Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The tribulations of the logical mind

Imagine this scenario at a workplace: two workstations of three persons each, in which one is pouring a automatically-measured amount of product into tins that were prepared by a second person and closed and placed in a box by a third. In most cases this would be a simple, straightforward procedure, except in this case the tins’ manufacturing process prioritized aesthetics rather than functionality, and apparently “tested out” by some desk jockey on a computer. The tins not only failed to allow a sufficient gap for proper closure, but many of the tins failed to secure properly even when they were empty. This resulted in considerable time lost in completing the entire process, because person number one was forced to stop for  a significant amount of time and assist the third person (especially if it was a person who is sluggish, which only puts further pressure on people trying to keep things moving).

In the end, despite that fact the tins were twice the size of the usual product churned out at these stations, the boxes they were placed in for further processing would only be half-full given a similar amount of time. Thus despite with two stations running, the amount of product would be the equivalent of just one station running for a product whose tins could be secured quickly.

Because of the limited amount of personal present, there was a delay in the further processing of the product in preparation for shipment. Now, for the logical male mind, the solution was simple: If it takes twice as long to secure the tins, then a fourth person should assist the third person in securing them, which would allow the first person to continue to work uninhibited, and you would essentially be putting out the same amount of product from one station with four people as two stations with six people. You would then free-up two people to work on further processing. It all makes perfect sense, right?

Not being a hypocrite, when I found that there was insufficient product being prepared for my end of the process, I took it upon myself to spend significant time as that “fourth” person at one station that continued to run after the temporary lead seriously misjudged the amount of product the second station had prepared, which was quickly exhausted. Would anyone else there have done the same as I without being told? No! I’m not this other person putting up a fa├žade of work that no one above her questions. When I mentioned my estimation of the situation to someone at the station it was readily agreed with. Surely someone might at least give a fair hearing to a suggestion the motivation of which was sound.

Well, that depends. When I offered this suggestion to the supervisor, the response was it was not my place to offer suggestions. How dare I! It was not only a question of “authority,” and of how things had “always” been done, but of competence. I wasn’t “questioning” the competence of a temporary lead who always used these opportunities to do as little as possible, but for a certain lack of imagination. After commiserating on the situation, the fault of which was apparently all mine (the temporary lead also failing to mention the significant aid I provided at the station), I had to be punished for my impudence, not just by being belittled and denigrated, but rather than taking the motivation for my suggestion for what it was (to relieve frustration and lost time), but telling me to replace someone in the third spot in order to experience the same frustrations. Sure, I wouldn’t “volunteer” for that, because the problem would still be the same; it is just me instead of someone else, ignoring the whole point..  

I’m at an age where my college education means absolutely nothing, if it ever did. I just want to get by until I can safely retire, and spend all of my time writing. But in the meantime, I have this damned thing in my head that keeps running up against other people’s idea of the order of the world.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For some, childhood was a time of pain, not joy

According to the statistics page of my blog, the post with the third most “hits” is one concerning Sylvia Likens, from several years back. Likens was a teenager who died of torture and malnourishment while left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, along with her disabled younger sister, for a few months in the mid-1960s. A few feminist writers like Denise Noe have tried to deflect blame from Baniszewski, suggesting she was too “frazzled” to control  children who should know right from wrong, and thus she was not “responsible” for her methods of “punishment. 

The problem with that theory is that Sylvia was the one who took the brunt of the “punishment,” the “example” for what would happen to the other children under Baniszewski “care” if they were unfortunate enough to land on her “shit list.” This would include numerous cigarette burns and “graffiti” sliced on her skin with a knife, discovered on her body when police found her locked in the basement. The other children took part in this torture at the instigation and direction of Baniszewski, who seemed to believe that she was “justified” in pursing this course of action.

The question is why no one outside the house thought anything was “amiss,” and why the children participated in the torture. Sylvia’s older sister lived in town, but she had refused to take in her younger sisters while their mother and father were working with a traveling circus. The Likens eventually found Baniszewski “agreeable” to take them in for a modest weekly sum. Unfortunately for Sylvia, when these payments arrived only sporadically Baniszewski felt more and more “put upon,” and took out her frustrations on a girl not her own flesh-and-blood. 

When Sylvia complained about the abuse to her older sister, the latter dismissed the accusations as that of a typical “rebellious” teenager, and she didn’t want to be bothered with it. In fact, the worst of the torture did not occur until the last few weeks of Sylvia’s life; before that, her sister’s estimation of the situation may have been largely accurate. Certainly others likely saw the situation in the same light. Naturally, there is one problem with being an “outsider”: you don’t actually see what is happening “inside.”

Why did the Braniszewski children participate in something they knew was wrong—or did they “know” it was wrong? In the 1960s, corporal punishment by a parent was not deemed “abuse”—and still isn’t in most states today—and even children under five years of age who died under questionable circumstances there rarely was prosecutions for their deaths, because it was assumed that only a “psychotic” parent could kill a toddler (the case of Dennis Jurgens, who we will soon discuss, would change all of this—more than 20 years after the fact). The children in that household were obviously fearful of Braniszewski, and wanted to avoid treatment similar to that of Sylvia, and remain on their mother’s “good side”; no doubt they believed that failing to do their mother’s bidding would result in their own “punishment.” Perhaps participating in the torture was also a form of “catharsis,” taking out their own inward need to alleviate the pressure of a dysfunctional situation in which the constant presence of violent verbal threat was always underlined with the very real possibility of physical violence to themselves.

Because of Sylvia’s age, there was no question that her death was homicide, and that someone or someones would be held accountable. Not so the case for over two decades in the death of Dennis Jurgens, who died at the age of three-and-a-half in 1965 of peritonitis caused by being struck with “train wreck” force in the abdomen, his body covered with bruises from head-to-toe, what was described as “bite marks” on his penis, and his face and limbs contorted in such a way as to indicate hours of horrible pain before paramedics were even called to the Jurgens’ home. For years his adopted mother, Lois Jurgens, had received equivocal psychological evaluations concerning her fitness to adopt and raise vulnerable young children. In his book A Death in White Bear Lake, Barry Siegel chronicles the story:  Jurgens told one psychiatrist that “She had lots of fears and compulsions—fears of death, of cancer, of going crazy, of the dark, of automobiles. She was a perfectionist, with a compulsion to keep things tidy and in place. She was easily disgusted with life, upset by every little thing.”

The psychiatrist’s determination was that Jurgens was “A 26-year-old married woman with a long-standing neurosis of the mixed type, starting back to childhood…it is fortunate that this woman has not been able to carry through pregnancy at this time, as a child would only compound and complicate her emotional disturbance—she would be a poor candidate for adopting a child at this time…They cannot afford psychiatric care, which she desperately needs—she may without it go on to a paranoid schizophrenia.”

Jurgens was a woman who apparently felt that having children was vital to her self-identity, and since she could not have children of her own, she sought to adopt, which required psychological examinations as to fitness, which over the years required brief “hospitalizations.” Another psychiatrist observed that she was “‘and obsessive-compulsive neurotic lady’ who does not handle pressure very well.’ He had ‘serious doubts as to her emotional stability for standing any type of prolonged stress,”’ and that despite repeated hospitalization “she remained basically the same—the usual diagnosis was chronic neurotic type with anxiety and depression, plus schizoid personality. Lois was self-centered and lacking in insight…and would remain so the rest of her life.”

Yet Lois Jurgens and her husband Harold were allowed to adopt in those less restrictive times when a person had to be clearly “psychotic” to be deemed “unfit” to be a parent. When pressure was put on a judge to allow the Jurgens to adopt, he in turn put pressure on the court-appointed psychiatrist in the case to give him a “reason” to allow the Lois Jurgens to be declared “fit.” The psychiatrist would oblige by giving Jurgens a perfectly “rational” justification for her psychological state:

“Mrs. Jurgens is a person who would expect obedience and conformance of other people close to her, and who has difficulty in accepting the imperfections of those people close to her…Mrs. Jurgens has had and could be expected to have difficulties accepting the social and personality imperfections of an infant or young child.” Because her husband appeared to be “supportive” of his wife and largely even-tempered, it was felt that he would be a “counterbalance” to his wife’s negative impulses.

This was the situation that two very young boys, Robert and Dennis, were adopted in. Robert was the older of the two, and tended to be more satisfactorily “obedient” to Jurgens’ expectations, while Dennis suffered from certain functional ailments which for Jurgens were merely major acts of disobedience and a failure to “measure up” to his brother. “Correction” was swift and brutal. When Robert viewed Dennis’ gruesome autopsy photos years later, he admitted that this was how he always remembered seeing Dennis.

After Dennis’ death, in which Lois Jurgens avoided prosecution with the help of her policeman brother and family member support, there was an inquest to determine if Robert should be removed from the Jurgens’ custody, but he would remain with the Jurgens until he was removed from their custody permanently a decade later. Not only that, but the Jurgens were allowed to adopt four more children, two of whom eventually ran away and did not return. One of the children who remained with the Jurgens, a teenage boy named Grant,  reported  “Once, after Lois had whipped him with a belt buckle, a school counselor and coach noticed big purple welts on Grant, but he explained he had gotten them falling down the driveway. ‘If I tell, they’d just send me back to Lois…Over time, the children became scared even to come home from school. When the bus dropped them off each afternoon, they would go up the steep driveway to see if Lois’ Buick Skylark was parked by the house, relaxing if it was gone, cringing if it was there’” because they knew that she “‘would walk through the house and down into the basement until she found something wrong or out of place’ and they would “hear” about it.”

Lois Jurgens’ husband was the type who wanted to avoid “complications” with his wife, which led to many observers believing that in his own way he was just as responsible for the abuse of the children as his wife. One psychiatrist who interviewed him during another one of wife’s hospitalizations wrote that “During the past year, the patient’s husband has noticed changes in the patient. She has become much more short-tempered and the smallest things would upset her. She cannot admit she’s wrong and she continually picks on her husband…she has lately been very short with the kids even though she is aware of what she is doing and doesn’t like it. She criticizes her husband for being too easy on the children although he says that he thinks she is too strict with them. He said he does not approach her sexually very often because she continually is degrading and putting him down. He just sits and takes her criticism and doesn’t let it bother him, so he says.”

For the five weeks she stayed at a “rehab” center, Siegel writes, “the children savored their life. For the first time since they’d come to the Jurgenses, Grant felt like they were living like normal kids.” But that was not how Lois Jurgens viewed things. For her, “normal” was strict obedience to regimentation and cleanliness that made Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest seem like Mary Poppins. Any “infraction” was met with punishment both physically and psychologically out-of-proportion with the “crime.” A counselor observed that “Lois denies and represses a great deal. In counseling and in group therapy Lois never became amenable to treatment, denying her need to change. She consistently blamed her childhood experiences, her mother and father, her husband and in-laws for her angry behavior. When she left treatment she continued to feel she had the ‘right’ to feel the way she does. In general, it was felt the patient’s response to treatment was unsatisfactory.”

It would not be until 1975, 10 years after the death of Dennis, that Lois Jurgens was declared unfit for further adoption, and the children still in her care permanently removed. It would not be until another decade later that Dennis’ birth mother would come in search of him and demand to know the truth of what happened. The county medical examiner would view the autopsy photos, order a new autopsy taken of Dennis and change the cause of death from “deferred” to “homicide.” The crime of filicide would enter the lexicon, and one need not be “psychotic” to commit the act. Lois Jurgens would stand trial for third-degree murder, and with Robert’s recollection of numerous gruesome incidents of abuse perpetrated on Dennis, including the night of his death, she was found guilty by a Minnesota court.

To most people, these incidents are strictly anecdotal (especially to gender activists, who prefer that all such abusers be male). And perhaps they are. Or perhaps someone might know of a child so petrified with fear of someone close to them that the touch of another, even out of affection, was something to be avoided. One may recall being struck so hard for the offense of spilling milk from a cereal bowl that he had to go to a hospital for stitches. His fear of his mother was such that he was afraid to do anything in her presence, even to satisfy a need, like eating, a drink of water—or worse, using the bathroom. This fear was interpreted at various times as deliberate disobedience, some form of mental illness, possession by Satan or just plain, ordinary criminal delinquency, these were the only stories that were handed down to extended family and friends for years. A psychiatrist would rebut these “explanations” and advise a kinder, gentler approach for a naturally quiet, timid child, but he would be declared to be the “crazy” one. 

The boy’s offenses never had anything to do with what one might consider evidence of a “criminal” mind, but centered around particular needs of his, like eating and reading. Like Dennis, he never “measured up” to his brother. Like for the Jurgens’ other adopted children, life was only “normal” and without fear when his mother wasn’t around, because there was always the chance that something would be found that he did “wrong.” During the brief times when the mother showed her “gentler” side to him, this usually ended when he actually felt it was “safe” to ask her for something or walk around the house like he actually lived in it, which she only took as a deliberate effort to take “advantage” of her.  Like Grant, he felt it was “safer” to explain the welts around his neck to a cause other than what was actually true. The boy would spend many a freezing night outside howling in pain until his mother thought it was time for him to come in. What did his siblings, all conforming to “normal” standards of behavior and social status, think of this? They probably accepted the “explanations” they were given.  

To this day, blindness and denial is the only lessons they have learned. Instead of death or jail as was “predicted,’ it was a kind of “normality” not possible before that the boy grown to be a man had found when he struck out on his own. No longer afraid, but learning to trust other people was something that was no longer possible. He no longer dwells on the past, accepts the feelings of "remorse" as "sincere" even as it has become plain that little has changed.

Trump offers blacks immigrant-bashing, and nothing else

Donald Trump’s schizophrenic personality and policy positions reached a new level of incomprehensibility over the past week when he made the effort—before the same kind of all-white crowds who beat on a black protestor or two at his rallies, actions he defended as representative of the “anger” of (white) Americans—to attract black voters. How to do it? What else: give them a scapegoat—“immigrants.” What else is new in American history? The Irish, the Germans, the Chinese, the Italians, eastern Europeans have all had their turn, although those from Latin America have been the ‘go-to” to blame since at least the 1930s, when to its discredit, the FDR administration did nothing as hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage were simply rounded-up and tossed across the border with only the possession they could carry with them, and no redress of human rights violations—a sordid chapter that is ignored by the history books. And all to satisfy racists who blamed the “Mexicans” for stealing “their” jobs.

Trump is telling blacks “What do you have to lose?” implying that Democrats have done “nothing” for them, taking them for granted. What does he offer them? Well, nothing, but at least he is up-front about it. His white supporters don’t want to “help” blacks; after all, that is why they are Republicans and/or supporting Trump, because they believe that his mantra of “Make America Great Again” means reshaping the country into white supremacist-friendly. Blacks and Hispanics, despite what black Trump supporters like CNN commentator Amy Holmes (probably because she thinks only white men deserve someone as “beautiful” as she) think, are excluded from this equation. Oh, and by the way, CNN has lots of black commentators, but not one Hispanic, especially one who has something to say about anti-Hispanic misinformation and scapegoating in this country.

In any case, those who wish to blame immigrants—who historically have been a benefit to the U.S. economy due to their at least temporarily superior work ethic (before they and their children become “assimilated” into the “culture”) and maintaining a reliable pool of workers—really have no one to blame but themselves. For certain groups, it is their jobs to take, if they want them and have the desire. All too often I have seen certain people act as if they are “entitled,” and blame the “system” or “racism” if their lack of effort or bad attitudes are used against them—especially when compared to the work ethic of immigrants.  Most people do want to work and work well when they are motivated, no matter how much they the work is “beneath” them (of course, if the pay is “right,” it doesn’t matter so much); but when they are not, they are a drag on those who do. 

Of course, there is discrimination at work, but this is more often occurring at workplaces in which white people with delusions of grandeur are employed, or outright prejudice is practiced, albeit of the “unspoken” variety. Otherwise, Trump offers blacks nothing but a way to obfuscate reality.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Life on the bottom rail

When you hear about professional athletes making $25 million a year, like Andrew Luck’s new contract, or what the Yankees are being forced to pay on the final year of A-Rod’s contract (not as a player, but as an “adviser”), does the average person really know what that means? It’s a lot of money, but how much is a lot? $25 million could be broken down in the following ways:

$1 million a year for 25 years
$500,000 a year for 50 years
$250,000 a year for 100 years
$100,000 a year for 250 years
$50,000 a year for 500 years
$25,000 a year for 1,000 years

We could break it down in other ways, like how many unemployed people could be working or be paid a living wage per year. Of course, we don’t want to begrudge anyone for simply taking advantage of their “market value,” although it certainly is indicative of where a society’s values and priorities lie.  It is kind of like the differing reactions to the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Theresa within a few weeks of each other; one was a media creation and basked in a royal life of leisure and privilege, and the other spent lifetime among and attending to the needs of the desperately poor in India. Yet whose life was the subject of unbalanced adoration?

Low-income people are often accused by the wealthy and right-wing politicians and commentators of not paying taxes. The state of Washington does not have a state income tax, but that doesn’t mean the low-income don’t pay taxes. If you throw in the health care premiums which I am required to pay per the ACA, 28 percent of my earnings are taken off the top—and most millionaires and billionaires don’t pay half that percentage, and that includes the Clintons, who the media has praised for paying a “high” percentage on their net income after their tax dodges are deducted. And that doesn’t even take into account the 10 percent in state sales taxes; that means that my “net” income is 65 percent of the gross. If I wash pans for another department for three weeks straight because they don’t have anybody “knows” how to do it (and judging by the badly stained condition they are in, that is probably true), do I have an expectation that I will at least be asked if I want to work overtime? I thought I’d just throw that in there.

One problem with income, especially for those on the lower end, is health care, and paying substantial premiums that take a large chunk of their income seems little benefit (until actually needed, of course). The current line is that “Obamacare” is in trouble, partly because the 18-29 group has not as expected acquired health insurance, and because of this and the fact that newly-insured people are actually using their benefits, insurance companies claim that it is impossible to maintain profitability under the ACA. This is plain denial, because before the ACA, health costs and premiums were rocketing out of control, and individuals were denied health care insurance even as their employers refused to offer group plans. This prioritizing of profits over people should tell us that we should be moving toward a single-payer system that cuts out the profit motive for all involved—insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and even doctors. And down at the worker level—more specifically for those already being paid at or near the minimum wage—people should not be given a false indicator of their actual earnings, meaning that businesses should pay 100 percent of premiums.

I confess that I’m not that ambitious, save to write. The closest I ever came to doing anything commensurate with my education, and was paid for it, was when I worked for the college newspaper and was paid $3 per story. And that was after I had served my country for seven years in the Army. But none of that means anything when you “look” like someone’s negative stereotype. It is not to the same degree in every workplace, and sometimes only within a particular ethnic clique, and the best policy is to keep your head down and don’t say what is on your mind, although that is sometimes hard to do. 

People like me always start at the bottom, regardless of education level. Whether it is washing pans—or pushing a broom all day. Once me and a black partner were sent to a company that made “aesthetic” table and overhead lamps. It is my perception that an employer often hires based on their political or social beliefs; this place had the “liberal” types, except as I mentioned recently, that can be “complicated” in practice. I pushed a broom and vacuumed up dust all day for a week, until I was allowed to do a little piece work to keep from becoming too bored; eventually I was “promoted” to constructing bases and stems. I heard one employee sarcastically say this was because the company was into “equality,” but I would hardly say that; from what I could gather from its hiring practices, before I arrived it apparently assumed only white people  were capable of doing anything above the intellectual capacity of a chimpanzee (OK, now I’m being sarcastic). The only time I ever heard anyone tell me I was doing a “good” job was when I had a broom back in my hand.

One day I observed that a white male was brought in, who I assumed was a new hire, because he was immediately trained in the construction of the lighting fixtures and was allowed to attend company meetings, from which me and the black guy were deliberately excluded from. It turned out that this new guy was a temp as well, but apparently a friend or a cousin of one of the employees, and set on the fast track to fulltime. 

This also only confirmed for me the company’s discriminatory hiring practices, and I quickly came to the conclusion that there was no future for us there besides doing their “dirty” work. My partner told me he had been driven away even from just viewing the photos taken by the owner during his recent “showmobile” tour; so much for being made to feel part of the “team.” Things came to a “head,” at least for me, when me and my partner were taken outside for a private “chat” and questioned about the smell of marijuana in a restroom, apparently upon the accusation of a full-time employee who had skipped a company meeting because he needed to “smoke,” and had denied he was responsible for the pot smell; we were likely the responsible for that, because, after all, we the only minorities in the place. I was of course outraged by this, and I stewed for a few weeks until I decided I couldn’t work there anymore. 

I had heard that the new Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kent, which pays $12.75 an hour to start, was hiring, and were actively seeking a “diverse” work force. Except that their human resources department was taking it a little too seriously; by the looks of people coming in and out of the place, it seems that Amazon has taken upon itself the social responsibility of reducing the black unemployment rate. I had first heard that they were hiring from a “brother” from among a group on a prison work release that an employer at another job site had brought in on the cheap. His girlfriend had done an on-line application for him, a just two days later she had told him that Amazon had actually called him for an interview; I wonder if his current “status” was discussed. What chance could a college-educated personal with a long work history have over such “qualifications”? It took me about eight weeks to find out: None, probably because I checked the “decline to say” box in the race or ethnicity section, which was a whole page long.