep near and dear. It may be one of the greatest challenges the United States currently faces, because it requires so much self-analysis and truth telling in one shot. Immigration makes people stop to think: who are we, where are we headed – as a society, an economy, as the power-that-is.

More than anything else, when we are presented with arriving immigrants who some perceive to be threatening ‘our culture,’ we are forced to consider who we are. Are we “Americans?” Have we become “natives?” Are we one group or a pluralistic society? How do we identify and position ourselves in response to changing society? Who has the right to decide what our society is and will become?

The perceived polarization of national and local politics in the US suggests that immigration is not an isolated issue but is a part of a complex array of issues. Polarization results from contemporary issues because society perceives a crossroads is at hand. The US’ international status is changing diplomatically, militarily, economically. We are unlikely to remain the worldly superpower – but what do we become? When the status quo is no longer available, will we revert to a perception of simpler times or do we find new ways to affect (hopefully positive) change in our world?

Immigration, which in reality is a surprisingly old issue, mirrors the impression of either-or conservatism or liberalism because immigrants can either adapt to a new society or that society can adapt in response to immigrants. Whereas World Wars I and II acted to unite a country of disparate groups into “Americans,” current trends in immigration and multiculturalism offer few indicators that immigrants will reconsider their heritage(s) anytime soon.

Indeed, many immigrants with tenuous legal status consider themselves temporary residents.  Immigration patterns used to follow a seasonal ebb and flow, whereas tightened border security has made the journey so dangerous that few return to Mexico, knowing the return journey would be arduous at best. Moreover, these workers have deep ties to life and society in the US, although they may often be overlooked. For centuries now lifestyles in the US are sustained with resources from the “undeveloped nations.” Economics tell us that it is only logical to buy the cheapest good available; on a global scale, competition for buyers and limited government in the undeveloped world has enabled the US to extract those resources at prices that benefit buyers in the US much more than the foreign workers who make the supply possible. The disparity currently works against all workers, to the benefit of the corporations, yet workers often perceive their struggle as against other workers and not against those who profit from the inequalities. It is enforced disparity elsewhere that makes the journey to the US not simply appealing but necessary for so many. Now we are confronted with the poverty that is necessary for us to afford to live as we do, and yet we turn away and blame the poor, the disaffected, the immigrants for our selfishness. To do otherwise would require us not only to acknowledge our gains at another’s expense, but to change the way we live, purchase, consume, and pursue “happiness.”

I don’t know what it is about the Google anti-trust hearings going on that has me so worked up. I keep wavering between the notion that there is no anti-trust issue and that Google’s services are free besides, and the possibility that maybe there is some monopolistic tendencies but I like Google. To really get the effect, there is a bit of foot-stomping with that italicized ‘like’ up there ^^.

In brief, Google’s would-be competitors dislike their standing in Google’s search results. The more complicated explanation from Yelp, for example, is that Google takes its content and publishes it without permission, and on Yelp’s protest Google threatened to remove Yelp from search results entirely. So yeah, that sounds pretty unfair, but I do wonder… Google displays reviews, including those from Yelp, as an aggregation of web results, which is kind of how Google does everything. If that’s true, then Google would be removing Yelp from those results to prevent their display. But all that assumes that Google’s Places works like Google’s basic Search, by aggregating results, but of a specific type, in this case, of reviews available on the internet. If the reviews are useful, one can click to follow just like on the basic Search.

I think the real problem has more to do with internet enterprises being so dependent on Google to do business – and that’s their problem, not Google’s. In the traditional business world, it would be foolish to expect a standard yellow pages listing to attract a large business following. That’s why yellow pages allowed advertising, why businesses advertised in.. wait… what were those? Oh – newspapers. How are any of these web sites and corresponding businesses relevant to my life? Well, they aren’t, but I’m unusually not-open-to-buying-things (i.e. – poor). But if I were open-to-buying-things, would Yelp, for example, be of any use? Not really. When we do spend money, where we go usually involves some old fashioned social capital: our friend works here, this place sponsored our school’s last event, etc. We are, you could say, discerning (you know, if you were nice about calling us cheap!). The problem with Google’s competition is that they haven’t found a way to make themselves relevant… at all.

You know who is relevant? Google. We chose an urban public school district (on purpose, even) where resources are a big issue. The technology at our school isn’t what we would like. High up on my list of resources I would like to see, as a parent, is an online platform that allows parents, students, and teachers easy, coordinated communication, where I can see homework, read newsletters, teachers can send emails, etc. We don’t have that now, but that kind of platform has become an intrinsic resource for higher education, and I think its absence is to my child’s detriment. Well, it turns out Google offers just such a platform, for free, for educational institutions. It’s the same apps package it offers businesses (and non-profits at a discounted cost). Google makes tangible efforts to benefit people’s lives in key ways, and that increases their social capital in a unique way. In other words, they make themselves relevant in real life in a positive way, while other online enterprises have stuck to the internet without getting creative in their marketing; I can only assume they are squirreled away in the intertubes counting acorns somewhere…

 

I decided that sometimes my rants are, in fact, good ideas gone wild. Three years ago, I harassed a friend at length about how Obama should take advantage of the need to create jobs and boost flagging industry to boost the green industry. Well, he kinda sorta did that in the way that he kinda sorta did most things, and the fall out has been headline news this week. The green industry is poised for innovation and technological development of the kind Ford implemented, which sent the US hurtling along its hegemonic 20th century course. Simply put, industry in the US has to be innovative, creative, and successful to be a global leader. Green energy is a good bet, because almost every other industry depends on energy as a key resource. The financial industry may be an outlier here but even Wall Street likes to have the lights on. However, China has already positioned itself as a rising player in the green(er) energy industry, which means the window of opportunity for the US is creaking its way shut.

There’s a difference between what China has done and the US could do, however. China has developed a bright and shiny business environment rich in low wages and low environmental standards – and thus a low overhead even with shipping costs. Yet China is also notoriously bad at producing creative thinkers – and known to jail those it does have. Herein lies an opportunity for the US to foster the kind of creativity and innovation for which it is known, and develop products that do not depend on existing systems OR seek to replace them, but work instead side-by-side. Obama wants to foster such development; unfortunately, he has yield tangible results.

To elaborate on side-by-side: current alternative energy sources of electricity have to tie into the “electrical grid” in order to send electricity from where they are to where we are. One commonly referenced problem is that electrical supply from wind or solar is not constant the way a power plant is, and so storage is necessary to avoid power fluctuations. Yet, storage of electricity is easier said than done. Batteries can store electricity, but would be expensive and take vast amounts of space to be even somewhat functional for an urban grid. At the same time, it would be the ultimate redundancy to imagine creating a secondary grid. What does this mean for product development?

A successful product would be straightforward and easy to adopt, both financially and logistically. Right now, installing local energy-producing equipment in a home is expensive, complicated, confusing, bewildering, and… you get the point. You need *something to harness energy, another *something to turn it into electricity, an additional *something to store excess electricity for when you need it, and more *something(s) to tie all that in to your home’s electrical service. You might not be surprised to know that this is a specialized skill, beyond the scope of your average electrician, let alone your average homeowner. Information about such systems are often homespun directions, like how to turn pvc pipe into a windmill using an old junkyard generator. But I am astounded that it could be so incredibly difficult to turn your rooster-weather vane into a constantly spinning electrical source that plugs in, literally, to your home’s electrical grid. If an average consumer can go to their *Local-Big-Box-Home-Building-Super-Duper-Store* and buy something for <$50 that takes an hour or two to install… they would do that, especially if it saves them on their ever-rising electrical bill. Fine, so a $50 part won’t revolutionize industry. The idea is that we need creative ways for people to adopt new habits of energy consumption – and by “ways” I mean products that one innovates, produces, and sells, or it doesn’t really count as an industry.

Unfortunately, I am not an engineer, and my mama-skills can’t seem to produce this magical energy source. If only I could bottle my kids’ energy! And that, folks, is why Obama is responsible for the creation of this blog; if he would have just listened to my sage advice… through his obviously telepathic… psychic… oh, never mind.