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Saturday, April 23, 2011

What Can We Learn From The Japanese People?

I was gifted with these ten things by a friend of mine passing along an email.

This was attributed to SKYNEWS. I thought I would pass it along, with some additional commentary (my commentary is in italics).

Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.

Just think of this, the country had just been shaken by an unprecedented 9.0 earthquake. That alone would have been enough to "rattle" this country beyond belief. Roads crumbled, buildings toppled, water mains broken, power lines down, and people panicking everywhere. And about an hour later, a 43-foot tall tsunami washed across major portions of the country that had just experienced that major earthquake. Whole small cities of 10,000 people were simply washed into the sea. Google-Earth images show heavily populated areas with hundreds of buildings before - and moments later, the landscape has been washed clean of any evidence of human habitation, not a road, building or anything left. And then after all that, a number of nuclear power plants in the country began experiencing problems - the most serious of which was Fukushima Dai-ichi. The world focused on Dai-ichi and forgot about the rest of the devastation.
But the Japanese people and their government quietly and calmly began immediately to do what was necessary. They set up shelters and began gathering thousands of homeless people into them. They provided food, water and transportation. There was no question of how to do this. They didn't split families up - in fact they tried to keep families together, sending homeless people to relatives instead of stranding them in cities where they knew no one. Quietly and efficiently.

Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture. Their patience is admirable and praiseworthy.

Here in this country, most people act this way during a crisis. Unfortunately, there are a lot of others who don't. And equally unfortunately, our media seeks these situations out and highlights them. So it seems even worse than it is. But why are we so rude and mean in the first place? Why do we think that being rude and mean will help us get what we want faster or better or more? Usually it works the opposite way. And we also seem to feel that being dignified is somehow "weak" because it isn't 'aggressive' or 'manly' enough. Actually being dignified takes far more courage in most situations than being a punk. But enough on that.

The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn't fall.

Many large cities on the West Coast of the US are just as prone to earthquakes as Japan. We have really good architects and engineers who know how to build wonderful buildings too. But a lot of our buildings probably would not withstand a huge earthquake like this - even the newest ones - because our government doesn't require them to be built that way. And because the corporations who build and own them don't want to spend the extra money. They do just the bare minimum to get by. And then hope. And if it does happen, rely on their insurance company to pay for the damages. If people get hurt, too bad. In Japan - the government has a different attitude about these things.

4. THE GRACE (Selflessness)
People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.

I witnessed this in a live interview on Kyodo News during the time immediately after they discovered radioactivity in the water in Tokyo. A woman was in a store buying water for her pregnant sister. She bought 4 small bottles of water. The American reporter asked her why she didn't get more and she replied that she wanted to leave some so that others would be able to get some too. They also showed that day - the same day of the announcement that babies and pregnant and nursing mothers should not drink the water, the government had already set up distribution centers and were giving water to people in those categories. Talk about efficiency!

No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.

I have never understood this. Whenever a disaster strikes, or even just when the power goes out for an extended time, a certain group of people just seem to always see it as an opportunity to steal and vandalize things. It is excused as 'venting rage' or something - but often the victims of the theft and vandalism are not the perpetrators of whatever the thieves and vandals are complaining about. After Katrina, I could understand people getting food and water - but the ones stealing TV sets and expensive sound systems?
Taking advantage of others in the midst of a crisis doesn't help your situation much if at all, and in the long run may make everything worse. That store owner whose store was impacted by the disaster already and then lost even more because of looting may decide it isn't worth it to re-open in your neighborhood afterwards. There go the jobs, and the access to whatever he sells. Maybe he would have been able to stay if not for the looting. Why don't we teach people the long-term consequences of our actions - in everything we do?

Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?

This is one of those decisions that those individuals probably didn't have to consciously make - they were there, they just started doing what was necessary, one step at a time. At some point or other, they realized they probably weren't going to get out without getting a possibly lethal dose of radiation, but also realized that if they didn't stay - hundreds or thousands of people faced that same fate. And so they just kept on - for the sake of their families who probably lived within the mandatory evacuation zone, and for everyone else. I hope for their sake that the Japanese government gives them something to recognize that they are all heroes in the truest sense of that word. And I am sure that will happen.
Unlike here where our lovely Congress has delayed and delayed even paying for the vitally needed healthcare for the people who spent weeks and months digging in the wreckage of the WTC pile - after having been lied to by Bush Administration officials about the air quality - and are now sick and dying from breathing toxic chemicals in the air. And even now - those workers are being forced to be run through the terrorist watch list database before they can access the funds for this healthcare as a result of a provision that was attached to the recently passed legislation authorizing those funds. Unbelievable. Instead of medals they get insults on top of death sentences.

Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.

The Japanese people, through their government/business partnership structures and the way their corporate/labor structures work are used to working as teams. They understand that they are 'all in it together'. You know - socialism of the highest order. They get that for all of them to survive three huge disasters all at the same time that everyone must work together to put the pieces back together.
Japan seems to understand in a way that the US does not, the virtue of long-range planning and preparedness. Like the water for babies. They made an announcement and the water was there. Immediately. Not in a week. Right then. They ordered a mandatory evacuation zone around Dai-ichi. And even though the roads had been washed away and the shelters were already full of people left homeless by the earthquake and the tsunami, they got the people out of there. Right away. Not weeks later. Obviously, their version of FEMA actually has plans. Plans that take into account many variables. Plans that all the appropriate people know about and that are not hidden away in the drawers of some private consultant somewhere. Plans that can be and are implemented on a moments notice.

The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.

It's one thing to have plans. But everyone has to know just what those plans are, and how they fit into those plans. In Northern California where I lived for over 25 years, they have NEST (Neighborhood Emergency Support Teams). In case of a disaster - probably an earthquake - you might be inaccessible because of bridges out, landslides, and so on. So neighborhoods were encouraged to form NESTs to identify resources that everyone could depend on for up to two weeks in that event. In my neighborhood, our house was a water source since we had an active deep water well and a hand pump available if the water main broke and water was unavailable. That's the kind of resource that becomes pretty important.
After Katrina, one of the major problems was the evacuation plan. There were apparently only five copies of the $3.2 million plan ever made. During the Congressional hearings afterwards, not one single person could provide a copy of it to the investigating committee. Not even the private consulting firm who supposedly produced it. As far as I am concerned - if no one has the plan - it doesn't exist. You cannot implement a plan if you don't know about it, if you haven't disseminated it to all affected parties, if you haven't practiced it. You cannot criticize anyone for not evacuating according to some plan they never heard of.
But this failure of long-term planning is pretty endemic throughout this country. We are always in the 'no one could have known' frame of mind. Even though time and again the best minds among us have been crying in the wilderness for years about that very thing.

They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters.
Only calm reportage. Most of all NO POLITICIANS TRYING TO GET CHEAP MILEAGE.

I would add to this that there has been no 'ass-covering' by the government towards TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant). TEPCO was ordered last week to begin disbursing checks to the people who lived within the mandatory evacuation zones. They were told how much to pay and that the checks needed to be paid immediately and given a list.They were also told that this is just a preliminary payment and that other payments will follow. The checks went out.
Contrast this to the BP $20 billion fund to reimburse all the people who lost their livelihoods after the Gulf disaster. A year and a half after that began, people are still not getting paid and still getting hassled for more papers please and the lawyers are getting rich and the fisher people and business people of the Gulf coast are losing everything they own to bankruptcy. Meanwhile BP is writing off the disaster as a loss on their taxes and giving big fat bonus checks to all their executives.

When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly.

The manager of the Dai-ichi Power Plant broke down sobbing at the first news conference when he announced to the world that his plant was releasing high levels of radioactivity and that the plant was in danger of meltdown at at least three of the reactors. His sobbing was not the idiotic grandstanding stuff of John Boehner, but the kind of a person who realizes that a nuclear power plant that he is personally responsible for may just wind up killing a lot of people. At every appearance he has been at since he begins and ends with multiple apologies, and that very deep bow. (The deeper the bow, the more humiliating). He has also been very sick himself - an aide reported that he was so sick that he had a doctor come in and hook him up to an IV, but that he 'hadn't fallen down on the floor' so he continued to work although he was staying in a side room. Yeah - the conscience. Unlike some others - you know who - the list is endlessly long.....>

With their country in the midst of a colossal disaster - The Japanese citizens can teach plenty of lessons to the world.

These examples are particularly sharp for me today because I just read an article about Tim Pawlenty's education commission where they decided that teaching kindergartners to share was bad because it has "socialistic tendencies". What???

I'm sorry but socialism is not a bad thing. In fact, all you right-wingers out there - if it wasn't for socialism you would not even be alive. Sharing is what your parents did for you from the moment of your birth. They shared their food, their shelter, their resources, so you could live. Everything you have achieved in your life is because of socialism. The house you live in, the roads you drive on, the car you drive in, the schools you attended whether public or private, the church you go to (or not), the food you eat, the water you drink, the clean air you breathe, the clothes on your back, the companies you have worked for, even the government you love to hate - all of it and every bit of it is socialist. We are all socialists you and I. And the more socialist we are - the better off we all are.

The Japanese people, through the three gigantic, horrific disasters they are going through right now, are showing us just how true this is.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Do We De-Value "Womens" Work?

I was having a conversation with my mother the other day about all the slashing and cutting the Republicans in Congress and in the Statehouses across our country are doing in programs that affect the poorest people. We started out talking about food - there is a fast going on to protest cuts in the WIC program, food stamps, school lunch programs and several others that will have an effect on the nutritional status of particularly children and the elderly. We continued on a tangent and wound up talking about the fact that my developmentally disabled sister no longer qualified for food stamps because in addition to her SSDI check she has a job that pays her $10.00 per hour for 18 hours per week. This job is a supported employment job - in other words, her employer got a subsidy for hiring her, she has a job coach, and there are a bunch of other things that go along with it. Her job consists of picking up trash, doing laundry, weeding flower beds, and other similar menial tasks. She likes what she does, gets along well with her supervisors and performs her tasks well enough that she has earned several "employee of the month" certificates.

So in the context of our discussion, mom and I were commenting on how "rich" my sister is because you have to really be poor to qualify for food stamps since obviously my sister is now rich since she doesn't.

But that got me thinking about something else that happened not too long ago.

Womens work. You know - the stuff women have always done, care for the house including laundry, sewing, child care, cooking, gardening, nursing, that kind of stuff. Someone once added up all this work that women do for a family at the cost it would be if they hired it done: a nanny, a professional chef, a gardener, a registered nurse, a seamstress, a bookkeeper, a personal shopper, a gardener, a chauffer, a professional housekeeper and so on - and a stay-at-home mom taking care of a couple of children is worth roughly $267,000 per year.

Even though it is now 2011 - and this kind of stuff has been supposedly relegated to "equal opportunity" by the invention of washer-dryer pairs, no-iron fabrics, disposable clothing, fast food and pre-packaged microwave meals, and men cooking and nursing, there is still a devaluation of that work traditionally done by women. And some of that devaluation is done by other women. The career types look down at women who stay home to take care of children (if they have a choice, which most do not). The value of the work that a stay-at-home mom does in a divorce settlement is valued at zero. Only a paycheck serves as any marker of value. But even the experience of a stay-at-home mom managing a household and raising children is viewed in the so-called "actual" workplace as no experience and therefore unqualified to do anything at all.

So here's what happened to me. I am a highly trained and experienced seamstress and tailor. I had been working doing alterations for a local tuxedo rental and sales shop in town - these alterations were mostly not of the 'let the pants up or down' variety but of the type of 'take the jacket apart and rework the way the sleeves were set in' sort. One day the manager of the store casually mentioned to me that there was another seamstress who had offered to do the alterations for less than half of what I charge. And I stopped receiving calls.

There are two issues here. The first one is that prior to this conversation she and the customers had been thrilled with my work. I still get repeat business from some of them. And the customers had never quibbled about my prices. But this female manager decided that it was better to have this much less expensive service so she stopped recommending me to her customers.

The second issue is that this other seamstress was so willing to provide her services for so little. Didn't she understand that what she was doing was much more valuable than that? I might add that this other seamstress was charging $8 per hour. And that I already knew about her - mostly from customers who brought me items to re-do after her failed attempts. Even so, as a seamstress (not a tailor), her time was and is certainly worth at least as much as $10, and probably more. I think that she can probably hem a dress and do regular seamstress work. Isn't that worth at least as much as weeding a flower bed and washing a load of shop rags? So why is this seamstress unwilling to value herself more than $8 per hour?

Then there is the whole career thing. My mother was a nurse. A really good one. She has an MS degree, and at one time was the charge nurse for an entire hospital - one of the largest in our area. During that same time period, my late husband, who never graduated from high school, was a long-haul truck driver. My mom was busy saving lives, he was driving a truck. She got $8, he got $13.

Cooking. What is it about cooking that when a man does it he is a chef and gets to own a fancy restaurant and boss everyone around. When a woman does it she gets no respect and works in a greasy spoon for minimum wage and she's called a cook.

So what is it? And there are all kinds of these cases. Womens work. And women in general. The Supreme Court has a case in front of it right now about women and work. About women not getting equal pay, equal promotions. And from the sounds of the oral arguments the women are going to lose. All the men are voting against them. The three women are voting for. The decision will be 6-3 not to certify the class.

Women make up more than 50% of the citizens of this country. Why don't we have 50% representation in Congress? In any Statehouse? In governorships? Why haven't we had a woman President? Or even a Vice-President? Why aren't there more women on the Supreme Court? In all the Courts? Why are there still so few CEOs in the Fortune 500?

Hillary Clinton was right - the glass ceiling is still there. She put a bunch of cracks in it - but they are still only cracks. Women still have such a long way to go here - and the United States is supposed to be the most progressive nation. Every other developed nation beats us in every single one of those statistics. They have all had women Presidents or Prime Ministers. Women are represented far closer to the actual demographic than they are here in every way both in public and private.

I think a lot of it is about self-confidence. I was asked once how I decided how much to charge for my services. I will admit that it was long hard conversation with myself and with a lot of prodding from my daughter that got me where I am. And that's what it is, confidence. I had to spend time coming to the realization that I am worth it! It's not just a slogan for some hair product - it means something. I AM worth it. I have spent the time for the training. I have spent years practicing my craft. I have hundreds of happy customers. I have created beautiful garments and fantastic costumes for the ballet. I AM WORTH IT.

We women are so busy doing stuff for everyone else that we fail to notice who WE are. We are capable. We are competent. We are knowledgeable. We are smart, efficient, managers. We must start living and acting this way. We must demand more - not just of ourselves but of each other. The things we must demand are respect, and equal treatment. And that includes equal pay for equal work. And also an idea whose time has long since come - an equality of pay across careers, professions, trades and crafts that makes allowances for time off spent raising and caring for children, and that raises the status of "womens work" to the same status as "mens work". Finally.