Wednesday, June 29, 2016

American currency is changing

I missed the announcement a few months ago that not only will the American twenty dollar bill be updated, but the $10 and $5 bills will be, too. Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 (even if it's not for 14 more years), and although Hamilton will stay on the face of the $10, on the back of the $10 will be Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Sojourner Truth. On the back of the $5 will be Marion Ross (famous contralto), Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pretty good.

How did I find out? This is interesting. A stranger from a website called Invaluable emailed me asking if I'd be interested in posting some content from Invaluable's blog called In Good Taste. The website looks to me like an upscale Ebay, which I have little interest in, but the graphic he sent is interesting. Here it is:

It's hard to read in web view, so I wrote the person back and asked for a graphic that could be easily zoomed in. He sent the ones below.

I confirmed this information (this New York Times article lists the new faces) and decided to share it. If you ever wondered how currency goes from the design state to the finished product, now you know.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Against no-kill animal shelters

Sabine Heinlein's essay, The Cruelty of Kindness, poses the question of whether no-kill animal shelters have gone too far in saving every life. It comes down to the question of whether any kind of life, no matter how painful, is better than death.

Maybe I'm all alone in this opinion, but I don't think death is always worse than staying alive. There are many conditions that make life a questionable advantage over being dead. This is at the core of discussions of euthanasia (choosing death because the quality of life has sunk to a certain point). I think as people get older and the prospect of living in extreme pain looks more like a possibility, they tend to support the idea of euthanasia. They want the freedom to choose whether nor not to keep in living in a state they find intolerable.

Animals under the care of humans don't have this choice. We choose for them. We can't know what shelter animals think about their situation or if they would consider death a more humane option than a dog living for years (and years) in a place where it doesn't have the human companionship it was bred for. Sure, dogs are physically capable of surviving the most miserable, inhumane circumstances indefinitely, but should they?

When I've discussed this with friends, they've insisted that the best option is for a dog to find a forever home, and they remind me that shelters hold that hope. Yes, shelters do provide the possibility that a dog could find an owner at any time. But is that hazy prospect enough to keep a dog indefinitely in a structure with inadequate heat/cooling capacity, minimal nutrition, no medical attention, almost no contact with humans, in a constantly soiled and cramped space? Most shelters keep their animals in either a cage just big enough for the animal to pace in or in a room filled to capacity. Many of these shelters can't keep up with standards of health and cleanliness. No-kill shelters run on shoestring budgets and they can't all maintain a decent quality of life for their occupants. Why not let the worst of those shelters put their dogs down peacefully?

Once again, I know the mission of no-kill shelters is help dogs find owners. I know the reason to keep dogs alive is to give them a chance to find a new life. Yes, of course, that's the best case scenario. But take off your rose-colored glasses. Imagine living for years in a lonely cage with the constant smell of shit, surrounded by miserable creatures, and you'd have no loved ones or anyone who even knows you exist and no hope of escape (dogs can't plot their exit or appeal for parole).  I'm sure you can't even imagine living like that. Being a shelter dog isn't like being in prison. It's worse. Those dogs probably didn't do anything to deserve that fate, often don't get treatment for medical conditions, can't relieve themselves when they need to, have no way to comprehend why they're there, and are unable to get anything close to the level of companionship we've bred them to need. Many are constantly hungry or in pain. I wouldn't want anyone -- human or animal -- to live a single day in that situation. Again, I know that experience includes the possibility of being rescued any day, but still: doesn't the peacefulness of death sound better than years of that, especially since dogs can't conceptualize hope?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hammacher Schlemmer lifetime guarantee

I bought Hammacher Schlemmer's Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandals three years ago, but one of the soles started to detach. I went on their website to replace them and noticed that they have a lifetime guarantee on their products. I decided to try it. 

I called and got my original order number, shipped back the sandals and in two weeks they sent me a brand new pair for free! Apparently I can do this any time I buy one of their products and it wears out/breaks/falls apart. Excellent. From now on, if I can find it on their website, I'm not buying it anywhere else.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Purge movies

Promotion for the first movie.

So I finally watched The Purge (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014), which have to be called "social science fiction action horror" because there's so much going on in them. The first movie seems to be another home invasion story that pits a family against assailants who threaten to kill them, but James DeMonaco wrote some serious social commentary into it. The story takes place in the year 2022, at which point the United States has legalized one night a year when you can commit any crime -- including murder -- without consequences. All laws and emergency services are suspended from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (no police and no hospitals). During this annual event, called the purge, the wealthy protect themselves with state-of-the-art weaponry and security barriers and the un-wealthy do their best to lock themselves in and hope they make it through the night.

The initial movie only sketches out what it must be like to live through this night, showing the experience of one family. The second movie, which takes place in 2023, gives us a fuller picture of what it's like during those annual 12 hours: assailants with ghoulish masks and face paint slaughter people in the street, kidnappers deliver the disadvantaged to wealthy families who want to purge in the privacy of their homes, armed individuals set out on private missions to settle scores, and anyone stuck outside (sometimes driven from their homes) has to survive by wits and luck until the ending horn sounds at 7:00 a.m.

That's all interesting in its violent, action-packed way, but what I find more interesting is the social commentary behind it. In The Purge: Anarchy we find out that since the purge was ratified in 2017 (it's part of the 28th amendment), unemployment and crime are down. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) say the purge gives people a chance to cleanse themselves of their worst tendencies so that the rest of the year they can live in peace. The NFFA state that the economy is improving and the country is more peaceful because of this new tradition.

Zoë Soul, Carmen Ejogo in The Purge: Anarchy

But in this twisted dystopia, other Americans point out that in the five years since the purge started, the numbers of working class, homeless, etc. have decreased because the rich use the purge to slaughter the poor. In The Purge: Anarchy we see the emergence of a political, grassroots opposition led by a Black character named Carmelo. He leads an armed movement during the 2023 purge and urges his peers to join him in fighting back. 

The Purge was prescient in its anticipation of an American population that's ready to do what it takes to get rid of "unwanted" elements. As we've seen since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency, many Americans have been waiting to unleash their bigotry, fear and violence towards people of color. It startled me to see that in The Purge: Anarchy, the Founding Father who's shown giving a speech on TV is named Donald Talbot. The movie came out in July 2014. How did DeMonaco know?

But as much as DeMonaco gets right about political dynamics, he gets a lot wrong about economic dynamics. As I posted recently, when Alabama passed harsh laws in 2011 that caused large numbers of immigrants to leave the state, Alabama lost so much of its working population that its businesses lost millions of dollars. Simply eliminating the poor doesn't result in better employment rates and an improved economy. If everyone who earns less than $10 an hour dropped dead right now, who the hell would pick the fruit, bus the tables, drive the cabs, give the pedicures, watch the children and clean the toilets? We saw in Alabama that unemployed, American-born citizens do not flow right into underpaid, labor-intensive jobs even when they're vacated. Alabama's failed experiment did not improve its employment rate or economy at all. 

DeMonaco's Purge series seems to criticize a country where the rich want to get rid of the poor, but it makes a very insidious argument: that eliminating the poor (and the homeless and the old and the sick, etc.) would improve the economy. This seems particularly irresponsible when I consider that Alabama's cautionary tale was well underway by 2012, the year DeMonaco would have been creating his fantasy world where getting rid of the poorest members means an economy improves. 

Promotion for the third movie.
I can only hope that The Purge: Election Year (out 1 July 2016) shows us that the NFFA's stories of the economy improving have been false. That's the only way DeMonaco can correct his misguided dystopic vision and back away from the idea that killing those who earn the least will result in more prosperity for all. In the second film, one character describes the purge as having resulted in the redistribution of wealth upwards. What? Our country's wealth has already redistributed upwards. You could kill off all of us who earn less than $20,000 a year and it wouldn't make much difference at all to those at the top. The storylines of The Purge movies seem pro-working class on the surface, but they're supported by a dangerous theory. Come on, DeMonaco. Show us in The Purge: Election Year that the purge hasn't really been about economic wealth. Maybe it's really been about racial purity or good old eugenics, but it can't be about money. The math just doesn't work.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Can we get rid of all the Mexicans?

I call this my "House Bill 56 Bedtime Story." It's the story of how Alabama tried to get rid of their unwanted immigrants back in 2011 and how it all went horribly wrong. Ha! It's a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Please read it HERE. It reminds me of this moment on South Park:

"Can we get rid of all the Mexicans?"
"No, Mr. Garrison. We can't get rid of all the Mexicans."