Friday, July 10, 2009

Randomly Regurgitated Recollection: My First Job

I got my very first taste of the work-a-day world when I was 17. By that time, it was pretty clear that I wasn't going to be giving the valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, so it occurred to me that I should get a summer job. That is to say, the idea occurred to my mother, who made it fairly clear that it should occur to me, too. I girded myself for the long, degrading process of pounding the pavement and gathering applications when a paper was thrust into my chest. Attached to it was a yellow Post-It note with a single word: GO! The paper described a summer job program being offered by the federal government, along with directions to the FOB (federal office building) in Santa Ana, and an appointment time. I dutifully complied with the Post-It's demand.

When I arrived, the assembled group was given a brief rundown of the job (basically an office gopher), and then we were piled into cars for an agonizing one-and-a-half-hour freeway journey to the main office in El Segundo. As we headed off, I mentally patted myself on the back for being the clever bear who had packed his Atari Lynx in case of just such a situation. Twenty minutes into the trip, I was wishing to God* that I had packed a sick bag instead. I had never been carsick before. I really didn't even understand the concept; how do you get sick just from being in a car? Ride in a car with an elderly Asian man, in heavy freeway traffic, as he alternates between stomping the gas pedal and stomping the brake pedal like he's playing "Whack-A-Mole," that's how. When we finally, miraculously, arrived intact, all I wanted to do was fall out of the car, sprawl out on the grass in front of the building, and spend the next hour regaining my equilibrium.
(*Though I had problems with religion, I had yet to make the big leap.)

Instead, I shook my head, took several deep breaths, and shuffled along with the group as we were herded up some stairs, through drab white corridors, and into a small meeting/presentation room with several rows of tables and chairs. The lobby and hallways had been a bit stuffy, but this room was like a meat locker. I sat in a chair that felt like a block of ice, scooting it up to the equally cold table. It all felt wonderful. I sat back, drinking in the icy air, feeling my lingering nausea being carried away with each cleansing breath.

Once our government drone chaperon finished plodding through another summary of the job and the paperwork we were about to spend the remainder of our natural lives filling out, I dove into the inch-high pile of dead rainforest sitting in front of me. I was going to be an office clerk--making copies and sorting mail--but it felt like I was applying for top secret clearance at the CIA. I filled out my name, address and social security number so many times that I began to feel like a POW. The frosty air being spewed from the vent overhead--which had brought me such welcome relief an hour ago--had long since leeched most of the feeling from my extremities. I eventually finished it all and made a beeline for the front courtyard. The California sun never felt so good.

As the group milled around in the courtyard, waiting to be herded back into vehicles, I managed to convince another applicant, who had made the trip in a carpool van, to swap seats with me by offering him my Atari Lynx for the return trip. I enjoyed a boring--but nausea free--trip back to Orange County. So began my first job.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

On Friday, July 3, 2009, AP news reported:

WASILLA, Alaska – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abruptly announced Friday she is resigning from office at the end of the month, a shocking move that rattled the Republican party but left open the possibility she would seek a run for the White House in 2012. [emphasis added]

This statement only confirms a sad truth that has been building for a long time: my party--the Republican party--is broken.

I have been a proud Republican all of my life. Formed in the 1850's by radical abolitionists, it is the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan--all men I greatly admire. I have been proud to champion its core ideals: free markets, military strength, personal freedom, fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and limited government.

In recent years, however, a rift has grown between the GOP and me. We're like roommates who started out as great friends with lots in common, doing everything together, only to end up coolly civil, each of us doing our own thing and not speaking much.

This rift isn't about how some so-called Republicans have become every bit the pork-happy spend-a-holics that their Democratic counterparts have historically been, although that pisses me off tremendously. Nor is it related to the party's apparent impotence in the face of the illegal immigration issue, although how a party that champions law and order can talk of extending "amnesty" to criminals who violate our borders is beyond me.

No, our point of contention has another very clear, identifiable source: religion. Specifically, the growing influence of religion on public--and especially Republican--policy. (My personal issues with religion, while certainly relevant to my feelings about the party, are too complex to address here. Look for that diatribe in another post.)

Sarah Palin is a perfect example of this. More specifically, the choice to bring her aboard as the Vice-Presidential candidate is a prefect example of this. John McCain was perceived as too moderate (I'm so tired of the word "maverick"), and so the party sought to "balance" the platform with someone who would cater specifically to the religious right. Self-professed "hockey mom" Sarah Palin fit the bill perfectly. In an interview with Time magazine, Palin described herself as a "Bible-believing Christian." An ardent opponent of same-sex marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, Palin's social policies read like a pamphlet from the so-called "moral majority."

These antediluvian social policies lay false claim to some higher moral authority. Rooted entirely in Bronze Age religious bias, these views are not only nonsensical and un-Constitutional, they are--in my opinion--downright immoral. The abortion debate has been beaten to death, and I have no desire to re-hash it here. You either get it or you don't. But let me address the other two positions.

There is no provision in the Constitution which denies the right of marriage to couples of the same sex, nor should there ever be. Such an Amendment--designed to specifically *take away* rights from a given group of people--would be the first of its kind, and a travesty of American justice. Taking away someone's rights based solely on who they choose to love is as abominable as taking away their rights based on their gender or skin color--a fact which is patently obvious to all except those blinded by archaic religious mores.

Regarding stem-cell research, opposition to this breakthrough technology is possibly the most self-destructive, anti-science crusade since the Inquisition. Never would I have guessed that a group of modern human beings would so vehemently reject scientific advancement with such Dark Ages zeal. From "Letter to a Christian Nation," by Sam Harris:

Here are the facts: stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic break-throughs for every disease or injury process that human beings suffer—for the simple reason that embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the human body. This research may also be essential for our understanding of cancer, along with a wide variety of developmental disorders. Given these facts, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the promise of stem-cell research. It is true, of course, that research on embryonic stem cells entails the destruction of three-day-old human embryos. This is what worries you.
Let us look at the details. A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst.

If the influence of religious faith was restricted to a small, inconsequential minority, it would be quaint, almost amusing. But considering the enormous momentum that the religious right has gained in the last two decades, and their significant influence on Republican party social policy, they have become downright dangerous. Anytime a group starts talking about limiting the rights of others with whom they disagree, red flags should go up in everyone's mind.

The Republican party needs to disentangle itself from the clutches of the self-righteous. If the party continues to cleave to the Bronze Age social order set forth in the Bible, it runs the risk of making itself irrelevant. It will become home only to crackpots and zealots, and it will force the American people--including otherwise conservative voters like me--to find representation elsewhere.

RIP Edwards Hill

Something I really miss at this time of year is a spot that used to be known as Edwards Hill, in Huntington Beach, California, where I grew up. I don't think it was ever formally known as Edwards Hill, but that's what locals called it. It was a very high, very steep slope at the end of Edwards street, the peak of which ended at Ellis Ave.

The peak of Edwards Hill was (is) one of the highest spots in Orange County. When I was a kid, the entire area was undeveloped; just open fields dotted with the occasional oil pump. The elevation and undeveloped terrain provided a perfect, panoramic vista of north Orange County. It was a great spot for hanging out with a date, or just hanging out. But where Edwards Hill really came into its own was the 4th of July.

You had to get there early, or you'd be parking in the boonies and walking to the top. However you got there, come nightfall, it was worth it. For about two-three hours, you could see a brilliant fireworks display in almost any direction you looked. Local high schools, central park, Disneyland, the Queen Mary, Balboa Harbor... you name it.

Sadly, that great OC sweet spot has long since disappeared. Oh, the hill is still there, but that area started developing in the early-mid 90's, so the unobstructed views are pretty much gone. Now it's just another posh Newport Beach-wannabe neighborhood, filled with cookie-cutter mini-mansions and a Starbuck's on every corner.

I my mind, though, Edwards Hill will always be as I remember it. Friends, fast food, and fireworks. It doesn't get much better than that when you're 14.